Valli Valdesi - Piedmont
The Valli Valdesi are a small world. Characterized by their own cultural and linguistic identity, they offer a perfect stay to discover ancient traditions and old crafts rooted in the local history, handed down from generation to generation...
Val Chisone, Val Germanasca and Val Pellice are together commonly known as Valli Valdesi and constitute a region that is characterised by the predominant presence of the Valdese Evangelic Church.
They belong to the largest group of Occitan Valleys, a small area located in North West Italy, in the Piedmont Region, close to the border with France.
The Val Chisone - from the Latin clausum, meaning closed - is a valley in the province of Turin, nestling between the Cottian Alps.
Its most famous resorts are Pinerolo, its starting point, and Sestrière, to where it reaches, that, along with Pragelato hosted a number of races of the XX edition of the Winter Olympic Games.
The 3250 hectares of the Troncea Valley National Park belong to the municipal area of Pragelato. Extended in the higher section of the basin of the Chisone river and delimitated for the most part of its perimeter by peaks that are 3000 meters in altitude, it is home to wolves, lynxes, vixen, red deer and roe deer, beavers, ermines, weasels, beech martens, martens, badgers, dormice and hazel mice as well as eagle owls, goshawks, sparrow hawks and kestrels.
In the mid valley, instead, the Fortezza di Fenestrelle is unmissable, truly outstanding as it represents the greatest fortified structure in Europe and the most extensive masonry construction after the Wall of China: not only is it a fortification but in fact a group of several forts, powder kegs, warehouses, gunboats and smaller fortifications that combine to form an imposing barrier of stone and masonry (covering 1.300.000 m2) and linked by a covered staircase with its 4000 steps that climb for 3 kilometers along the mountain ridge. It took 122 years to construct, commissioned by Louis XIV (the «Sun King»), in 1694.
Continuing with the theme of achievements, there is the Assietta road that links the Pian dell’Alpe with Sestriere: besides being a particularly panoramic route with its 30 km of non-asphalted road, almost entirely above 2000 meters of altitude, it is the highest military road of Europe.
Among the villages crossed by this road there is Usseaux that, with its buildings from the 1700s, such as the furnace, the public washhouse and the flour mill, and the characteristic fountains, it is one of the most beautiful villages of Italy boasting the Orange Flag of the Italian Touring Club. Its area includes the Orsiera - Rocciavrè National Park and the National Park of Gran Bosco di Salbertrand. Murales and sundials painted in the beautiful and ancient hamlets associate this village with Roure, that in the Occitan language means “oak, durmast oak”, referring to the thick woods that surround the residential area.
Val Germanasca, a ramification of the Val Chisone, is a narrow and torturous valley, a terrace in the first section, becoming more rugged and wild as it ascends and only at times opening up to reveal green and flat basins, covered by lavender in summer and studded with small lakes. A fifth of the area of these two valleys that has remained practically intact forms part of the Natural Parks including in the municipal area of Perrero, the Conca Cialancia national park (whose peak, with its 2855 meters above sea level is the highest mountaintop of the nature reserve) characterised by canals – and is unsurprisingly referred to as “chalancho”, which in alpine Occitan means “avalanche”. Other features include an old military path and the rhododendrons that, in full summer bloom, frame the Lake of Lausoun, with its nearby war path. Here, besides the botanical species typical of the area, there are chamois, wild boar, beavers, vixen, black grouse, partridges, crows, caws and, among the amphibians, the “Salamander of Lanza” which live protected and undisturbed.
Also worth a visit in Perrero is the renovated flour mill for “Fassi” grain, the numerous Catholic Churches and the Waldensian Temples.
Of interest in Val Germanasca is the largest talc mine of Europe. Situated in the Municipality of Prali, the mine museum is next to the extraction site where about fifty miners are still employed. Besides the outdoor exhibition on mining activities and the life of miners, actual explorations – led by former miners - of the various tunnels are possible on foot as well as via a small train made from mining carts.
Nearby is the start point of the Ghigo di Prali chair lift: this is used in winter to reach the ski slopes and in summer to reach the Valley of the 13 Lakes, so called due to the presence of the small beautiful bodies of water framed by the Alps. A path winds along the valley encompassing all the lakes and ascending into the largest valley parallel to Vallone del Clapou.
