Mountain valleys of Piemonte: Part 3 The Val Varaita

Published on:  | Last updated: 9 February 2018

Bellino - Borgata Sant'Anna

Bellino - Borgata Sant'Anna

This section takes you to the historic towns of Dronero and on from there to Sampeyre and Casteldelfino in the valley of the Torrente Varaita. The Val Varaita leads to the Colle dell'Agnello (2748m). I wimped out turned left after Casteldelfino and climbed to Sant'Anna at the top of a wonderful hidden valley where you can see a chain of authentic Alpine villages.

The route out of Cuneo takes you over a bridge for cyclists and pedes­trians. Bear in mind that there's a section of the SS22 near Cuneo that's off-limits to bikes. As an altern­ative you can skirt to the north of cuneo by turning off the SS21 at Gaiola near Borgo San Dalmazzo and then heading for Vignolo.

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Val Varaita distances
Borgo-San Dalmazzo-Dronero 33 kms
Dronero-Piasco 22 kms
Piasco - Sampeyre 25 kms
Sampeyre - Bellino 21kms
Bellino - Piasco 46 kms
Total 141 kms

Venasca is probably the most inter­esting and authentic villages along the way. Pop your head into the gorgeous baroque church on the market square. As you go out of Brossasco look out for the frescoed Capella di San Rocco a chapel built in an alpine style with two massive stone pillars and a roof built from massive flat slabs of stone. There's a beautiful annun­ci­ation under the massive eaves, and a San Cristoforo on the side.

Fresco of the Annunciation - Capella di San Rocco (Brossasco)

Fresco of the Annunciation - Capella di San Rocco (Frassino)

Sampeyre is also a great place to stop, but for authentic charm then Casteldelfino probably pips it to the post. Casteldelfino was originally part of the Dauphiné. Casteldelfino would translate soothing like Castle of the Dauphin (dauphin) was the name given to the French crown prince when France had a monarchy). Make sure to turn off the road and walk through the pedes­trian-only main street.

Decorated column from a house in Casteldelfino

Decorated column from a house in Casteldelfino

On the way out of the village there's the Musei dei Santi Populari (the People's Saints).

The highlight of this section of the tour is the secret valley of Bellino (Blins). I was amazed to find a corner of the alps that was so unspoilt. There's a chain of villages with the typical alpine archi­tecture of the area including the roofs constructed with massive slabs of flat stone - like slates on steroids. These villages are also worth a visit for their fine collection of sundials and murals.

A warning

As you turn off the main road there's a sign warning that the road is 'sconsigliata' (unadvisable) for cyclists and motor­cyc­lists. It was perfectly rideable, but there were bits where you could come a cropper if you're going fast and not paying attention.

My advice would be to head for the top of the valley at Sant'Ana and then stop off to see the sundials on the way down. Although you may want to stop off at the museum in Chiesa (the first hamlet on the right) and pick up a leaflet with a map of the sundials (meridiane). There's an inform­ation panel at the entrance to each of the hamlets, but the schematic map is handy.

Sundial, Bellino, Borgata Chiazale

Sundial - Bellino, Borgata Chiazale

The sundials span two centuries from the early-eight­eenth and early twentieth century. A number of the sundials carry little mottoes in French, Italian and Occitan. A number are cheery reminders that time is passing:

Vers le couchant je m'incline et vers la mort tu chemine (towards sundown I lean and towards death you make your way)

Mentre si guarda l'ora presente la morte inesor­abile sta arrivando silente (While you're looking at the time, death is coming, silent and inexorable)

While another is the distinctly odd:

L'arte è difficile e la critica semplice (art is difficult criticism is simple).

The artist had painted a number of sundials in the area and perhaps this is a reference to a dispute with a dissat­isfied customer, or criticism of his other work in the area.

Mural - Bellino, Borgata Chiesa

Mural - Bellino, Borgata Chiesa

I suggest leaving the hamlet of Chiesa until last because it has a very fine collection of murals.

The only restaurant in Bellino is the Trattoria del Pelvo. Further down the valley is the friendly Risto-Bar Spada Reale

Options

I was seriously tempted to turn west at Dronero and head up the Valle Maira which has a number of inter­esting villages

Most cyclists on the road to Casteldelfino were heading for the the Colle dell'Agnello (2748m). The final 10 kilometres from Chianale (1797m) have a gradient of 10 percent with a maximum of 15% see profile for the Col dell'Agnello on climbbybike.com.

More information

Places to stay

The accom­mod­ation options in Bellino itself are:

Rifugio Meira Garneri is on the road to/​from the Colle di Sampeyre - it offers rooms rather than bunks.

You might also find these links useful:

Find and book places to stay with Booking.com

Booking.com pages for places on this section of the route: | Dronero | Casteldelfino.

About these links

If you use these links to book accom­mod­ation Booking.com will pay me a small part of their commission. This helps support the costs of producing this site.

I use Booking.com to find and book places to stay when there are no campsites in the area. The large majority of hotels and many hostels are now on ‘Booking’. I like it because it means that I can get almost-instant confirm­ation. The rating system is also a reliable guide to the quality of the accom­mod­ation.

I’ve never had a problem finding places to keep my bike —even if it’s a cupboard or store room. I always use the ‘special requests’ field on the booking form to tell the hotel that I’m travelling with a bike, which gives them the oppor­tunity to let me know if there’s a problem.

Many properties offer free cancel­lation but it’s a good idea to check the condi­tions as these vary from property to property.

Hostels and rifugi

There are a couple of rifugi in the area:

  Map:  FT-maps-piemonte-valleys-hostelss show hostels map in overlay    |    FT-maps-piemonte-valleys-hostelss show hostels map in new window   

Campsites

There are three campsites in or near Sampeyre. I stayed at the Camping Val Varaita. the others are the Camping Cianabie and Camping Narciso. There's also a campsite at Pontechianale: the Camping Libac

  Map of campsites along the route:  MVP-campsites-map-show map in overlay    |    MVP-campsites-map-show map in new window   

Resources

For inform­ation about Bellino's Museo del Tempo see comune.bellino.cn.it: Museo del Tempo

Tourist information websites

vallevaraita.cn.it is the best site for general tourist inform­ation (it/​fr/​en/​de)

More about the Bellino sundials

There's a list and pictures of all of the meridiane luciomariamorra.com . If you're intrigued by the meridiane in Bellino there's a gallery on this page: luciomariamorra.com: meridiane/​opere. There are other guides on:

Mural - Borgata Chiesa, Bellino

Mural - Borgata Chiesa, Bellino

Articles in this series:


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