Highlights and tour details
The profile of the Serra d'Ivrea, the most extensive glacial moraine in Europe, appears from afar as a low plateau with a perfectly horizontal profile. Exploring it by bike, we will discover that there is no lack of ascents and descents, and the natural environments and rural landscape are much more varied than one might expect at first glance. Birch forests, hay meadows, and above all, numerous vineyards supported by dry-stone walls flow fast along traffic-free roads. We also come across the Via Francigena, and countless country chapels and churches that mark the main pilgrimage route to Rome. In particular, the main destination of the day is the church of Santo Stefano di Sassano, and its Romanesque frescoes, which unveils the Chiese a Porte Aperte app (Churches with Open Doors).
Ivrea is the starting point of our itinerary, a city that deserves a leisurely visit. If we arrive from the railway station, we avoid the city traffic with the cycle path just behind the tracks and cross the Dora river along the beautiful cycle/pedestrian footbridge.
Heir to the Roman city of Eporedia, Ivrea was a resting place for pilgrims on the Via Francigena and preserves important Roman and medieval memories. Those who are well trained will not find it too hard to climb up to the Cathedral and the castle, built by the Savoys in the 14th century. Those who prefer to save their energy for the ascent to Serra need only follow the signs for Lake Sirio, easily following the beautiful road that leads up the hill to the most elegant outskirts of the city, among villas and gardens.
Lake Sirio is one of the many small lakes of glacial origin, which is what remains of the Balteo glacier, the same one that shaped the Serra d'Ivrea during the many cold phases of our planet. A high bell tower and the clear profile of the nearby Serra anticipate Chiaverano, and it is at the top of the village that we must look for the church of Santo Stefano.
- In ancient times the church of Santo Stefano was at the centre of one of the town's hamlets, Sessano, later abandoned with the foundation of Villanova di Chiaverano. Built around the year 1000, its interior preserves a cycle of frescoes dating from the 11th and 12th centuries, one of the oldest and most important documents of Romanesque painting in the Canavese area.
We pause for a moment longer on the panoramic hillock on which the church stands, amidst pergola vines supported by characteristic stone pillars, the "culigne", in a decidedly Mediterranean environment. Then we are back in the saddle again, still uphill, but not for long: from the farmsteads of Casale Serra we stay on the hillside, with continuous pleasant ascents and descents on minimal roads, flanking high dry stone walls, scattered farmsteads, with beautiful views of the morainic amphitheatre. The road surface is often asphalted, but also dirt and cobblestones: definitely challenging on a bike!
We slow down to avoid passing another Romanesque church without taking a look at its original location. The church of Santa Maria Maddalena, documented since the 11th century, stands on a rocky relief emerging from the ground. It has a round apse with a slate and stone roof and a large bell tower on the façade.
The last stop before completing the loop is the "Ciucarun", as it is known in the area, the solitary bell tower of the vanished Romanesque church of San Martino, built in the 11th century and demolished in the 18th century. There is also no trace of Pærno, the village of which it was the parish church, which was abandoned as early as the 12th century.
A few more ascents and descents and then the long and winding descent towards the plain and Ivrea, including a stop at the Romanesque church of Saints Peter and Paul, just before the medieval centre of Bollengo.
Points of interest
Church of Santo Stefano di Sessano
The cycle of frescoes inside the single-nave church was only discovered in 1973, during a restoration campaign of the building, which was in a state of serious deterioration at the time. The style and iconography are those of late antiquity and Byzantine art. In the apsidal basin, we see Christ in Majesty surrounded by the symbols of the four evangelists, and the apostles in the lower register. These are joined by two other saints, one of whom is St Stephen, the first Christian martyr and patron saint of the church, dressed as a deacon, wearing a dalmatic and stole. He is the figure in the centre of the apse to the right of the central window.
To the north of the church is an interesting example of a medieval garden, a hortus conclusus, between dry-stone walls and curtains of fruit trees, with food and medicinal plants and aromatic essences - including many varieties of rosemary - and a pergola with the most representative vines of the Canavese region: Erbaluce, Nebbiolo and Luglienga.
The Church of Santo Stefano di Sessano in Chiaverano will open its doors thanks to the Chiese a Porte Aperte app. Chiese a porte aperte (Churches with Open Doors) is an automated opening and narration system for churches in Piedmont and Aosta Valley. Download the Chiese a porte aperte app. For info: www.cittaecattedrali.it.
Departure, arrival and municipalities crossed
10015 Ivrea (TO)
Torinosee on map