‘Italy of the Italians’ – the expression is apt because from this region between the western Alps and the coastal fringe of Liguria came the Italian nation. Piedmont’s Prime Minister Cavour was the architect of the Risorgimento, the rising up of modern Italy; and the King of Piedmont became the first King of Italy.
In another sense it is ‘Italy of the Italians’ because it attracts few foreign tourists. Although ski resorts are numerous in the mountains, motorists in summer and autumn will have long verdant valleys and Alpine panoramas all to themselves.
Aming the best places to visit are the hill-top fortresses – landmarks of a turbulent history. To take one of many examples, the Susa valley strongholds recall the Waldenses whose relentless opposition to a corrupt papacy paved the way for the spread of Protestantism in northern Europe. To take another, the Savoy dynasty’s grandiose hunting lodge at Stupinigi (see separate article), taken over by Bonaparte on his way to Milan to be crowned emperor, was subsequently added to his list of country retreats.
This is one of the least developed and least visited parts of mainland Italy. The only busy road is west of Turin, where commercial traffic struggles up to the Fréjus road tunnel on the French border. Beside being home to some of Italy’s best wines and famous vermouths, this is also gourmet country, the cuisine a happy marriage between French and Italian. Expect to find fontina, a buttery cheese and ingredient of fonduta (fondue); and robiola, made from goats’ milk. White truffles (actually dirty brown) enhance many dishes. Hare cooked in Barbera wine is a regional favourite, as are bollito (pot-au-feu, meat broth) and gianduia, a cold chocolate pudding. There’s more information on this area in the section Italy’s North-west Frontier.
Turin is the airport for this region, international and domestic. A useful network of rail branch lines fills the Turin-Alessandria-Genoa-Cuneo quadrilateral. Some routes are spectacular with many tunnels and viaducts. The principal bus company, with services to all regional towns and communities and to Genoa and Liguria in coastal towns, is Sadem (www.sadem.it/en/home.aspx), in Turin.