Highlights and tour details
A beautiful cycle path and the minor roads crossing the plain at the mouth of Val Pellice provide the opportunity for a leisurely ride suitable for everyone. The destination of the first stop is the chapel of Santa Maria di Missione, isolated in the countryside, with its 15th century frescoes. The turning point of the loop is Villafranca Piemonte, an ancient river port on the Po, from where we continue to Cavour, whose Rocca (fortress) stands out against the uniform landscape of the plain. After a few easy ascents and descents and the view of the increasingly imminent Alps, we reach Lusernetta, where the Chiese a Porte Aperte (Churches with Open Doors) app reveals another important cycle of Gothic frescoes dedicated to San Bernardino da Siena.
From the centre of Bricherasio the cycle path takes us into the open countryside, with a panoramic bridge over the Pellice stream and the peaks at the head of the valley. Where the wheels of the bike now glide quickly (and safely), there was once the Bricherasio - Barge railway line, which operated between 1885 and 1984, mainly to transport quartzite and other minerals and precious stones extracted in the Infernotto valley.
The bike speeds past isolated farmsteads and the hamlets of Campiglione and Gemerello, alongside endless fields of corn. A high boundary wall barely allows a glimpse of the fortified house of Marchierù. There are records of it at least since the 13th century: it also belonged to the Savoy-Acaja family between the 13th and 17th centuries. A little further on, along what was once the old road between Cavour and Villafranca, we turn at the hamlet of San Giovanni for the Cappella di Missione (Chapel), on the edge of one of the rare woods in the Pinerolo plain.
- The modest façade with traces of frescoes and an 18th-century bell tower do not give an idea of how refined the frescoes inside the chapel of Santa Maria di Missione are, the work of the painter Dux Aymo (Aimone Duce), a representative artist of a refined international Gothic style. Originally from Pavia, he worked in the first half of the 15th century in the castles of the Savoy-Acaja family, in Pinerolo and Turin.
The journey continues towards Villafranca Piemonte, where various places to eat can be found under the arcades of the historic town centre. If you want to lengthen the route a little, it may be a good idea to cross the bridge over the Po, with a short stretch on the Airasca-Moretta cycle path, on the site of the former Airasca-Saluzzo railway: at this point the river is little more than a stream, with no banks and flowing through lush riparian vegetation.
Continuing along our route towards Cavour, we come to the sanctuary of the Madonna del Buon Rimedio, at Cantogno. From here the itinerary becomes more winding, with a few stretches of easy dirt road. The outline of the Rocca di Cavour already appears on the horizon, a rocky relief, an integral part of the Alps, but isolated in the alluvial plain. The Abbey of Santa Maria, founded a few years after the year one thousand, stands at the foot of the fortress, on our route. Today it is the site of the Caburrum Archaeological Museum, which houses artefacts from prehistory to Roman times and the Middle Ages.
The landscape changes, the uniformity of the cereal fields is replaced by apple orchards between Cavour and Bibiana. The climb is gradual and almost imperceptible. Just before Lusernetta, the chapel of San Bernardino opens its doors in the village cemetery.
- The exterior is decidedly modern, the result of 19th-century rebuilding in neo- Gothic style. Inside the chapel of San Bernardino, however, the frescoes date from the second half of the 15th century, true Gothic in short, the work of an anonymous painter known as the Master of Lusernetta.
We then descend to the bridge over the Pellice to cross the village of Luserna San Giovanni. We avoid the traffic by taking the quiet Strada Vecchia di San Giovanni, which from the centre of Airali, where the Waldensian temple stands in contrast to the Catholic parish church, reaches Bricherasio through meadows and apple orchards.
Points of interest
Chapel of Santa Maria di Missione, Villafranca Piemonte
The cycle of frescoes covers the entire interior of the chapel, divided into various registers depicting only partly identifiable saints in fine 15th-century-style clothing. The title of the church is probably due to the Madonna del Latte, depicted on the central wall together with the Lamentation over the Dead Christ. The Cavalcade of Vices on the side walls, depicted for didactic and catechetical purposes and aimed at a mainly illiterate population, is particularly interesting. It is easy to recognise lust, dressed in red and riding a lion, or gluttony, in the act of biting into a chicken leg. The allegorical figures of vices, all accompanied by a demon, are counterbalanced in the upper panel by allegories of virtue.
Chapel of San Bernardino da Siena, Lusernetta
In the Pinerolo area, there was great devotion to San Bernardino da Siena, a tireless preacher and evangeliser, so much so that a legend has it that he preached in Val Pellice and opposed the Waldensians. The saint is depicted in the apse of the presbytery, in the act of showing the trigram (the symbol of Christ composed of the three letters IHS, Iesus Hominum Salvator). The twelve apostles are depicted in niches on the side walls. Other frescoes have recently been brought to light and restored: in the nave, the Madonna of Mercy with Child from the first half of the 16th century and a St George on horseback slaying the dragon.
The Chapel of Santa Maria di Missione in Villafranca Piemonte and the Chapel of San Bernardino da Siena in Lusernetta will open their doors thanks to the Chiese a porte aperte app (Churches with Open Doors), which is a system of automated opening and narration of churches in Piedmont and Valle d'Aosta. Download the app. For info: www.cittaecattedrali.it.
Departure, arrival and municipalities crossed
10060 Bricherasio (TO)
Torinosee on map