Val di Susa, a valley so beautiful it leaves one agape, alternates in a pattern of intensely-verdant fields and skyscraping, yet gently-rolling peaks. It is nature withdrawn, but not so remote as to be inaccessible: a swift, modern highway traverses it, connecting the Valley to both Turin and France, each less than one hour away. (The two countries were first linked by the railway tunnel known as Frejus in 1871, the first of its size and kind in the Alps at the time, at 40,135 feet in length).The presence of numerous Alpine crossings make it easy to trek these parts in any climatic condition; these crossings have also tended to characterize the diffusion of many spiritual, cultural, commercial and touristic developments in the Val di Susa.
This Valley has long been an obligatory transit route at once for Catholic pilgrims (along the Via Francigena), and for merchants, soldiers and artists traveling to the Holy Land. Some of the most celebrated spots on its map include Avigliana, Bardonecchia, Bussoleno, Cesana, Sauze d'Oulx, Sestriere and Susa, also known as the “key to Italy” for its natural strategic position. From Turin towards Susa one can get to Avigliana, important hub for the Valley; Avigliana developed as a sort Roman Empire-era and Middle Ages way-station, and in its environs lies the Avigliana Lakes Natural Park, right at the base of Monte Pirchiriano. Pirchiriano is home to the age-old Sacra di San Michele Abbey, otherwise known as being the inspiration for Umberto Eco’s famous novel, The Name of the Rose. Among the best-preserved architectonic structures in the Susa Valley is the Castello di Villardora, a Medieval feudal residence located on a low, rocky hill at the village’s center. Locals link this castle to the legend of the Iron Mask – supposedly Villa Dora (aka Fort Exilles), also named as one of the Piedmont Region’s most imposing fortifications.
These Alps’ immense valleys offer a touristic experience that is boundless in opportunity, winter to summer, spring to fall. Winter sees the Val di Susa in all its ski glory, with hundreds of miles of slopes that brings atlete from all over Europe; here they practice a variety of winter sports and disciplines, e.g. downhill, snowboard, long-distance, Ski Mountaineering, and heliskiing. The Valley’s pristine sceneries are also the backdrop for summertime rock-climbing, and any type of excursion that allows for the discovery of not only its exquisite natural formations, but also for its historical-artistic attributes. And of course the area does not lack for internationally-famous ski-tourism resorts like Sestriere, Bardonecchia and Sauze d'Oulx; forerunners in the latest and most unique ideas for leisure and recreation these resorts feature nothing but excellent lodging and ski structures, and host important cultural events.
As in all of Piedmont, golf courses are easy to find among these Alpine summits, particularly in Bardonecchia, Sestriere and Claviere. That in Sestriere’s greens are the highest-altitude in Europe. Once taking a few swings at the links, head to Avigliana, where you will find the gorgeous and evocative Avigliana Lakes, Lake Grande and Lake Piccolo, ideal for a peaceful stroll through the surrounding woods and meadows. Not to be forgotten among the numerous places worth visiting in Alta Val Di Susa is Bardonecchia, highly-appreciated resort in both winter and summer, in part due to its Alpine passages of rare beauty and its avant garde ski system (theatre for the 2006 Winter Olympics snowboard competition). The most difficult of the zone’s trekking routes, then, run through the Grande Traversata delle Alpi (GTA), long-distance hiking trail that unites the entire western Alpine arc of the Region with the Balcony Path or the Sentiero Balcone connecting 14 municipalities in the Valle Susa Mountain Community, and the Sentiero dei Franchi that traces the route tread by Charlemagne and his troops to bypass the Longobard army in 773.
Cycle enthusiasts will want to try out one or two of the Valley's many Bike Parks, particularly those in the Community of Montana Alta Valle Susa, in Bardonecchia, Sauze d'Oulx, and in San Sicario. Together, the Parks make for a paradise of mountain-biking, downhill, free ride and cross country terrain.