Gran Bosco di Salbertrand Natural Park, Metropolitan city of Turin, Piedmont, Italy

The Gran Bosco di Salbertrand natural park is a protected natural area in Piedmont that extends to the right of the Val di Susa. It extends on the right of the Val di Susa (Northern Cozie Alps), from 1000 meters above sea level to 2600 meters of the watershed. It was established in 1980 mainly to protect the luxuriant vegetation and in particular the precious fir trees and the extensive larch-cembreti. It is 70% occupied by woods, and the remaining 30% by high altitude pastures and prairies. The over 600 plant species surveyed create a variety of environments with a fauna that is also particularly rich in about 70 species of nesting birds and 21 species of mammals, among which deer, roe deer and chamois dominate.

The Park Authority has always combined environmental protection with the conservation and enhancement of the material and immaterial culture of its community. The Gran Bosco di Salbertrand site of community interest (IT1110010) has also been established in the area. Since 2012 it has been part of the system of protected areas of the Cottian Alps. Its territory is included in the Natura 2000 Network according to the Habitats and Birds Directives.

The park is located in the Susa Valley, in the province of Turin, on the right bank of the Dora Riparia river which cuts through the valley, creating its border to the north. To the south the park extends up to the ridge that forms the border between the valleys of Susa and Chisone, crossed by the road called “dei Sette Colli” or “dell’Assietta”. For a long stretch this road borders the park with signposted entrances to the Colli (from west to east) Costapiana, Blegier and Lauson. To the west the park borders with the municipality of Sauze d’Oulx and to the east with the municipality of Chiomonte.

The main reason for the establishment of the Park lies in the particular naturalistic value of the Gran Bosco proper: 700 hectares of mixed forest of silver and spruce, unique in the panorama of Piedmontese vegetation. The woods are of significant biological value and include, in remarkable qualitative conditions, all the valuable conifers of the Alpine environment. Due to the uncommon qualitative requirements, part of the territory is registered in the National Book of Seed Woods for three tree species: Abies alba, Picca excelsa and Pinus cembra.

In the past, much of the interest had economic reasons: these firs already supplied the timber for the large straight-grain beams used in large military and civil engineering works, such as the Arsenale of Turin, the Basilica of Superga as early as 1700. and the Castle of Venaria Reale.

Currently the specificity of this forest is linked to the conspicuous presence of spruce, rare in the Western Alps, due to the continental climate with summer aridity; it is therefore probable that its diffusion in the Gran Bosco has two main causes: a particular microclimate, with stagnation of atmospheric humidity, and the existence of an ecotype resistant to summer dryness. For these reasons, combined with the vegetative vigor and the good conformation of the stems, the stands in question (together with the Larch and the Swiss stone pine) have been included in the National Book of Seed Woods, and intended to provide propagation material then used in reforestation. over the rest of the Alps.

The great variety of environments and floristic species constitutes an ideal habitat for an equally rich fauna. 21 species of mammals surveyed among which dominate deer, roe deer, chamois and marmots. 70 species of nesting birds including black grouse and rock partridge. Colonies of deer and roe deer are particularly nourished.

The avifauna alone has about eighty nesting species, with a high percentage of the alpine one. We therefore find numerous birds of prey, including the Goshawk, the Sparrowhawk, the Buzzard and the Kestrel, while a pair of Golden Eagle is regularly nesting. Among the nocturnal birds of prey, in addition to the Allocco, present at the lowest altitudes, it will be possible to hear the song of the Eagle Owl and, associated with the fir forests, of the Capogrosso Owl which uses the cavities dug by the Black Woodpecker for its nesting.

Two grouse nest in the park, the white partridge and the black grouse, which, together with the rock partridge, are a symbol of alpine avifauna; to signal the presence of the Nocciolaia, closely associated in the Alps with the presence of the stone pine, whose pine nuts it feeds on.

Mammals include hares (common and alpine), squirrels, marmots and many other small rodents; the fox and the mustelids (ermine, weasel, marten, stone marten and badger).

The presence of four species of ungulates is important: the chamois, which has always been present in the area; the wild boar, whose original genetic component has now almost disappeared due to hybridizations and crossings; deer and roe deer, introduced in the early 60s by the Provincial Administration of Hunting and which, in the absence of natural predators, experienced a real demographic explosion, causing considerable damage to the forests of the entire Upper Susa Valley.

