Published on: 10 October 2014 | Last updated: 7 January 2020
This tour explores the alpine valleys between France and Italy on the western side of the Italian region of Piemonte. The area deserves to be better known: if you’re looking for great mountain scenery, unspoilt alpine villages, authentic Italian towns, then this area has it all.
As you’d expect, the region has its own identity with a twist - it’s the only place in Italy where I’ve seen bars serving pastis (Pernod etc). Like much of the Italian Alps, the area is a fascinating mosaic of languages and history.
In many places in these valleys you’ll see the red and yellow Occitan flag flying, and in some of the remoter villages, you’ll still hear children speaking the provençal language. Occitania was (or is) the whole region that lies between here and the Atlantic, taking in southern France, Provence and Catalonia. The Piemonte valleys are the easternmost outposts.
Many of the valleys are no-through roads (although some link with France, or with one another) and in some cases, you can continue on by foot to mountain passes that were once part of ancient trading routes.
It may seem strange to go up a valley only to come back down again, but these no-through-road valleys can offer some of the best cycling in Italy - and of course they don’t have any through traffic. If you’re worried about getting bored seeing the same places twice, you’d be surprised how the same ride can seem different on the way up from on the way down.
Highlights/What to see
Each of the valleys has something to offer:
- Alpi Marittimi national park
- Dronero with the Ponte del Diavolo (Devil’s Bridge) - a feat of medieval engineering
- Bellino - an extraordinary hidden valley with tiny almost-unspoilt villages
- Castello di Manta the castel built by the Marquises of Saluzzo and carefully restored with the frescoes of the Fountain of Eternal Youth
- the Forte di Fenestrelle, Europe’s biggest defensive structure, which extends for a couple of kilometres up the side of a mountain
- Balma Boves a village built under a huge rocky outcrop
- Monviso and the source of the Po high on a mountain plateau.
For lovers of cycling history there’s the climb to the Colle della Maddalena - where in the Giro d’Italia of 1949 Italian cycling legend Fausto Coppi made an amazing solo breakaway that has become legendary.
Map and altitude profile
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Run your cursor over the graph to show the elevation, and distance from the start, for any given point on the route. (Note: the altitude graph is not shown where the route is flat).
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|Vald di Gesso||59kms|
|Val di Stura||121 kms|
|Val Varaita||141 kms|
|Valle Po||80 kms|
|Val Pellice||57 kms|
|Val Chisone||84 kms|
|Val di Susa||85kms|
When to go
I did this route in August but possibly June or September would be the ideal time, when it’s not too hot on the lower parts of the route and not too cold on the higher parts - although the highest points on the route are around 2000 metres, so should be OK in June or October.
You could do this tour in either direction. You could leave out some of the valleys or you could also extend it further north into the Val d’Aosta and the Gran Paradiso national park. Also, there were some valleys I missed out from this route, for lack of time, but which I’m sure would be worth visiting.
Regrets I have a few …
If I’d had more time I would have:
- explored the other roads in the Alpi Marittime park
- climbed to the Colle della Lombarda
- rode up the Valle Maira
- ridden the Strada dell’Assietta
The route is challenging, but not overly so. If you don’t think it’s challenging enough then you could add to it a climb to the Colle dell’Agnello, or there’s a variant via the Colle d’Esischie and Colle di Sampeyre.
The route uses quiet roads wherever possible, however, there are some sections that might be busier at times.
You could use these valleys as part of an international tour. The Italian Parco Alpi Marittime for example has joined forces with the French Alps Mercantour to promote the Grand Tour degli Alpi Marittimi Mercantour (see Piemonte: useful websites): there’s version aimed at touring motorists as well as a version aimed specifically at cyclists - although there are some intimidating climbs so this route is probably most suited to sports cyclists travelling unloaded. for more information see the Piemonte useful websites page.
The route uses the Via Pedemontana Alpina cycle route to link the different valleys. The Via Pedemontana Alpina in Piemonte is part of a planned national that will follow the arc of the alps from the Ligurian to the Adriatic coast. The final route is still under discussion, but much of it is already in place, as it follows existing roads or cycleways.
The tour ends at Rivoli near Torino. It connects here with the Corona di Delizie cycle route. This is a cycle route that links the UNESCO World Heritage sites around the city. It offers a couple of good options if you want to go into Torino - or go to the airport.
Connections with national and international routes
A number of national and international routes pass through Piemonte:
- eurovelo 8: This connects France in the west with Slovenia in the east, following the river Po across Italy. You could connect with this route at Cuneo or east from Torino along the river Po;
- the Moncenisio variant of the eurovelo 5 Ciclovia Francigena (also known as the Ciclovia dei Pellegrini). You can connect with it just to the south of Torino and follow it through Piemonte and over the Apennines to the coast of Liguria;
- the Ciclovia Francigena passes through Asti where it connects with the Bicitalia Svizzera-Mare route which takes you to San Remo and Ventimiglia on the Ligurian coast close to the border with France.
If you are looking for a connection with France you might want to consider the Colle della Lombarda (2350m) which connects Vinadio in the Valle Stura with Isola in France (via the ski resort of Isola 2000). From there you’re about a day’s ride from Nice. On the Italian side, it’s a 21-kilometre climb from Vinadio, with an average gradient of 6.7 per cent. On the French side, it’s also a 21-kilometre climb with a gradient of 6.9%. I haven’t done this route, but from Google Streetview it looks like a quiet, scenic option and probably the least problematic of the crossing points in the area. So it’s the one I’d choose.
