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Stage 20 - Alba - Sestriere

 

The stage

Alba, a small town surrounded by the hills of Southern Piedmont, turns pink for the start of the penultimate, and extremely tough, mountain stage of the 103rd Giro d'Italia.

Stage 20 Alba - Sestrière


We are in the heart of Langhe-Roero and Monferrato, a wine growing area included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. The surrounding landscape is a succession of gentle hills covered with rows of vines in strict geometric patterns, dotted here and there with ancient villages and castles.

The Langhe-Roero and Monferrato Landscape

Alba itself is included in the worldwide network of UNESCO Creative Cities as a City of Gastronomy. The city produces one of most cherished Italian products in the world: a highly prized variety of truffles, to which one of the country's oldest gastronomic events is dedicated, the International Alba White Truffle Fair. The 90th fair runs from 10 October to 8 December 2020.

Cream of pumpkin soup with Alba's white truffle

Alba is also a city packed with monuments and history. The "Federico Eusebio" Civic Archaeological and Natural Sciences Museum preserves evidence of human settlements dating back to the Neolithic era; the finds from the Roman period demonstrate the strategic and commercial importance of the city under the Empire.
In the Middle Ages, Alba was nicknamed the "city of a hundred towers", due to the high number of towers erected for defensive purposes. Few of them remain today, but the Torre Bonino, the Torre Astesiano and the Torre Sineo are well preserved and still feature on the city's skyline.
The most important building is probably the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, a cathedral built in the Gothic style between the 15th and 16th centuries. The exterior is red brick, while the interior features a variety of colours ranging from blue to gold and from beige to brown.

View of Alba

A visit to "Underground Alba" is truly fascinating: there’s the ancient temple, the theatre and the Roman forum, the first baptismal font and the lost towers. The wonders of the Roman and medieval cities are on show to visitors in an exciting tour beneath the historic centre.

Bra, not far from Alba, is another of Piedmont's gastronomic capitals. The international Slow Food association was founded here in 1986. This protects agricultural and food and wine traditions and promotes respect for the environment, the producers and the health of those consuming the food. Slow Food organises 'Cheese' every year, a large event dedicated to cheese attended by hundreds of exhibitors from all over the world.

 

Cheeses on display at 'Cheese'

Bra's monuments include the Chiesa di Santa Chiara and the Chiesa di Sant’Andrea Apostolo. The small town is also home to two unusual museums: the Bicycle Museum and the Typewriting Museum.

Leaving the Langhe-Roero and Monferrato area, the race enters the Varaita Valley, an area of Occitan culture whose symbol is Monte Viso, the mountain which is the source of the River Po. The valley is a popular tourist destination, thanks to the presence of mountain lakes, historic villages and ski slopes, and thanks to its unspoiled nature, such as in the Bosco dell'Alevé, a wood containing the largest stretch of Swiss Pines in Italy and one of the largest in Europe.

Saluzzo is located between the Po Valley and the Varaita Valley. Capital of an ancient, powerful marquisate, it still preserves its magnificent medieval historic centre, dominated by the outline of Monte Viso. Saluzzo has the typical appearance of a fourteenth-century hilltop village: small cobbled streets, churches and elegant noble palaces with their gardens.

 

Ascent to the Castle, Saluzzo

A few kilometres from the centre of Saluzzo, and absolutely not to be missed, is the Castello della Manta, a real hidden jewel of medieval art. The highlight of the visit are the baronial hall’s beautiful frescoes, which were created in the fifteenth century; they are a unique example of the knightly culture of the time. The south wall depicts the fountain of eternal youth, with a disparate crowd of people going to bathe in its waters; the north wall depicts nine heroes and nine heroines of classical antiquity in fifteenth-century costumes embodying the chivalrous ideals of military and moral virtues.

