Written by marif on 22 Aug, 2013
Arousing the interest and admiration of historians, archaeologists and architecture experts, Aosta’s legacy of Roman remains, medieval churches and quaint memorials constitutes the city’s prime crowd-pulling appeal. Outside the confines of the medieval quarter, Aosta seems to lack attractions and consequently, a number of visitors…Read More
Arousing the interest and admiration of historians, archaeologists and architecture experts, Aosta’s legacy of Roman remains, medieval churches and quaint memorials constitutes the city’s prime crowd-pulling appeal. Outside the confines of the medieval quarter, Aosta seems to lack attractions and consequently, a number of visitors cut short their stay and leave the city without venturing beyond old Aosta. While it is true to say that outside the centre there are no significant historical attractions, it is utterly incorrect to suggest that Aosta’s environs embrace no attractions whatsoever. What the outskirts of medieval Aosta lack in historical appeal, they possess in landscape charm and natural beauty.Aosta is a valley town nestled deep amidst a ring of high snow-capped peaks whose mighty conformation is clearly in view from most spots in the centre. The awesome mountain chain on the eastern edge of the city, visible from Piazza Chanoux consists of a concentration of jagged rock formations blanketed with pine and birch, the highest point of each formation touched up with a smattering of melting snow. More imposing and more zoomed in is the same view from Piazza Arco d’Augusto. This spot offers what is perhaps the best close-up view of Aosta’s eastern mountain chain. Never a substitute for reaching the peaks, this view is nonetheless inspiring, more inspiring perhaps than the arched colossus on the central roundabout. A short eastbound stroll from Piazza Arco d’Augusto in the direction of the mountains brings one on the verge of the Parco Fontaine de Saint Ours from where one can take the cable car to the top. Not really… the very top is accessible only via a second cable car that whisks commuters three-hundred metres further up. Once here, a whole world of hiking trails and skiing pistes unfolds for the admiration of those who content themselves merely with the spectacle of the mountain environment. Those more daring have a whole host of hiking or cross-country-skiing possibilities at their fingertips. As you climb down amidst the woody perennials of the mountain forest, expect to encounter picturesque alpine lakes, panoramic mountain pastures and endless stretches of magnificent landscape. Before making your mind to embark on a tour of the eastern mountains, check out carefully for any interruptions in the cable-car service which may be inoperative for maintenance or off-season. The specialized information office on Piazza Praetoria has all the details.More imposing and spectacular than the eastern peaks is the chain of mountains that spread along the southern outskirts of Aosta. Reaching exorbitant heights in the range of three-thousand metres (Monte Grivola is almost four-thousand metres high), Aosta’s southern peaks amass a thicker layer of snow than their eastern counterparts. Lingering on until June, this vast quantity of snow renders the area ideal for cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snow-shoe trekking and ice climbing for at least nine months yearly. When I was here in the last week of May, mountain sides higher than eight-hundred metres were still carpeted in a skimpy layer of snow, the snow having become thicker and more substantial as the mountains gained height. At one-thousand metres, the snow holed up the entire undergrowth of shallow grasses; trees and buildings were partly concealed as the height surged up in excess of one-thousand-five-hundred metres.From the extreme east edge of Piazza Chanoux, a short walk along Via Ribitel in the direction of the train station brings one near the city’s national archives. From here, one can delight in what is perhaps the best panoramic view of Aosta’s southern mountain chain.Surprisingly, this world of tree-covered mountain sides and snowy peaks is within ready access from Aosta. A cable car, appropriately named the Pila Funicular Railway operates hourly trips from the Aosta station on Via Paravera to the top of Mount Pila. Lasting twenty minutes, the Aosta-Pila cable-car trip is itself a thrilling experience that leaves one breathless with excitement and expectations. Bridging over deep valley corridors and gushing streams, the Pila cable car offers unforgettable scenic views of glacier-covered peaks and straight-cut ridges that stretch out as far as the eye can see.Leaving the Aosta station, the cable car travels over the Dora Baltea River, affording fine views of reedy sandbanks and marshy meadows before it resumes its steep climb to the intermediate station of Gressan. Stopping at Gressan for a couple of hours to explore the vast apple orchards that characterize the village and possibly venture into the Gargantua Reserve is an additional excursion anybody not constrained by time ought to indulge in. Departing from Gressan station after a brief halt, the cable car resumes the climb to Mount Pila in one go, rising a further altitude of one-thousand-two-hundred metres. Clearly visible from the cable-car’s windshield halfway up is the tiny hamlet of Les Fleurs, a remote place in the mountains consisting of a dozen or so terraced country huts befittingly decorated with pots of what seems to be colourful pelargoniums in bloom. Was the hamlet named by the residents themselves in an attempt to show off their flower-loving disposition or did they decorate their houses with flowers merely to render the place fit for the name?Stepping down the cable car on arrival, one is faced with an endless chain of mighty side-by-side peaks that jut out of the surface topography along the whole southern edge of Pila. From Mount Blanc to Grand Combin, from the Matterhorn to Monte Rosa, the highest peaks of the Alpine chain are all delightfully in view. Several signboards scattered in the vicinity of the Pila cable-car station indicate the scores of hiking trails starting from here and give information about the level of difficulty and duration each hike entails. But before embarking on any mountain route in Pila, particularly in areas still covered with snow, it is wise to consult the Pila Information Centre, located in a wood-and-glass building next to the cable-car station. The centre is well-equipped with detailed hiking maps of the region and can offer advice on hiking gear, skiing possibilities and the best way to reach the various chairlifts scattered across the area. Close to the cable-car station, the street is lined with bars, restaurants and typical mountain shops that deal in skiing and mountain equipment. Facing the information centre and fifty metres or so up the mountain is Pila’s sole tourist resort, a three-star hotel that caters primarily for summer hikers and winter skiers, closing down in the off-season period of May and June as the carpet of snow in the area thins down.No matter in which season one decides to visit Pila, there