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Winter sports aside, this diverse and sophisticated region offers plenty to see and do
Winter sports aside, this diverse and sophisticated region offers plenty to see and do
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Turin and Piedmont Spotlight

Tucked in the foothills of the Italian Alps, Piedmont is rich in wine, history, and ski resorts

By David Appell

September 21st, 2005

Already toured Tuscany, run around Rome, visited Venice, and in the market for a luscious slice of the bel paese not clogged with turisti? Have we got an under-the-radar charmer for you: Piedmont.

Its eastern border less than an hour from Milan, in a corner of Italy bordering France and Switzerland and stretching into the Alps, the landlocked but lake-and-river-rich region of Piedmont (known locally as Piemonte) and its gracious capital, Turin (Torino), are better known to European tourists than to Americans, despite this area’s beauty, storied history, ravishing cuisine, and a wine region equal to any in the world. Still, many of us got a taste while watching the 2006 Winter Olympics staged in various venues across this enchanting region, from Turin to ski resorts like Sestriere and all the way into the Alps (indeed, the region’s very name, Piemonte, translates to “foot of the mountain”).

Winter sports aside, this diverse and sophisticated region of 4.3 million offers a huge amount to see, do, eat, and drink all year round in both town and country, what with eight glorious national parks, hundreds of historic towns and cities, several thermal-water spas, and glorious wineries both aboveground and subterranean, all in an area just a tad larger than Vermont. And though the area is obviously appealing at anytime of year, fall is an especially wonderful time to visit thanks to the wine and truffle harvests, along with the various and sundry festivals that accompany them.

Though the name of Piedmont’s capital may be most identified – especially among Roman Catholics – with the Shroud of Turin (the supposed burial cloth of Jesus Christ), there’s plenty more history, art, and other culture in this burg and surrounding region. Turin was founded by the Roman emperor Augustus, and the region later became the stomping grounds of the powerful House of Savoy rulers and lorded over for a time by Napoleon Bonaparte; Turin also briefly served as unified Italy’s first capital before becoming better known in the past century as the birthplace of the Italian Communist Party and HQ of Fiat and the country’s most powerful family, the Agnellis.

But as nuts as we are about gracious, cosmopolitan, and dynamic Turin, the heart, soul – and stomach – of Piedmont arguably truly lies in the rolling hills south of the city. A bounteous hinterland that’s amply sophisticated in its own right, producing, for example, some of Europe’s most glorious wines and spirits and some of Italy’s signature foods and dishes, Piedmont has also nurtured important writers like Primo Levi, Italo Calvino, and most recently Umberto Eco, who set works like The Name of the Rose and his current The Flame of Queen Loanna in these parts.

While you could easily spend a week strolling Turin’s suave baroque downtown, with its cobblestones, porticos, and piazzas, a three-day visit will give you a good picture of the city’s charms. We’d also strongly recommend setting aside several days to overnight among the myriad villages, towns, and wineries that compose the surrounding countryside.

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