Eight top spots near Piedmont
Piemonte (or Piedmont in English) is surrounded by eight popular destinations to be seen at least once in a lifetime. Extend your vacation in Piedmont! Being one of the largest Italian regions, Piemonte – or Piedmont – offers enough things to do and see for more than a week. The choice is among one of the four main areas that one could visit separately or all together in one long itinerary: contrast landscapes and different atmospheres reachable within a short drive one from the other which include the hustle and bustle of the cosmopolitan Turin, lake Maggiore and lake Orta, the UNESCO World Heritage hilly countryside around Alba and Asti and the majestic Alps where sport resorts and relaxing retreats are available summer and winter.
Said that, many overseas first-time visitors prefer to combine a Piedmont vacation with at least one other major touristic destination: some not-to-be-missed famous spot which justify the airfare ticket.
Looking to a map of Europe, one can realize how the convenient geographical position of our region makes it ideal to easily reach several other places located within a comfortable high-speed train ride or a two-hour drive.
Driving distance from Piemonte: from Alba and Asti takes about 2.5 hours, from Turin 2 hours.
Lake Como is long north to south about 30 miles (47 km) and it is Europe’s deepest lake, almost 1,350 feet (410 m). Surrounded by tall and steep mountains, this lake is probably the most picturesque out of the other big ones which are all located in Northern Italy, such as Garda and Maggiore.
The consummate pairing of natural and man-made beauty is probably what made Lake Como an international getaway where, over the last 150 years or so, dozens of wealthy businessman, artists and influential personalities bought a property there. Elegant villas, rose-laden belvederes, hanging wisteria and bougainvillea, lanterns casting a glow over lakeshore restaurants, majestic Alpine vistas still attract high numbers of tourists. And… yes, we can ride with a private boat right in front George Clooney’s villas, which, in recent times, contributed significantly to the popularity of the lake.
What to do on the lake?
Como itself is a leading textile center famous for its silk: the medieval town center and the pretty lakefront are worth to spend a day for some shopping, or a visit to the impressive Cathedral, or as the departing or arrival point of a cruise to spot those elegant, dream-of-a-lifetime villas which are alongside the shores of Como‘s branch of the lake.
Car ferries and vaporetti (water buses) traverse the lake in season, providing convenient connections to the other main towns such as Cernobbio, Tremezzo, and Varenna.
Bellagio and the so called “center lake” area is another must, ideal for hikers or for garden and nature lovers who can visit some amazing villa-museums: Villa Melzi, Villa Carlotta and Villa Balbianello. This last one was used as a movie set for several productions including “Casino Royal” and the tickets can let you inside to admire furniture and art collections.
Directions and day-trips
Milan Malpensa airport (MXP) is about an hour away from Como making the lake the perfect spot to begin a vacation after a long-haul flight when one still needs to recover from jet-lag.
Como is on the international railway line Milan-Lugano-Zurich.
The vicinity to the Swiss border makes the lake the departing point for many Alpine excursions including the memorable Bernina Express, a UNESCO World Heritage railroad considered one of the most scenic train rides in the world! Departing from Tirano (a good two-hour drive from Como or Milan), the train climbs the steep slopes all the way above the tree-line, where snow is spotted all year round, and it ends the two and a half ride in Sankt Moritz, Switzerland.
Valtellina and Valchiavenna are worth a day of exploration and food tastings: cheese, cured beef meat (bresaola), wine produced at the foot of the mountains are just some of the delights that those Alpine valleys offer.
Portofino and Cinque Terre
First of all, let’s clarify that Portofino and Cinque Terre are not next to each other but it actually takes a good hour by train to go from one place to the other (make sure to catch a train which does not stop at every station).
Cinque Terre is not the name of a single town but it literally means, in Italian, “five lands”: five small fisherman villages hidden on the rocky coastline next to the city of La Spezia and only connected by local train, by boat (in summer only) or by hiking trails (but you need to be trained and well equipped). If Cinque Terre is all about slow, low key travel (but yet touristy!), Portofino is definitely its glamorous, posh and expensive brother, where the rich and famous dock their own private yachts and just sitting there for a gelato it might cost you at least twice than in Cinque Terre. The closest train station to Portofino is Santa Margherita Ligure; from there you should get on a ferry boat or take the local bus (super small and often crowded). More dedicated walkers can take the longer inland walk, well indicated by tiled signs leading off the coast road (1 hour walk).
Directions and tips about Liguria
Santa Margherita, Rapallo, Sestri Levante, Levanto are just some of the many recommended towns along the coast where one could actually stay, avoiding the crowded, touristy and overpriced Portofino and Cinque Terre. Then, one can move around by catching trains or ferry boats.
Overall, the Liguria region with its food, colors and atmosphere can be a contrast yet perfect combination to extend the vacation in Piedmont, alternating the sea to the hills, olive oil to truffles!
The entire Liguria region is crossed by the international railroad line Marseille-Nice-Monaco-Genoa-Pisa-Rome which is not a high-speed service but it has some long-haul trains for those passengers who travel between larger cities.
Genoa airport (GOA) is a small international airport linked to the major European hubs.
Driving distance from Piedmont
From Portofino: approximately 2 hour-drive to Alba, 2.5 hours to Turin.
From Monterosso (Cinque Terre): 2 hours 45 min to Alba, 3 hour-drive to Turin.
