Avigliana may not be on everyone’s to do list on a visit to Italy, but for peace and tranquility this “Riviera” experience is unrivaled. Millions flock to Italy’s Riviera region year on year, but the small town of Avigliana, in the North region of Torino is just as exquisite.
If you are a traveler who likes to experience a place as a local and as the locals do, Avigliana may satisfy your thirst to be one with nature and its inhabitants. Just 30 minutes by train from Turin, Avigliana lies in the Susa valley, on the highway going from Turin to France.
Avigliana is best known for two main lakes, Lago Grande and Lago Piccolo. These two lakes sit not too far apart from one another. And both are surrounded by the Alps. Everywhere you go in Turin and its surrounding areas, the beautiful Alpine mountains look like they are “down the road”. But they are at least a 2-hr train ride from Turin, where you will find Italy’s under-rated yet beautiful ski resort, Bardonecchia.
Lago Grande, or the big lake, is a beautiful lake with a backdrop of the Alps that is like heaven on earth. Take a stroll around the Lago Grande on a weekday, and don’t be surprised if you have the lake to yourselves. Given that Avigliana is not a tourist trap, you will see very few people around during the week. On a weekend, the lakes are busy with local Italians but it is never so busy that you would be rubbing shoulders with crowds.
Avigliana Lakes Natural Park, lies right at the base of Monte Pirchiriano. Pirchiriano is home to the age-old Sacra di San Michele Abbey, otherwise known as being the inspiration for Umberto Eco’s famous novel, The Name of the Rose. You have to excuse me as my time in Avigliana was spent by the lakes most days, so sightseeing wasn’t on the agenda. The natural splendors are Avigliana’s true heart and soul. You couldn’t tear me away from the lakes. A walk around the Lago Grande can take up to 1hr 45mins. I managed a part of that walk, then was met by surrounding woods and meadows that were enchanting.
Sitting by the Lago Grande, with its peaceful setting and stunning Alpine scenery, made it a great place to meditate. I found a spot on a stone bench, parked my butt down and sat with my legs crossed. My meditation session was interrupted yet applauded by a middle-aged Italian man speaking to me in the lingo. I didn’t understand much of what he said to me, but the good natured chap laughed as he said “ommm”. That bit, I understood.
The Lago Grande has a scuba diving school and it is also where you will find people doing water sports and fishing. Locals told me that you can also swim in the lake.
There’s not much surrounding grass to sit on to picnic around Lago Grande but you can find a spot on a bench to chill. You will also find a few discreet bars and restaurants around the Lago Grande, which appear to be popular wedding venues too.
Lago Piccolo or Little Lake has a different vibe to the Lago Grande. It seemed like a younger vibe at the Lago Piccolo with many locals going there to picnic as there is a large area to do so. I met with an Italian family who were even making their own wood-fired pizzas on a BBQ.
The lake is surrounded by meadows that you can explore and lose yourself in. It’s a perfect place to visit daily to find a different spot and just enjoy being in nature. I’ve always had a strong affinity to water – aside from being born under a water sign, I’ve always been at one with the element, and found being by Lago Piccolo an incredibly powerful and inspiring environment to do one of the things I most love doing, writing. I felt truly blessed to have the opportunity to do within nature. It felt like wherever I perched my butt, be it on the grass, rocks or by the bank of the lake, it felt like sinking into an armchair.
Avigliana is a small town and if you are a walker, it is easy to walk around, and find your way around that way. But the walk from the station is at least 45 minutes and the walk to Lago Piccolo over an hour. There are no buses in Avigliana, so if it is a trip you would consider, look into hiring a car. On one occasion I needed to get a taxi, but it appears they don’t exist in Avigliana. I managed to go into a local store, where nobody spoke English, to ask if they knew of any taxi companies. My pigeon Italian wasn’t quite cutting the mark but as always, whenever I go to a foreign country, I manage to get by with the locals, and have a laugh with them or have them in hysterics over something or another, especially the fact that “she looks like a local but bizarrely she can’t speak the lingo”. Half an hour later – in which time, I managed to have a conversation in English with the friend of a customer on his mobile phone, who told me he had never heard of a taxi company in Avigliana – I was told by the shop owner to wait for her husband to get back to the shop. She then cleared their Fiat car on his arrival and summoned me to jump in and she gave me a lift to where I needed to be. Point being, many of the locals in Avigliana will go out of their way to help you. It’s that kind of place where people know each other and there is a community vibe. But if you want to get around not by foot, look into hiring a car. That way you can explore the beautiful Susa Valley and nearby Bardonnechia too.