In the valleys or on the peaks of the west Alps, a holiday in Piedmont is not only about skiing, trekking and nature, but a complete experience. With peaks of over 4.000 m (around 13.100 ft), such as Monte Rosa, Monviso and the Gran Paradiso massif, Piedmont has 95 protected areas, where also children can discover intact and regenerating environments. Exercise and adventure are guaranteed in the Gran Paradiso National Park, the first national park in Italy, founded in 1922, whose flora and fauna liven up that side of Piedmont, or in the Val Grande National Park, with its steep and deep valleys, crystal clear waters in gorges surrounded by overhanging walls, and beautiful landscapes.
From park to park in the High Pedmont
The northernmost natural reserve in Piedmont is in Alto Verbano, in the Ossola valleys: the Alpe Veglia and Alpe Devero Natural Park. This reserve, located between 1.600 and 3.500 m (around 5.250 and 11.500 ft), is perfect for hikes and climbs on mainly flat paths, such as the 3 Nature Paths or those around Lake Devero and Lake Pojala (Alpe Devero), Lake D’Avino and Lake del Bianco (Alpe Veglia).
The Alta Valsesia Natural Park is the highest protected area in Europe (4.559 m/15.000 ft). Those who are well-trained can walk up, escorted by mountain guides, to the Capanna Osservatorio Regina Margherita, the highest mountain refuge in Europe at 4.554 m (around 15.000 ft) on Signalkuppe (Punta Gnifetti), a subpeak of Monte Rosa. It is open in the summer, has a well-stocked library and a Wi-Fi connection. In the park, specifically on the Glaciological Path within the UNESCO Global Geopark and Biosphere Reserve you can see the evolution of the glaciers on the southeast side of Monte Rosa during the phases of advance and retreat. Going south towards the hills of Valsesia, the Monte Fenera National Park shows a karst landscape characterized by an underground net of caves and tunnels.
In the province of Biella, the traditional textile industry combines with a historical passion for the environment in the Oasi Zegna, the vast green lung of 100 km² (38 mi²) created by the industrialist Ermenegildo Zegna during the 1930s. It is the realm of the outdoors and has a free access. The nearby Burcina Felice Piacenza Park, located on a hill called “Brich Burcina”, is a large botanical garden with a long history, and in summer it is full of the scents and colours of wonderful flowers, particularly of rhododendrons.
Natural wonders in the province of Turin
Not far from Turin there is the Orsiera-Rocciavrè National Park, with the alternation of steep valleys, pastures and woods. The woods are predominant in the nearby Gran Bosco di Salbertrand Nature Park as well, a mixed forest with fir trees, larches and swiss pines. This kind of forest is unique and you will not find anything similar in the rest of the region. In the Val Troncea Natural Park, located in Val Chisone, there are peaks of over 3.000 m (9.800 ft), and 22 itineraries that you can cover on foot or on a horse. For the cyclists there are instead trails in the forest. A lot of them are used in winter for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. While you are there, the chalcopyrite mines on Colle del Beth are worth a visit to witness the historical mineral activity that characterized the area up until the first years of the 20th century.
An alternative for outdoor trips is the Park of the Collina Torinese, a circular route that stretches from the Po River to Superga, reaching Villa della Regina and Villa Genero and passing through Parco Leopardi, Parco del Meisino and many woods and villages within a wide range around Turin. Altogether there are 14 itineraries and around 70 km (43 mi) for you to cover, with small roads, cart tracks and paths not to be missed. Between Pinerolo and Saluzzo there is the Rocca di Cavour Natural Park. It has fountains, benches and stone tables, but it is dominated by the Rocca, a peculiar rock formation of 162 m (531 ft) that emerges from the flat ground like a lonely cliff.
The alpine spirit of Cuneo and its surroundings
The Alpi Marittime Natural Park is the biggest regional park in Piedmont and, together with the adjacent French National Park Mercantour, is one of the biggest protected areas in Europe. It was once a royal hunting ground, and now has a great number of refuges and bivouacs in the generous and wild nature. In the Parco dell’Alta Val Pesio e Tanaro Natural Park you can find thick woods of silver fir, in the past under the care of the Carthusian monks, a maze of tunnels that speleologists will love and itineraries for hiking, mountain biking or even horse riding. For those who love trekking for multiple days, from Pian delle Gorre you can reach Ventimiglia following the long-distance hiking trails GTA (Grande Traversata Alpina) and Alta Via dei Monti Liguri, reaching the main peaks of the area: from Punta Marguareis to Monte Saccarello, Monte Toraggio and Monte Pietravecchia.
The Monviso Natural Park, the first Italian cross-border Biosphere Reserve within the UNESCO program “Man and Biosphere”, is vast to explore: there are trekking trails for the most experienced hikers, such as the Giro di Viso con salita al Buco di Viso, an hiking trail on the mountain that leads to the Monte Viso Tunnel and is in stages, but there are also the great classics, easier but as exciting as the difficult ones. Examples are the trip to Pian del Re, at the source of the Po River, the Sentiero delle Ochette – 14 km (8,5 mi) to cover on foot or on a bike between Moretta, Cardè and Villafranca – and the Tour of the Lakes of Monviso, whose variants are suitable for families with kids used to hiking in the mountains. Further downstream there are 2 Baroque castles and UNESCO Residences of the Royal House of Savoy: The Castle of Govone and the Castle of Racconigi, with its big park and the nearby Bosco del Merlino, an almost flat route of 20 km (12,5 mi) between Racconigi (where you can visit the centre for storks and water birds LIPU), Carmagnola and Caramagna Piemonte. All around, you can see the wonderful biodiversity of the Occitan Valleys and, in Val Varaita, the Bosco dell’Alevè, a forest that resembles an enchanted world where you can see a multitude of thousand-year-old specimens of pure Swiss pine: an ecological uniqueness between Casteldelfino, Pontechianale and Sampeyre. From Pontechianale you can quickly reach Chianale, a pretty hamlet with houses made of slate, balconies full of flowers, streets made of cobblestones and a stone bridge. The bridge is the soul of this ancient alpine village of Occitan culture, which is today one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. Here, only in summer, the boldest cyclists challenge each other in a race up to the peak of Colle dell’Agnello (2.748 m/9000 ft) and reach the end at the bottom of the French side of the hill. This last stretch is also accessible by car.