Sunday, 28 September 2014

Turin Superga Trail Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 8.3 km (5.2 miles), terrain: hilly, with long downhill section

Turin running routes:
Valentino Park
River Po run

Superga hill trail run
For more running routes, see Route List.

If you've ever looked eastwards from central Turin, you'll see a ridge of green hills across the river, full of nature, looking like the perfect place for a great trail run. Well, that's just what it is. There is a big nature reserve around the highest hill, Superga, far from the urban bustle in the heart of town. You may have seen it: Superga is the tall 672-meter-high hill crowned by a big church, a cathedral, really.
Superga hill and basilica in background, from River Po in central Turin
From the top of the hill, you can take various trails back down to the river and the center of town. This trail-run heads south of the Superga cathedral along the panoramic road through the Collina di Superga nature preserve, then turns west to follow a little trail down to a stream-valley, where small roads take you back to the River Po in the city.

Of course, you could also run all the way to the top, but I thought I would plot a route here that more people would want to run, avoiding the 440-meter climb. A nice feature of a run at Superga, is you get to see the huge domed basilica, plus you can take the wonderful old cog-train up to the top. They're both worth experiencing on their own.

So, if you're ready to get going, then get yourself to the piazza called Sassi (also called Piazza Modena) at the base of Superga hill, on the other side of the river. To get there, take tram-line 15 from Piazza Castelo in the city center to Sassi (Piazza Modena).

The little station for the cog-railway is right there at Sassi. Tickets cost €4 for a one-way ticket, and the train leaves every hour on the hour (and returns from Superga every hour on the half-hour). If you missed the train, you can also get to top with the 79B bus, which also runs once an hour. The bus goes up Via Superga, which runs parallel to the train line.
Superga cog-railway
Definitely, taking the train is the way to get there in style. The old wooden cars ooze old-world ambiance. It vibrates and shakes its way up the hill, grinding through a few tunnels and nice views open up occasionally in both directions.

The train dumps you out at the top of the hill, just beneath the cathedral. You need to follow the trail a short way up the hill to get to the church. The yellow, classical basilica is beautiful enough on its own, and the terraces out front provide a great view of areas north and west, looking out at the nearby Alps. If you're lucky, and the air is clear, it looks like you can reach out and touch the snow-capped mountains along the horizon. I was there on the one cloudy day of the week, but that's my bad luck.
Superga basilica
The basilica was built by a Piedmont king as thanks for a won battle, and the tombs of the royal family are found in the cellars.

So, once you had a chance to enjoy the views, now is the time to enjoy the run.

Facing the cathedral, turn to your right and run to the trail map posted at the left edge of the parking lot. The map is at the trailhead. Now, just follow the rocky trail downwards from the parking lot. After 200 meters, it comes out to Via Superga at a trattoria. It smells so good there that you might just want to quit the run right on the spot.

But if you decide, heavy-heartedly, to carry on, turn left and run 100 meters until you see a turnoff heading uphill on the right side, and a sign for "Pino Torinese" (the next little town) and "Panoramica". This is the Strada dei Colli (also called Panoramica), where you have to head uphill past some houses for a few minutes, but then it flattens out and then heads downhill from there, through the green scenery of Parco Naturale della Collina di Superga.
Bicyclists along Panoramica, with path along right side
The road is pleasant enough, heading through green woods almost the whole time. There is a gravel footpath along the side of the road for most of the way. There's not much traffic: I ran it in the evening rush hour and the only vehicle that passed me was a park tractor. The road is mainly used by bicyclists. Panoramica lives up to its name: every once in a while, you'll pass a panoramic lookout spot to either side, or back towards the basilica.
Lookout point along Panoramica, with typical Turin drinking fountain
At the 3-kilometer spot, at Monte Aman, where the road serpentines sharply to the left, you'll see a gravel parking lot on the right side, with a trail-map and bulletin-board, and a cement electric pole. Turn right and follow the dirt trail that begins there, heading westwards. At this spot, the run becomes a real trail-run, winding through pure nature. 
Trailhead at Monte Aman: follow the green-paw markers
NOTE: If you don't want to run on this lonely trail, you could just keep following Panoramica for five more kilometers down to Pino Torinese, and take bus-line 30 back to town from there.

