One region, eight provinces: for a foreigner, the national, administrative, and territorial divisions can be confusing!
Italy is divided into twenty regions (Abruzzo, Aosta Valley, Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Emilia Romagna, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Lazio, Liguria, Lombardy, Marche, Molise, Piedmont, Sardinia, Sicily, Trentino-South Tyrol, Tuscany, Umbria, Veneto) which are also divided into provinces, each of which has a capital town – normally the biggest city/town in the province which also gives the name to the territory.
For sure, our nation has only one capital city – Rome – but there are also twenty regional capital cities and one-hundred-and-ten provincial capital cities/towns. There isn’t enough space here to mention all of the latter, so I’d just like to describe this fantastic and lesser known region: Piedmont.
Its capital city is Turin, which is also the capital city of the Turin province.
The other provinces are:
(from north to south)
– Verbano Cusio Ossola (VCO): land of lake and mountains, land of stone and history, land of immigration and borders. Protected behind the Alps, it has been one of the first territories crossed by “people in transit” (pilgrims, trade people, emigrants and immigrants, armies…).
Due to this truly vast and varied territory – from less than 640 ft a.s.l., up to 15,200 ft a.s.l. – and the presence of plenty of water (besides the most famous lakes – Maggiore, Orta and Mergozzo – there are about 200 small alpine lakes hidden in the Alps belt). This is the least inhabited province.
– Novara: Land of rice and wine! A former border province, its capital city Novara – the second largest city in the region after Turin – shows the signs of many different dominations which have followed one another over the centuries. Highlights of the city include its old town with a lot of elegant palaces, as well as interesting religious buildings: the two most important ones are the huge cathedral and the imposing basilica with Antonelli’s towering dome.
Not that far from this capital town, the vineyards are really special for the local wine: some of the Piedmont Region’s DOC and DOCG, such as the Colline Novaresi, the Ghemme, the Sizzano or the Boca. Try to image how relaxing it could be to drink a glass of wine in the middle of the vineyards gazing up at Monte Rosa… sounds poetic, doesn’t it?
And please don’t forget the picturesque Lake Orta with its tiny island San Giulio, and the quaint but lovely Orta village, where you can really breathe in pure relaxation and peace.
– Vercelli: Land of rice, land of water, a border land between cultures and traditions. The highest part of the province includes part of Monte Rosa, and it is rather mountainous; then the land descends through the hills and becomes flat in the lower area. Here, in the early XIII century, the monks started rice cultivation and they made it so important for the province that even today it is one of the most important products here. In the province there are many family-run or bigger farms you can visit to learn how rice production works in this part of Italy. One of the most interesting of these is the Principato di Lucedio – the place where everything started.
The wonderful city of Vercelli is closely connected to rice production; indeed it hosts Europe’s most important rice paddy exchange. In its old town, many richly adorned palaces and lovely squares, together with the cathedral and the basilica – which are the most stunning buildings – await visitors.
– Biella: the city and its province were known as the Italian Manchester because of their numerous factories, many of which have been closed for decades. The few remaining factories are well specialised in manufacturing: above all, there are wool and hat factories with a centuries-long tradition. The province is also renowned for the Baraggia nature reserve, the only place you can find Piedmont rice DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta = Denomination of Protected Origin), and for many medieval scenarios such as the wonderful Ricetto di Candelo – a former fortified borough which is one of the most well-preserved medieval villages in our region and in all of northern Italy.
Above Biella city there is the Sacred Mountain Oropa which, with its chapels and sanctuary dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is part of the Sacred Mountains System – a World Heritage UNESCO site since 2003. It is, like all the others, part of a big nature reserve, protected by a regional law.
Really good wines have always been produced here: the most famous are the DOC Lessona and the DOCG Erbaluce di Calluso. Along with wine, beer is a really important product of Biella: in fact Menabrea, Italy’s award-winning brewery, has been brewing its delicious drink here since 1846. It’s one of the best Italian beers!
– Alessandria: due to its position, the province had been, since prehistory, one of the most important locations on the trade route, and even the Romans decided to establish many centres here where you can still find many interesting ruins. This province is fascinating: a perfect mix of art, history, wellness, landscapes, tradition and fine cuisine and products.
Alessandria itself, the third biggest city of the region, offers a fine old town; Acquiterme is a relaxing and elegant town well-renowned for its Spa; the Sacred Mountain of Crea includes art, history, religion and nature, has been surprising tourists and pilgrims for centuries.
One third of the province is part of the worldwide renowned Monferrato hills, which, together with the Langhe and Roero hills, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Travelling through this place you’ll be surprised by the huge number of small medieval castles and fortified complexes towering over the vineyard hills. Don’t forget to taste the local DOC and DOCG, such as Gavi, Brachetto d’Acqui or Dolcetto di Ovada.
– Asti: rather hilly, it has a special kind of earth that’s ideal for growing the characteristic DOC and DOCG wines Freisa, Grignolino, Barbera, Rouchè, Asti Spumante and many others. Many villages seem to belong to another century, such as Moncalvo, where the fat ox fair has been held for 380 years every December. Many other historical events characterise the province; the most important one is the Asti Palio: it’s the oldest in Italy, even though Siena is universally considered to be the first one!
– Torino: the Piedmont Region’s most populated province, with the regional capital city Turin: it’s amazing! Within less than 100km you can ski on the Turin 2006 Olympic game slopes on the Via Lattea, or you can visit the world’s second most important Egyptian museum!
Turin: Piedmont’s Capital
Turin was the first capital of the Italian Kingdom and, since 2006 when it was fully renovated for the “Turin 2006” Olympic Winter Games, it has restored its grandeur: it is elegant, refined, and comfortable. The perfect features for a capital and the finest city in our Piedmont Region.
It is the Homeland of FIAT and the “Bicerin” – have you ever tried it? Do you know what it is? If your answers are NO, no worries, your tour leader will suggest where to order the best one. In Turin the royal Savoy family had their mansions built which, together with the fine palaces in the city centre, make the capital exquisite. The Italian would say “una bellezza senza tempo” : a timeless beauty!
Turin is world-renowned for its Egyptian museum, the second largest in the world after the one in Cairo. This museum, together with Mole Antonelliana, the Royal Palace, San Carlo square and the Superga Basilica are the symbols and highlights of this city.
During your visit you can enjoy a fine lunch with typical Piedmontese cuisine – vitello tonnato, agnolotti, tajarin, bagna cauda, tomini, gianduiotti, carne cruda all’albese – and drink the famous regional wines.
– Cuneo: the region’s biggest province and the fourth biggest in Italy. Its capital city is Cuneo but probably it’s better known for its fine and unique products: the DOCG wine Barolo and Barbaresco, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Roero…., the truffle – celebrated each autumn during the international Alba white truffles fair – and hazelnuts – I think you all know about the famous Nutella from Ferrero: its headquarter is here in Alba. The province owns the biggest part of the Langhe wine land and its hilly landscape is relaxing and charming. Many ancient family-run factories have been restored and they are wonderful agriturismo – farm stays – where you can enjoy a couple of days to explore the area.
The capital city, Cuneo, is one of the most elegant in Piedmont and its 8km arcades seem to invite you to stroll in the city centre. The huge piazza Grimaldi is its core and is protected by many embellished palaces.