 

"Fountain of eternal youth" fresco (details), Castello della Manta

We go back to following the race. As we climb towards Col Agnel, at an altitude of 1,797 metres we come across Chianale, an Occitan village in the Varaita valley, on the border with France. The town, with its characteristic slate roofs, is located along the ancient Chemin Royal, the salt road which led to France. A stone bridge crosses the Varaita stream and unites the village's two original nuclei. On the small square opening out at one end of the bridge stands the simple and graceful Chiesa di Sant'Antonio. The church preserves a large fresco from 1430 depicting the Last Judgment. Chianale is one of Piedmont’s 14 Borghi più belli d'Italia [most beautiful Italian villages].

Chianale

The stage ends in Sestrière, in the heart of the Vialattea. With its 249 slopes and 70 ski lifts, it’s one of Europe's largest ski areas. The ski resort of Sestrière is a fixed stage of the Alpine Ski World Cup competitions and was the venue for the men's competitions in the 2006 Turin Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Sestrière

In summer, you can play golf on Europe's highest 18-hole course or cycle in complete safety, thanks to the Alpi Road Bike Resort programme, with itineraries following roads which have contributed to building the Giro d'Italia’s legend.

By bike

Roero Bike Tour

RBT — Roero Bike Tour is a route designed for mountain-bikes or e-bikes: about 140 km long in total, it is divided into seven stages, for exploring Roero's unique environments and landscapes:

  • Le Rocche, an unusual and richly biodiverse, geological phenomenon
  • The vineyards in which Roero DOCG and Roero Arneis DOCG are produced
  • The truffle areas in which the precious Alba White Truffle grows
  • The orchards, a mosaic of multicoloured plots in which strawberries, apricots, peaches, and Madernassa pears are grown
  • The fairy-tale villages of the summits, clinging to their hills, from which wonderful views can be enjoyed
  • The castles, 14 medieval fortifications and sumptuous baroque residences
  • Ancient frescoes painted between the fifteenth and the eighteenth centuries, carefully preserved in churches and country chapels

You can consult the map and download the RBT's guides, roadbook, GPX or KMZ trails on this link.

Mappa del Roero Bike Tour

Bar to Bar

The Bar to Bar, or the Barbaresco — Barolo, is a seven-stage circular route for Mountain Bikes which passes through villages and vineyards, offering history and nature; you can choose either a short route or a longer one. It contains many significant changes in altitude and is therefore recommended for trained cyclists.
There are well-marked charging stations for e-bikes along the route and maintenance stations for minor repairs.
To download the guide and the trail in a KMZ file, click on this link.

Altimetria del percorso cicloturistico Bar to Bar

Via delle case di pietra

A challenging route along a 105 km long road, the 'road of the stone houses' allows you to discover the villages of the Alta Langa which feature important works of rural architecture made using the "dry wall" technique with the typical "Langa stone".
Brochures, route, topographical details, altitude profile and GPX files are available on this link.

Altimetria del percorso cicloturistico La via delle case di pietra


 

Sua maestà la tonda e gentile

There's more to the area than wines: the region crossed by stage 20 of the Giro is also known for the Nocciola Piemonte PGI, also known as the "Tonda gentile delle Langhe", a variety of round, sweet PGI hazelnut produced in various Piedmont municipalities, mainly in the area between the hills of the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato.
The "Sua maestà la tonda e gentile" road cycling itinerary starts (and ends) in Cortemilia, the undisputed capital of Piedmont GPI hazelnuts, and of the exquisite cakes of which they are the main ingredient. Cortemilia is a magnificent village built almost in its entirety in Langa stone, a precious example of the area's architectural tradition.
The route is of intermediate difficulty, with an initial phase involving a considerable climb, a central part along the ridge and a final descent phase.
Brochures, route, topographical details, altitude profile and GPX files are available on this link.

Sua maestà la tonda e gentile

Piemontescape

Enthusiasts of outdoor activities will find lots of useful information on www.piemontescape.com, the new regional platform dedicated to outdoor tourism. The platform consists of two sections — Bike and Hiking with numerous registered cycling/hiking routes officially recognised by the Piedmont Region.
Piemontescape also allows you to search among the site's cycling routes by route name, area, path length, bike type and route difficulty.