Do you like venturing off the beaten track and going where few have gone before? Do you prefer to walk or cycle along an itinerary that explores the road less travelled and helps you discover those hidden gems that you would not have encountered otherwise? Then the Via Francigena variant in the Susa Valley may be just the thing you’re looking for! This gorgeous part of the Italian region of Piedmont offers a wide variety of natural, cultural, historical, and culinary treasures that are just waiting to be discovered. And did you know this is where the Via Francigena connects to the Camino de Santiago?
Make sure to read on for our top 10 attractions along the Via Francigena in the Susa Valley, compiled thanks to the help of Eleonora Girodo from Val di Susa Turismo and promoted as part of the collaboration with our partner Visit Piemonte, the Italian regional agency committed to promoting the region through numerous events and activities.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Sacra di San Michele
- Abbey of Novalesa
- Avigliana and its lakes
- Historical center of Susa
- Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art
- Fort of Exilles
- Abbey of Sant’Antonio di Ranverso
- Lake Moncenisio with Fort de Variselle
- San Gervasio Gorge and Tibetan Bridge
- Culinary traditions
1. Sacra di San Michele
Perched majestically atop Mount Pirchiriano and near the town of Sant’Ambrogio di Torino, the Sacra di San Michele, also known as “Saint Michael’s Abbey,” is a profound testament to history and spirituality. This ancient abbey, dating back to the 10th century, was founded by Saint John Vincent, a hermit, and has served as a Benedictine abbey throughout its history. The abbey, a stunning example of medieval architecture characterized by Romanesque and Gothic elements, is located at an elevation of approximately 960 meters (3,150 feet) above sea level, offering breathtaking views of the entire Susa Valley. Over the centuries, the Sacra di San Michele has served as a religious site, a place of pilgrimage, and a center for cultural and spiritual activities.
The abbey’s significance lies in its association with the Archangel Michael, the celestial warrior, whose presence permeates its halls and cloisters. It forms a trio of significant Michael Archangel locations, alongside Mont Saint-Michel in France and Monte Sant’Angelo in the southern Italian region of Apulia (situated along the itinerary of the Via Francigena in Southern Italy). Visiting this sacred site should be at the top of your list when walking or cycling along the Via Francigena in the Susa Valley. Due to its mountainous location, access to the Sacra di San Michele involves a climb up a steep path… so get those leg muscles ready!
👉🏻 The Sacra di San Michele can be found along Susa Valley Leg 02 – from Susa to Sacra di San Michele
🔗 For more information please visit the official website of the Sacra di San Michele
2. Abbey of Novalesa
Situated just outside of the town of Novalesa, the Abbazia di Novalesa, or Novalesa Abbey, is a jewel of medieval religious heritage. Founded in the 8th century by the Lombard Duke of Susa, Abbo, and dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Andrew, this Benedictine monastery exudes an air of timeless tranquillity. Its Romanesque architecture is characterized by sturdy stone walls and gracefully arched cloisters. The abbey’s history is intertwined with the Carolingian dynasty, and it played a crucial role in preserving knowledge and culture during turbulent medieval times. Inside the abbey, visitors can admire a wealth of religious art, including frescoes that adorn the walls with biblical scenes. The crypt holds relics of Saint Eldrad, a revered local saint, adding to the spiritual significance of the site.
For centuries, the Novalesa Abbey has been welcoming and hosting pilgrims on their way across the Susa Valley and even today it is still possible for Via Francigena pilgrims to spend the night at the Abbey’s foresteria. Visits to the Abbey can only be booked by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org (please make sure to book at least 3 days in advance).
3. Avigliana and its lakes
Avigliana is a town situated approximately 25 km west of Turin, the capital of the Piedmont region. Its two lakes, Lago Grande and Lago Piccolo, are the heart and soul of this enchanting locale. Lago Grande, the larger of the two, mirrors the azure sky, framed by lush greenery and the distant silhouette of the majestic Alps. Boating, fishing, and leisurely lakeside strolls are popular activities of the locals. Some notable, historical sites not to miss when visiting Avigliana are Saint Peter’s monumental cemetery, where echoes of the past linger among ancient tombstones. As well as the Arduino Castle that stands as a sentinel, while the medieval arcades and the elegant San Giovanni church showcase architectural treasures that transport visitors back in time. For Via Francigena pilgrims seeking a place to rest and reflect, the Ostello Casa Conte Rosso provides a welcoming haven.
