With the aim of reducing large gatherings during the final phase of the Covid Pandemic, even on public means of transportation, the Italian Government launched an initiative to support the use of bicycles.
If you buy a bicycle you get 60% of price back in your bank account, up to a maximum of 500 Euros (approx. 560 dollars). Good, right? I decided to buy a bicycle myself. I paid 250,00 euro and I get back 60% of it, thus it actually costed me a little more than a 100 Euros.
I bought a simple city bike as I have never been a big rider, thus I do only use it for moving around the city for work or for pleasure but I’m not using it for long rides in the countryside. By riding my new bike I discovered that the city is very well served with reserved bike lanes that one can use to go almost everywhere in the city centre and beyond. From my home, which is not far from one of the biggest squares in town, called Piazza Statuto, I can easily go everywhere, thus I am enjoying a lot using it.
I took advantage of this opportunity to explore areas of my city that I do not often attend and the most pleasant ride I did was inside the Valentino Park along the banks of the river Po.
The Valentino is one of the best known urban parks in Italy together with Villa Borghese in Rome or Parco Sempione in Milan. Through the centuries it has be the subject of songs, poems and lyrics due to it magnificent location, the old trees that makes it look like a forest and the River Po gently touching its border at east.
There are several attractions in the park, and the more you pedal the more you see and discover.
By entering the park the first highlight you see it the mighty Castle of Valentino. It’ a French looking royal residence built in the mid-1600s to home the daughter of the king of France who was married to the Duke of Savoy and moved to Torino. She didn’t’ like much living in the Royal Palace in central Turin, thus she built a palace for herself inside the park, which at that time, was out of the city. Rumor has it that she built it because she had an affair with a local nobleman, who later on became her counsellor, so she need some extra privacy to hide her meetings with him.
The castle has 2 facades, the one facing the city is covered with an ivory white plaster and shows both the coat of arms of the House of Savoy and that of the French Royal family.
Moving further into the park with my bike I bumped into the astonishing Fountain of the 12 months. It was built in 1898 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Constitution of the former Kingdom of Italy and to amaze the visitors during the National Expo which was held in Torino. It is made of a big oval basin in which water comes in through a waterfall surrounded by a big terrace where the statues of the 12 months have been placed to decorate the balustrade. Legend has it that the Fountain was built on the exact sport where Fetonte, the son of the Greek God Apollus, fell after stealing his father’s chariot and let the horses shy. The style is “liberty”, the Italian interpretation of what others call “art nuveau”.
The third highlight is the famous Isabel bridge. Named after one of the many Princesses of the House of Savoy, the bridge was completed in 1880. It’s 130 meters long and 12 meters width and displays 5 big arches that support the original walkway. The peculiarity of this bridge is that for some reason is a very attractive spot for photographers. Among the usual pictures of Turin, Ponte Isabella is one of the highlights that is always shown. When you look at the centre of it, under the central arcade, you see in a distance the mighty dome of the Mole Antonelliana (the tallest building in town, home to the National Museum of Cinema), thus making it a perfect location for a photo shooting.
Once you pass the bridge you are formally out of the Valentino Park, however the bike lane continues for few miles ahead. I pedalled more along the banks of the rivers, surrounded by the trees, thus in a perfectly cool atmosphere despite the initial summer heat wave, until I reached the area called Italy 61. It’s a modern area built in 1961 to celebrate the 100th anniversary since the unification of Italy. That is the also the place where the National Automobile Museum is found, which also deserves a visit if you are fond of car history and Formula 1.
Further ahead you see the green fence that identifies an extraterritorial piece of land that the Municipality of Turin donated to the United Nations. Behind the fence a compound of 20 small buildings is found (originally conceived to allow each Region of Italy to display its specific craft excellence). The area is nowadays home to the United Nations Staff College, run by the International Labour Organisation.
After the UN Campus, a spiral ramp allows to easily get on a wooden bridge, across the River Po. The bike lane continues on the other side of the river allowing other views over the park attractions.
While pedalling I kept on looking on the other side of the river, and I found myself again below one of the arches of the Isabel bridge, then all of a sudden another incredible scenic view appeared: The Medieval Village of Valentino.
Despite its appearance, the compound is not a real medieval village but a reconstruction dating back to 1884 only, built to embellish the park during the National General Expo, which was held in town at that time. The architects who built the village, took inspiration from real medieval buildings around the Piedmont region. Therefore each building of this village is the almost exact replica of an existing palace or house or tower. Even the Castle is the replica of a real one that is found in the Aosta Valley, along the route heading to the Mont Blanc and the borders with France. You can visit the village anytime but the Castle is only open to the public during daylight hours as there is no electricity in it, to let you feel the real medieval way of living.
I pedalled further ahead until I reached a small terrace overlooking the back of the Valentino Castle. This was the original façade actually, as the members of the Royal Family were used to get here by boat from the city centre. It’s a beautiful facing bricks façade, with a mighty staircase taking the guests from the embankment, on the river Po, to the main entrance hall.
The Castle is not open to the public unfortunately, thus you cannot see the interiors, unless you are a student of the local Faculty of Architecture that is homed into the Castle. Graduation ceremonies take places inside the former ballroom!!!
This was the end of my ride inside the park. Easy and pleasant. No cars around, plenty of trees to keep me cool and as many attractions to stop by and admire as I want. Should you come visit Torino I would definitely recommend you to hire a local guide and let him or her lead you on a bike tour along the river Po. There will be a surprise every few meters.
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