The Trail of the Sky: Via Francigena in Piedmont

A century-old "access point" for travellers, pilgrims and merchants transiting through the Alps to the Padana plain, Piedmont is traversed by long stretches of the Via Francigena; Archbishop Sigeric walked along this ancient road in 990 AD when  returning to Canterbury from Rome. To this day, this road preserves its timeless appeal.

It is possible to cross Via Francigena on foot, by car, mountain bike and motorbike and, in some parts, even by horse along four main trails: Via Francigena in the Susa Valley, which from the Monginevro and Moncenisio Pass reaches the entrance point of Turin; Via Francigena Morenico–Canavesana, which extends over the basin around Ivrea; the Turin–Vercelli section between the noble Baroque capital and the rice-cultivated plains; and lastly, the section which from the Monferrato of Asti and Alessandria extends down to the Liguria region and the sea.

 

In 2004, Via Francigena in Piedmont was declared a Grand Cultural Itinerary of Europe by the Council of Europe. This road is 650 kilometres long and traverses 4 natural parks, connecting 107 Municipalities in five different provinces: Turin, Vercelli, Biella, Asti and Alessandria. Whether it's a simple stroll, a family excursion, a two-wheel tour or a challenging hike you are after, this trail offers the perfect combination of art, architecture and nature. Along the way, there are sites bearing witness to Piedmont's Romanic past (particularly in the Turin, Asti and Vercelli areas) and Baroque past, for example, there's Sacro Monte di Crea, in the Alessandria hinterland or Rivoli Castle, an avant-guard Savoy Royal Residence which has been home to the Museum of Contemporary Art since 1984.

 

Over time, the historic itinerary turned into a network of trails worth exploring, with landscapes dotted with medieval parishes and hills, waterways and strongholds. For example, legend has it that the Franchi trail, was once crossed by Charlemagne in order to encircle the Longobard forces barricaded at the foot of the Sacra of San Michele della Chiusa. In approximately 60 kilometres, the eco-tourism itinerary joins the monumental Sacra of San Michele to the town of Oulx passing through ancient hamlets and sacred architecture, and penetrating the rich biodiversity of the Gran Bosco di Salbertrand Park and the Orsiera Rocciavrè Park. Suggestive alternatives include the Via Romea Canavesana, which from  Ivrea reach the Morenico Amphitheatre, with a spectacular view of Lake Viverone and the group of the five lakes, which flow into the Livorno Ferraris plain, and Vercelli, where Via Francigena meets the section from North Europe, surrounded by farms, bird sanctuaries and the silence of the "chequered sea" of rice fields.

Today, Via Francigena and the  Sacra of San Michele, the symbolic monument of Piedmont, are UNESCO World Heritage candidates as trans-regional sites. More specifically, the Sacra is an integral part of the "Cultural Landscape of the Benedictine settlement in medieval Italy".