Faunal rebalancing programs consisting of selective culling and catches for repopulation of other territories, have been and will be useful in trying to maintain the right balance between animal and forest presence. A new and unexpected help in this sense has come from the reappearance of the wolf, whose presence, ascertained and continues since 1997, is the object of protection and study.

The great variety of the Park environments allows the presence of over 600 plant species, including all the most important forest species of Piedmont. Downstream of the park there are various deciduous trees; in the heart there are conifers such as silver fir, spruce, larch, stone pine and Scots pine; in altitude here only have alpine pastures.

On the border with the meadows of the valley floor, we find a certain diffusion of broad-leaved trees, including ash, birch, maple and alder and small populations of beech, as well as the presence of some small nuclei of yew.

As you rise in altitude, you enter the kingdom of conifers. In the driest and sunniest areas, and on particularly shallow and rocky soils we will meet the Scots pine, sometimes covered with large mistletoe bushes. Between 1300 and 1800 meters, the silver fir and the spruce reign supreme, spreading to the eastern border of the Park. Towards the upper limit of the fir we find a transition strip in which larch and stone pine are added, which take over above 2000 meters of altitude. The stone pine is also present in pure formation, very rare in the Western Alps, with the beautiful stone pine of the Piccolo Bosco.

Worthy of note is the presence of two rare herbaceous species: the Corthusa Matthioli, a primulacea with few stations on the southern side of the Alps, and the Menyanthes Trifoliata, characteristic of areas with stagnant water, once widespread in the rice fields of Piedmont and today practically disappeared. The interest for its presence in the Park derives from the exceptionality of the altitude at which it is located (about 2350 m).

The Gran Bosco di Salbertrand Natural Park extends for 3775 ha, from 1000 m of the valley floor to 2600 of the watershed with Val Chisone, in the municipalities of Chiomonte, Exilles, Oulx, Salbertrand, Sauze d’Oulx, Pragelato, Usseaux. Modern tourist resorts alternate with traditional mountain villages, where nature is still authentic and the centuries-old presence of man is tangible. The entrenchments of Assietta and the Fort of Exilles are just some examples of the history of the territory that is written in books, but everywhere the traces left by man’s work are evident, testimony of centuries of exploitation of resources and sacrifices of poor people. An example among all, the Trou de Touilles, a unique hydraulic work of its kind, a tunnel at 2000 m of altitude built in eight long years,

Reach the upper Val Susa with the SS 24, or the A 32 motorway (recommended exit Susa Ovest for entry to Exilles and / or Salbertrand or Oulx Circonvallazione for entry to the park from Sauze d’Oulx).

From Salbertrand: by car you go directly to the Pinea equipped area, with parking. From Exilles: from the village the road to Champbons and then on a dirt road to Sapè hamlet. From Sauze d’Oulx: there are two entrances. The first can be reached by proceeding from the concentric towards the Gran Villard hamlet and, after this and entering the municipality of Oulx, proceeding through the park where it is possible to travel by car through Monfol (hamlet of Oulx) to the equipped area of Ser Blanc. The second can be reached by proceeding from the concentric towards Richardette hamlet towards the SP 173 of Colle dell’Assiettaup to Enfers from where it is allowed to enter the Park by car up to the prohibition signs placed inside the wood. From Susa and Chiomonte: to Pian del Frais, then Alpe Arguel by dirt road or via Clot Rosset and by dirt road towards Clot Rosset / Clot des Anes.

Since 1980 the Park Authority has been dealing with environmental protection but also with the enhancement of the rich local heritage of material and intangible culture and since 1996 it has managed the Colombano Romean Ecomuseum – work and tradition in the Upper Susa Valley, not just a museum but a path -discovery that develops between the village of Salbertrand and the protected area and is proposed as a research tool, a testimony of historical memory and traditions, of territorial development.