👉🏻 Avigliana can be found along Susa Valley Leg 03 – from Chiusa di San Michele to Avigliana
🛏️ Where to sleep in the surroundings of Avigliana: B&B la Curandera (Rosta)
4. Historical center of Susa
Stepping into the historical center of the ancient town of Susa feels like a journey back in time, where every cobblestone street and weathered facade tells a story. Its roots stretch deep into Roman history, evident in the well-preserved remnants of the Augustan Arch, an imposing testament to the town’s significance in antiquity. The graceful arcades and medieval buildings that line the streets exude a timeless elegance, while the Cathedral of San Giusto, with its intricate stonework and graceful bell tower, stands as a spiritual and architectural centerpiece. Wandering through the narrow alleys, quaint shops and cafes are inviting visitors to come in, each contributing to the town’s warm and welcoming atmosphere. The murmur of the Dora Riparia river, which flows through the heart of Susa, provides a soothing soundtrack to daily life. The town’s strategic location in the Susa Valley has made it a crossroads of cultures, trade, and pilgrims for centuries.
👉🏻 Susa can be found at the end of Susa Valley Leg 01 – from Moncenisio Pass to Susa and Susa Valley Leg 01B – from Oulx to Susa
🛏️ Where to sleep in Susa: Convento Boutique Hotel | D&D Tiny House | La Grande Salita al Colle delle Finestre
5. Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art
Located in the heart of the city of Susa, the Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art is housed in a medieval building and focuses on exhibiting religious artifacts, paintings, sculptures, and ecclesiastical vestments that have cultural and historical significance to the Susa Valley. The museum’s collection spans several centuries, providing visitors with a chronological view of the artistic and cultural evolution of the Susa Valley. Notable highlights of the collection include exquisite altar pieces, intricately carved wooden statues, and vibrant frescoes. These pieces bear testament to the spiritual devotion and artistic prowess of craftsmen from various periods. The museum also showcases a paved route from the late Middle Ages, offering a tangible connection to the past. Additionally, it features the Rocciamelone Triptych, which was brought to the top of the nearby Rocciamelone mountain (3,538m above sea level) in 1358 by Bonifacio Rotario, a banker from Asti, marking the first documented mountaineering ascent in history. For art enthusiasts, history buffs, and seekers of cultural enlightenment, the Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art is an absolute must when visiting the city of Susa.
👉🏻 The Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art can be found at the end of Susa Valley Leg 01 – from Moncenisio Pass to Susa and Susa Valley Leg 01B – from Oulx to Susa
🔗 For more information please visit the official website of the Museum (in Italian only)
6. Fort of Exilles
The Fort of Exilles is an imposing historic fortress, originally constructed in the 13th century, located close to the Via Francigena itinerary in the Susa Valley. It has a rich history, dating back to Roman times. It was strategically located to control the road leading from Turin to the Monginevro Pass in the French Alps. The fort is a massive stone structure, characterized by thick walls and defensive ramparts. It reflects a combination of medieval and military architectural styles. Over the centuries, the Fort of Exilles served various military purposes, including as a garrison, a prison, and a defensive stronghold for the Savoyard dukes. The fortress complex, with its well-preserved ramparts, tunnels, and barracks, offers a vivid glimpse into the life of a medieval garrison. Today, the fort houses a museum that showcases its historical significance. Visitors can explore exhibits about the fortress’s role in different time periods and its military architecture. The opening hours of the Fort of Exilles may vary depending on the season. We recommend checking the official website or contacting the fort directly for the most up-to-date information. Please note that the fort may have limited accessibility for individuals with mobility challenges due to its historic construction.
👉🏻 The Fort of Exilles can be found halfway along Susa Valley Leg 01B – from Oulx to Susa
🔗 For more information please visit the official website of the Fort (in Italian only)
🛏️ Where to sleep in Exilles: B&B Gabriella
7. Abbey of Sant’Antonio di Ranverso
The Abbey of Sant’Antonio di Ranverso can be found right next to the itinerary of the Via Francigena in the municipality of Buttigliera Alta, only a stone’s throw away from the town of Avigliana. The abbey has a long and storied history, dating back to the 12th century. It was initially founded by the Waldensians, a Christian movement that advocated for a simpler form of faith and rejected some aspects of the Catholic Church’s doctrine. The abbey complex features a mix of architectural styles, including Romanesque and Gothic elements. It includes a church, a cloister, various ancillary buildings, and it also houses the tomb of Blessed Boniface of Savoy. Throughout its history, the abbey served various religious and social functions, including as a place of worship, a center for religious study, and a refuge for pilgrims. Make sure not to miss this highlight when you make your way through the Susa Valley: you will not be disappointed!
