If you’re looking for a place where you can enjoy the pleasures of wine, hair-rising adventure activities and unspoiled mountain landscapes, Alto Piemonte is a good bet – and to make matters even better, tourists are few and far between.
Even Italy connoisseurs will have a hard time pinpointing the exact geographical location of Alto Piemonte – the region includes the uppermost stretches of Piedmont, between the foothills of the Alps and the course of the Sesia river.
Alto Piemonte was one of Italy’s prime wine regions before the phylloxera apocalypse descended in the late 19th century, and it later became one of the hotspots of Italy’s industrial boom. Nowadays, most factories are crumbling shells, slowly being reclaimed by nature, while the wine industry is experiencing a modern-day renaissance of sorts. Here are 5 activities to enjoy in Alto Piemonte, offering an introduction to what the region has to offer.
Explore the Val Grande National Park
Val Grande is a remote mountain valley close to the border between Piedmont and Switzerland, now completely uninhabited after being abandoned by residents during WW2. The Val Grande National Park was created to preserve the largest wilderness area in the Alps – as soon as you enter Val Grande phone reception drops off, and there’s nothing but nature for miles.
Hiking Val Grande is the best way to experience what this wild valley has to offer – however be warned, there is literally nothing but mountains and forests, and you’re highly recommended to hire a local guide if you’re not able to use a map and compass.
The Highest Bungee Jump in Italy
If hiking Italy’s wildest valley is not quite adventurous enough for you, fear not – how about jumping off a 152 meter-high bridge instead? The Pistolesa Bridge between the villages of Veglio and Mosso near Biella is also known as ‘Colossus’ because of its height.
When it was opened in the 1960s the bridge was the highest in the country, and for 20 years it has been one of the best places to go bungee jumping in Italy. It’s possible to jump every Sunday from March to November, whatever the weather – and even if you’re not jumping, it’s worth to stop at the bridge to admire the wonderful view over the Alps and valleys from above and to cheer the daredevils braving the jump.
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Taste Alto Piemonte Wines at Travaglini Winery
Naturally, when in Alto Piemonte you simply can’t miss sampling the region’s delicious tipples. The Travaglini winery is located in Gattinara, the town at the center of the Alto Piemonte wine region that also gives its name to the region’s flagship variety.
As it’s the case with many Alto Piemonte wineries, at Travaglini the scenery is worth the visit alone – the vineyards are planted over 59 hectares of hills, surrounded by the snowcapped peaks of the high Alps.
Most of the vineyard is planted with Nebbiolo, known locally as ‘Spanna’ and used in the production of Gattinara wine as well as late-harvest, sugar-rich ‘L’Altro Sogno’. A small section of the vineyards is planted with Vespolina and Uva Rara, two native varieties used for ‘Cinzia’, an easy to drink (but no less delicious) table wine named after the winery owner, Cinzia Travaglini. The winery is open from Monday to Friday, and it’s better to reserve your visit in advance.
Marvel at the Oropa Sanctuary
The Oropa Sanctuary is located a short distance away from Biella, in the mountains overlooking the city. It includes several buildings – two churches, one of the nine UNESCO-listed Sacri Monti of Northern Italy (a complex of devotional structures located on the slopes of a hill or mountain) as well as several hotels and guesthouses to accommodate pilgrims. The centerpiece of the Sanctuary is a statue of
the Black Madonna, carried from Jerusalem by a saint escaping persecution during the 4th century BC. You can start your visit from the Basilica Antica, built in the 17th century and replacing the tiny original church, and then move onto the imposing Basilica Superiore, built between the 19th and 20th century to accommodate the large influx of worshippers.
A visit to Oropa is an absolute must for religious visitors, and even for non-believers – the atmosphere of sacredness within the sanctuary is captivating, and on a clear day, the views over the Alps and valley are simply stunning.
Go Canyoning along the Sesia River
The Sesia river runs across the length of Alto Piemonte, running from the glaciers of Monte Rosa to the Po. The Sesia is fast-flowing and surrounded by spectacular gorges and mountains, making it ideal for adventure activities ranging from canoeing and kayaking to rafting and ‘hydrospeed’, a thrilling activity involving floating over a river hanging onto small foam rafts. Sesia is also one of the most popular canyoning locations in northern Italy, offering a variety of canyoning opportunities for first-timers as well as veterans, with thrilling jumps, rappels and slides into the azure-colored river.
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