Thursday 15 October 2015

Turin and the Piedmont Region

Italy, 11th – 15th October 2015

Our latest location: a small motorhome Sosta, in the heart of Piedmont winemaking territory.  We’ve arrived here after visiting Turin a couple of days ago, as part of a meandering route down to the coastline before crossing over into France.  Directly east of our van is the small town/village of Castiglione Falletto, a town with a fortified castle, a wine cellar, and not much else.  To the west, we have sweeping views over fields of vineyards.  A few miles up the road takes us into Alba, known for its white truffles, or 3km to the south-west is the small village of Barolo.  We’re no wine connoisseurs, and so I’m just going to have to take the Lonely Planet’s word for it when it claims Barolo is Italy’s favourite red.

Lake Orta

We started our time in Piedmont by visiting the last Italian lake on our travel plan, which was Lago D’Orta.  The lake is much smaller than Maggiore and Como, and so to us felt quieter and less tourist based (but that being said, we only visited one main area along the lake during low season).  Our stopping point was at Orta San Guilio, a small town that sticks out on a peninsula on the western side of the lake.  As you arrive in town there is an easily spotted €10/night motorhome area, but we instead chose to stay at the free one just half a km up the road (GPS: 45.79671, 8.41189).  The free one is in the parking area for Sacro Monte di Orta, with eight designated motorhome bays.  We initially wondered if we perhaps had the wrong GPS as the approach road seemed very narrow and steep, so got out on foot and walked up the hill to investigate.  I’m glad we checked it on foot first, as the parking area has a one way system that entails having to drive around a very sharp downhill corner on the approach to the motorhome bays that would have been very awkward to manoeuvre in a large vehicle.  We instead drove up the hill and sent me out as a lookout to check when the path was clear to drive in through the exit road, pretending that the No Entry signs were suggestions rather than requirements. The parking area is amongst the trees far away from any main roads, with the only noise at night coming from nearby church bells.

In the morning, it was a walk up the hill into Sacro Monte di Orta.  Sacro Monte is a religious itinerary atop a hill that has panoramic views over Lake Orta.  UNESCO listed in July 2003, it features 20 chapels that took over a century to construct, beginning in 1590 and ending somewhere around the end of the 18th century.  Each chapel is filled with statues and frescoes that depict scenes from the life of St. Francis of Assisi.  My religious knowledge is limited but from what I can gather, he was chosen as an important figure due to many similarities between his life and Jesus, including being born in a stable, resisting temptation from the devil and having twelve followers.  The artwork in the chapels is a mix of Renaissance and Baroque, with some chapels just having a few simple statues and others having scenes with dozens of people.

We walked around the headland following the path by the lake and into the town of Orta afterwards, which was a quiet place with narrow cobbled streets and a few shops dotted about selling spirits, artwork and dried pasta.  We moved on from the lakes in pursuit of LPG, having finally ran our second bottle down into the red after filling up 7 weeks ago.  As we’d travelled across Italy we’d seen LPG all over the place, but around the lakes its presence had been fairly non-existent, and as we left Orta we spent a good hour or so slowing at the numerous fuel stations until we finally found one that stocked it.  At €0.57/Litre it was at the high end of the going rate, but we put €10 worth in as we needed it and didn’t know if we’d pass another station stocking it that day.  Naturally, during the next half hour segment of driving time we saw half a dozen stations all offering it in the €0.50-0.52 range!  We parked up in the town of Chivasso for the night as an overnight stopping point on the way to Turin.  It was a regular parking area with a motorhome service point (GPS: 45.18485, 7.89358, grey water dump, €2 fresh water) that was quite close to a busy road, but at the back end of the car park noise was no problem for sleeping.