👉🏻 The Abbey of Sant’Antonio di Ranverso can be found along Susa Valley Leg 04 from Avigliana to Collegno
🔗 For more information please visit the official website of the Abbey
🛏️ Where to sleep in the surroundings of the Abbey: B&B la Curandera (Rosta)
8. Lake Moncenisio with Fort de Variselle
The Moncenisio Pass is situated in the Savoie department of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in France, near the border with Italy. It connects the Susa Valley to the Maurienne Valley in France and is one of two mountain crossings connecting the Via Francigena with Santiago de Compostela (the other one can be found at the Monginevro Pass). The pass reaches an elevation of 2,083 meters (6,834 feet) above sea level and has historical significance as an ancient trade route used by the Romans. Napoleon Bonaparte also famously crossed this pass on his way to conquer Italy, and some even say that the great Hannibal himself used the Moncenisio Pass to cross the Alps with his 37 elephants.
On the French side of the Pass, you will find the beautiful Lake Moncenisio, an artificial reservoir created by the damming of the Arc River. Before the construction of the dam, a pilgrim hospice was located at the top of the pass offering high-altitude refuge to wayfarers. The lake and its surrounding area offer a range of recreational activities, including fishing, hiking, and picnicking. The best time to visit Moncenisio Lake is typically during the summer months (June to September) when the weather is milder and the lake is accessible. Looking out over Lake Moncenisio is the impressive Fort Variselle, constructed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as part of the fortification system known as the “Séré de Rivières” (named after the French General Raymond Adolphe Séré de Rivières). It played an important role in the defence of the region during times of conflict. The Fort is currently closed to visitors, but we highly recommend to follow the hiking trail up towards the fort for some stunning views over Lake Moncenisio and the surrounding mountains. Please beware that the road leading to the lake may be closed in winter due to snow.
9. San Gervasio Gorge and Tibetan Bridge
One of the most stunning stretches of the Via Francigena in the Susa Valley can be found along Leg 01A – from Clavière to Oulx. This is where the gorgeous San Gervasio Gorge is located, just outside the town of Clavière. And luckily for us pilgrims, the Via Francigena itinerary brings us precisely through this narrow valley that was carved into the mountains by melting ice water.
For pilgrims who enjoy a challenge, a Tibetan Bridge has been constructed over the entire length of the Gorge, making it the longest Tibetan Bridge of Europe with its 544m in length at a height of about 30m from the ground. To use the bridge, a ticket must be paid. Alternatively, pilgrims can follow the normal itinerary that runs at the bottom of the gorge.
Please be aware that the San Gervasio Gorge cannot be accessed during winter time, due to ice and snow (remember we’re at 1,760m above sea level here so it gets pretty chilly in winter). The Tibetan Bridge usually opens in the month of May and stays open until autumn.
10. Culinary traditions
As can be expected from an Italian region, the Susa Valley boasts a culinary heritage that marries tradition with exceptional flavours. Renowned not only for its exquisite cuisine, in the Susa Valley you’ll also find fine wines that have been carefully cultivated in the fertile soils of the region. From the famed IGP Valsusa chestnuts to the succulent cheeses and aromatic mountain herbs, every dish tells a story of time-honoured recipes and a deep connection to the land.
Susa Valley Chestnuts
Chestnut groves define the leg of the Via Francigena from Bussoleno to Chiusa, especially the route between San Giorio and Villar Focchiardo. The cultivation of chestnuts in this area has historical roots, likely originating from the presence of Benedictine Carthusian monks from the medieval Montebenedetto and Banda charterhouses (along the way), who probably brought this variety from Marradi in Tuscany. In the kitchen, these tasty chestnuts find their place in humble dishes, like simple soups made from rice, milk, and chestnuts, but it also transforms into a delicacy ingredient for fine pastries, such as the production of candied chestnuts, chestnut jams, chestnuts in spirits, and syrup, all marketed by the La Maruna Cooperative, which gathers the harvests of small (non-commercial) landowners.
👉🏻 The Chestnut groves can be found along Susa Valley Leg 02 – from Susa to Sacra di San Michele
The biscotto del pellegrino (pilgrim’s cookie) was invented with the aim of offering pilgrims a special “souvenir” product from the Via Francigena in the Susa Valley that tells the story of evolution and innovation in the region, starting from rediscovered agricultural productions. The original recipe comes from the baker Matteo Marzo, who lives in Susa and is a Master of Taste. For the recipe, Matteo used Barbrial flour (documented in the 1700s), a mixture of wheat and rye, together with Marroncina, which is chestnut and marroni flour. The biscotto del Pellegrino can be purchased at Panificio Marzo in the city of Susa.