The Val Chisone (Chisone Valley) and the Germanasca Valley are perhaps the least known regions of Piedmont. To be honest I knew little about the area until recently.
A Bit of History
Well actually there is a lot of history but I will only cover it briefly. The area has always been of strategic importance, being located on the border between Piedmont and France - the nearby Fenestrelle Fortress is testament to this.
Perhaps the most interesting historical aspect of the valley is the fact that this is one of the few regions of Italy where a large part of the population are not Catholic. These valleys are home to the Waldensians.
Waldensians are a people who broke away from the Catholic Church in the 12th century under the leadership of Peter Waldo. Their history has been one of persecution and only in 1848 were they granted full religious freedom.
The Waldensians are now joined to the Methodists in Italy but the people here have maintained an identity of their own and a proud and determined spirit.
These towns are the main ski resorts in the area but even during summer Usseaux is well worth visiting.
is delightful, with narrow winding streets lined with attractive slate
roofed houses in the traditional style of the area. It was recently
named as one of the most
beautiful towns in Italy.
I find the Fenestrelle Fortress amazing and incredibly it is so little known. This is the greatest defensive structure ever built in Europe and is second only to the Great Wall of China in terms of length. In fact, in Italy, it is often called the Great Wall of Europe.
Watch the video (In Italian but the pictures say all there is to say) below to get an idea of what to expect. In reality it is way more impressive.
castle and wall was originally built by the French but was renamed and rebuilt
by Ignazio Bertola working for the Savoy King Vittorio Amedeo. In total it took over 120 years to build and now covers well over a million square metres.
It truly is an unforgettable place. The walk along the walls takes seven hours and involves a climb of nearly 4000 steps.
A beautiful walk in the summer amongst the flowers and meadows - the name refers to the thirteen small lakes to be found here.
This is a bigger town, around 20,000 inhabitants, with a good market each Wednesday and Saturday. The cathedral, originally built in the 11th century and reconstructed in the 15th is certainly worth a visit.
Pinerolo is a pleasant place to spend a day browsing the market, touring the cathedral and some of the quaint shops but it isn't worth more time than that.
San Germano Chisone and surrounds
Make a point of visiting this little town to better understand the history and character of the Waldensian people. There is also a temple and museum that opens only on request. Try asking in the temple or if desperate phone the pastor Luciano Deodato on tel 0121/58614.
The nearby hamlet of Combina will give you a good idea of the traditional houses in the area, just ask any local in San Germano Chisone for directions.
The hill town of Turina is also a pleasant little place and the centre of the town has a very decent restaurant serving traditional food from this region. To get here take the SS 23 road - a little after Fossat you will find Turina.
No doubt about it the Hotel Barrage in Pinerolo is the best option. This is a top quality Relais hotel located in a beautifully restored 19th century mill.
Otherwise try the excellent Bella Baita run by a marvelous couple, Fabrizio and Marla, both of whom are chefs. The whole place is very special and Fabrizio and Marla will ensure that you experience the authentic lifestyle of these valleys. Their love for this area is very evident and very infectious.