Val D’Ala is the central branch of the Lanzo Valleys. It is approximately 30 km long and it begins from the proximity of Ceres municipality to steeply and continuously climb until reaching the Uja di Bessanese and Uja di Ciamarella massifs (3676 m) on the borderline with France.
It is the steeper and narrower among Val Grande and Valle di Viù and is particularly alluring due to the variety of its habitats. At the beginning chestnut and beech woods cover the slopes to give place, higher up, to larch woods. Once the impressive Balme rock walls have been overcome, a wide grassy basin, Pian della Mussa surrounded by majestic summits and glaciers, closes the valley at 1750 m of altitude. The Stura di Ala stream cuts through the valley.
ALA DI STURA
Ala is a striking village of Val d’Ala, surrounded by green meadows and thick woods, with characteristic scenic spots. One of these is just after a short tunnel in the rock wall, driving up from the valley bottom, from where Bessanese, Uja di Mondrone and Monte Rosso offer a stunning view. On the 1400 Casa della Dogana (Duty House) the Savoy coat of arms and friezes have been restored. The parish church, although rebuilt in 1727, preserves the 1300 bell tower. On many facades of the houses surrounding the village center are frescoes and sundials, some of which dating from the late 1500, object of historical-cultural visits.
This characteristic has allowed making Ala di Stura known as the “Sundials and Frescoes Village”. As a matter of fact, including the village center and the surrounding hamlets, it is possible to number about 76 sundials, the highest collection in Italy and Europe, for a total of 7 different thematic itineraries. Some of the sundials built in the late XIXth century, together with frescoes and rock engravings have an old particular lure.
From 1872, due to the road construction that connected Ala to Ceres, the village quickly asserted itself as resort place of international reputation. For this reason, as from 1890 the Town Hall activated a telegraphic service and, ten years later, the village was provided with electric light.
Balme is the highest municipality of the Lanzo Valleys, the last one of Val d’Ala, the cradle of Piedmont mountaineering and an historical vacation site.
It already was a mining site in the XIIIth century and attracted immigrant-mining families from the Bergamo region and Val Sesia. Balme became an independent municipality in 1610.
Dominated by the majestic Ciamarella and Bessanese massifs, Balme offers its visitors a variety of summer trekking natural and cultural itineraries, the opportunity to experiment rock climbing during the summer and ice water falls climbing during the winter. There also are a wonderful cross-country skiing track, various ski mountaineering itineraries and a wide choice of more demanding mountain climbs.
It is not by chance that Balme is known as the mountain guides’ village. Most important of all is Antonio Castagneri, called “Toni dei Tuni”, famous for his forty-six first ascents. He died in 1890 on a Mount Blanc glacier.
To people loving nature contemplation, Balme offers the chance to meet wild animals, to admire spectacular flowerings, thick larch woods and pastures. Nuances continuously alternating make each season striking and unique.
Finally, Balme is also known as the “water village”. This is due not only to the many mountain lakes and streams on the territory but also to the fact that, since 1922, Pian della Mussa’s waters partly flow into Turin aqueduct.
Connections have always been very important for this municipality, the road first and later on the railroad. But even from the Roman age, an active trade took place along this valley and through some crossing places. At times, these crossings were officially guarded as it happened in the XVIth century when a plague epidemic was looming. During the same century, in a moment of religious tension, the same crossing were used to transfer the Holy Shroud from Chambery to Turin. Frescoes in the Voragno hamlet and in Balme witness this event.
In the XIX century, Ceres began to be considered as a summer resort place thanks its position among many woods and chestnuts.
The railroad building is very important both for tourism and to connect with the county seat. The works started in 1868 and in 1876 the railroad reached Lanzo. In 1916 the mountain section, for about 44 km, is completed. In 1920 the line Turin-Ceres was the first railroad in the world to use high voltage direct current electric traction.
A peculiarity of this railroad is the fact that all stations of the mountain section are built in typical Swiss style: rectangular map, first and second class waiting rooms and four slopes roof. Another distinctive feature is the 50 meters span reinforced concrete railroad viaduct over the Val Grande Stura.