Piedmont lies in the far northwest of Italy and gets its name from its location at the ‘foot of the mountains’
It is bordered by Alpine ranges offering plenty of winter sports, making it a popular and long-established mecca for ski enthusiasts. The flat plains below the mountain ranges are an important centre for industry as well as being renowned for the quality of their gastronomy and wine production. Indeed, Piedmont produces some of the very best wines in the world – Barolo and Barbaresco are the most famous, but sparkling white Asti is a popular festive favourite. The truffle fairs of Alba also attract a global audience. The climate is distinctly continental in the mountainous north; the south of the region is just 30 miles from the Ligurian coast and consequently much milder.
Turin, the regional capital city of Piedmont, is situated in the wide flat plain of the River Po against the dramatic backdrop of the snow-peaked Alps.
With a population of about a million inhabitants, this is an elegant, Baroque city with wide boulevards, arcaded walkways and attractive architecture. Home to a sophisticated café culture, Fiat cars and the Juventus football team, Turin also played host to the 2006 Winter Olympics. Cultural highlights include the largest collection of Ancient Egyptian artefacts outside Cairo and the (in)famous Turin Shroud.
With the advent of cheap flights, Turin has become an accessible destination for long weekends, with diverse attractions like fine cuisine, art and culture – not forgetting the excellent shopping!
To the west, about 60 miles from Turin, nestling in the Alps, are the twin valleys of Di Susa and Di Chisone, part of the evocatively named Via Lattea (‘Milky Way’).
This is the main winter sports area of Piedmont and is a skier’s paradise with a network of resorts that offer more than 400 miles of slopes and ski runs. It is also an important point in the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia bike races. The facilities and infrastructure here are modern and sophisticated. Access by car and public transport is easy as the main Italy-France road and rail connections run right through the Valle di Susa.
The main ski resorts are Sestriere and Bardonecchia. Sestriere was Italy’s first purpose-built ski resort and is still the most fashionable. Bardonecchia is popular with snowboarding enthusiasts. Monte Rosa and Monte Cervino (Matterhorn) to the northeast is another winter sports mecca that is worth exploring for properties. But the summer in this stunning area is popular too as the natural beauty of the landscape lends itself to hiking and more seasonal outdoor pursuits.
Lake Maggiore & Orta
A region of great geographical contrasts, Piedmont also boasts two lakes. The western shore of Lake Maggiore forms the border between Piedmont and Lombardy, while Lake Orta is completely contained within Piedmont’s boundaries.
The western shoreline, which includes the popular resort of Stresa, is one of the most beautiful lakeside locations in Italy. Its mild climate makes it a much-loved holiday destination, with elegant towns of lakeside villas against a backdrop of snowcapped mountains. The picturesque Borromean Islands have been owned by the Borromeo family since the 15th century. The most famous island in the lake is Isola Bella, on which stands a magnificent 17th-century Baroque palazzo.
Lake Orta is much smaller, a mere 13km long and 1km wide, situated in the western Alpine foothills. Lesser known than Lake Maggiore, it is far quieter than its larger neighbour and well worth a visit. The jewel in its crown is the exquisite medieval lakeside town of Orta San Giulio, while further inland you’ll find the Sacro Monte nature reserve. This is notable for the 20 small chapels containing extraordinarily lifelike tableaux from the life of St Francis.