is always a mountain of activities one can embark on. Pila is not only a self-contained destination but is in addition the gateway to several peculiar Alpine villages, quaint backwoods and mountain peaks scattered in the region. Most excursions start with a short hike in the forest and so a hiking map is utterly essential. Also essential in all seasons except in the thick of summer are snow shoes, warm clothing and a waterproof jacket.One easy half-day excursion that gives one the chance to enjoy an amazing panorama of crystal-clear lakes and mighty ridges starts with a ten-minute walk across a downhill mountain pasture that leads from Pila centre to Pila’s camping site. Within earshot of the camps is the lower station of the Chamole chairlift (Seggiovia Chamole) that whisks passengers up five-hundred metres to the Colle di Chamole. From here, several trailed footpaths lead up to the peaks (Punta Vallettaz, Cresta Nera, Punta Garin) or down to the forest. The restaurant La Baraka that adjoins the upper chairlift station is a prime source of information for anything one needs to know about hiking in the area. Walking along a tree-covered ridge for twenty minutes (and then returning to the chairlift station) to reach the Rifugio Arbolle is for those who do not deem exercising their feet too much. Otherwise, take the footpath to Lago Chamole, a picturesque conifer-girdled glacier lagoon where a wide range of forest animals like squirrels, marmots and wild geese thrive in profusion. A marked footpath in the forest wends its way from here to the mountain hut of Alpe Chamole (study carefully the hanging map that reveals in detail the footpaths radiating out of here) from where a one-hour-long path gets you back to Pila.The cable-car station in Aosta is not the easiest place to locate. A proper bus service between the bus station and the cable-car station is apparently non-existent, although some local buses destined to neighbouring villages pass through Via Paravera on their way. Asking the driver to stop near the Pila Funicular solves the headache since the Paravera bus stop is within sniffing distance of the cable-car station. A better option is to walk from the train station to the end of Viale Carducci where an underpass leads to Via Paravera. Walking back on Via Paravera for five minutes brings you near the Ipermercato Gros Cidac. The cable-car station is in the adjoining parking space. Close
Written by marif on 16 Aug, 2013
Nestled deep in the midst of the Alpine peaks that dominate the northwest border of Italy, Aosta is a small picturesque town located in the centre of the Aosta valley, a fertile zone of breathtaking landscape, walking trails and tiny charming villages steeped in history.…Read More
Nestled deep in the midst of the Alpine peaks that dominate the northwest border of Italy, Aosta is a small picturesque town located in the centre of the Aosta valley, a fertile zone of breathtaking landscape, walking trails and tiny charming villages steeped in history. Aosta’s appeal stems primarily from its legacy of medieval remains that still prevail in the city centre; its secondary appeal originates from its excellent geographical setting characterized by impressive glacier-covered mountains, steep-sided valleys, gentle green meadows, alpine lakes and fresh unadulterated air.Exploring Aosta’s centre and its environs is tantamount to digging into important pages of history while enjoying all the surprises nature offers along the way. Breathing with appeal and excitement, Aosta and its surroundings ought to be on the itinerary of any Torino visitors who loiter in the Piemonte capital for more than a week. Aosta does not fit in a one-day excursion from Torino but demands an overnight stay, particularly if one desires to venture into the adjoining valley towns and mountain resorts that dot the region. Consider staying more if you want to explore Italy’s largest national park. Known as the Gran Paradiso, it is a fabulous region of snow-capped peaks, striking waterfalls, deep ravines and endless stretches of wine-making vineyards. Meeting a flock of wild goats wallowing in the vicinity of a waterfall or wading on the shore of a lake is as commonplace as running into a mountain hut (called rifugio) where one can rest before resuming along the marked footpaths.Reaching this staggering place of history and natural beauty from Torino involves just an easy two-hour train ride. A couple of years back, a regular bus service operated from Torino airport directly to Aosta, giving passengers the opportunity to reach the Alpine towns of the northwest without even stepping on Torino ground. Alas, no more… the service was discontinued due to lack of passengers; however, the airport information desk at Torino was hopeful that the service would be relaunched by another operator in the near future. Currently, the only way to reach Aosta is by train. Northbound hourly trains from Stazione Porta Nuova call at Stazione Porta Susa before they continue to the graceful town of Ivrea where a change of train is required. One never waits more than twenty minutes at Ivrea for the Aosta-bound train. Unlike the first half-hour section of the trip that for the most part runs along built-up areas, the second section makes its way through scenic countryside, particularly as the train enters the Valle d’Aosta region. Here, the railway tracks cut across the outskirts of small picturesque valley towns and at times pass close enough to the banks of the Dora Baltea River to offer panoramic views of reedy watersides, winding canals and marshy meadows. The final twenty minutes of the trip as the train wends its way through the hamlets of Fenis and Nus are particularly pleasant. Keep an eye out for the soaring towers of Fenis Castle and the crumbling hillside Castle of the Lords of Nus, both visible, albeit only partly, through the train’s window.Aosta train station on Piazza Manzetti is the first place one runs into as soon as one steps down the train. The building is small and the facilities inside are limited to a ticket-sales office and a newspaper stand from where one can buy a town map that may be useful for first-hand orientation on arrival. On exiting the station, cross Piazza Manzetti and look at the right where on Via Carrel lies Aosta bus station. Invisible due to the thick foliage of the woody perennials that permeate the area unless one looks closely through, Aosta bus station is an essential spot one has to turn up to if one wishes to visit the valley towns in the neighbourhood or the villages that dot the Gran Paradiso Park.Via Conseil des Commis, lined with trees on both sides is the street one needs to take to reach the city centre. A five-minute walk along this primary avenue brings one right on Piazza Chanoux, Aosta’s graceful principal square that marks as well the town’s geographical centre. Grand not only by reason of its huge proportions but also on account of the imposing buildings and elegant cafes that grace its perimeter, Piazza Chanoux is a car-free space reserved for leisure. Aosta’s main hotspot of activity, it is unquestionably a great place to linger in, particularly when organized