Avigliana is a town in a very scenic setting to the west of Turin in the picturesque Susa Valley, in the Piedmont region of north-west Italy that developed in the 15th century when several of the princes of Savoy established their homes here.
The town is surrounded by lakes and mountains and overlooked by the ruins of a 10th century castle, the ruins of which can be reached by a short walk from Avigliana centre.
In the centre of the town, life revolves around the two main squares - the Piazza Santa Maria and Piazza Conto Rosso. These are both impressively surrounded by grand medieval houses.
The Piazza Conto Rosso in particular, with its medieval arcades and 13th century houses, several with fascinating decorative and architectural elements, is very picturesque.
A building of particular interest is the 14th century Church of San Giovanni and the 16th century paintings by Defendente Ferrari it contains (in Piazza Conto Rosso).
Another religious monument is the Shrine of Our Lady of the Lakes (perhaps not surprisingly on the edge of one of the lakes in Avigliana) - admire the imposing entranceway then step inside to see the 16th century altarpiece and a 14th century icon of Mary.
You will come across several other small churches and other historical monuments such as the 'Round Tower' and the Clock Tower as you explore. The Clock Tower is said to be one of the oldest in Italy.
On the hill above Avigliana you can see the ruins of the 11th century castle (it was destroyed in the 17th century). To walk up to the castle you can start from Piazza Conto Rosso.
We do recommend that you visit the Egyptian museum in Avigliana - quite unexpectedly this museum in northern Italy has a very extensive collection of Egyptian artefacts and a great deal of interest
Abbey Sacra di San Michelle
Most visitors to Avigliana are also heading for the Sacra di San Michelle, the 10th century (and rather sombre) abbey complex 10km to the west, in a dramatic hill-side setting on the slopes of Monte Pirchiriano.
During the Misddle Ages this was one of the most important (and powerful) religious and pilgrimage centres in Italy.
Often reached by the strenuous walk from Avigliana or the (slightly) easier walk from Sant'Ambrogio (it is also possible to get here by car along a scenic route), both the walk and the abbey have some great views across the surrounding mountains and countryside.
The final approach to the sanctuary at the abbey is by way of 154 steps hacked out of the rock.
Especially of note is the carved doorway at the top of this steep stairway, embellished with signs of the zodiac and other curious carvings (hence called the Zodiac Door) and dating from the 12th century. Inside the 12th century church itself you can see various frescoes from the 15th century.
Other attractions close to Avigliana
The popularity of Avigliana rests largely on the attractions of the abbey at Sacra de San Michelle (above), walks around the two lakes in the Regional Natural Park of the Avigliani Lakes (Lago Grande and Lago Piccolo) and explorations elsewhere along the very scenic Susa Valley.
Among other activities in the Natural Park there are trails through the woodlands and along the lakes, chances for birdwatching, and the opportunity to hire a boat to further explore the larger lake.
The close proximity to Turin mean that many Italians also visit to enjoy the town and scenery - and of course, you will want to visit Turin while you are here.