The hamlet of Balsiglia, in the Municipality of Massello was scene to the battles between the Franco-Piedmontese troops and the Waldensian resistance. The historical importance of this place is to be found in the exhibition centre of the Waldensian Museum. Other curiosities include the small hamlet of flour mills in the area of Massello, reached from “wheel and the water” hiking path.
The municipal region of Salza is, instead, characterised by thick woods of beech and white fir, extremely rare in the Piedmontese Alps, and by the numerous murals: some years ago, the competition Canzoni in murales (Songs in murals) involved various artists that transformed the most famous pieces of the history of Italian songs into 32 images. Additionally, perhaps also inspired by the summer rock concerts, the area has now become an annual date for thousands of spectators.
In Pomaretto, that owes its name to the typical apple cultivation in the area, worth a visit is the permanent exhibition “Ancient Trades”, the Waldensian Temple and the Parochial Church of Saint Nicolao.
Dulcis in fundo some suggestions on the typical products of the area, among which a number of cheeses stand out of which the most famous are the Tomino di Talucco, made from fresh goat’s milk, the Seirass, traditional Piedmontese ricotta made from cow’s milk, ovine and goat milk and, pure or mixed, and the Plaisentif, the “cheese of the violas”, that was being made with raw milk already by the end of the XVI century, to which a famous country festival every third Sunday of September is dedicated.
Typical are also honey, wine, liqueurs made from herbs and flowers (such as Barathier, Genepì Blanc and Arquebuse, also known as Alpestre), and potatoes with which traditional recipes such as Cagliette, an ancient and substantial main course made from cheese and sausage, Glôre di patate, a rich side dish with onions and cream, and Pilot, a kind of pancakes with eggs, bacon, onions, milk and flour.
Ultimately the Mustardela, a tasty back pudding to be enjoyed fresh that is produced from basic and genuine ingredients, is one of the most typical products of the culinary tradition of the Val Pellice.
Bon voyage and bon appétit!
Turin: a regal day in a royal city
You can get closer to Turin, the regional capital and one of the most important Italian cities, in different ways. Of course, the Mole Antonelliana that overlooks the town and which for a certain period of time was the tallest building in Europe, is attractive and the Museo del Cinema that it houses, is fascinating. We suggest you visit Turin but considering its more lively historical period, that which follows 1706 and the resistance to the French invaders. That historic moment at the turn of the eighteenth century saw Turin first becoming capital of the Kingdom of Sicily and then of Sardinia. And thus was created the Kingdom of Savoy which was inaugurated with the construction of the Basilica of Superga that blesses the city from above. Great architects responded to the demands of the rulers who wanted to make Turin a capital worthy of its name: Guarini, Pelagi, Juvarra, Castellamonte.
This is how the royal residences were created: a complex system of palaces and castles that are part of a harmonious design sought after by the dynasty that lived here and enjoyed the scene. Before entering the centre, stop for a while at the Royal Palace of Venaria Reale. It is a Baroque palace surrounded by beautiful gardens and a village. The aim of this idyllic place was to become a unique hunting complex. Today, in addition to the International Horse Centre, the Venaria hosts several international exhibitions.
Moving closer to the city on a prominent hill you will find the Castello di Rivoli, that aimed to mimick Versailles but which remained unfinished. Today it houses a museum of contemporary art whose fame is of European level. The Palazzina di Caccia and the Castello di Moncalieri (the Castle of Moncalieri) are part of the same series of residences which also include the Castello Reale di Racconigi and the Castello di Pollenzo, now the headquarters of the University of Gastronomic Sciences and of the Slow Food Association. But now enter into Turin and reach the magnificent Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace) and Piazza Castello, which was created to be the centre of the life of that period. The theater too should be included in your itinerary. In chronological order, you will find the Teatro Regio of 1740 and the Teatro Carignano of 1752 (rebuilt after a fire in 1786). It was during this period that the churches of Turin no longer housed the bodies of the dead to be replaced by a public cemetery, at San Pietro in Vicoli, just outside The Porta Palazzo, on the banks of the Dora.
As you move through the city in search of the different pieces of our puzzle, you will certainly notice the large tree-lined avenues. Well, they too were created during this phase of urbanisation of the city. Now you too can experience life as a king or queen of the eighteenth century and walk with royal stature as in their time did Vittorio Amedeo II, Carlo Emanuele III and Vittorio Amedeo III.