Piemonte Cultural and tourism: Piedmont is a region with an important past and a geographical position - it is surrounded by France, Switzerland, Northern Italy and the Ligurean Sea nearby - that places it firmly at the centre of European development trends. And the spirit of this rich, dynamic region is equally European, constantly balanced between innovation and tradition.
The many nuances of Piedmont are there to be discovered, with a range of tourist attractions, manufacturing activities, the mountains which will host the Olympics, the great food and wines of the Langhe, pre-eminent textiles, technology and car production, the Savoy palaces, the film industry and art, culture and architecture. Discovering Piedmont To really discover Piedmont one should consider the distinctive historical and natural features that the many areas of the region have to offer, each with its own traditions and characteristics. There follows a rough guide to some of the many itineraries that this region offers.
The Savoy palaces The palaces of the Savoy family, who made Turin the first capital of Italy, extend beyond the Turin suburbs, into the Canavese hills (Aglié castle), the Cuneo area (Racconigi castle) and part of the Langhe hills (the Agenzia of Pollenzo). But the majority are in and around Turin.
Those in Turin should not be missed: Palazzo Reale, Palazzo Madama, Palazzo Carignano (home of the first Italian Parliament), the Valentino castle on the banks of the Po, and the Villa della Regina, in the hills. There are also numerous houses in the hinterland: Venaria, La Mandria, Rivoli Castle (now the home of an important museum of contemporary art), the splendid Hunting Lodge in Stupinigi and Moncalieri castle, for example.
Alpine fortresses in the Olympic valleys The military fortresses, the "sentinels of the Alps", are an unusual, fascinating historical heritage extending across the Susa, Pellice and Chisone valleys where the Winter Olympics will be held in 2006.
Numerous fortresses are open to the public, and the forts of Fenestrelle, Exilles and Bramafam are particularly interesting. La "Via Francigena" As its name suggests, the "Via Francigena" started in France and was one of the routes followed by mediaeval pilgrims whose faith took them to Rome. Today it is possible to travel the other way, finding tangible signs of the mediaeval road, such as the Monastery of Sant'Antonio di Ranverso, the Sacra di San Michele, perched on Monte Pirchiriano, the Roman city of Susa and Novalesa abbey.
The Canavese hills form a broad amphitheatre at the foothills of the Alps, between the Gran Paradiso National Park, the Dora Baltea valley, the Aosta Valley to the North and the Susa
Valley to the South.
Here the high tech industry of Olivetti in Ivrea, the "capital of the Canavese", coexists with vineyards of fine wine (Erbaluce di Caluso in particular) and memories of a mediaeval and Baroque past reflected in the many castles (Aglié, Rivarolo, Masino and San Giorgio).
The Biella area
The Biella area has a character of its own, with large textile mills and large sanctuaries on the lower slopes of the Biella Alps. The signs of religious devotion are tangible: from the Sanctuary of San Giovanni d'Andorno in Campiglia Cervo to the grandiose Sanctuary of Oropa, at the foot of Monte Mucrone, perhaps the oldest of the Marian Sanctuaries in the West.
Novara and Vercelli
The landscape in these regions is an enormous chessboard, whose colours change as the rice ripens, with the huge form of Monte Rosa in the background.
When the fields are completely submerged in water (120,000 hectares in the provinces of Vercelli and Novara), the whole plain becomes a huge lake. This is the world of the Piedmontese rice fields. Vercelli was the home of Piedmont's first university in the Middle Ages, and Novara is famous for the dome of its cathedral, designed by Antonelli and unmistakable on account of its similarity with the Mole in Turin.
The great lakes
The lakes - Orta, Mergozzo, and Stresa - are a world apart in the complex reality of Piedmont. These large expanses of water at the foot of Monte Rosa are surrounded by parks, churches and villas that have made the area a "small Switzerland" (the border is not far away). The main attractions are the island of San Giulio at the centre of Lake Orta, Verbania (on theWestern banks of Lake Maggiore) and Stresa with its magnificent panoramic position.
The Sesia Valley is long and complex, and follows the twists and turns of the Sesia river. The first stretch between Borgosesia and Varallo is wide and sunny, and the many industrial plants (paper mills, wool mills, tap plants) coexist with superb examples of religious art; the upper stretch is narrow and tortuous, and there are old Walser villages at the foot of the South-East face of Monte Rosa, which is steep and austere, with cascades of ice and peaks above four thousand metres.
The Monferrato hills rarely exceed an altitude of five hundred metres, but the landscape is constantly moving and changing shape. They are covered with gardens, orchards and vines, which produce excellent wines such as Grignolino, Dolcetto, Barbera, Freisa and Moscato. Casale Monferrato is a small town with a historical past that is worth a visit, like Asti, the home of wines and the ancient Palio, that dates back to the town's heyday in the Middle Ages.The Romanesque Abbey of Vezzolano is another pearl of the area.
Even if it were not for the vineyards that cover the slopes, even if they did not produce some of the world's best wines, even if they had not been immortalised in the works of Cesare Pavese and Beppe Fenoglio, the Langhe hills would still be unique, with castles and towns resting on a balcony of hills, looking towards the Alps and open to the South towards the sea. Panoramic La Morra, Barolo (bearing the name of the Langa's best known wine), Monforte, Serralunga, Grinzane Cavour (with its characteristic castle) are some of the many picturesque towns in this region which is famous throughout the world. And Alba above all, the "capital" of the Langhe, of Dolcetto, of hazelnut nougat and the White Truffle.
The Alessandria area
"Low lands" with a uniform landscape, and a "halfway house" between the Po Valley and the Apennines of Liguria, the attractions of the Alessandria area are dotted around the province: gold in Valenza, the castles of Ovada, the fortress of Gavi, the Abbeys of Rivalta Scrivia and Bosco Marengo, and the Spa at Acqui.
The Cuneo area
The province of Cuneo is the largest in Piedmont, a fact that has caused it to be called the "provincia granda". The towns worth visiting include Cuneo (with its long rows of arcades), Mondovì (with its old town and the nearby Sanctuary of Vicoforte) and Saluzzo.
Piedmont in figures
- 4,291,000 inhabitants, 396,000 companies, 122,000 artisan concerns, over 1,700,000
- 38% plain, 33% hills, and 29% mountains, which will act as a backdrop to the 2006
Winter Olympic Games, with 2,000 km of pistes all over the Alps
- exports of goods and services worth ¤ 31,000 million a year
- 1000 km of motorway, 2000 km of railways, 2 international airports
- 100 research and development laboratories, a network of Science Parks, 3 universities
and the new "University of Taste" in Pollenzo
- leader of the motor vehicle sector for more than 100 years, leader of the textile, food and
- 190 hectares of natural parks, and Turin is the city with the highest percentage of green
areas per inhabitant
- over 1000 textile firms in the Biella area, which export 70% of their output
- 5,000 producers of rice, 120,000 hectares, 600,000 tonnes a year, 30% of European
- Valenza Po produces jewels, 60% of which are exported all over the world
- a place to enjoy life: the Monferrato and Langhe hills are the home of top quality food
and wine, exported all over the world. 46 DOC wines, 8 DOCG wines, 8 DOP cheeses,
chocolate, hazelnuts, truffles, meat and rice.
- Culture and history: over 100 museums, 1000 libraries, thousands of archives and cultural