events like open-air summer concerts and specialized markets are held. The entire north side of the square is taken up by only one building: the Municipio or Town Hall, a lengthy neo-classical palace with a majestic façade and an equally majestic interior. Visiting the Town Hall’s salon is equivalent to getting familiar with Aosta’s most prominent long-gone citizens whose labelled marble busts are exposed here with pride. The grand monument outside the portico in front of the main doorway comprises two allegorical bronze casts, representative of the two waterways that wend their way through the region.Piazza Chanoux unfolds westwards through a sizable maze of narrow atmospheric streets that collectively shape up the medieval town. Via de Tillier and its lopsided continuation Via Aubert are Aosta’s most cherished walkways, a nonpareil of old-world charm, tradition and charisma. Filled up with tiny shopping niches that deal in wooden souvenirs, collector’s items, vintage jewellery and exclusive Aosta pastries, these demand a succession of visits if one wants to become familiar as well with what’s under wraps in the side alleyways that dot the centre, Via Aubert in particular. Not to be missed are two awfully narrow back lanes (Rue Guillaume Maillet and Rue d’Avise) that lead from Via Aubert to a labyrinthine network of unrestored worn-out streets flanked with crumbling ruins.Crisscrossing the eastern edge of Via Aubert is Via Croce di Citta, another graceful street, wider than the rest but similarly haunted with a line-up of exclusive individual shops. The legendary memorial cross midway on the street commemorates the expulsion of the Lutherans from Aosta in the sixteenth century; at least that’s what the inscription on the supporting pedestal reveals. A few steps further down the street from the memorial, an unpredictable byway on the right leads straight to Cathedral Square, inappropriately named instead Piazza Giovanni XXIII. Aosta’s majestic cathedral flanks the major part of the square, its neo-classical remodelled façade watching with poise over the surroundings. Take a close look at the colourful frescoes that adorn the tympanum above the central doorway and the terracotta statues that grace the porch with their whimsical uniqueness. For fine old-world frescoes that date back to the Romanesque church that stood here prior to the cathedral, take one of the several daily tours to the attic where a whole array of impressive tenth-century ceiling paintings are kept treasured under the hat.Steps near the cathedral climb down to the Roman Cripto-portico, an underground labyrinth of corridors with massive vaults supported on thickset pillars. Was this underworld habitat a burial chamber, a hideaway for the cathedral’s treasures or merely the substructure for a grand Roman construction? Nobody is certain; what is certain is that the place is a matchless example of an underground world, a well-preserved specimen of a subterranean refuge from a bygone age.Spreading out east of Piazza Chanoux is Via Porta Praetoria, a car-free walkway where Aosta’s best choice of eateries and bars are queued up side by side. On the easternmost edge of Via Porta Praetoria stands the Praetorian Gate, two parallel triple-arched gateways dating back to 25 BC. Whole sections of the structure are still in ruins while others are covered with a mesh of scaffolding that renders viewing painful. What can be seen is however grand, authentic and architecturally insightful. Housed in the side building that fills up the space between the parallel rows of gateways is a specialized information office that has at hand all the transport data needed to travel in the region. Just behind the gateways in an old-world building is Aosta’s most characterful restaurant. Give it a try: the food is as characterful as the ambience.Further east beyond the Praetorian Gate is Via Sant’Anselmo, a narrow walkway that leads straight to Piazza Arco d’Augusto. The massive arch one sees dominating the centre of a traffic-infested roundabout is neither spectacular nor graceful but its historical importance as a symbol of Aosta’s Roman origin cannot be underestimated.Midway on Via Sant’Anselmo is a short walkway that leads to what is perhaps Aosta’s prime historical sight, the eleventh-century Church of Saint Orso. The wooden choir stalls, the lofty medieval bell tower and the adjoining cloister are particularly impressive. Take a close look at the ornamental decorations that fill up the timeworn capitals of the supporting columns around the cloister. Each capital was hand-carved out of a single marble block; stucco work at those times was still unheard of. Close
Written by marif on 05 Aug, 2013
Originating on the Italian-French border, exactly where the narrow steep-sided vales that crisscross the mighty northwest Alps merge, the River Po is Italy’s longest and most exploited waterway. Near the medieval town of Saluzzo in the Po valley, the river changes course; it then flows…Read More
Originating on the Italian-French border, exactly where the narrow steep-sided vales that crisscross the mighty northwest Alps merge, the River Po is Italy’s longest and most exploited waterway. Near the medieval town of Saluzzo in the Po valley, the river changes course; it then flows northwards for thirty-five miles towards Torino. North of here, the river veers east and resumes its eastbound course for more than three-hundred-fifty miles towards the Adriatic Sea. En route, it flows through the outskirts of Piacenza, Cremona, Mantua and Ferrara, draining the surplus rainwater of these cities and channelling it into the sea. The Po does not flow through Milano but a series of man-made canals direct the excess rainwater from Milano to the river, thus augmenting excessively the volume of water the river is required to take in. In the neighbourhood of Venezia, the river branches out into several canals that unfold into the Po Delta, an extensive area of marshland, flooded lakes and fabulous landscape.The five-mile section of the Po that traverses Torino is for the most part wide, deep and clean enough to render the water clear. However, samples of water tested for invisible contamination indicate that the river is polluted with industrial chemicals and oil spills and so is unsuitable for swimming. For this reason, all forms of water sports are in utter short supply or non-existent and with the exception of boating, no other activities are evident on the river. Taking the regular ferry from the quay under Ponte Umberto for a one-hour trip along the river is definitely not influenced by pollution and so highly recommended, particularly for those whose time in the city is limited to one or two days. The excursion with a recorded commentary in Italian (in English by appointment and at specified times only) takes in the sightseeing attractions on both banks and covers the stretch between Ponte Vittorio Emanuele and Ponte Balbis, the total distance of the one-way journey being two-and-a-half miles.Facing the ‘centro storico’, the left bank of the river from Ponte Vittorio Emanuele to Ponte Umberto is a breathing space ideal for whiling the time in leisurely