Published on: 10 October 2014 | Last updated: 3 January 2020
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.
Map and altitude profile
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|Val Varaita distances|
|Borgo to San Dalmazzo-Dronero||33 kms|
|Dronero to Piasco||22 kms|
|Piasco to Sampeyre||25 kms|
|Sampeyre to Bellino||21kms|
|Bellino to Piasco||46 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I suggest leaving the hamlet of Chiesa until last because it has a very fine collection of murals.
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.
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:
- vallidelmonviso.it has an accommodation search facility
- Hotels and campsites in Pontechianale
- Places to stay in Sampeyre
- accommodation search on cuneoholiday.com
Find and book places to stay with Booking.com
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:
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
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