Visiting the Spectacular Sagra di San Michele in Italy (2023)


Italy

by Coco Tran On October 25, 2023

The Sacra di San Michele is an awe-inspiring medieval abbey perched dramatically on top of a mountain in the Italian region of Piedmont. This ancient monastery is one of the most iconic sights in northern Italy and a must-see if you are visiting the area!

Drone Shot of Saint Michael's AbbeyPin

In this complete guide, I’ll share everything you need to know to plan an amazing visit to the Sacra di San Michele, including its fascinating history, what to see and do there, tips for getting there, and when to visit. As someone who has traveled extensively in Italy, I highly recommend adding this magnificent abbey to your Italy itinerary.

Visiting the Spectacular Sagra di San Michele in Italy

Sacra di San Michele History 

The Sacra di San Michele has a long and illustrious history dating back to the 10th century. Here are some key facts about this ancient Italian monastery:

  • It was founded between 983-987 AD by a French aristocrat named Ugo de Montboissier who dedicated it to the Archangel Michael.
  • The abbey was built on top of Mount Pirchiriano at an elevation of nearly 1,000 meters overlooking the Susa Valley.
  • Its strategic hilltop location along a pilgrimage route allowed the monastery to flourish into an important center of learning and culture during the Middle Ages.
  • After a period of decline, it was restored in the 19th century and still serves as a working monastery today.
  • The famous Italian author Umberto Eco used it as inspiration for the setting of his acclaimed novel The Name of the Rose.

Exploring the Architecture and Art of the Abbey

The Sagra di San Michele is an architecturally stunning complex. Built in the Romanesque and Gothic styles, key sights include:

  • The Church: Dating to the 12th century with an imposing façade and bell tower. Inside, don’t miss the carved marble biblical reliefs.
  • The Library: Housing over 15,000 rare and antique volumes.
  • The Bell’Alda Tower: Named after a legendary young woman who jumped from it.
  • The Porta dello Zodiaco: A 12th century doorway decorated with intricate astrological carvings.
  • The Scalone dei Morti (Stairway of the Dead): Lined with arches and tombs housing the remains of deceased monks.

Take time to wander through the atmospheric cloisters, chapels, and corridors. The architecture and artwork here is simply spectacular.

Hiking to the Abbey Along Medieval Pilgrim Trails Sacra di san michele hike 

Now here’s the coolest part – getting up to the abbey! You can hike there on these ancient pilgrim trails used in the Middle Ages. Talk about history coming to life! There are three main routes:

  • From Sant’Ambrogio: A moderate 4km hike with a 712m elevation gain. This pathway offers the most scenic views of the monastery above.
  • From Chiusa di San Michele: A quicker 2.5km hike but with a steeper ascent.
  • Via Ferrata: A more challenging trail that includes sections with iron rungs and cables. Only for the sure-footed!

Wear sturdy shoes, bring water, and give yourself 2-3 hours for the round trip hike. Stop along the way to admire the scenery of the Susa Valley from different vantage points.

Tips for Visiting and hiking Sacra di San Michele

To make the most of your visit to the Sacra di San Michele, keep these tips in mind:

  • Give yourself at least 2-3 hours to see the abbey and hike there. An early start is best before crowds arrive.
  • There is a small parking area but it fills up fast. Arrive early or take the bus from Avigliana on weekends.
  • Wear comfortable walking shoes as there are steep steps within the abbey.
  • Photography is allowed but no flash or tripods.
  • Guided tours in Italian are available or you can explore independently with an audioguide.
  • There is a small café but it’s recommended to bring your own snacks and water.
  • Keep your ticket as it includes discounts for nearby castles and museums.

The Best Times to Visit the sagra di san michele Monastery

The Sacra di San Michele can be visited year-round but the best times are:

  • Spring: March – May when the trails and valley are green and blooming with wildflowers.
  • Summer: June – August to enjoy hiking under sunny skies. Mornings and evenings are cooler.
  • Fall: September – November to see the autumn foliage around the abbey.
  • Winter: December – February to marvel at the monastery dusted in snow. Trails may be icy.

Avoid Mondays when the abbey is closed. Check opening hours online as they vary seasonally.

How to get to Sacra di San Michele

Reaching the Sacra di San Michele is easy for those with a car or using public transportation:

By Car: It’s a 40km drive from Turin. Take highway A32 towards the town of Avigliana. Follow signs for the Sacra.

By Train: Take the train from Turin to Avigliana then taxi or bus to the hiking trails.

By Bus: Available on weekends from April to November from Avigliana. Book ahead online.

Guided Day Trips: Join a full-day tour from Turin which includes transport and a guide.

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Drone Shot of Saint Michael's AbbeyPin

Tour To Sacra Di San Michele

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  • Private driver roundtrip transport

If traveling from Milan, it’s best to take the train to Turin first before continuing on. Give yourself a full day to visit the monastery if coming by public transport.

Where to Stay When Visiting the Abbey Sagrada di san San Michele italy 

There are two excellent options for overnight stays near the Sacra di San Michele:

  • Albergo Diffuso Dell’Arsenale: Charming guest house in the village of Chiusa di San Michele at the start of the hiking trails.
  • Villa Glicini: Elegant villa with modern rooms and views of the abbey from its garden. Located in Sant’Ambrogio village.

Book accommodation in advance for summer visits. Hotels in Turin are another convenient base for day trips to the monastery.

Discover the Legends and Mysteries of the Sacra di San Michele

Beyond its architecture and history, the Sacra di San Michele is shrouded in myth and intrigue. Two tales stand out:

  • The magical line or “energy” connecting it to Mont Saint Michel in France and Monte Sant’Angelo in Puglia.
  • The legend of Alda, a prideful woman who survived a jump from the Bell’Alda Tower only to attempt it again as proof of her holiness. The second jump killed her.

Let your imagination wander as you explore the abbey’s darker corners and mystical aura!

Why You Shouldn’t Miss Visiting This Iconic Abbey at Sacra san michele 

The Sacra di San Michele has cemented its place as one of the top attractions in Piedmont. No visit to northern Italy is complete without seeing this magnificent monastery.

A destination steeped in spirituality, ancient pilgrim rituals, medieval architecture, and natural wonder, the Sacra di San Michele is sure to leave you awestruck and eager to learn more about its fascinating past.

So pack your hiking boots, ready your camera, and add this spectacular abbey to your Italian bucket list! Just beware the ghosts of Alda and monks past as you ascend into the clouds.

Key Points: Sacra di San Michele Abbey Highlights

  • 10th century monastery with striking Romanesque and Gothic architecture
  • Hike on ancient pilgrim trails for scenic views
  • Marvel at intricate carvings, frescoes, and famous Stairway of the Dead
  • Visit early to beat crowds and allow time to hike
  • Nearby town of Avigliana offers lodging, dining, and transportation

So now you have everything you need to plan a memorable visit to the mystical and magnificent Sacra di San Michele! This comprehensive guide details how to get there, top sights, best times to visit, and insider tips to make the most of your trip. Let me know if you have any other questions as you prepare for your journey to this incredible piece of Italian history and culture.

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