pursuits. Slipping away from the lively activities on Piazza Vittorio Veneto nearby is no mean feat but for a change of scene, it is wise to traverse the road and take the steps down from the edge of Ponte Vittorio Emanuele to the river promenade. Well below street level, the promenade, unlike the square is serene and placid, its atmosphere of tranquillity enhanced by the undisturbed water of the river and the sober grace of scenic greenery on the right bank. Strolling along the promenade between the bridges in moonlight is the pursuit of romantics. It is here along this sequestered walkway that amorous Torinesi couples hang around in quiet away from the noisy activity of city life. Showing up here on a Sunday afternoon, one finds however an entirely contrasting scene. Still quiet by the standards of an exuberant city life, the area is dominated by picnicking families, children playing, adults reading and lots of skateboarders. A walk along the proper left-bank promenade starts right in front of Piazza Vittorio Veneto under the Vittorio Emanuele Bridge and ends under the picturesque Umberto Bridge, a mighty structure embellished with a pair of allegorical bronze casts on each side. Climbing the steps or the slipway incline from the river promenade brings one right in front of a monumental arch dedicated to artillery. Known as the ‘Arco Monumentale all’Arma di Artiglieria’, it is a mild attempt at constructing a miniature Marble Arch at the junction of two big thoroughfares: Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Corso Cairoli. Graceful and overspread with bas-reliefs of war memorabilia but far from grand, the Artillery Memorial is however an important signpost as it marks the northern edge of what is Torino’s largest and most frequented parkland. Nearby is the gigantic statue of Garibaldi (the grand reformist and cofounder of the mid-nineteenth-century Risorgimento movement) watching over as if to guarantee that Italy will remain politically ‘young’ forever.Torino’s sole parkland is composed of an elongated zone of greenery bounded from the east by the subsequent extension of the left bank of the Po and from the west by busy Corso Massimo d’Azeglio, a major road that connects the southern suburbs with the centre. The park, referred to as Parco del Valentino is nowhere wider than half-a-mile but lengthwise, it stretches out from Ponte Umberto to Ponte Principessa Isabella, a distance of almost two miles. Being so extensive, one needs a lot of time, stamina and dedication to go around the entire park and sightsee all its major attractions. For this reason, it is advisable for short-stay visitors to take the park’s sightseeing train that strays along the main routes and takes in most of the points of interest.Parco del Valentino is an evening mecca for Torinesi who flock here to picnic on the grass or embark on an open-air activity of their choice. Be it jogging, cycling or rollerblading, be it zumba or capoeira, each sporting activity is encouraged through the use of facilities appropriately set up in the park for practice. Every Sunday afternoon, the park is literally invaded by thousands of local teenagers who come here to meet friends and spend hours of entertainment together. Organized leisure activities like live band music, pop concerts and disco dancing are not uncommon, adding to the atmosphere of amusement and delight. Parco del Valentino does not sleep either. Right on the water’s edge, the former rowing and regatta clubs have all been transformed into moneymaking nightclubs, reputedly the most noisy, smoky and ‘underground’ in the entire Torino area. How can life in the park ever sleep if the air remains thick with rowdiness until the wee hours of the morning?To enjoy the true natural beauty the park is supposedly intended for, consider coming here on a weekday in the morning when the number of visitors wandering around is limited to tourists and school children. Starting from the entranceway near Ponte Umberto, make your way along one of the tree-sheltered winding pathways to the extensive Botanical Gardens. Comprising a rock garden with exotic cacti, a colourful rose garden with lots of quirky specimens, a play area for children and several canals and ponds overflowing with splashing water, it is unquestionably a spot where to wind down after the bustle of the city centre. Bordering the Botanical Gardens is Castello Valentino, a grand French-style horseshoe-shaped palace that is as grandiose as it looks. Its flamboyant façade lined with rows of ornate windows and dotted with monoliths of Savoy dukes matches for style its elegant interior, crammed as it is with frescoes and lots of intricate stucco work. Currently housing the university’s faculty of architecture, the interior can be visited by appointment only in the absence of lectures.A good walk south along Viale Virgilio leads to the Borgo Mediovale, a medieval Piemontese village that comes complete with a chapel, a number of artisans workshops, a quarter for aristocrats and a Gothic castle crammed with period furniture. Everything looks and feels authentic enough as to render unbelievable the fact that the village is a fake late-nineteenth-century construction. In spite of its deceptive appearance, it is nonetheless an outstanding example of its kind and should on no account be missed.Off the Borgo Mediovale, a short stroll south is the ‘Fontana dei dodici mesi’, a stepped marble fountain of gigantic proportions girdled with twelve allegorical statues, one for each month of the year. Nearby is the graceful Ponte Principessa Isabella that marks off the termination of the park.The right bank of the Po, reachable via one of the bridges is bordered by a narrow belt of greenery that stretches from Ponte Vittorio Emanuele to Ponte Principessa Isabella. But the most inspiring section lies exactly south of Ponte Vittorio Emanuele. As one crosses this chaotic overpass to the right bank, one comes face to face with what is perhaps Torino’s most unusual place of worship. Called the Church of the Mother of God, it is a circular sanctuary that gets its light from a skylight placed conveniently at the apex of the dome. No artificial lighting is therefore necessary to view its interior. More interesting than the church is the panoramic view one can enjoy from the church parvis. Only steps away is Via Gaetano Giardino, a steep tree-shaded incline that brings one on a hilly outcrop called Monte dei Capuccini. Arduous and exhausting, the walk pays off with a gem of a church crowning the top of the hill. Glimmering with gilded ornamentation, the church, though small contains enough paintings and works of art to keep one occupied for at least an hour. From the terrace outside the church, the splendid view over the city and the banks of the Po is unequivocally the best in Torino. Close
Written by marif on 30 Jul, 2013
Dividing Torino’s ‘centro storico’ neatly into two unequal zones and taking in midway Piazza San Carlo, Via Roma runs straight from Piazza Carlo Felice to Piazza Castello. While Piazza Carlo Felice is merely a shortcut for pedestrians who trek from the transport hub of Porta…Read More
