Susa Valley (30 to 60-minute drive from Turin)
Alpine culture is deeply imbedded in Turin’s character because of the city’s proximity to the mountain range. You can spot the Alps from Turin’s central Piazza Castello and will want to discover more about the route that Roman generals traveled to conquer Europe, and that later served northern European pilgrims as they journeyed south to Rome and Jerusalem. The Susa Valley is on this path, connecting Italy to France through two alpine passes (Monginevro and Moncenisio). In 2006, its snow-capped mountains hosted the XX Winter Olympic Games. The valley’s history is filled with tales of armies, monks, medieval noblewomen and globetrotting artists whose priceless works are still on display in its abbeys and churches. From the VIII century on, rich and powerful abbeys perched on top of cliffs or set amidst lush pastures ruled the valley’s expanding communities. These abbeys provided refuge to weary pilgrims and traders, and educations to the children of noblemen. Most of these sites are extremely well preserved and still operating. They are open to those seeking art, nature, and a sense of mysticism and spirituality missing from today’s hectic life.
The main attractions are:
- The Romanesque/Gothic Monastery of St Antonio di Ranverso with 15th century Frescos by court artist Giacomo Jaquerio;
- The charming medieval town of Avigliana overlooking two small lakes;
- The Sacra di San Michele, a X century Benedictine abbey perched on top of a 2,700-foot cliff that was the inspiration for Umberto Eco’s bestselling novel, The Name of the Rose and is a symbol of the Piemonte Region;
- The town of Susa, called the “gate to Italy” for its strategic position at the junction of the routes from Savoie and Delfinate (on the other side of the Alps). In ancient Roman times, Susa was ruled by a local king who paved the way for Roman colonization. Today we can stroll along winding medieval streets and Roman ruins (including a well preserved Roman gate) before a tasting of a local delicatessen called focaccia di Susa.
- For the more adventurous, the furthermost Benedictine abbey of Novalesa awaits at the entrance to the Moncenisio pass with its XII century frescoes and a museum. It is situated in a tranquil side valley and the last half-mile has to be walked, as cars are not allowed.
- The Upper Susa Valley is the chosen ski destination for locals, but is also highly regarded by foreign skiers since it was the venue for the 2006 Winter Olympics.
To see more pictures go to Around Turin picture gallery.
Suggested tour “Abbeys of the Susa Valley”