Along a ring route of about 7 km (travel time about 3 hours), ancient buildings, artifacts and tools in use in everyday life present themselves to the visitor as examples of a past that is today to be discovered. The numerous ecomuseum sites, from the nineteenth-century icehouse to the hydraulic mill, from the parish church with its treasures to the site dedicated to the glorious repatriation of the Waldensians, tell of centuries of history and exploitation of the resources of the territory and are demonstrative points of production activities carried out with traditional techniques.

The manufacture of lime from limestone and timber is a traditional processing technique that has been preserved until the recent introduction of cement. Traces of ancient lime kilns are visible near the charcoal pit and along the first stretch of the Franchi path that leads from Salbertrand towards the hamlet of Gad di Oulx.

Forest yard
The ecomuseum site dedicated to the forestry site built near the Ghiacciaia lake is dedicated to “Oreste Rey”, historical memory of the ecomuseum. This is the reconstruction of a logging yard from the early 1900s and was set up near the Pinea locality where in the past most of the felled timber was deposited in the Gran Bosco.

Chapel of the Annunciation
The Chapel, located in the hamlet of Oulme, is dedicated to Maria Annunziata but has always been called the chapel of San Cristoforo, due to the imposing fresco of the saint that has dominated its facade for five centuries. Inside, with the restorations of 2007, precious frescoes dated 1534 were brought to light: the Pietà, San Rocco, Santa Lucia and an incredible fresco cycle of the Stories of the Virgin.

The site describes the various stages of setting up a charcoal pit in the woods, from the preparation of the wood to the distillation of coal. A production practiced wherever there were transport difficulties, which remained almost unchanged from antiquity to its recent death. An alchemy to which myths and legends remain linked.

“Colombano Romean” Ecomuseum
In the town of Salbertrand, the “Colombano Romean” Ecomuseum is worth seeing, managed by the management body of the Protected Areas of the Cottian Alps, an important testimony of the work and material and immaterial culture of the past.

The hydraulic mill of the Community of Salbertrand and the wood-burning oven of the Oulme hamlet are part of the sections that can be visited, which allow you to document the complete cycle of bread by connecting the various stages of cereal processing and illustrating the links between the working world and the domestic.

The museum of the Parish Treasures housed in the sacristy of the Church of San Giovanni Battista, the chapel of the Annunciation in Oulme, the Hotel Dieu, an ancient shelter for pilgrims, testify to the religiosity, wisdom and devotion of a community closely linked to its traditions.

It is also possible to visit the nineteenth-century icebox and a blockbau wooden reconstruction of the prototype of the smoke-sauna designed by the great Finnish architect Alvar Aalto for his experimental house in Muuratsalo (Finland), a limestone for cooking lime stone, a farmyard bunker with the different stages of setting up a charcoal pit in the woods, the forest yard, the entrance to the mine with the armor, the trolley and the tracks and the section dedicated to the Glorieuse Rentrée.

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Fountains of Milieu
The water that has shaped, engraved and shaped our Valley with its strength is one of the most important treasures of the Alps and the fountains, together with the oven and the church, have always been an essential architectural and functional element for the community. Walking through Salbertrand there are two sixteenth-century fountains that you can meet: the first, octagonal, dated 1525 is located in Piazza San Rocco, at the top of Via Roma, in Occitan Simadierä. The second, in the middle of the village (Medierä), is characterized by a rectangular basin, decorated with hanging arches and dated 1524. The octagonal column that emerges from the water has a castle, a lily, a dolphin carved among the decorations. It was reproduced and placed at the entrance to the medieval village of Valentino, in Turin, on the occasion.

The old wood-burning oven in the Oulme hamlet is, today as in past centuries, a meeting place for the community. The fortnightly bread-making took place there according to strictly disciplined methods and times.

Nineteenth-century icebox
The building with thick stone walls, underground and covered with trees with a shading function, is the last example of a nineteenth-century Piedmontese icebox still intact. The ice produced in winter in the adjoining artificial lake was stored until the summer, before being loaded onto wagons, covered with wet jute bags, and transported to the markets of Turin and Briançon. The seasonal nature of the work (complementary to the agricultural one) made the ice extraction and conservation activity an important economic resource for the mountaineers.

