The territory bordering the Turin-Milan section is certainly one of the most attractive of the provinces belonging to the two regions: Piedmont and Lombardy.
This culturally rich area offers top level sporting facilities, artistic heritage and food and wine, set against the magnificent natural background which boasts numerous protected areas.
Find out all the possibilities you can to discover new itineraries just a stone's throw from the local motorway exits.
Recommended exit station: A4 – Santhià, Carisio
Biella lays at the foot of the Biella prealps, where the Cervo brook meets the Oropa brook.
The town is divided into a low town (Biella Piano) and a high town (Biella Piazzo), which can be reached through the picturesque alleys or by means of the historic cableway.
Biella Piano, on the right bank of the Cervo brook, is the oldest part and includes almost all monuments dating to the Middle Ages.
Biella Piazzo, founded by bishop Uguccione in the 12th century, also boasts some medieval monuments.
The most picturesque location is Cisterna square, surrounded by medieval buildings with porticoes and decorated windows, fronted by the Cisterna Palace (15th-16th century).
A tour of the town
Baptistery – One of the most characteristic buildings of Romanesque-Lombard art. It was built in the second half of the 10th century above the ruins of a roman cemetery.
The upper part comprises an octagonal base, surrounded by blind niches and a square lantern open on four sides with mullioned windows and topped by an iron cross dating to the 12th century, which was found during restoration work in 1913.
Cathedral – This church is dedicated to St. Mary the Greater and St. Stephen. It is built in the Gothic style, with three naves divided by cross-based pillars.
It has pointed arches, rib sail vaults and an octagonal dome.
St. Stephen’s Tower – On the left of the Baptistery, St. Stephen’s church was built in the 5th century and demolished in 1872.
Today only the 8-storey Romanesque bell tower remains.
Church of the St. Trinity – the Church of the St. Trinity, built in 1626, is located behind the Cathedral.
Peaks reaching 2,350 m (Mount Mucrone) or 2,500 m (Mount Bo) are located beyond Biella; the mountain range bordering the north-western corner of the province has significant scenic and natural value.
To the north, the high Sessera Valley offers the largest natural and semi-natural area of the entire province, including a broad variety of plants and animals.
To the west, the mountain range includes trekking hot-spots such as the Bo peaks, the Three Bishops’ peak and the Mars, Camino, Mucrone and Mombarone mountains.
The landscape to the south of Mount Mucrone is very different, where the high valley of the Elvo is characterised by large pastures and its animal husbandry economy.
Near Biella: the Ricetto of Candelo
The Ricetto of Candelo was built (in the 13th-14th century) by the local peasantry on land owned by the noble Vialardi di Villanova family and later on it was purchased by the citizens of Candelo.
It was used to guard the produce of the land, such as grains and wine.
How to get to Biella
A4, Santhià Carisio exit station, SS144 toward Biella.
Recommended exit station: A4 Biandrate
Recommended exit station: A4 Biandrate
Lake Maggiore is the second Italian lake by surface area, after Lake Garda.
It is divided between Lombardy (province of Varese), Piedmont (provinces of Novara and Verbano-Cusio-Ossola) and Switzerland (in its northernmost part).
It is fed by the Ticino river, which enters it in the Swiss portion, forming a broad delta, and exits it at Sesto Calende.
Its stretched shape (66 km in length), the U-shape of its banks, its depth (approx. 175 m) and the moraine rocks surrounding it testify its origin as a glacier, shared by the other subalpine lakes.
The landscape, abundant in historical and artistic monuments, is very varied: narrow in its southern part, it widens and becomes particularly abundant with vegetation and buildings in the Borromeo Gulf, where splendid and flourishing palaces are to be found.
The Lombard side of the lake is characterised by hills that gently slope toward the banks, where sandy beaches alternate with rocky walls between rivers and brooks.
Lake Maggiore has been a tourist destination for centuries.
The villas built on its banks or on the islands were summer abodes of generations of noble families, only to become in turn tourist attractions themselves.
Due to the mild climate all-year-round and the abundance of rain, the Lake is famous for its nurseries: indeed, several botanical species were introduced here for the first time in Italy, so much so that rhododendrons and azaleas spread all over the area.
Villa Taranto and the Isola Madre preserve exceptional collections of these plants.
The gardens on the lake were designed in the Belle Époque style, with an harmonious mixture of art and nature.
Val Grande National Park
The Val Grande National Park, very close to Lake Maggiore, is the largest Italian wilderness area.
The creation of Val Grande as a National Park dates back to 1991, when the importance of this area was recognised:
11,733 hectares of oaks, beeches and alders.
The area includes the Ossola valleys, the Val Vigezzo and Lake Maggiore.
