On the Road

Panorama: Slate Grey Mountain Rooftops

We rented a car today and headed west towards the Piemonte mountain resorts where the Olympic skiing competitions will soon take place.

Like with every major Italian city, it took us awhile to get through town and work our way through the poorer outlying areas of the city. Unlike the States, in Italy it's usually the outside of the cities that are more run-down, rather than the downtown areas.

And like in every major Italian city I've ever been to, prostitutes trolling for customers hung out on the side of the road leading out of Torino. One girl seemed to be getting lucky with a truck driver as we drove by. He was talking to her, in any case.

We couldn't see a lot on the drive because of the fog. We'd follow the curving road and then all of a sudden, a massive mountain would suddenly come into view as we moved close to it.

We passed one gorgeous little village that cascaded down the hill on the side of the road. All you could see of Exilles was the town's church spire and its rooftops, irregular gray slate slabs that formed a patchwork of overlapping pieces like a tapestry. Usually in Italy, the roof tiles tend to be that burnt sienna color.

I was eager to get to Sestriere, the region's main ski resort and one of the Olympic skiing venues. After my mother died in December, I found some photos of her with my father in Sestriere.

The pictures must have been taken in the resort's early days. Sestriere was only built in the 1930s by FIAT's Agnelli family. According to some accounts, Giovanni Agnelli decided to build Sestriere because he was sick of his friends going off to Switzerland and France to ski. My mother told me she knew Giovanni Agnelli when she was a young girl in Torino. Like many aspects of my mother's upbringing here, I have little way of checking that now.

We're in Sestriere now and it pains me to report that frankly, I'm disappointed. That's not what I wanted to write you. Even though I knew it wasn't one of those ancient Italian mountain towns (like the ones on the east side of Italy in the Trentino-Alto Adige area), I still thought it would have more charm, be quainter somehow.

Instead of the classic Italian church spire, Sestriere's skyline is dominated by four cylindrical towers. The two biggest ones were built in the 1930s as hotels. Two smaller ones were constructed in the '90s. Although the towers certainly scream "Sestriere", they don't add much to the resort's charm.

By Daniela Deane |  January 24, 2006; 9:12 AM ET  | Category:  The Mountains
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Daniela -

I just found your blog, and am looking forward to reading more of your impressions. I am sorry to hear of your loss, and hope you find something of your parents during your trip.

Posted by: djh | January 24, 2006 01:12 PM

One seeking a true Piemontese mountain town should head to Aosta, not Sestriere. Aosta was an important military and trading outpost during Roman days, and today it is a beautiful little town hard up against the mountains. Also, a few kilometers further up the same highway, try the town of Cogne, near the Italian-French border. Cogne is home to Italy's Gran Paradiso national park, it has some stunningly beautiful alpine mountain and valley views.

Posted by: Brian | January 25, 2006 08:56 AM

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