Surrounded on three sides by the Alps and sharing borders with France and Italy, Piedmont or Piemonte, takes its name from the Italian ‘foot in the mountains’. But there are also sparkling lakes, lands of plenty producing some of the country’s top gastronomic delicacies and wines and a jewel of a capital that is often overlooked, but is fit for royalty.
Dramatically set against the amphitheatre of the Alps, Turin (Torino) is the capital of Piedmont and economic powerhouse of the north. Famous as the home of Fiat, it is also an understated, graceful city with splendid museums and beautiful Baroque architecture. And, as the former seat of the Royal House of Savoy, it has stately buildings, elegant boulevards, palaces and piazze built for kings and queens.
As well as boasting more than 40 museums, it is a design and contemporary art capital of Italy. And, for a slice of the dolce vita, Turin is a gourmet paradise and birthplace of the Italian cinema, long before lights first flickered in Rome‘s Cinecittà studios. Soaring above the rooftops is the city’s icon – the spire of the Mole Antonelliana, home to the fascinating National Museum of Cinema. The city hosts the annual International Torino Film Festival – Italy’s largest film festival after Venice.
Lakes in Piedmont
Although many people associate Italy’s lake district with Lombardy or the Veneto, Piedmont’s share is just as beautiful. Small, but approaching perfection, Lake Orta is a shimmering, sleeping beauty with probably the most picturesque medieval village of all the Italian lakes, Orta San Giulio, at its heart. From here you cross to the tiny island, Isola di San Giulio, once the mythical domain of dragons and hideous reptiles, but now an idyll of calm set in the midst of the blue lake. Lake-lappers will also love the western half of Lake Maggiore, basking in the Piemonte region, where Stresa, surrounded by elegant villas and beautiful gardens, is the jumping-off point for the bewitching Borromean Islands.
Although Piemonte has no coastline, it is only a few kilometres from the Mediterranean and Liguria. Wedged between the Alps and Ligurian Sea are the rolling hills of Le Langhe and Il Monferrato – home of some of Italy’s finest wines and precious truffles, the ‘white gold’ of Italy, from Alba. Nearby, Barolo, is speckled with medieval fortresses and cloaked with vineyards that produce the ‘king’ of Italian red wines. Neighbouring Asti is another wine town famous for its sparkling whites as well as all the other wines and aperitivi, for which this region is so famous.
You may also want to track down a bargain or two at factory outlets such as Alessi (just outside Omegna) which has some of the world’s funkiest household designs, including the original Alessi coffee pot. Or Biella, known as ‘Textile’ or ‘Cashmere Valley’, the stomping ground of designer gurus and their descendants such as Ermenegildo Zegna who founded a mill here in 1910, as well as many other outlets with fabulous designer clothes and accessories at bargain prices.
Throughout the region, spectacular valleys studded with fortresses, mountain villages and pilgrimage sites give way to the majesty of the Alps. This is perfect hiking and climbing territory, including relatively easy day walks and cycling around Monte Rosa, the Alps’ second highest mountain after Monte Bianco (Mont Blanc) at 3,500 metres (11,500 ft). During the winter months Monterosa Ski, along with the resorts of the Via Lattea (Milky Way), become a snowy paradise. In fact, Sestriere was the first purpose-built resort in the Alps, created by the late Fiat boss, Giovanni Agnelli, in the 1930s.
Piemonte has some of the most beautiful walks and spectacular views in Italy, particularly through the Langhe Hills with stunning views across the region from the foot of the Alps. We recommend walking between Barbaresco and Neive for some of the most spectacular views in the area. Tip from Arblaster & Clarke Winetours
The new Sport Museum is the first of its kind in Italy and is located in the Olympic Stadium in Turin which hosted the Winter Olympics in 2006. On display are more than 50 Olympic medals, 100 World Titles and thousands of Italian Championship trophies. The museum comprises 5 rooms on 2 floors offering as well as exhibits also films, multimedia tools etc.
If you love good coffee, Turin is the place for you. If you are a lover of chocolate, this is the Italian capital where it was first popularised in 1678. Hang out at the very regal, chandeliered and historic Caffè Torino or the Caffè San Carlo - once frequented by philosopher-poet Nietzsche.
The Slow Food Movement was born in Piemonte. The manifesto urges us to 'rediscover the flavours and savours of regional cooking and banish the degrading effects of fast food'. Sample the delights at the Salone del Gusto, held every other year in October at Turin's Lingotto complex. http://www.salonedelgusto.it/
The Torino+Piemonte Card gives free entry to more than 150 museums, monuments, exhibitions, fortresses, castles and Royal Residences in Torino and Piemonte, including:
- Free travel on all public transport (except subway) and free travel and access on the TurismoBus Torino, panoramic lift in the Mole Antonelliana, Sassi - Superga rack tramway, boats on the river Po).
- Special rates on car rental in association with Avis Autonoleggio and Hertz.
- Rebates at ski resorts on ski lifts & ski lessons and on sport equipments rental.
- Reductions on guided tours, ChocoPass, theatre, concerts and opera tickets, bicycle hire and much more!
- Costs: : € 25,00 (2 days) € 29,00 (3 days) € 34,00 (5 days) € 40,00 (7 days). Valid one adult +one child under 12. http://www.turismotorino.org/ Prices correct at time of posting (2012)
Visit Stresa and take a trip on the Mottarone cable car (which departs from the Lido) for a 20-minute ride to one of the most stunning views in Italy. At the midway stop you can stroll around the Alpine gardens and look out over the three beautiful Borromean Islands of Bella, Madre and dei Pescatori set in the glittering waters of Lake Maggiore below. You could walk down to Stresa at this point, but that would mean missing the breathtaking 360-degree view at the top. Jump back on the cable car and carry on to the summit. After a short uphill walk you will be staring in awe across the magnificent Po Valley to the Alps, with the astonishing sight of seven blue lakes (Maggiore, Orta, Mergozzo, Varese, Comabbio, Monate and Biandronno) nestling into the surrounding landscape like shimmering jewels.