The route winds between the Canavese and Biellese areas. In the first part it undulates on roads that are sometimes narrow (especially in the town crossings), and sometimes wide and straight. After the Feed Zone (km 102-105) the route is practically flat up to Valdengo where the gentle ascent of Nelva begins through Valle San Nicolao and Bianchette. The fast descent at Biella leads to where the final ascent of Oropa begins on the “classic” route that has already been faced on several occasions by the Giro d’Italia.
The last 11km are uphill from Biella to the Sanctuary of Oropa. The first part, up to the town of Favaro, is on gentle slopes. The maximum slopes of around 13% are reached in the town of Favaro, on porphyry pavement. The climb continues with numerous bends and slopes of around 9% up to the finish on a straight road that’s 130m long and 6.5m wide.
Founded over the ancient Roman settlement of Alladium, Agliè was already mentioned in historical documents dating back to the early 12th century, when its territory was divided among the feudal lords of the Canavese. The major landmark of that time is the Ducal Castle, belonging to the San Martino di Agliè family. Surrounded by a lush garden teeming with rare flowers and age-old trees, the building has been listed as Unesco World Heritage since 1997. It has a monumental façade with two majestic staircases. Inside, nearly 300 rooms – many of which have retained their antique furniture – are open to the public.
The town is also renowned for being the summer retreat of the Turin-born poet Guido Gozzano. The garden of the late-19-century Art Nouveau villa “Il Meleto” currently houses an art installation titled La signorina Felicita, remembering Gozzano’s famous poem, “Miss Felicita, or felicity”. The town has a charming atmosphere, and you can sense it simply wandering the narrow streets, along the arcades, with wonderful churches popping out from time to time.
Lying along the right bank of the Orco river, Rivarolo Canavese most likely draws its name from Riparolium, meaning “a small place along the river bank”. Major landmarks here include the mediaeval castle of Malgrà, built between 1333 and 1336 by order of count Martino di San Martino, the church of S. Michele Arcangelo, which is a masterpiece of the Turin-born architect Bernardo Antonio Vittone, and the 15-century church of S. Francesco and monastery. Inside the castle, remains of 15-century frescoes have survived to date. Via Ivrea runs through the old town, lined with arcades on both sides. It is one of the most beautiful streets of the entire Canavese territory, with numerous ancient buildings, including the Town Hall.
Lying not far from lake Viverone, in the province of Vercelli, Borgo d’Ale is renowned for its excellent fruit and vegetable production (kiwifruits, Isabella grapes, and peaches), and every year in late June and early July the town hosts the traditional Festa delle Pesche (“peaches festival”). Founded over the remains of four ancient villages – Erbario, Clivolo, Meoglio and Areglio – under Arduin of Ivrea, the town came under the rule of the Visconti of Milan in the 14th century, and of the House of Savoy later on. Major landmarks include Porta d’Alice (an ancient brick arch erected over the ruins of a 12-century Roman gate) and a rural 11-century church dedicated to San Michele di Clivolo, with traces of 12-century frescoes. On the third Sunday of each month, Borgo d’Ale hosts one of the major antiques and second-hand markets in Piedmont, a popular event for all vintage lovers. The exhibition features over 500 stands, selling pretty much everything from prints to books, from antique furniture to handicraft and clothing.
The town was founded along the ancient Via Francigena. Its name almost certainly derives from the archaic word caballius: having developed under the Celts and the Romans as a major military hub between the Po valley, the Biella valleys and the Canavese region, the town most likely served as a rest station for horses. It is no coincidence that its coat of arms depicts a prancing horse. The castle of Cavaglià, built by order of the Rondolino family in the early 18th century, was entirely renovated at the end of last century. The Baroque church of S. Michele Arcangelo houses exquisite wooden furnishings, as well as a valuable 19-century pipe organ. However, the real attraction in town is a small-scale Stonehenge – an ancient stone circle (“cromlech”) composed of 11 menhirs, dating back to 4000-5000 B.C. according to experts.
This lovely town belonging to the province of Biella is a major centre for the production of high-quality craft yarns and textiles. The liveliest part of the town is the one around the church of S. Maria Assunta and Piazza Gramsci, and in the recently established pedestrian area around Piazza Croce Rossa, where a famous weekly market is held. Besides the picturesque historical centre, the charm of the town lies in its numerous hamlets scattered throughout the territory, with groups of old houses facing an inner courtyard or a tiny alley, where you can still sense the cosy, peaceful atmosphere of times gone by.
The city of Biella, presently a provincial capital, was founded back in the Early Middle Ages, but reached its greatest urban development in the 19th century, owing to a thriving textile industry. Large numbers of ancient villas and mansions, the Romanesque Baptistery (10th-11th century) and the Cathedral, all speak to the prominent history of the city, and to its rich artistic and cultural legacy. The true heart of Biella lies within the Piazzo, the mediaeval upper town that can also be conveniently accessed by funicular. And here is a piece of trivia: perhaps not everyone knows that, to avoid the risk of air raids, the Piaggio production facilities were relocated from Pontedera to Biella towards the end of World War II. Therefore, the prototype of the first Vespa scooter was designed right here, in 1944. If you are in town, the international contemporary art museum called M.A.C.I.S.T. (Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Internazionale Senza Tendenze), the brainchild of Omar Ronda, is definitely worth a visit.
Rising at an elevation of 1,159 metres, the Sanctuary of Oropa is an ancient place of worship dedicated to the Black Madonna. The statue of the Virgin Mary, inside, has been worshipped since the 14th century. The Sacred Mountain on which the sanctuary rises is a major destination for religious tourism, attracting millions of visitors every year. The monumental complex includes various buildings that were erected and modified over time, including the ancient and the new Basilica, the royal apartments and the library. Over 300 rooms are available to provide accommodation to pilgrims coming to the sanctuary throughout the year, in any season and in any type of weather, to escape the chaos and anxiety of everyday life, to enjoy the meditative silence of this place, and to regain balance.