Dividing Torino’s ‘centro storico’ neatly into two unequal zones and taking in midway Piazza San Carlo, Via Roma runs straight from Piazza Carlo Felice to Piazza Castello. While Piazza Carlo Felice is merely a shortcut for pedestrians who trek from the transport hub of Porta Nuova to the centre, the same cannot be said of the other two squares which are unquestionably more typical of grand Italian piazzas. Piazza Castello is the exposed heart of the city, exquisite, stately and beautiful. Its grandeur enhanced by the sober grace of the Palazzo Reale and the monumental poise of Palazzo Madama demands time to digest; much more time if one wishes to become familiar with what’s under wraps inside. Piazza San Carlo with its score of historical cafes has few sightseeing attractions but Torinesi use this vast space as a public courtyard for day-to-day discussion. Every evening, the outdoor seating under the porticoes turns into one big conversation ground for the well-heeled; the open-air public benches are no less subordinate grounds for discussion but here the space is generally grabbed by groups of pensioners and seniors. Joining in the discussion, even if you’re a foreigner is accepted with pleasure but… most discussions often go overboard and then the speaking language changes from Italian to an adulterated Piemontese dialect which only the locals can understand.West of Via Roma is the network of narrow intersecting streets that form the backbone of medieval Torino. Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, broader than the lot and entirely pedestrianized is a lovely half-mile-long shopping promenade where the young generation of Torinesi parade around to get the hang of what’s happening in the world of fashion. Parallel to Via Garibaldi is Via Barbaroux, a long alleyway full of character where the main features of attraction are the tempting displays of antiques: manuscripts, fine ceramics, original prints and paintings, religious items, furniture and all kinds of old knickknacks. Crossing Via Barbaroux at right angles are the pedestrianized aisles of Via San Tommaso and Via dei Mercanti, two intriguing passageways that embrace more antiquarians and lots of small squeezed-in shops that specialize in local products. Be it a box of chocolate pralines or a miscellany of tiny pastries, be it a savoury pie or a cream tart, each incorporates to an extent a touch and a taste of Torino. To manifest the made-in-Torino label, specialized shops dub their items with pseudonyms of Torino attractions. Torta Sabauda, Citronelli di Venaria Reale, Gianduiotti San Carlo and Gelato Carignano were but a few from the list of gastronomic delights I encountered (and savoured with passion) while I toured the area.Taking into account the dozen or so churches I counted on the west side of the ‘centro storico’, I got the impression of being in a religious zone of Catholic fanaticism and devotional belief. But once I set foot inside and found the buildings bereft of believers, I soon became aware that devotion has for the most part gone the way of the dodo and the majority of Torino churches have subsequently mutated into unofficial museums of fine arts and antiques. Only few (and these happen to be those that embrace the finest attractions) are still working churches and these can obviously be visited only in the absence of service.One such place of worship that doubles as a working church and a museum is the fifteenth-century Renaissance Duomo. Raised from the level of Piazza San Giovanni by a flight of steps, it is a failed attempt at grandeur, much below expectations and unworthy of a city that embraces such a wide diversity of fine buildings. Visitors who come here are often doubly disappointed. The Cathedral is plain outside and devoid of decoration inside. The highly flaunted Holy Shroud, supposedly on show in the Holy Shroud Chapel at the back of the left-hand aisle was somewhere under lock and key hidden to visitors. All I could see was a photographic representation behind a sheet of glass and a video that touched on the historical aspect of the shroud and made an attempt to flag up its controversial authenticity.What the Duomo lacks in decoration comes to light in profusion in what is perhaps the city’s epitome of baroque. Located on the western edge of Piazza Castello, exactly near the entrance to the courtyard that fronts the Palazzo Reale, the Church of St Laurence has no façade, the latter having been swallowed up by a wing of the palace. For this reason, the church is alas… often missed out. Its interior, covered from floor to ceiling with multi-streaked marble of the finest quality is a showcase of intricate ornamentation, fine paintings, vivid ceiling frescoes and lots of gilt. Make your way into the sacristy where a life-size reproduction of the Holy Shroud, better than the one behind glass in the Duomo is on display for veneration and inspection.Behind the Church of St Laurence on Via Palazzo di Citta stands the single-nave Church of Corpus Domini. Its polluted exterior is far from spectacular but the interior décor, satisfactorily conserved comprises lots of historical artefacts steeped in legend. A glimmering gold monstrance and a plaque still stand in commemoration of a miracle that has reputedly occurred on the feast day of Corpus Domini.On the western side of Via Roma, one more church amidst the lot that stands out for its unusual design, architectural elegance and gilded interior is the Basilica of the Consolata. A ten-minute walk west off the Duomo along Via Santa Chiara, it is located a stone’s throw from Piazza Emanuele Filiberto, the central square that hosts most of the city’s nightlife. The church is composed of an elliptical main section that unfolds into four round chapels. The highlight is the baroque high altar, an exclusive marble composition enhanced by a fabulous altarpiece that depicts the image of the Consolata in weeping mode but heavily bedecked with gold. The gilded frame of the painting is in actual fact more outstanding than the picture itself. Go around inspecting the details of what hangs to the walls of the church and the corridor that leads to the sacristy. All these are votive offerings presented by the faithful to demonstrate their love and devotion for the heartbroken Madonna.East of Piazza Emanuele Filiberto is the vast space of Piazza della Repubblica, known by common Torinesi as Piazza Porta Palazzo. Cut across into two equal zones by traffic-jammed Corso Regina Margherita, it is the venue of a daily open-air savoury food market. The area south of the thoroughfare is dedicated to fruits, vegetables and spices while on the north side, one finds stalls that specialize in exotic cheeses, strange peppery concoctions and lots of pickled vegetables. The shadowy Liber Pavilion nearby is a butchers’ domination downstairs and a delicatessens’ paradise upstairs. Off the Liber Pavilion is a covered fish market surrounded with hundreds of stalls that deal in cheap clothing. If you happen to be here on a Saturday, walk a few steps to Via Borgo Dora where a traditional flea market known as Balon is held. The range of bric-a-bracs on display is so wide that the