If you are planning a weekend away and want to take in some history and enjoy nature, you can find an ample supply of both less than three hours’ drive from Geneva.
Nestling in the Piedmont mountains near Turin in northern Italy, in a region called the Via Lattea (or Milky Way), are the villages of Cesana, Sauze d’Oulx, Bardonecchia, Sansicario, Pragelato, Claviere and Mongenèvre. Great for winter weekends because of its incredible network of ski slopes, in summer the Milky Way is a pleasure to explore on foot, through woods and on the ancient paths, roads and mule tracks criss-crossing the area. Built for military reasons, these paths were also natural thoroughfares for European pilgrims heading to Rome on the Via Francigena in the Middle Ages. The route passes by some imposing fortifications like Fenestrelle – the largest fort in the Alps – Fort Vinadio in the Stura Valley, and Exilles in Val Susa with its wonderful museum that re-creates life in a military garrison. In Pragelato, visit the Museum of Costume and Traditions of Alpine People.
For open-air sports lovers, these paths are ideal for riding and mountain biking (there are stables and bike hire shops in the area). In Cesana Torinese, an hour from Turin, there are numerous climbing options on limestone rock or granite; or get the adrenaline flowing with some tough rafting and kayaking on the river Dora Riparia. And those into alternative sports can challenge friends and family to traverse high rope bridges, zip wires and Tarzan swings at the adventure park.
The region is rightly famed for its cuisine. Enjoy typical regional dishes such as bagna càuda, a wonderful vegetable fondue type dish, in one of the many local restaurants dotted around the villages. If you’re close to the little village of Sauze di Cesana, taste the fruity beers at the local brewery, which looks like a tavern from a fantasy movie set.
For those who simply cannot do without shopping and a social buzz, Sestriere, Sauze d’Oulx and Bardonecchia are good places to get your fill of dining, cinemas and Irish pubs.
And at the foot of Mount Chaberton, towering above the border with France, are the quaint villages of Mongenèvre and Claviere, two little gems in which Italian and French culture blend wonderfully. Reachable by car, or by crossing the spectacular Tibetan footbridge from Cesana Torinese (not for vertigo sufferers!), they offer several golf courses and rather refined French and Italian restaurants.