I suspect my whole personality can be captured by this statement: on Friday night, I left the party early making vague excuses about being too old to go dancing at the newly re-opened club “Giancarlo”, then on Saturday I went for a quiet stroll around Avigliana.
An aside to explain “Giancarlo”: there used to be a club in one of the old storehouses next to the river, and it was something of a Torino institution. It was known as “Giancarlo” for the owner — apparently it had some other name officially, but no one seems to know what it is. I’ve heard various stories, but the gist of it is that the club was squatted rather than rented legally and finally 2 years ago, after 20 years in business, someone on the city council decided the place had to be closed down. At any rate, it reopened (or was re-squatted) a couple of weeks ago and now every drinks session with my colleagues involves a discussion of “Let’s go dancing at Giancarlo. It’s a terrible club, the music is rubbish, we won’t stay for more than 10 minutes, but we should go, come on.”
Fortunately for you all, this blog isn’t Zoe’s Guide To Torino Nightclubs. Instead, Avigliana.
Avigliana’s a town not far at all from Turin — around 20km — but it feels very different. The centre of Turin shows the influence of the royalty who used to live here. It’s beautiful, but slightly formal, and walking around in jeans and a tshirt sometimes feels underdressed in the context of all the stately buildings and wide avenues. Avigliana, on the other hand, has a proper medieval centre with narrow cobblestone streets arranged around the topography of the hill it sits on. It’s much more human-scaled — no wide avenues here!
The first thing you notice as you get off the train is the ruins of a castle on the top of the hill of the historical centre. I hadn’t done any research so I had no idea whether the castle was open to the public, but there was one way to find out — it involved lots of walking uphill on cobblestones!
After a couple of switchbacks and a flight of stairs, I was standing in front of a church about halfway up the hill, looking at the housese below. I’d hate to deal with the logistics of actually living in a house built of crumbling bricks and tiles — and people do live in these places, such as the woman I passed struggling at her front door with a pram and heavy shopping bags. But when it’s a Saturday afternoon and you’re looking from the outside without any encumberances, it’s nice to daydream…
A little further up, there was a sign with an arrow: Castello (castle). There was also a gelateria, but for the sake of the story we will pretend I hurried up the footpath to see the castle and didn’t at all stop for an icecream and a rest in the piazza. At any rate, I did (eventually) get to the top of the hill and it was worth the climb.
Avigliana is right on the edge of the Susa valley, in the foothills of the Alps, and the views are as good as you’d expect. Just up the valley is Sacra di San Michele, the ancient abbey overlooking the valley. It’s well worth a visit in its own right, but the next best thing the view of it from the castle ruins — if the Sacra was a religious lookout over the road from France, the castle was a military equivalent, and looking from one to the other felt somehow appropriate.
Practical details for future reference: Avigliana is ~30 mins from Turin by train, with 2 trains each hour and a cost of 3.05 euro each way. Bring comfortable walking shoes for uphill cobblestone streets.