It can be visited only on foot, due to the difficulty in accessing its paths.
How to get to Lake Maggiore
A4, from the Biandrate exit station take the A26 motorway toward Gravellona Toce, exit at the Castelletto Ticino, Arona, Gravellona Toce or Verbania exit stations.
Santuario di Oropa
Recommended exit station: Santhià, Carisio
The Sanctuary of Oropa is located at an altitude of 1,200 m in a landscape of natural beauty encompassing the valley that climbs from Biella to the mountains toward Aosta Valley; it is the most important Marian sanctuary of the Alps.
The complex, which the tradition dates back to St. Eusebius (who supposedly brought there the Black wooden statue of Mary from Jerusalem), saw the work of famous architects such as Filippo Juvarra, Guarino Guarini and Pietro Beltramo.
The building is divided into three terraced squares and is centred around two large places of worship: the Ancient Basilica (“Old Church”), built at the beginning of the 17th century, which includes the ancient temple, with 14th century frescos and the New Church, dedicated in 1960 after two centuries of designs and work, which can host up to 3,000 worshippers.
The complex is completed by monumental buildings, cloisters and the solemn staircase leading to the Porta Regia (Royal gate).
The atrium of the staircase is paved with plates celebrating the visits by famous individuals, such as Guglielmo Marconi in 1894, who developed the invention of the wireless telegraph in Oropa.
Outside the walls of the Sanctuary the grandiose Sacro Monte stands out with its 19 chapels built since the 17th century and filled by hundreds of original terracotta statues depicting various events of the life of Mary.
The imposing cemetery, built in 1871, is abundant with outstanding mausoleums, including the pyramid-shaped one of statesman Quintino Sella.
The statue of the brown Virgin is preserved in the Oropa sanctuary and belongs to the iconographic type of Black Virgins.
The face of the Virgin and of the baby is black: this iconographic feature is found across a large part of Europe (France, Spain and Germany) for a time span going from the 12th century to the late Thirteen hundreds.
In Oropa, the Black Virgin, unlike other black Virgins of the Romanesque period (sitting on a throne to symbolise the Sedes Sapientiae), is standing, with the Baby sitting on the left arm and in turn blessing he crowd (with the right hand) and with a little bird (symbol of the Passion) in the left hand.
Oropa offers a unique artistic and cultural heritage, from the 18th century Porta Regia to the Savoy royal pavilion, from the library filled with ancient volumes to the collection of sacred furniture and jewellery to the two galleries collecting thousands of ex-votos.
How to get to the Sanctuary of Oropa
A4 – Santhià or Carisio exit station
SS144 toward Biella. The Sanctuary is located 12 km after Biella.
For further tourist and accommodation information: +39 015 25551200
Recommended exit station: Biandrate
Lake Orta is located to the west of Lake Maggiore (the two lakes are separated by the Mottarone mountain), in the province of Novara.
It is also known as Lake Cusio.
It has a surface area of 18.2 square km, a maximum depth of 143 m; a length of 13.4 km and a maximum width of 2.5 km.
The climate is mild, the coast and the surroundings are picturesque, abundant with woods and cultivated land, as well as industrial and tourist facilities.
Orta San Giulio is located in the central portion of the eastern bank: it is a tourist destination, with its square, located on a promontory, being the ideal place to admire Lake Orta from.
The islet of San Giulio (St. Julius), with its namesake basilica dating back to the 4th century and rebuilt in the 9th and 11th century, is located in front of Orta San Giulio.
The basilica is dedicated to the Saint who spread Christianity in the area.
Julius and Julian, Greek missionaries, reached these lands in the 4th century and preached the new religion after persecution ended.
Facing the lake, Villa Motta is also an exceptional scenic point.
The villa is located on the tip of the Orta peninsula.
It was built in the second half of the 19th century.
It was purchased in 1910 by Giacinto Motta, one of the founder of the Italian electrical industry, which enlarged it in several stages, until it achieved the current shape.
Between 1943 and 1945, during the Italian resistance, it was a refuge and transit area for several refugees trying to reach the mountains and Switzerland.
From here you can climb to the Sacro Monte, which Nietzsche described as one of the “most evocative places in the world”: located in beautiful parkland, among beeches, lindens and pines, at 400 m of altitude, it was designed in 1591 and dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi.
Scattered around the church of St. Nicholas, twenty chapels contain 376 terracotta statues illustrating the life of the saint.
The frescos by Morazzone, Della Rovere, Nuvolone, Legnanino and Cantalupi are also notable.
How to get to Lake Orta
A4, from the Biandrate exit station take the A26 motorway toward Gravellona Toce, exit at the Ghevio or Arona exit stations.