market often swallows up as well most of Piazza della Repubblica.East of Via Roma, the streets are wider, undemanding to navigate and straight as a ruler. The number of churches in this part of the ‘centro storico’ is far less than in the western zone and the only two of significance are the Church of St Philip Neri and the parish Church of the Annunziata. St Philip Neri, located right in front of the entranceway to the Museo Egizio deserves a visit if only to see the superb historical altarpiece above its monumental high altar. In the first chapel on the left as you enter is a nonstop-running English documentary that touches on the history of the place and exposes in detail all the decorative aspects of the church. The Annunziata Church on Via Po under the porticoes is composed of a single nave lined with five side chapels on each side. Each chapel embraces distinctive features (paintings, stucco work, statues in bronze, marble or wood) worthy of note but it is the curving high altar that attracts the attention of visitors. Don’t miss the tabernacle door overlaid with an oval hand-sculpted medallion in fine white Carrara marble.Via Po cuts straight through the eastern part of the ‘centro storico’ from Piazza Castello to Piazza Vittorio Veneto. Lined with elegant porticoes and crammed with restaurants and take-away joints, it is the place that Torinesi frequent for their evening ‘passeggiata’. A side street (Via Montebello) midway on Via Po leads to the National Cinema Museum housed inside the Mole Antonelliana, unequivocally the loftiest building in the city. Even if retracing the history of cinema through hands-on exhibits is not your cup of tea, come here if only to take the elevator to the panoramic terrace from where the view over the entire city is excellent. Close
Written by marif on 25 Jul, 2013
From an uninspiring town and a prime employment location to which workers from the south migrated to find a job in the automobile industry, Torino has in the last six years transformed itself into a pleasant place where historical piazzas, enticing boulevards and charming palaces…Read More
From an uninspiring town and a prime employment location to which workers from the south migrated to find a job in the automobile industry, Torino has in the last six years transformed itself into a pleasant place where historical piazzas, enticing boulevards and charming palaces and churches were turned into inviting spots for exploration. Venturing outside the ‘centro storico’ is however not as pleasant an experience as one might expect since Torino’s suburbs are still as dismal as any other rundown residential area. So, to get the best out of your visit and to leave Torino with a good impression, it is advisable to concentrate on the centre and explore its amazingly rich and vivid heritage. Torino’s centre, small enough to be navigable on foot stretches out northwest of the River Po. Enclosed by a bend in the river from the east, Corso Inghilterra from the west, Corso Regina Margherita from the north and Corso Vittorio Emanuele from the south, it consists of a grid of tightly-packed streets that are for the most part lined with colonnaded porticoes, ideal for walking when it rains. Also ideal for walking (obviously in the absence of rain or frost) is the array of pedestrianized streets that grace the centre with their cobbled granite ground-covering. All streets in the centre, whether pedestrianized or not teem with shops of all sorts, some small and exclusive enough to offer a personal one-to-one service, others large and crammed with merchandise to the extent that choice becomes a challenging feat of evaluation. Embracing as well most of Torino’s heritage, the inner city encloses within its confines a rich legacy of opulent palaces, grand monuments and historical cafes that evolved progressively during four centuries of history. It is therefore here that one can truly discover Torino: a city that has combined effectively leisure and shopping with history and tradition.Notwithstanding the multitude of attractions in the ‘centro storico’, one should reserve some time to venture beyond the walkable zone of the city and possibly take a trip to one of Torino’s far-flung districts where further attractions await visitors. Torino’s off-the-beaten-track locations are for the most part sparsely populated, giving visitors an additional opportunity to sightsee in an atmosphere of calm and seclusion. Choosing an out-of-the-way location depends much on one’s interests. Car enthusiasts will be in heaven in the Museo dell’Automobile. Juventus fans will definitely not be disappointed either with the endless number of trophies and memorabilia on show in the Juventus Museum. If one is neither a car enthusiast nor a soccer fan, one can opt instead for a day out away from the bustling life of downtown Torino. Choose from Parco della Mandria (northwest of the centre), Stupinigi (southwest of the centre) or Villa della Regina (on the right bank of the Po), each of these comprising an extensive area of landscape greenery with a central palace as the focus of attraction.Reaching Torino’s remote locations is not easy unless one has private transport. Tram and bus stops are scattered around and finding the right stop is itself an adventure. However, the service is frequent and quick and this compensates to an extent for the time lost to locate the stop. In addition to this, most far-flung destinations require a combination of a tram and bus ride or a change of bus. The Tourist Information Centre on Piazza Castello provides free transport maps that show the principal stops along each bus and tram route. Few years back, Torino’s Caselle airport was mostly reserved for internal flights but with the advent of low-cost airlines, Ryanair in particular, Caselle evolved into a medium-sized international hub from where the majority of European destinations could be reached. Accompanying this expansion in the number of flights, access from the airport to downtown Torino developed into a simple down-to-earth affair. The cheapest but most demanding option is the Dora train that runs between the airport and Stazione Dora at half-hourly intervals. Stazione Dora, on the northern outskirts of the city in a derelict suburb is connected to the centre either by regular bus or by the Dorafly service. Better but pricier is the Sadem bus that plies the ten-mile route between the airport and Stazione Porta Nuova every half-hour. The bus is slow taking fifty minutes to complete the trip along traffic-infested roads but the benefit of calling at convenient stops along the way makes up for the time-consuming concern. One such stop is Stazione Porta Susa, a huge modern glass-and-steel train station still at its completion stage after years of enlargement and renovation. All trains heading for Italy’s remote northwest Piemonte region, the ski resorts around the Aosta valley and the south of France call at Susa. So, using Stazione Porta Susa (without continuing to Stazione Porta Nuova) is a practical way to skip the hassle of Torino if one envisages proceeding further north.The Sadem airport bus terminates the trip on Corso Vittorio