Hiking in Piemonte, Part 2: The Mountains and Alps
- Scritto da Diana Zahuranec
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In Hiking Part 1, I wrote about some great trails and sights right around the city of Turin. They’re all convenient to get to for someone on foot, twenty minutes to half an hour to reach, and mostly take half a day to finish.
Read about my other hiking destinations in Piemonte here:
→ Hiking in Piemonte, Part 1: Around Turin
→ Hiking in Piemonte, Part 3: Vineyard Walks
Now let’s go further afield. These get into the mountains, national parks, and even into the Alps.
National Park Gran Paradiso: One big postcard
Its name says it all. This is a piece of paradise parading as a huge national park in the Alps on the border of France, comprising 710 sq km (173,715 acres) in Piemonte and the Aosta Valley. Everywhere you turn is postcard-picture perfect. Many parts of it are accessible only on foot and with at least a day’s walk to get there. But all trails start at easily accessible points, mostly in the cutest Alpine towns you’ll ever see. But where to start? In Turin, there’s actually a Gran Paradiso office building. They speak English, and not only have detailed maps of the entire park, but also recommendations on where to sleep (from bed and breakfasts in town to a rifugio, or refuge, in the wilderness) and up-to-date information on mountain festivals, activities, and organized excursions.
Via della Rocca 47, Turin
Hours open: 9-12:30 / 2-5pm (Monday-Thursday), 9-12:30 (Friday)
1. Ceresole Reale
Ceresole Reale is just an hour and a half from Turin. The slate-roofed, stone and wood homes are so picturesque you’ll want to live here, and many different trails begin in this town. Don’t miss the blue Alpine lake, or the Lago di Ceresole. I’d recommend enjoying it after your hike, because you’ll want to bask in the sunshine on the rocks for a while.
This is also a part of Gran Paradiso so I’m including it, even though it’s technically in Aosta Valley, the stunningly beautiful Italian province above Piemonte. Also, it takes just twenty minutes more to drive from Turin to Cogne as it does to Ceresole Reale. Cogne is bigger than Ceresole Reale and it’s easy to rent a B&B for a night or two, hike around on the dozens of trails all day long, and then return to a hot dinner of polenta, Alpine cheeses, wild boar, and wine.
In October, Valdostana cattle breeders hold a traditional livestock festival, parading the huge Alpine cattle and steers through the streets. It’s called the Devétéya, which in dialect signifies this moment when the cattle are moved from the mountains to warmer, less frozen climes for the winter.
Also, just a side-note: if you mention the charming town of Cogne to any Italian, they will mention the caso Cogne, or “Cogne case,” that happened here in 2002. A highly-publicized and grisly incident occurred when apparently a mother killed her three-year-old son while he slept. She denied everything and insisted an intruder did it, but was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Anyway, you can read more about it on Wikipedia.
This is another area where you can close your eyes, snap a few pictures, and end up with frame-worthy shots. Beautiful all around.
On this trip, our plans were to go all the way up to the Sanctuary of Sant’Anna di Vinadio at 2000 meters (6,600 feet), the highest place of Christian worship in Europe, and branch out along the various trails from there. But the road was closed! So we couldn’t reach it unless we wanted to walk four miles before our planned hike. Luckily, we had noticed Piemonte’s red-and-white signs for trails at the foot of the mountain, one of which was marked the “Road of Fortresses,” or Strade dei Forti.
The trail passes by three ancient forts: the first is a big, impressive structure still used today and standing beside a man-made pond used for ice-skating in the winter; another old building, out of use at the top of the mountain; and finally, moss-covered ruins that leant a romantic touch to the mountain setting.
Great views all around; especially beautiful to hike in the fall, with lots of autumn colors.
Pian della Mussa
4. Trip one
This hike, located in the Lanzo Valley (famous for making Toma di Lanzo cheese!), can start at two points. We began at Balme, and traveled through a field of more wildflowers than I’ve ever seen and by a waterfall, skirted around a watchful (maybe dangerous?) bull, spotted mountain goats, and were rewarded with stupendous views when we reached Pian della Mussa.
5. Trip two
This time, we drove up to the point where we had turned around before, beginning in the valley and immediately climbing a mountain, following Trail 222. Of all the hikes I’ve done in Piemonte, this was by far the most challenging. The uphill begins immediately, without mercy, and without end. At difficult parts, there are even cables to hold on to; when the grade gets so steep and ice or snow cover the ground, the cables are necessary. The sparse trees gave way to stunted grass, vibrant green moss, and finally just rock until we reached the Rifugio Gastaldi at the top, 2659 m (8723 feet). There, a pond was frozen over and I saw the first snow of the season (this was in September).
Disclaimer: Herds of mountain goats live on and around this mountain, yet we saw only one, from very far away. How do I know their population probably exceeds that of the city of Turin? Because starting in the valley until almost the top, the stench of their droppings was so strong it was offensive that they didn’t deign to at least show themselves another few times.
Once you get up to the Refuge, there’s water, possibly other hikers, and signs pointing to other trails. It’s the perfect chance to eat lunch (well-covered to protect yourself from biting-cold wind!) and, if you organize ahead of time, establish it as your base camp for even more challenging, beautiful Alpine hikes.
I love Piemonte’s food and wine, the city of Turin, and my proximity to the Alps! My goal and challenge is to see as much of the region as possible using public transportation, but if you have a car I’d appreciate the ride. My intro to wine was at the Univ. of Gastronomic Sciences, and I love visiting family wineries, plus discovering Piemonte's craft beer scene. I’m hard-pressed to choose a favorite wine, but Nebbiolo never disappoints (from Barbaresco to Ghemme). As for beer, the Birrificio San Michele makes an incredible beechwood smoked brew.