Grand Rentrée
At the Chenebiere bridge there is a memorial stone commemorating a battle between the Waldensians and the Franco-Piedmontese army which proved decisive for the history of the Waldensian community. Here passes a historical cultural itinerary, created on the occasion of the 2006 Olympics by Gal Escarton and Valli Valdesi called “The roads of the Waldensians – the Glorious Repatriation”. It traces the long journey of 1000 men, who left Lake Geneva on August 17, 1689, three years after the forced exile following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, to the Piedmontese valleys of origin.

Dieu hotels
The Hotel Dieu or Maison Dieu is located in the center of the town, along what was formerly the ancient “road of Monginevro”, then “Roman road of Gallie”, finally (with the passage of the Alta Valle della Dora to the Dauphiné – XII century) “Strada di Francia”, one of the most important transalpine roads in medieval Europe, and as such traveled by carriages, horses and riders, notables, religious, merchants, Romei on their way to pilgrimages. Ancient shelter for pilgrims and wayfarers purchased in 2011 by the Gran Bosco di Salbertrand Park Authority (managing body of the Colombano Romean Ecomuseum), the building adds an important piece to the ecomuseum project / path, guaranteeing further development space.

Reconstruction of the entrance to an extraction tunnel, with wooden reinforcement, trolley and tracks. The site describes an activity that over the centuries has largely involved the local population and adds a new piece to the documentation of material culture and local history. Over the centuries, the minerals exploited in the Salbertrand area have been silver, lead, tin, iron, which have never provided large productions, but, especially in the period of autarchy, have guaranteed a certain autonomy and a good employment component.

Hydraulic mill
The ancient mill bears witness to 800 years of water exploitation history, from the feudal rights of milling to the birth of the Municipal Electricity Company and houses three distinct plants: the real mill with all the original machinery including two pairs of millstones and the tumbler capable of selecting flours of different fineness; a monobloc stone track where hemp was defibrated and various types of seeds (Briançon blackthorn, hazelnut, walnut, pine nuts, hemp…) were processed for the production of edible oil and for lighting; the modern control panels of the dynamo and the distribution board for the electricity produced there. The recently recovered rooms also host various installations dedicated to traditional crafts: the processing of hemp, from the seed to the packaged garment, the stable, the classroom of the school of the past, the cobbler, the woodcutter, the carpenter, the farmer – breeder.

Pertus by Colombano Romean
In the municipality of Exilles, on the hydrographic left of the valley, at 2000 m above sea level, near the Quattro Denti di Chiomonte, there is a unique hydraulic work of its kind, which today, like five hundred years ago, draws water from the Rio Touilles and leads them to enliven the warmest side of the Susa Valley up to Cels and Ramat, hamlets of Exilles and Chiomonte. It is a five hundred meter long tunnel with a section of about one meter and eighty by one meter excavated, starting from 1526, in eight long years, by Colombano Romean, miner and quarryman from Ramats, a symbol of hard work in the mountains. to which it was decided to dedicate the Ecomuseum of the Park.

At the ice lake, the wooden blockbau reconstruction of the Smoke-sauna prototype designed by the great Finnish architect Alvar Aalto for his experimental house in Muuratsalo (Finland) can be visited. Created between 2003 and 2005, in three successive workcamps aimed at students of the Degree Course in History and Conservation of Architectural and Environmental Heritage from various European universities, according to the traditional techniques of woodworking in Finland, under the technical direction of Finnish master carpenters and with the collaboration of local workers. The construction of a smoke-sauna in Val di Susa could appear to be an element foreign to culture and the environment, but, inserted in the context of the Ecomuseum, it assumes an important meaning of integration between different construction realities, especially as regards traditions, technologies. and tools used.

Treasures of the Parish Church
Defined by Mons. Savi the richest and most complete church in the whole of the Upper Susa Valley, the Parish Church of San Giovanni Battista was born as a Romanesque church and underwent “harmoniously”, in the partial reconstruction of 1506, the influence of art gothic. Outside, but especially on the internal walls, restored in 2000, there are valuable sixteenth-century frescoes. Ancient liturgical books, furnishings and sacred vestments, kept in the sacristy, constitute a permanent exhibition that testifies to the wisdom and devotion of an Alpine community.

The Fortifications
Hannibal, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, General Catinat are just some of the great leaders who traveled the Susa Valley with their armies. Due to the strategic geographical position with respect to the numerous connecting passes with the territories beyond the Alps, fortified works have multiplied over the centuries.