Maps to print out or view offline
The zip files contain pdf files packaged together for convenience. If you are using a tablet you may find it easier to download the individual sections.
Show map download links for individual sections
- Mountain Valleys of Piemonte - Part 1: A4 maps
- Mountain Valleys of Piemonte - Part 2: A4 maps
- Mountain Valleys of Piemonte - Part 3: A4 maps
- Mountain Valleys of Piemonte - Part 4: A4 maps
- Mountain Valleys of Piemonte - Part 5: A4 maps
- Mountain Valleys of Piemonte - Part 6: A4 maps
- Mountain Valleys of Piemonte - Part 7: A4 maps
- Mountain Valleys of Piemonte - variant: A4 maps
- Mountain Valleys of Piemonte - Val di Susa variant: A4 maps
- Mountain Valleys of Piemonte - Part 1: A5 maps
- Mountain Valleys of Piemonte - Part 2: A5 maps
- Mountain Valleys of Piemonte - Part 3: A5 maps
- Mountain Valleys of Piemonte - Part 4: A5 maps
- Mountain Valleys of Piemonte - Part 5: A5 maps
- Mountain Valleys of Piemonte - Part 6: A5 maps
- Mountain Valleys of Piemonte - Part 7: A5 maps
- Mountain Valleys of Piemonte - variant: A5 maps
- Mountain Valleys of Piemonte - Val di Susa variant: A5 maps
About the maps
The maps are in two versions: A4 portrait format - for printing and maybe also for viewing on an iPad, and A5 for smaller tablets and smartphones. (A4 and A5 are international paper sizes).
Links open in new windows unless you ‘save as’ etc.
- Mountain Valleys of Piemonte gps files
(.zip file containing 11 gpx track files)
- Italy Points of Interest
POIs are like waypoints, but while you can usually only store a limited number of waypoints on a device, you can store thousands of POIs. These files include information about campsites and hostels, bike shops, train stations, drinking water sources as well as warnings for tunnels and roads where bikes are banned. Please check the ReadMe file for instructions. Updated April 2018. The file format is only compatible with Garmin GPSes .
The main airport is at Torino although Milano’s Malpensa airport is not that far away. (Map of destinations served by flights from Torino airport)
There is an airport at Cuneo, but sadly it only has a limited range of destinations aeroporto.cuneo.it: destinations.
The easiest way to get from,or to, the airport is probably on the trains operated by the GTT (Gruppo Torinese Trasporti) the GTT trains can carry up to two bikes. You could take the train as far as the Dora GTT station, and then station you can take a cycleway along the Dora Riparia river, before crossing over and following another cycleway to the Porta Nuova station where you can pick up a train for Cuneo. Alternatively follow the cycleway along the Po out of town (pdf map of the Torino cycleways).
You could also take the train from the airport for a couple of stops to Venaria Real where you can follow the Corona in Bici cycle route to Rivoli (pdf map of the GTT local train services).
Note that getting to and from Torino airport is tricky, but doable. The main problem is that Torino tangenziale is motorway almost as far as the airport. There’s a short section of dual carriageway that isn’t motorway. So you need to get onto the bit that isn’t a motorway while avoiding the bit that is: see the map package for more detail.
The most useful international train connections are via the Simplon tunnel and Brig in Switzerland. There is a TGV service that runs to Torino from Paris however you will need to carry your bike in a bag or case.
If you are coming from Nice you could change trains at Ventimiglia station and catch the scenic train that goes through the Vallée des Merveix via Tenda and from there to Cuneo. Note however that at the time of writing there is only a restricted service on this line with two trains a day in either direction - on in the early morning and one in the early evening.
There’s a good rail connection between Torino and Cuneo. Train stations at Pinerolo, Saluzzo, Torre di Pelice, Busca as well as at Oulx, Susa and other places along the Susa valley. Note: there’s no local service across the border with France.
Useful cycling websites:
- Cyclo-Monviso is an initiative to promote cross-border tourism: they produce a useful map and accommodation list for the Saluzzo area
- The Strada delle Mele Pinerolese (it/fr/en) (the Pinerolese Apple Road) describes cycling routes of the fruit growing area of the provincia around the village of Cavour. The main route is 58 kilometres long but there are a number of variants.
General tourist information
- Piemonte regional site: www.piemonteitalia.eu
- cuneoholiday.com (it/en/fr/es/de)
- http://www.turismocn.com/index.jsp (Artigianato e Turismo)
- accommodation search on cuneoholiday.com
- turismotorino.org (it/en/fr/es/de/ru/cn/jp)
- ghironda.com (Italian-only) an independent site that’s mine of information about the Occitan valleys, but I’m not sure how up to date it is
- vallidelmonviso.it (it/en/de/fr) tourist information for the Val Varaita and Valle Po
Leaflets and brochures
There are lots of useful brochures and leaflets that are available from tourist offices or to download:
Occitan valleys and Occitan language
Articles in this series:
- Mountain Valleys of Piemonte: Overview
- Mountain Valleys of Piemonte 1: the Val Gesso
- Mountain Valleys of Piemonte 2: The Valle Stura
- Mountain Valleys of Piemonte 3: The Val Varaita
- Mountain Valleys of Piemonte 4: The Valle Po
- Mountain Valleys of Piemonte 5: The Val Pellice
- Mountain Valleys of Piemonte 6: The Val Chisone
- Mountain Valleys of Piemonte 7: The Val di Susa