About The North-West Frontier
This is the fast route between the Alps and the Mediterranean. The Alpine end attracts thousands of skiers in winter and spring; the summer scene is better known to Italians than foreign visitors. The latter are usually too busy getting down to the ‘real’ Italy, or home from their tours, to linger among the rough rocks and scree slopes of the Valle d’Aosta and the rounded hills and plains of rural Piedmont.
This section follows historic routes by which the Roman legions invaded northern Europe and it looks at the land which gave united Italy her first king and her first capital city, Turin. At one end, under Mont Blanc, you are close to the highest Alpine peaks. At the other, in Genoa, you are between two Italian rivieras.
The autostrada speeds through the Valle d’Aosta and Piedmont with only a passing glance at abbeys and castles, long thin valleys, crags shining with glacial armour-plating and small lakes set in national parks. Many areas of Piedmont are sanctuaries for wildlife, visitable, restoring the nature-lover’s faith in the planet. Many of the best places to visit are found into a country strangely neglected by tourists where, amid some industry and intensive agriculture, you find a world of interest with a hardworking, down-to-earth montagnard population, speaking French or an impenetrable French-Italian dialect of great antiquity. Artisans of the country districts specialize in pottery, woodwork and metalwork. Numerous small towns have traditions of musical-instrument manufacture: guitars, accordions, harps and bells.
Hot, spicy, nourishing foods, robust diets for robust people, characterize the Valdostana and Piedmontese cuisines. Red wine is sometimes served hot and spiced, perhaps in a wooden loving-cup. Restaurants offer gnocchi alla fontina (dumplings in soft cheese), carbonades of salted meats with red wine, goat and chamois cutlets, salami, fruits of the earth from mushrooms to honey. Fine wines grow in Piedmont. Among the most palatable are the classic red Barolos and dessert moscato produced along the river near St. Vincent. A fiery regional grappa helps keep out winter cold. Our coverage of north-west Italy is completed by the Piedmont section.
You may travel by rail all the way from Genoa to the slopes of Mont Blanc, leaving the national rail network (between Genoa and Turin) at Chivasso and proceeding by lvrea and Aosta to Prïé St Didier, or vice versa. The only lines actually penetrating the western and southern Alps are between Turin and Modane and the dramatic Treno del Mare under the Col di Tenda between Cuneo and Nice. Provincial railways of Piedmont can be picturesque, especially in the south, but you spend a lot of time in tunnels. Far-reaching cableways, funicular railways and comfortable bus excursions make it easy to escape into the mountains from many bases in Piedmont and Valle d’Aosta. Genoa is a major junction of roads and railways. It has excellent connections with the south of France and the rest of Italy.
Leading regional bus companies include: A.M.T. (www.amt.it) for East and West Rivieras; Autostradale (http://www.autostradale.it) for Riviera and Alpine resorts; Pesci (www.pesciviaggi.it) for Genoa and Piedmont generally; Sadem (www.sadem.it/it/home.aspx) for Piedmont and Valle d’Aosta; and Savda (http://www.savda.it) for Valle d’Aosta and Turin.