Nestled side by side in Northwest Italy, Piedmont and Valle d’ Aosta are two of the most spectacular regions in the country. Bordering the French and Swiss Alps these areas are characterised by towering mountains and verdant valleys, atmospheric castles that dot the landscape and food and wine that will tantalise the taste buds of every gastronome. Of course this area is also home to some of the finest skiing in Europe with the Il Cervino/Matterhorn and Monte Bianco/Mont Blanc mountain ranges as its playgrounds. Today there are more than a hundred ski-lifts and 1500 km of slopes for all levels – as well as alpine skiing, sledges and huskies, telemark skiing and the snowboarding.
In medieval times the ‘Franchi Pass’ went through the valley – the main route to Gaul. Thus many abbeys were constructed on the Via Francigena which rises to Moncenisio. The first one, found just outside Turin at Rivoli, is Sant’Antonio di Ranverso. The preceptory and adjacent hospital were founded in 1186 by Umberto III and then entrusted to the Antoniani di Vienne priests. These structures were built for protection as well as to provide food and lodging for travellers. Other castles in the valley were aimed at defending the peninsula from invaders – of whom there have been many, from Carlo Magno onwards. The most striking is undoubtedly the Forte di Exiles, an extraordinary example of military architecture.
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