Monaco, Nice, the French Riviera and Provence
One million reasons to go to the French Riviera and another million to go back a second or third time exploring each time something new. We are talking about the entire stretch of land that spreads from the Mediterranean coast to the hills of Provence and to the Alps.
For centuries Piedmont had been culturally and politically connected to what today are the bordering French territories and some French flavor is certainly left nowadays in our dialect, cuisine and history!
Driving distance from Piedmont
Not many people know or realize how easy traveling is from Piedmont to Southern France.
If you want to go straight from point A to point B the highway can take you from Alba to Monaco in 2 hours and 45 minutes. But the area right next to the border deserves more exploration and in order to do that, one should leave the highway. There is a secondary road which goes under the Alpine tunnel called Tende and takes you down to Ventimiglia and Nice, departing from Cuneo: this is an often (but wrongly) forgotten city in the Southern Western corner of Italy. In facts, having a recently restored old city, lying on a triangular elevated cliff, Cuneo is an hidden Italian gem boasting fascinating architectures, centuries of history, cozy restaurants and amazing views over the Alps.
Spectacular train ride in Piedmont
The Nice-Breil-Tende-Cuneo railway line follows the Roya valley across the Alps into Italy. There are many viaducts and even more tunnels, with wild mountain scenery. There are a lot of lovely villages along the line with great places for hiking. During the winter, this train is a great solution to trips to the mountains, for skiing or just visiting, without the problems of driving on icy roads. In the upper Roya Valley near Tende, the train actually makes a couple of full 360-degree loops while in tunnels: a masterpiece of engineering! Even with so many tunnels, enough spectacular sights remain to make the trip a memorable event. The full trip between Nice and Cuneo takes about three hours.
Zermatt and the Matterhorn
International ski resort, Zermatt is worth a visit in winter and summer because of the plethora of sports and activities welcoming sport lovers: skiing is available all year round and many other options are appealing those less trained, including riding the cable cars over the glacier all the way to the Italian side.
The Matterhorn with its 4,478 meters (14,692 ft) above the sea level, is one of the highest peaks in Europe, defining the border between Italy and Switzerland. Zermatt is the town located on the Swiss side at the foot of the pyramidal-shaped mountain. Not many consider to access the Matterhorn from the Italian side through the beautiful Valle d’Aosta region (next to Piemonte), up to the town of Breuil-Cervinia (being “Cervino” the Italian name of the Matterhorn).
Driving distance from Piemonte
From Turin to Breuil-Cervinia: 1 hour 45 minutes.
From Alba to Breuil-Cervinia: 2 hours and 45 minutes.
From Turin or Alba to Zermatt: approximately 3 hours and 40 minutes (via Simplon Pass).
From Lake Maggiore (Stresa) to Zermatt: 2 hours 15 minutes.
Ascending the Simplon Pass
Since Roman times, the corridor linking lake Maggiore and the Ossola valley to the Alpine pass called Simplon (Sempione in Italian) has been an important way of communication between Italy and Northern Europe, playing a strategic role for the local economy. On the gentle slopes of the Simplon Pass, Napoleon built a solid road which is, nowadays, mostly used by tourists who are looking for photo-ops over breathtaking Alpine views and are willing to travel to a different European country in the old-fashioned way. In 1906 took place the opening ceremony of the railroad tunnel which reduced the journey from Italy to Switzerland down to twenty minutes. This tunnel was the longest ever built (until the mid 1900s) and that’s where the famous Orient Express train used to pass on its way from London and Paris towards Venice and Istanbul. There is the possibility to load your own car on the train avoiding the two hour drive up and down the Simplon Pass which, in winter time, can even be closed due to heavy snow.
Cruises from Genoa and Savona – 1.5 hour from Piedmont
Savona and Genoa are two big cruise terminals both located along the coast of the Liguria region, about one hour-drive from each other. Savona is the home-port of Costa Cruises, while Genoa is used by MSC Cruises and occasionally by Carnival, Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines. The variety of itineraries offered by cruise ships out of Savona and Genoa is huge: from the classic Western Mediterranean loops to repositioning longer cruises toward the Caribbean, South America, Dubai, Baltic Sea and world cruises.
Savona and Genoa are about 1.5 hours from Alba, two hours from Turin, making Piedmont an ideal getaway for a pre or post cruise package.
Paris is linked by TGV (the French high-speed train) to Turin and Milan. The ride from Paris to Turin takes about 5.5 hours.
Who says that you can visit Milan in a day, obviously still rely on the old image of Milan being just a business city, as it was until a few decades ago. That stereotype is now gone. The entire city underwent a major restyling in occasion of the 2015 EXPO – the International Exposition. It is now a cosmopolitan city with first-class hotels and the finest shopping, extended pedestrian areas, monumental architectures, entertainment, attractions and services living up to the expectation of the most discerning travelers. From La Scala theater to Leonardo’s Last Supper, not to mention important art and design exhibitions, one can spend here days with enough to do and see.
Milan Malpensa (MXP) is the largest international airport in Northern Italy linked by long-haul direct flights from/to the US, Asia, Africa and South America.
Driving distance from Piedmont
Milan Malpensa airport is about 1 hour 45 minutes from Alba and 1 hour 35 minutes from Turin , traffic permitting.
High speed train to Turin
Turin is connected by high speed railway to Milan (1 hour), Florence (2.5 hours), Rome (4 hours) and Venice (4 hours). From Turin Porta Nuova station, it is possible to reach most of the other towns in Piedmont, like Asti, Alba, Bra and Cuneo, through the regional train service.