Emanuele corner with Via Sacchi, right in front of the west side of Stazione Porta Nuova. The huge structure of the station is currently fenced in an enclosure of scaffolding that hides an otherwise bleak façade, uninspiring and architecturally bland. But set foot inside and you will find yourself in a monumental hallway hemmed in by state-of-the-art shops, stylish, trendy and colourful. One soon loses oneself in the confusion and forgets one is merely inside a train station. One outlet occupied by a branch of the Tourist Information Centre is an excellent source of information and inspiration for visitors who have just set foot in the city. The streets off the east edge of the station, Via Nizza and Via Saluzzo in particular teem with budget hotels and finding a suitable pad is normally child’s play, even in high season.Stazione Porta Nuova, south of the city centre and within a stone’s throw of the city’s focus of activity can be looked upon as the gateway to Torino’s ‘centro storico’. Crossing the highway from Porta Nuova to Piazza Carlo Felice is no mean feat: Corso Vittorio Emanuele is thronged, at times blocked with traffic day and night. A sign of relief for pedestrians is the traffic lights that allow intermittent crossing and stop the flow of traffic. Piazza Carlo Felice lined with seating on all sides and clustered with a small central area of greenery is nothing spectacular but is the kick-start of an adventure of pleasant surprises and unusual treats. North of the square is Via Roma, Torino’s modest answer to London’s Oxford Street. Though neither as pretentious nor as showy, Via Roma is nonetheless more graceful and charming, its side porticoes running from beginning to end imparting to the street an air of warmth and hospitality. All the big brands of Italian and international fashion are here; if not, they are definitely nearby along the side streets that radiate out of Via Roma. Try your luck as well along Via Lagrange, an entirely pedestrianized street parallel to Via Roma and maybe more graceful, crammed as it is with more fashion shops and lots of belle époque cafes, all equipped with outdoor tables decked out in colourful tablecloths.The first section of Via Roma ends with a pair of monolithic nudes that have little artistic worth and do not deserve more than a passing glance. But venturing beyond the gigantic casts into Piazza San Carlo, one is faced with a grand pedestrian space surrounded with elegant porticoes where the well-heeled Torinesi sit down and discuss politics over a cup of coffee brew. Coffee shops with outdoor seating have over the years evolved into a Torino institution and Piazza San Carlo is no exception. Linger on if you have the time to inspect the central ‘caval de brons’, an imposing monument to Duke Emanuele Filiberto who raises his sword in victory after the San Quintino battle in 1574. The two baroque churches on the Porta Nuova side of Piazza San Carlo seem to be twins but identical they are not. Can you spot the variations?On the northernmost extremity of Piazza San Carlo, Via Roma stretches out past the Museo Egizio and Galleria Sabauda to Piazza Carignano. Small in size but grand enough to contain what might be Torino’s most beautiful and history-steeped palace (Palazzo Carignano), this fine square houses as well Torino’s oldest theatre where all great Italian actors of the past performed.Few more steps and one finds oneself where Via Roma unfolds into Torino’s grandest and largest square: Piazza Castello. Imposing, impressive and immortal, this square embraces enough attractions to fill up a whole day. The highlight is unquestionably the Palazzo Reale, the former residence of the Savoy dynasty. No less inviting is Palazzo Madama, a great place whose architectural features speak for more than seven centuries of history. Currently housing a museum of fine arts, it is definitely one attraction no visitor should miss out. Climb up the medieval tower for a privileged view of Piazza Castello. Close
Written by nweck on 28 Nov, 2004
The following morning, while enjoying a fantastic breakfast of fresh breads, muffins, preserves, fruits, cheeses, yogurts, and local honey, we met with Ute and Francesco to go over the day’s touring plans. After breakfast, we departed for the town of Cocconato, where we…Read More
The following morning, while enjoying a fantastic breakfast of fresh breads, muffins, preserves, fruits, cheeses, yogurts, and local honey, we met with Ute and Francesco to go over the day’s touring plans. After breakfast, we departed for the town of Cocconato, where we had a private touring of the wine-bottling and production facility of the Bava winery, followed by a private tasting of the wineries wide array of wines. Ute and Francesco had arranged a private touring of the facility, so we had the entire place to ourselves! After the tour, and the fantastic tasting, we toured the local area, ate a light lunch, and headed to the small town of Cunico, where the Bosso distillery is located, which produces grappa.
Upon arrival at the Bosso distillery, we were introduced to Mr. Franco Bosso, the patriarch of the Bosso family who has been making grappa for several generations. For the next 2 hours, we were given a private tour of the property by Mr. Bosso and his son (the interpreter), which included the production facilities, the distillery, the bottling room, and finally, of course, the tasting room. Grappa is a distilled liqueur that is made from the by-product of wine production (ground grape pulp and small amounts of vine). Fully satisfied and slightly lightheaded from the tasting of the Bosso grappa, we continued on our predetermined itinerary to the town of Castell’ Alfero.
In the beautiful town of Castell’ Alfero, we went to the Gamba wine barrel factory. Here again our hosts had arraigned a private tour of the factory. Gamba is one of only two factories in Italy that make barrels. The tour was very informative, and we were amazed to actually be able to watch these handmade works of art being created, from start to finish, right before our eyes. After the tour, we were off to the small town of Castagnole Monterrato, where we were to have another private winery tour.
With a little help from the locals, we found the quaint small winery of Ferrarsi & Gatto. The winery is run by two young friends, and it produces many fantastic varieties of wine. It is their Ruche’ that they are best known for. This is truly a family-run business, from growing and tending to the grapes to harvesting and production. Family members of the two warm and cordial hosts even do the bottling and labeling on site. As the day was nearing its end, we had one more stop before our pre-planned dinner. While in route to our dinner in Barbaso, we stopped at the Bottega el Grinolino in the town of Portacomaro.
Bottega el Grinolino is a quaint bottega located in a nice restaurant. We toured their wonderful extensive wine cellar, tasted several varieties of wine, and were treated to a wonderfully warm respite from a busy day. Our hosts at this stop were both the owner of the restaurant and a local young woman who represented the local wine producer’s association.
