Near the foot of the Alps, but still remarkably in sight of Turin's hilltop monument La Superga if the day is clear, is a small town with a big castle: Agliè.
Agliè is the perfect complement to other small towns in the Torinese wine zone: Caluso and Carema are just 20-30 minutes away, and Turin itself is 40 minutes away by car. Getting to Agliè is also possible using public transportation: from the Torino Porta Susa train station take the regional train -- tickets can be bought at the "Edicola" at the northern end of the station -- to Rivarolo Canavese; then, a bus departs from Rivarolo Canavese for Agliè regularly. See the timetable here. In fact, Rivarolo Canavese may be a smart departure point for visiting other winery towns in the area. The Hotel Rivarolo is an excellent choice of lodging.
"There is truly no greater pleasure
than to go to Agliè
than to go to Agliè"
(from the first verses by poet and writer Guido Gozzano)
The Castle itself, the centerpiece of this 2,600-inhabitant town, is open from 8:30 am to 7:30 pm Tuesday to Sunday, so take time to wander around the curving, sloping streets when you arrive. Turning up Viale Giuseppe Frua from where the bus drops off on Via Olivetti, it will curve to the right and then lead up to the Castle and village center. For a town so small, there are quite a few churches in and right outside of it. First, pass by the white Church of St. Gaudenzio, which was first mentioned in 1329 in the Bishop of Ivrea's travel records, and where the famous poet and writer Guido Gozzano is buried. Down Via Giugliemo Marconi 3 is the Church of St. Marta, the masterpiece of Baroque architect Filippo Juvarra's pupil Costanzo Michela, native of Agliè. The Parish Church in Piazza Castello has an altar by Juvarra, and 2.5 km outside of town is the "Tre Cioché" or "Three Belltowers," also known as the Church of the Madonna delle Grazie. It was designed by Michela and its construction requested by town residents as a shrine to hold off Rinderpest (bovine plague). The circular Sanctuary of St. Maria della Rotonda, just 3 km out of town, is quite possibly built over the foundations of a Roman temple dedicated to the goddess Diana. Other churches dot the area in and right outside of Agliè. It is not for nothing that the area is sometimes called the "region of churches."
Close to the heart of the historical center on Via Setificio is the excellent bakery Alfonsi; not far away on Via Michela Antonio is the family-style Ristorante-Pizzeria Il Chiostro. For traditional fare of the region, the Scudo di Francia trattoria is located on Via Principe Amadeo. If you're looking to stay in this beautiful northern Piedmontese zone in luxury, 12 km from Agliè in Romano Canavese is the stupendous relais Villa Matilde.
Passing under the shadows of a few porticoes, Via Principe Tommasso opens up to the expansive Piazza Castello paved in cobblestone and dominated by the Ducal Castle of Agliè. The side of the castle facing the piazza is the only one not flanked by its vast garden of 7 km of paths and trails. Guided tours of the castle run each hour, but not always on a regular schedule (depending on the flow of tourists); visits are in Italian but may be accompanied with a detailed, written description in English.
The foundations of the Ducal Castle are from the 1100s when it was the fortress of the dukes of San Martino. The town itself came into being when townspeople moved their humble homes to the foot of its foundations for protection in the Medieval Ages. The Castle then went through several periods of construction, passing from the hands of architect Amadeo di Castellamonte to the Savoys, the Dukes of Genova, and finally to the State in 1939. While under the famous Savoian nobility, Maria Cristina gathered an ancient Roman architecture collection with artifacts found during the excavation of the Ancient Roman Tusculum 25 km from Rome. Visitors can still admire her collection today.
Agliè is also home to a crystal-clear white wine, one of Italy's first DOC wines certified in 1967, upgraded to DOCG in 2010: Erbaluce. Perhaps a wine tourist would like to try rounding out an Erbaluce tasting, after visiting Caluso and Carema, by stopping in Agliè -- in which case, where to go? Just a 10-15 minute walk from the Castle is the Silva winery. Call ahead to make an appointment for a guided visit (+39-0124-429-907). Arrive at Vitivinicola Silva, a colorful villa with wine producing equipment visible from the drive. Stefano Silva, the winemaker, is a tall, burly man with an utterly relaxed attitude who will happily lead you through his cellars and aging rooms, from traditional oaken barrels to totally unique equipment that's at the height of technology. Pass through stacks of crates where grapes are dried for sweet Caluso passito to lines of bottles with wine fermenting, Champagne-style, on their lees. And, of course, a wine tasting is in order at the end.
To get to the winery, walk or drive down Via per Cuceglio that flanks the garden wall of the castle to the right, and a sweeping view of the Alps, foothills, and long tracts of lush green on your left. Or, in the Tourism Office in Piazza Castello, bike rentals are available. The Pro Loco tourism association is only open Saturday and Sunday, but a phone number is tacked on the door for those who would like more information--or a bike.
Where to go in Agliè
What to See
Piazza del Castello - 10011 Agliè (TO)
Ducal Castle of Agliè
Piazza del Castello, 2 - 10011 Agliè (TO)
Where to Eat
Panetteria Pasticceria Alfonsi
Via Setificio, 16 - 10011 Aglie' (TO)
tel: 0124 330175
Ristorante-Pizzeria Il Chiostro
Via Michela Antonio, 43 - 10011 Agliè (TO)
Scudo di Francia
Via Principe Amedeo, 30 - 10011 Agliè (TO)
Tel. +39 0124 33354
What to buy
Azienda Vitivinicola Silva
Cascine Roggie, 1 - 10011 Agliè (TO)
Tel. +39 0124 33356
Where to Sleep
C.so Indipendenza, 76 - 10086, Rivarolo Canavese (TO)
+39 Tel. 0124. 28.58.9
Viale Marconi, 29
10090 - Romano Canavese (TO)
Tel +39 0125 639290