Lingotto - The access ramp to the rooftop testing circuit
In Turin (Torino), Daisy the sat nav took a bit too much of a liking to the city roads, deciding that it was a good idea to go for a wander down bus access only roads.  We decided that her decision skills were somewhat questionable, and so after half an hour of ‘Ignore the Satnav, take the next street’ we finally arrived at a motorhome Sosta in Turin (GPS: 45.04848, 7.65651, free fresh/grey water point).  It was a grass/dirt area that was a bit rough with a lot of old vans looking as though people had been living in place for years (one notable example marked their departure by lifting and latching their missing door back that was propped against the van into place and swinging a window closed by whacking it with a jumper), but given that it was overlooked by a large police station we figured it would be secure enough for a few hours.  A ten minute walk and a quick metro ride brought us out at Lingotto, the old Fiat factory repurposed in the 1980s into a shopping centre, hotels, gallery etc.  We were here with two reasons in mind: the first, visiting the former Fiat factory itself, known for the car testing circuit on its roof that featured in The Italian Job (1969).  The roof track is now only accessible to guests of the two pricey hotels that take up part of the building, but the spiral ramp that leads up to it is still in place and accessible to the public.  The other reason for our visit was to look for a place called Eataly, which is supposed to be full of food stations offering different types of all of Italy’s best produce.  We did a lap inside the building then looked around outside but failed to find it (we asked a tourist info centre afterwards: from the metro you walk around the building to the far right to find it), so instead settled for lunch at a Lonely Planet recommended pizzeria in the city centre—Sfashion—that prided itself on serving thick Naples style pizzas, where we were baffled to see the locals around us leaving the crusts behind!

The main city centre is full of lots of cafés and boutiques.  Some of the pavements are covered walkways bordering onto old buildings that are similar in style to each other – even the McDonalds has been altered to fit in with the colour scheme, with golden arches being replaced with industrial colours.  Gelato shops/stalls are in abundance (this week we opted for dark chocolate and mousse rocher flavours).  It is home to Europe’s largest open air food market; we arrived in the afternoon after it was closed up, so the stalls had all been taken down and we were instead greeted to a piazza covered with discarded fruit and vegetables and their boxes.  A few people ventured between the street sweepers and water-blasting lorries to rummage for any leftovers amongst the remains on the floor, including one well-dressed lady who dug in with a large carrier bag.  Matt was getting a little too tempted by some of the remains, so I decided it was time to move us on.

After leaving Turin during rush hour, where Matt engaged in what he likes to refer to as some ‘defensive driving’ to keep up with the traffic flow, we spent the night at a spot in the nearby town of Chieri in another large car park (GPS: 45.00406, 7.82761).  There used to be a service point here which has now fallen into disrepair, presumably due to the presence of an official motorhome parking area not far off the main road around the town which has a functioning service point (easily signposted).  We chose the parking area instead as it was further from traffic so we could get another quiet night’s sleep.

The castle at Grinzane Cavour
We’ve spent the last couple of days in two very similar spots.  The first is in the town of Grinzane Cavour (GPS: 44.65529, 7.98950), and the second is our current spot a few miles away at Castiglione Falletto (GPS: 44.62261, 7.97364).  Both spots are very similar: they have hillside views over vineyards, and are located at small towns with a castle at their peak.  They both have free water service points available (fresh water is available by a push button tap; we got our water from another drinking water tap 2km up the road from Grinzane that it was possible to attach a hose to).  They both have nice views, although Castiglione is a little more obscured by trees.  It’s probably still the more preferable option though, as it’s more level and Grinzane is next to a school so we got woken by the 7am school run when we stayed there.
Grinzane Cavour
Castiglione Falletto
At Grinzane we were joined by a German man in a great stealth van; it’s a van conversion that has sign writing for a dummy company on its exterior.  It only has one window on the side that can be blocked from the inside by a sliding white screen that makes it appear like a normal work van.  The roof has over 3m2 of solar panels which would normally give it away, but the owner has thought of a way around this too:  he’s added some extra trim around the top of the van that hides the roof array from view, so he can park up anywhere he wants without looking like a camper van.  Matt got talking with the owner, also an automotive engineer, who has retired early from a high-level position and frequents this area of Italy on a yearly basis, stocking up on the local wines.  He gets 12 bottles from a nearby winery at €26 a pop to be stored in his wine cellar to drink one of per month with his wife (and is currently on the 2006 bottles).  I wonder what he’d have thought of us if he knew our fridge contained €1.19 Lidl Spumante and we drank wine by the carton?

Tomorrow we’ll be heading into Alba from the German chap’s strong recommendation and possibly Bra.  I expect we’ll have a few more days in Italy before we cross the border into France.  Last week was our cheapest week so far at £69 (partially helped by starting with a full tank of diesel from Slovenia); with all the free parking, this week’s budget is looking similarly healthy, but there’s three days left for that to change.  Watch this space!

- Jo

The view from the motorhome Sosta at Grinzane Cavour

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