Ticino Natural Park
Recommended exit station: Boffalora
The Park stretches along the river of the same name, across two regions:
Piedmont and Lombardy.
From an administrative point of view, it includes two entities: the Natural Park of the Ticino Valley in Piedmont and the Lombard Park of the Ticino Valley.
The Piedmontese park covers a limited area and only includes the river band, excluding the urban areas, being focused only on the natural elements.
The Lombard park, which winds from Lake Maggiore to the Po river, also includes the entire territory of 47 municipalities.
This choice extends preservation and promotion jurisdiction not only to the environment but also to the historical, archaeological, architectural and agricultural elements of the land.
The Ticino river originates from the Swiss mountains and enters Lake Maggiore after traveling across a large region of the Swiss territory which takes its name: Canton Ticino.
It exits Lake Maggiore between Sesto Calende and Castelletto Ticino, where the Italian tract of its route starts in a narrow and deep valley which then gradually widens as it progresses southward.
After travelling for over one hundred km, crossing populated provinces such as Varese, Novara, Milan and Pavia, it enters the Po river near the Becca bridge.
The Piedmontese part of the Park comprises a valley, narrow at first and then gradually wider, with softer slopes abundant in woods.
The woods, which cover 60% of the Park, show traces of the original valley wood with a clear prevalence of broad-leaved trees such as English oak, hornbeam, elm and black locust.
The underbrush includes blackthorn, common hazel and hawthorn.
Particularly interesting is the aquatic vegetation of the ponds, with white and yellow water-lilies, bulrushes, etc.
The mammals include squirrels, wild rabbits and hedgehogs.
Hares also live in the Park: this is a non-native species, introduced for hunting purposes.
Among the birds we find: mallards, grey herons, the common moorhen, the common pheasant; the fish include trouts, pikes and chubs.
The most widespread crop in the Ticino valley is still meadows, irrigated with the river water.
Water is distributed by means of a thick network of ditches and canals built by men over centuries.
With an extension of 3,500 hectares, woods are the dominating element of the Ticino landscape, where they occupy terraces, banks and areas along the river, alternating with cultivated land in the lower valley.
The Ticino valley, a biosphere reserve, is also a world heritage site protected by UNESCO.
At the end of the 1980s the Piedmontese part of the Ticino Park began to design and build a cycling track which, upon completion, will cross the Park area from north to south with a total length of 60 km.
How to get to the Ticino Natural Park
A4, Boffalora exit station
Recommended exit station: Biandrate
Valsesia, which many consider the “greenest Italian valley”, is the valley of Mount Rosa.
From Varallo to Alagna a long series of wooded backdrops and slopes lead to Mount Rosa, the second highest mountain of Europe after Mont Blanc.
The Mount Rosa massif majestically dominates the entire valley, closing it to the north.
The crystal-clear water of the Sesia river originates from its glaciers; together with its branches, it is known all over the world by fans of river sports.
Over one hundred km can be descended with varying degrees of difficulty.
There are several canoeing schools, where kayaking and hydrospeed techniques can be learned or white-water rafting can be practised.
Valsesia is the ideal place to exercise in the open: trekking along paths of various difficulty, alpine excursions along the Mount Rosa massif, to the highest European shelter, the Queen Margaret Observatory Hut (4,559 m).
Climbing and paragliding, fishing and skiing can also be practised: the freeride slopes of the High Valley are famous all over Europe.
Nature and parks
The High Valsesia Natural Park, created in 1979 and enlarged in 1985, includes the territory of the municipalities of Alagna, Rima, Rimasco, Carcoforo, Fobello and Rimella and is considered the highest park of Europe, since it includes some peaks that exceed 4,000 meters.
The area of the Park includes Alpine ibexes, chamoises, marmots, golden eagles, while the flora represents all species that are typical of the Alps.
Natural Park of Mount Fenera
The Natural Park of Mount Fenera was created in 1987 and covers a surface area of 3,365 hectares, just south of Borgosesia. Mount Fenera – which dominates the entrance of Valsesia and Valsessera – is famous for its caves, where prehistoric human settlements were found.
The findings pertaining to these settlements are preserved in the Borgosesia Palaeontological museum.
The Walser community
Approximately eight centuries ago, a small community of German origin settled at the foot of Mount Rosa, coming from the High Valais and mainly employed in agriculture and shepherding.
They are known as Walser, and today they live – just a few thousands remaining – mainly in the municipalities of Gressoney, Alagna, Rimella and Macugnaga.
Although included in the local and national context, the remaining Walsers of the High Valley tried to maintain their language (an old German dialect), costumes and traditions as long as possible.
