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The Castles of Piedmont:

Living in a Fairy Tale with Hundreds of Happy Endings 

Imagine Yourself a King, or Treat Yourself Like a Queen,

in Italy’s Magical Land of Castles

Once Upon A Time, the Royal Italian House of Savoy had its origins in the region of Piedmont, a relentlessly picturesque place with more hills and lakes per square mile than even TuscanyLike any good royal family, the Savoy family felt it only fitting that they live in grand and opulent castles. And so as the family grew, the castles too spread. Today, the Piedmont region is gloriously speckled with the castles of the House of Savoy and other aristocratic families. Visiting them all: impossible. Creating your own fairy-tale: easy.

Sleep like a queen in a castle that has been turned into an inviting inn, like Castello di Verduno, in the village of Verduno or Villa Contessa Rosa, in the small town of Serralunga

Dine like a prince at Castello di Rivoli, Castello di Mango, or Castello dell'enoteca di Canale, just a few of the many castles that have become fine restaurants. Drink a king’s ransom of some of the region’s finest vintages while touring Castello di Barolo, Castello di Grinzane Cavour and many more that have been turned into world-class wineries. Or simply stroll the grounds of any number of castles, drinking in the history of these dazzling monuments to a bygone world.

This majestic past is virtually everywhere you turn in Turin, for the dukes of Savoy - who became the Kings of Sardinia - spared no expense in building and buying what became known as the Savoy residences in the capital of their kingdom. All the families from the most renowned European courts came from far and wide to admire the royal residences.  When they returned to their own castles, they were terribly jealous.

Castle hopping in Turin might begin with a stop at the magnificent Palazzo Reale, or royal palace built originally between 1659 and 1674, then expanded over nearly two centuries to house a royal family growing ever larger, and of course, ever richer. The original 17th Century sections feature a sweeping grand staircase – the better for a princess to make a dazzling entrance. The magnificent throne and audience rooms stand as priceless attestations that it’s good to be royal. A priceless collection of tapestries and paintings fills the Sala dei Corazzieri. If that’s not history enough, a final addition, done at the dawn of the 20th century, led to the unearthing of Roman-period ruins on the site.

Next stop on the royal road might be Il Valentino, the onetime pied-a-terre of the royal Lady Cristina of France, who simply could not be content with just one home. Today, the place where her ladyship hung her many crowns has enchanting botanical gardens, a recreated medieval village and is thought to be among Italy's first public parks.  One guesses that Royal Lady Cristina would not have liked the sound of that one bit.

Palazzo Carignano, of similarly royal pedigree, has similarly opened its doors to the teeming masses. The birthplace of kings, and seat of government under Napolean, it has since 1938 been home to the breathtaking collection of art and important historical documents that comprise the Museum of the Risorgimento. While the museum is an added bonus, the palazzo is a work of art unto itself. With its intricately decorated façade and tantalizing interplay of curves, this building has recently been declared one of the "Treasures of Humanity" by the United Nations. 

A tour of Turin’s royal residences would simply not be complete without stopping in at Palazzo Madama, named for its most popular resident, Madama Reale - Marie Christine of France, or glimpsing Villa della Regina, literally “the Queen’s Villa,” nestled in the surrounding hills.   

Other treasures are the result of the Savoys and their fellow royals catching something of a “keeping up with the Joneses” - or rather, the King Joneses - fever. And no one built more glamorously than the royals of Piedmont.  The kingdom surrounding Turin is jeweled with castles including Venaria, Castello de Rivoli, La Mandria and the splendid Hunting Lodge in Stupinigi and Moncalieri castle. 

First in line is Piedmont’s splendid Castello di Venaria, the plans for which the French Sun King had studied before setting out to build his own larger, royal playground a year later. Venaria, of course, was hardly modest. This hunting lodge, which came complete with its own constructed city, was designed to shore up the royal image of another noble, Carlo Emanuele II. For 30 years the palace was indeed the site of fine hunting parties and other grand gatherings, but alas those French once again took notice of the aptly named “Palace of Pleasure,” attacking it several times over the years and eventually leaving it to smolder.  A dramatic $200 million Euro restoration project is now underway and promises to return this landmark to its former glory in time for its grand opening at the 20006 Winter Olympics.

Already restored in a dramatic fashion, the Castello de Rivoli now houses the Museum of Contemporary Art. Fittingly, the restoration was done with materials and techniques both ancient and cutting-edge. Today the castle boasts a floating stairway, a walkway that crosses the 18th century vaulting and an observation point of steel and glass – modern touches that draw attention to ancient grandeur.

Countless other palaces, villas and ruins beg for exploration and discovery in this fantastical place full of history, culture and opulence. Far beyond the reach of Turin, Castello di Agliè is seated in the Canavese hills and Racconigi Castle in the Cuneo area.  The Langhe is under the spell of royal retreats as diverse as the majestic Castle of Grinzane Cavour, a beautiful brick towered fortress from the 13th century, and the Agenzia of Pollenzo, a neo-gothic palace built in 1833.  With its rolling hills, sparkling lakes, majestic mountains and royal roots, Piedmont is the world’s real Magic Kingdom. One visit and fairy tales will never again measure up to the real thing.