Fenestrelle Fortress, Italy: "The Great Wall Of The Alps"
If you're lucky enough to vacation in the Italian Alps, you could visit the city of Turin for its architecture and northern Italian cuisine. If you're an adventurer, you may choose to partake in some skiing in the village of Sestriere. Then, you need to hike up 2,500 steps at the fortress of Fenestrelle. No, trust us — add it to the list.
Fortress For The Fit
Victor Amadeus II was a duke skilled in self-preservation. According to the Smithsonian, he was the "leader of the longest-surviving royal line in Europe, the House of Savoy (established 1003)." One way he accomplished this feat was by building a defensive monument that has since been dubbed the "Great Wall of the Alps."
Fenestrelle Fortress sits on Mount Pinaia, within the Orsiera Rocciavrè National Park, and covers 320 acres. It's one of Europe's largest fortified structures and includes a collection of three major forts, plus supporting redoubts, ramparts, batteries, barracks, powder magazines, warehouses, kitchens, a governor's mansion, a parade ground and a church.
The fortress was built to protect the Chisone Valley (next to Sestriere), but it also housed "high-profile detainees: errant military officers, noblemen and clergy whose fortunes shifted with the political tides." In the 19th century, the Catholic journal The Rambler even called Fenestrelle the "the Siberia of Italy."
Did you ever see the lackluster 1998 Leonardo DiCaprio movie, "The Man in the Iron Mask"? It was based on a real story. The main character was held captive at the fortress from 1669-1681. Legend has it, the prisoner was escorted by D'Artagnan and his Three Musketeers.
But what is Fenestrelle best known for? Having the largest covered staircase in Europe, coming in at a whopping 2,500 steps, which is often referred to as the "royal" walk. We're sure others have called it other names after step 2,032.
Two Eiffel Towers
If you'd like to soak up Fenestrelle's varied history for yourself, you can book a bicycle tour of the fortress. But you'd better block off a good chunk of time. The full tour takes eight hours. Tour guide Kent Benson claims "you climb the equivalent height of two Eiffel Towers." (Note to self: pack comfortable hiking shoes.)
Whether you choose to trek up the Great Wall of the Alps or not, Benson urges that you include this hidden gem in your itinerary: "It is impossible to visit the fortress without it having a profound effect on you, either from its historical perspective or just the sheer amount of labor that went into its construction."
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