Especially from the 18th century, when the Upper Susa Valley and the Chisone Valley came under the dominion of the Savoy, following bloody battles such as the one that took place at the Testa dell’Assietta on 19 July 1747, a decisive episode of the War of Succession of Austria, the need emerged to build works that could bar the French from accessing Turin. Following the unification of Italy and the deterioration of relations with France in the late nineteenth century, the fortifying intervention regained vigor. On the contrary, the First World War saw a progressive dismantling of the works with the displacement of the main defensive lines on the Austrian front. The fortification of the border however began again with the rise of fascism and the construction of the so-called “Vallo Alpino”.

Forte del Sapè
Fort of Sapè rises between the Municipality of Exilles and the Municipality of Salbertrand, on the Sentiero dei Franchi It is a pit work, almost entirely surrounded by a large moat, which develops on two levels. Fort Sapè, designed in 1884 by the Captain of the Engineers Darbesio, was finished in 1886 and was definitively abandoned in 1928.

From the square in front of the work, a bridge partly dormant and partly drawbridge crossed the deep ditch and led to the sober portal that led into the fort on the entrance hall. In 1882 Italy had joined the Triple Alliance (Germany, Italy and Austria), and neighboring France, which was part of the Triple Entente (France, England and Russia), had become the potential direct enemy. In the defense project of that stretch of the land border, as the strong point of the Exilles square, it was decided to use the already existing fort, adapting it to the enormous technical progress in the field of artillery. The rifling in the guns had revolutionized military techniques and enormously increased the range of the projectiles.

To resist the rifled artillery, pit forts (a large hole protected by earthen embankments) were built in which the fortress was located, such as the fort of Sapè. With this type of fortress the fortified system called entrenched camp was established, which had a strong point consisting of a work armed with large artillery (in our case the modernized fort of Exilles, the Main Fort), protected by numerous other works secondary that, for the square of Exilles, should have been seven: Sapè, Fenil, Case Garde, Serra la Garde, Clot Riond, Val Galambra and Icharette, but which in practice were then reduced to four since the last three never came realized. The task of these complementary works was to keep the attacker’s field artillery at a distance by firing its own pieces, on which the main work could have intervened with the fire of its large long-range artillery.

Fortification of Exilles
A few kilometers from Salbertrand is the village of Exilles. The rocky spur that dominates the valley since the time of the Celts and Romans has always been an important strategic point from a military point of view and a first fortified nucleus is documented starting from the 12th century, when the Counts of Albon exercised control strategic, military and mercantile, on the Montgenevre road, and Exilles represented the far eastern border of the principality.

In the fourteenth century. the castle is described as a set of buildings gathered around a large circular tower that will be the keep of the fortress for centuries. In the following centuries it underwent changes under the control of the French who decided, in 1601, to transform the medieval castle into a modern bastion fortress. In 1708 with the beginning of the Savoy denomination, according to a project of the military engineer Ignazio Bertola, the firing front and the cannons directed towards France were overturned. Following the Treaty of Paris of 1796, Napoleon decided to completely demolish it. The Fort was rebuilt by the Savoy family between 1818 and 1829 in its present appearance which follows the formal and defensive structure of the 18th century fortress, updated according to the evolution of the 19th century artillery. The final result is what we can still admire today.

In 1915 the fort was disarmed and its armament transferred to the eastern front of the First World War but continued to be used as a depot and recruiting center until 1943. After 8 September, it was definitively abandoned by the military and began its arrested decline. in 1978 with the acquisition by the Piedmont Region. Today, open to the public after the restoration and functional recovery carried out by the Piedmont Region and the National Mountain Museum, the Fort of Exilles offers the visitor an articulated possibility of use: two permanent museum areas dedicated to the Alpine troops and military architecture and two guided tour itineraries (at the lower fort and at the attics) characterized by scenic installations of great emotional impact.

The Vallo Alpino
Inside the park there are also fortified works built between 1938 and 1942 and in most cases never finished, forming part of the Vallo Alpino, wanted by Mussolini and built before the Second World War to protect the Italian border from neighboring countries (France, Switzerland, Austria and Yugoslavia). Three bunkers are located on Mount Genevris, two bunkers masked by grange in Monfol, fortified cave works not completed above Monfol, in the Bergà and near the Gad where the anti-tank trench of Ponte Ventoso is also present, outside the boundaries of the Park.

