Left Verres under a near cloudless sky and temperatures in the low 20's with next to no wind. This was going to be a good day to be on a bike. It turned out to be a GREAT day.
Leaving Verres I had about another 20km in the Aosta Valley which put on a magnificent show of mountain scenery and small villages. None more so than Forte di Bard.
Built by the House of Savoy in 1835 on the foundation of a fort dating back to the 5th century it's now a restored tourist attraction and is seen as the entrance to the Aosta Valley. It's strategic importance best highlighted by the fact that on May 14, in the year 1800 a 40,000 strong French Army was stopped by just 400 Austrian-Italian soldiers based at the Fort.
Once you leave the valley near Pont-St-Martin you are spat out into the region of Piedmont which in its own right can challenge Tuscany to some decent wines.
Part of the Via Francigena experience is having your VF passport stamped at the various cities that the original pilgrim, Archbishop Sigeric, passed through and this involves either going to the main cathedral in any town or the tourist office. In the picturesque town of Ivrea it meant going into the local church. I couldn't find a stamp there but stood in awe at the interior.
Once you're into Piedmont you are out on the plains and leaving the valley behind you. There were some sections of road where it was dead straight for 15km (admittedly by Australian outback standards that's not much) but it made for a great ride.
Looking back gave me sense of achievement as I saw the Alps once last time.
The straightness of the road gave way momentarily to wind around Lago Di Viverone where the local sailing school was hard at work breeding the next group of accomplished sailors .
Two of my favourite pastimes, sailing and cycling ....
Not sure the story behind the Castle at Cavaglia and interestingly neither is Wikipedia, so on we go..."
As I literally flew from Ivrea to Vercelli the road was longer and even flatter than the pre-lunch route and here the many rice plains surrounding Vercelli came into their own.
Speaking of which, this fella seemed to have carved out his own little fishing spot and must see it didn't look too shabby a place to spend the afternoon either.
Approaching Vercelli, having spent a couple of hours passing one rice field after another I couldn't help but stop for one last photo.
It's been an outstanding day and by far the quickest average speed day of the entire trip.
When we were in France, my "cyclepedia" aka Gareth W. commented that Saturday was ride day. We were then somewhat "disappointed" that we only saw 6-12 riders that day. Well, Italy has made up for that. I lost count after 163 riders had either passed me or been ridden past and the biggest peleton of social riders I saw numbered close to 30. There's a real sense of "togetherness" too in the way they interact with you and without fault everyone of them will acknowledge you with either a "ciao" or slight raise of their hand as they go by. Some will even extend to an enthusiastic wave or shout of encouragement. It has been a highlight of the day, along with the weather, scenery and spee.
Finally, as I travelled down out of the D'Aosta Valley and onto the Piemonte plains the temperature was warmer and the bloom of spring was well underway. The abundance of floral colours made me mentally pause and think of my mother who loves her garden and flowers back in Australia.
Today is Mother's Day in Australia and it seems fitting to dedicate today's ride to my mum.
She is a truly amazing woman in every sense who only last year had the award of "Officer of the Order of Australia" conferred upon her for outstanding contribution to international education. It is, in fact, the highest recognition you can receive outside of the military in Australia. Clearly, after giving birth to me it must come a close second in her life achievements!
So, Mum, enjoy this collage of flowers I passed today and a very Happy Mother's Day