It is a minority that tends to decrease more and more over time and which risks being fully absorbed within the national multi-ethnic social fabric.
The most astounding aspect for visitors is the style and arrangement of the ancient houses of this community.
They are built in wood and stone which allowed them to largely resist the wear of time, keeping their particular charm.
How to get to Val Sesia
A4 to the Biandrate exit station, then continue along the A26 Genova Voltri-Sempione to the Romagnano Sesia – Ghemme exit station.
State road 299 toward Alagna.
This road crosses the entire valley from south to north.
Recommended exit station: Greggio
Probably of Celtic origin, it was a Roman town built in the 1st century b.C. with the name of Vercellae, then it become an important municipality.
Afterwards it became a Lombard duchy and then a Frankish county under the power of the bishop.
During the Middle Ages, Vercelli went through a period of decadence due to the continuous plundering.
During the Age of the Communes it saw a revival, extending its dominions.
It became a Free Commune in the 12th century, joining the Lombard League.
The 13th century was the most flourishing time for the town due to the founding of the first University of this region.
Subsequently it was involved in the internal struggles between Guelphs and Ghibellines and in 1335 fell under the rule of the Visconti family.
After passing under the House of Savoy in 1427, in 1617 it was besieged and occupied several time by the Spaniards and the French, who destroyed its fortifications.
It joined the Kingdom of Italy in 1815 after the Risorgimento (Italian Unification) and the Restoration.
A tour of the town
The church of St. Andrew, started in 1219 but completed in several later stages, boasts two splendid bell towers, three gates with sculptured lunettes, two long galleries, a wheel window and several works of art preserved within it.
The Cathedral of St. Eusebius is located where an ancient medieval church was located.
The “Camillo Leone” museum contains findings pertaining to the ancient history of Vercelli, from the pre-Roman, Roman, Medieval and Modern ages.
Other places of interest: Cavour square, the cultural centre of St. Clare, the Centori palace, the churches of St. Paul, St. Julia, St. Christopher and more:
Tizzoni house (15th century) with its terracotta façade, the “Francesco Borgogna” town museum containing an astounding painting gallery, second only to the Savoy gallery in Turin.
With over 300,000 tons of rice cultivated, processed and transformed, Vercelli is the most important rice market in Europe.
The quality of the product coming from the Vercelli rice paddies is the result of centuries of land reclamation and careful selection, strictly by natural means.
This crop arrived in Vercelli in the 1400s, changing not only the economy of the area but also its landscape.
During spring, it is fascinating to observe the huge water ponds reflecting the small hamlets of the low valley.
During the summer, the landscape changes: the dominant colour of the Vercelli countryside is the bright green of early rice.
In September, the colour changes again: the ripe ears form huge expanses of warm and golden colours.
How to get to Vercelli
A4, Greggio exit station; continue along SS.
Recommended exit station: Santhià
Lake Viverone is located where three provinces meet (Biella, Turin and Vercelli).
It is the largest lake within the moraine arc of Ivrea, which during the last Quaternary ice age was the end part of the Balteo glacier.
This lake, located at an altitude of 230 m, is shaped like an ellipsis, with a surface area of 55.78 square km and an average depth of 20 m. Its perimeter is just over 10 km, and it contains approximately 30 million cubic meters of water.
It does not have any rivers entering it, but its water comes from the springs at its bottom, while it has an exiting river on the western bank, connecting it to the Dora Baltea river.
The vegetation characteristic of the gradual silting of lakes can be observed here: water chestnuts, water lilies, the swamp reeds.
Along the banks between the town of Azeglio and Piverone, woods on marshy ground can be found.
The willow banks are followed by a wood, with portions populated by reeds and sedges, oaks and ashes, some of which are centuries old.
This ensemble is a perfect example of the marshy woods that once covered large swathes of the Po plain.
After the creation of an animal reserve in 1970, the lake returned to be the habitat of significant water species.
Every year thousands of water birds stop along its waters and nest along its banks.
From autumn to spring a concentration of bird can be admired that can be seen only in few other places in Italy.
The dominant group is ducks and water fowls, mainly mallards.
Other species include, during the winter, the great crested grebe, the coot and the common seagull.
The neighbouring lake area – unique in all of Piedmont – are also nesting places for species of birds such as the great bittern (very rare in the region) or birds of prey such as the black kite.
Cormorants can also be observed as well as the “love dance” of the grebes during spring.
Swimming and fishing is allowed in the lake; furthermore, sailing and windsurf can also be practised.
There are numerous camping places in the area.
How to get to the Lake
A4 – Santhià exit station; SS.
228 toward Ivrea, the lake is on the left just before Ivrea.