At Monte Aman, follow the trail markers with the green paw-print. I wanted to follow park trail 24, but there were no markers for it. But the green paw prints follow the same stretch of trail. After just a minute, you'll come to a junction in the trail, where one trail turns south to head downhill, with a sign pointing to "Il Sentiero degli Alberi". Don't turn left there: keep straight. Just keep following the green paw-print trail markers.
Along Monte Aman ridge
The first section of trail takes you along the top of the narrow ridge of Monte Aman, heading west into the valley separating this ridge from the main Superga hill. Then it starts switch-backing downhill to the valley floor. The trail is heavily eroded in many places on the way down, exposing lots of rocks. You won't be setting any speed-records here: this trail is more for adventure than for setting a personal best time. It is used more by mountain-bikers than hikers or runners.
Trail with paw-print marker on left side
After a while, the markers stop for a long time, but then they start again further down into the valley.

Sometimes the serpentines wind ridiculously back and forth, taking 50 meters of running to go down 2 meters in height. Other times, the trail is ridiculously steep, and you can only take slow, baby-steps going down the almost vertical, slippery clay. When you reach the valley floor, the trail comes to a stream, which you must ford at a shallow spot. There are enough stones, though, to arrive at the other side with dry feet.
Crossing the stream
On the other side of the stream, there is a little paved road following the course of the stream. Take it towards the left (west), still heading downhill. It soon goes under a bridge for the main highway that runs between Pino Torinese and Turin. The little street then continues until it ends shortly by running into Strada del Cartman.

Now turn right and run downhill along Strada del Cartman, back towards Turin, still following the stream on one side of the road. The road is quiet here, lined with little country homes.
Along Strada del Cartman: country houses with geese and goats
You'll quickly come to a bus stop. You could take the 54 bus back to town, but it only runs once an hour. Good luck trying to figure out the departure times. I just ran the 2.5 kilometers back to Sassi.

When Strada del Cartman merges into Strada Mongreno, the neighborhood becomes more urban, with apartment houses lining the street, and more traffic. But to make it nicer, there's also a fresh water fountain next to the sidewalk at one spot. Just keep running straight downhill along Strada Mongreno until you come to a roundabout at Piazza Bande Nere, where you turn right, and run a block to the Superga cog-railroad station again.

Now turn left and run the one block back to Sassi, past the station.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

London Chelsea Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 4.4 km (2.7 miles), terrain: flat

London Running Routes:
Regent's Canal and Camden Town  
Hampstead Heath  
3-Parks Route: Hyde Park, Green Park, St. James' Park  
Regent's Park  
Hyde Park    

Heathrow Harmondsworth Moor  

Richmond Park
Notting Hill
Victoria Park 
For more running routes, see Route List.

Chelsea is my ideal for urban elegance: a beautiful combination of quiet streets lined with nice -- if not always huge -- homes, a few standout parks, a nice stretch of riverfront with Victorian-era bridges, a bustling shopping area full of happy, beautiful, wealthy shoppers. Actually, a few other areas of London fit the description, too, but I somehow always come back to Chelsea when I want to be reminded of where I would live, if I only could...
Typical Chelsea
So, if you'd like to discover this bit of urban English paradise, then come with me on this run through another fascinating London neighborhood.

We'll start the run at Sloane Square, easily reachable with the Circle- and District- tube lines. Sloane Square was known in the 1980s for the Sloane Rangers, a kind of London version of the Valley Girls: yuppie women known for dedicating their lives to the two lofty goals of shopping and partying (while drinking plenty of Pimm's, and hanging out in very traditional settings).
Pub along Kings Road
At the station, face westwards, along the south side of the square. Take off running and you'll be on Kings Road, one of London's most famous shopping streets. I normally try to avoid running on streets with lots of shoppers, but this one is definitely worth the people-watching, and is an important part of the neighborhood. But try to avoid it during peak hours.
The Kings Road Pizza Express franchise: everything looks better on Kings Road
You'll soon pass the Duke of York Square on the left, until recently the Georgian-styled site of a military school. Now the buildings have been redeveloped into elegant housing, the Saatchi art gallery and a shopping mall (what else would fit around here?).