The day ended for us at a wonderful Agriturismo called Cascinadimaggio, located in the village of Barbaso, just a few miles from our bed-and-breakfast in Moncucco. This Agriturismo is also a bed-and-breakfast as well as a working farm and winery. Our host for the evening, Mr. Mario Casalegno, prepared, cooked, as well as served our truly magnificent dinner. Our dinner was truly a memorable way to end our first full day in Piedmont.
The following morning we had, once again, a fantastic breakfast and discussed the day’s itinerary with our gracious hosts. As this was our last day, Francesco had a full day planned for us, with our final destination at the end of the day returning us to Turin to our hotel and then leaving the following morning for Munich.
Our day began with our driving to the village of Sommarica Perno to meet Piero, a friend of Francesco’s who was to personally guide us to Pocapaglia and the area of San Sebastiano, where we hiked a trail to see the beautiful rocche and geologic marvels of the countryside. After our hike, we drove to the town of Serralunga d’ Alba. This beautiful town is situated on a hilltop, with the surrounding hillsides completely covered by vineyards as far as the eye can see. Here we dined at a wonderful restaurant called Cascina Schiavenza. This trattoria had a wonderful wine cellar that was open to the public. Near the restaurant were the Grinzane Castle and an abundance of very old churches to tour. The area was astoundingly beautiful, with the spring flowers in full bloom.
We departed this area and toured the lush countryside, stopping at landmarks in the town of Barolo before arriving in the town of Monforte d’ Alba, where our hosts had arraigned a private tour of the Fantino family winery. This winery produces a fantastic Barolo wine. We toured their private cellars, as well as the bottling and labeling facilities. A spectacular tasting of many of the wines this family vineyard produces followed our tour. As the day was nearing its end, we reluctantly drove back to Turin to spend the night before departing on the train to Munich the following morning.
There are several suggestions I would like to make if you plan to explore the Piedmont Region. First, I recommend planning well in advance, beginning with some research on the Internet. We sent emails to many of the wine cooperatives and government agencies in the Piedmont area, asking for brochures. The information we received was invaluable and free! Second, spend the money on some good detailed road maps. We used several regional maps produced by Touring Club Italiano and found them at a specialty map supplier in the States. While the main highways are well marked, without the detailed regional maps we had, we would have had serious problems driving through the countryside. Third, we found it impossible to use a pay phone with cash. Purchase a local phone card, even if you think you will never use it. Fourth, most of the Agriturisimo’s people only deal in cash, so be prepared. Five, almost all businesses in the smaller villages are closed from noon to 2pm-plan accordingly. Last, rely on the experience of your bed-and-breakfast hosts for local dining and off-the-beaten-path touring. Our hosts, Ute and Francesco at Cascina Le Roasine, were attentive to every detail and made our trip to the Piedmont area a truly memorable experience.
Finding ourselves with only a short 3-day window in our schedule while traveling by train from Lyon, France to Munich, Germany, we planned a quick trip to northern Italy. As Turin (Torino) was an intermediate stop on the scheduled train route, the city gave…Read More
Finding ourselves with only a short 3-day window in our schedule while traveling by train from Lyon, France to Munich, Germany, we planned a quick trip to northern Italy. As Turin (Torino) was an intermediate stop on the scheduled train route, the city gave us a perfect starting point for a quick visit to the Piedmont area, which is rich in history, historical sites, and renowned wineries.
Wanting to avoid staying in the city and using it as a base hub everyday for our touring, in addition to our desire to experience the local flavor of the Piedmont area, we did a lot of research on the Internet looking for a bed-and-breakfast we could call home for a few days. We inquired at several different establishments in the Cheri, Asti, and Turin area and were delighted when we found a wonderful bed-and-breakfast less than an hour from Turin and located in the rolling hills of the Monferrato in the province of Asti. Cascina Le Roasine is a beautiful bed-and-breakfast run by Ute and Francesco. Located in the beautiful countryside near the village of Moncucco Torinese, this bed-and-breakfast was a dream come true for us.
The bed-and-breakfast is a recently modernized hay barn lying adjacent to the family’s beautiful 19th-century farmhouse. There were two very spacious private bedrooms, each with private bathrooms, and a very spacious suite available for rent. The bed-and-breakfast also contained a spacious kitchen; a very large common room, complete with a fireplace; and each room opened out onto a large second floor balcony that overlooked the beautiful property and surrounding rolling hills. While we were informed that the lodging included a free breakfast each morning, we were truly unprepared for the total personal care and in-depth planning that Ute and Francesco did for us to make our short stay memorable.
Equipped with a rental car we picked up in Turin near the Port Nuova train station, we arrived at Cascina Le Roasine at nearly 6pm to meet Ute, the charming hostess of the bed-and-breakfast. She and her husband Francesco had laid out a detailed 2-day itinerary for us, which she presented upon our arrival while offering us a very welcomed drink. Ute informed us that our dinner plans were already made and that while we waited for our time to dine, she would show us a little of the local area. After allowing us to settle into our rooms and get refreshed, she took us for a nice ride through the hills to the tiny village of Vezzolano, where we visited the grounds of the Abbazia Di S. Maria. The Monastery of Santa Maria di Vezzolano was founded in 1095. The monastery, with its important medieval works of art, witnessed a long period of splendor between the 12th and 13th centuries, followed by a slow decline that culminated in 1800, with the expropriation of its estates from the Napoleonic administration. The surrounding grounds are beautiful, and we enjoyed the privilege of a private tour and a walk through the surrounding vineyards with Ute. After our tour, our host led us to Trattoria del Friesa, where we had dinner reservations for the evening. While our host returned to her home, we were left in the very capable hands of the wonderfully attentive wait staff, who overwhelmed us with some of the finest cuisine of the area. The food and wine kept coming, and coming, and coming and at the end of the evening, fully satisfied and anxious for the following day’s plans, we returned to the bed-and-breakfast to retire for the evening.
See Part 2.