The Fortifications of Assietta
In the ridge area, within the boundaries of the Gran Bosco Natural Park, there are traces of the famous battle of Assietta (19 July 1747 – significant episode of the War of the Austrian Succession): elevated entrenchments in dry stone walls, which continuous, completely surrounded the Piano dell’Assietta, the relief of the Testa dell’Assietta and the fortress of the Gran Serin.

At the Testa dell’Assietta (2566 m. Altitude) there is the memorial stone erected in 1882 by the CAI in memory of the tragic battle that saw the winners of the seven thousand five hundred Piedmontese of general Cacherano di Bricherasio against the twenty thousand French led by the knight of Bellisle. A legend, still now told in Val di Susa, tells of how on certain nights, on the mountain beyond the Gran Bosco towards the top of the Gran Serin, the drums and the heavy step of the French battalions that wander in search of their commander. On the watershed there are also nineteenth-century fortifications built at the time of the triple agreement (between 1884 and 1890) for defensive purposes against France: the batteries of the Gran Seren, the Mottas, and the Gran Costa.

The places, reachable with a short walk starting from the ridge road, can only be visited in the summer, given the high altitudes at which the Assietta plateau is located (about 2500 m asl). Every summer the Park Authority organizes guided visits to the Assietta Fortifications by the park rangers. The area can be reached using the provincial road n.173 of the Assietta hill (dirt road), passable from July to September, arriving from the Susa valley (through the Colle delle Finestre), from the Chisone valley (from Pian dell’Alpe in the municipality of Usseaux), or from Sauze d’Oulx or Sestriere; on foot you must follow the GTA path in the Salbertrand-Usseaux section.

Guide Tour
A dense network of paths crosses the Park territory, from the valley floor to the ridge and allows you to discover the less frequented places in the Park. Thematic trails, self-guided trails, long-distance itineraries and military roads, of international (Via Alpina, the Strade dei Waldesi) or national (Grande Traversata delle Alpi or Via Francigena), others are extremely significant for discovering the peculiarities of the territory (Paths self-guided nature trails, 14 Gran Bosco Trails by the park rangers) which offer school groups, families and expert hikers the opportunity to learn about the history, nature and culture of the Upper Susa Valley.

The roads and paths of the Gran Bosco di Salbertrand Park have been designed for essentially summer travel. In winter, many itineraries do not guarantee an adequate level of safety.

Hiking itineraries
The park is crossed by a dense network of hiking trails, for all needs and abilities, which run from the valley floor to the watershed ridge with the Val Chisone and from east to west the protected area. Some trails are of international importance (Via Alpina, the Strade dei Valdesi) or national (Grande Traversata delle Alpi or Via Francigena), others are extremely significant for discovering the environmental, historical and cultural peculiarities of the territory (Self-guided nature trails, 14 Gran Bosco by the park rangers).

The Ecomuseum Route
Between the village of Salbertrand and the Parco del Gran Bosco, a loop itinerary of about 7 km winds (travel time about 2 hours) that touches structures and ancient buildings that testify to the religiousness and material culture of the Salbertrand community and of the entire Alta Dora Valley.

The hydraulic mill, the community oven, the nineteenth-century icebox, the smoke sauna, the forest yard, the entrance to the mine, the charcoal cellar, the ruins of old limestone, the parish church and its treasures, the frescoed chapel of the Annunciation, theHotel dieu, the ancient fountains and the site dedicated to the glorious repatriation of the Waldensians tell centuries of history and exploitation of the resources of the territory and are demonstration points of production activities carried out with traditional techniques.

To promoted of development initiatives compatible with the environment, favoring production activities and the development of tourist potential and other forms of use of the protected area that they create. a balanced integration of human activities with the conservation of natural ecosystems. Enhancement of local products, (precious varieties of mountain potatoes, ancient varieties of cereals, mountain honey, mountain tome marked as “Typical cheese of the Cottian Alps. “and rare vines) in collaboration with the companies that produce them and the restaurateurs.

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