On both sides of the street, you'll see nice side-streets with their little private parks creating green squares down the middle of the street.
Colorful houses in Bywater Street, one of the little side-streets along the way
Kings Road is very posh today: full of rich foreigners out looking for expensive stuff. But, ironically, it became famous in the 1970s as the birthplace of punk fashion. You won't find any punks around here any more. Probably, the last punk to walk through here was snatched off the street and stuffed, to then be put into a Madame Tussaud's exhibit, forever frozen with his middle finger extended defiantly against the flood of yuppie invaders.

When you reach Jubilee Place, turn right to make a zig-zag through one of my favorite parts of the neighborhood. The houses around here are what I really like about Chelsea: low -- just two floors -- with a bit of garden out front and enough friendly details in the facades to make them homey and appealing.
House door on Jubilee Place: so inviting I almost wanted to knock
At the end of the block, turn left at the tiny triangular square and its friendly pub.

Run a few more blocks to then turn left again on Astell Street, one of several around here with very colorful houses. Now follow it southwards, back to Kings Road.

At Kings Road again, cross the street and turn right to run to Flood Street in just a hundred meters. Turn left onto Flood to continue running southwards.

You'll pass St. Loo's Church, and then Flood runs into Royal Hospital Road just as it hits the Thames River, lined by the riverside road, the Chelsea Embankment. 
Along Chelsea Embankment
NOTE: a great little park, the Physic Garden, originally created to grow medicinal plants for apothecaries, is just a block to the left. And just a block further east, on the grounds of the Royal Chelsea Hospital is the spot for the yearly Chelsea Garden Show: a Mecca for anyone interested in brushing up against gardening genius.

Now cross Chelsea Embankment and turn right to run westwards along the Thames for a few blocks. Across the river is Battersea Park, itself a great spot to run. You're running towards the beautiful Victorian suspension bridge, Albert Bridge.
Albert Bridge with Battersea Park on the other shore
Run under the bridge and continue along the river for a few more blocks.

ANOTHER NOTE: If you want a bit more immersion in the Thames atmosphere, you could cross Albert Bridge and continue running west along the other side, past all the modern buildings over there, then cross back at the next opportunity, at Battersea Bridge.

About a block before you reach Battersea Bridge, you'll see a church along the Embankment to the right, Chelsea Old Church. Cross the street there, and now run back eastwards through the narrow strip of park along Cheyne Walk, on the other side of the Embankment. There's a statue to martyred Sir Thomas More at the church.
Along Cheyne Row
At the statue of Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle, relaxing in a nice chair, turn left to run north along Cheyne Row. This is another great Chelsea neighborhood: the old heart of town, with a mix of classical housing styles. Chenye turns into Glebe Place, but continue as it turns right, then left before bringing you back to Kings Road. At the left-turn, you'll find the Chelsea Open Air Nursery in what looks like the oldest house in Chelsea: very charming.

Now, at Kings Road, just turn right and run straight back to Sloane Square, trying not to plow into too many shoppers or zombies texting into their phones as they hurry along.
Happy shoppers at Duke of York Square
Maybe explore up and down a few side streets along the way, or through the quiet stretch of shops at the Saatchi Galleries on the right side, just after the Duke of York Square. So nice here in Chelsea!

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Turin Valentino Park Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 7.7 km (4.8 miles), terrain: small hills, 45m gain

Turin running routes:
Valentino Park
River Po run

Superga hill trail run
For more running routes, see Route List.

If you're wondering where all the runners are in Turin, here's the story: they're all in Parco del Valentino. This shady riverside park just south of the town center is full of trails and provides a great running area.
In Parco del Valentino
The park has lots of variety, and has some car-free tracks, as well as some other almost-car-free tracks. And, as it's situated on the River Po, you can combine it with a further run along the river trail (such as the other Turin route, the River Run).

Parco del Valentino isn't terribly big, but there are all kinds of interesting things there: Valentino Palace, a botanical garden, a recreated medieval town (complete with castle), cafés, playgrounds and sports fields, a fine-arts museum, and lots of other fountains, gardens, and nice spots for folks to hang out in. And lots of people do that on nice afternoons and evenings.
Piazza Castello, with view of Palazzo Madama
Like the Turin River Run, this route starts at Piazza Castello, the square in front of Palazzo Reale (the royal palace, from back when Italy still had kings).

When standing on the plaza, facing ornate Palazzo Madama at the Garibaldi statue, turn to your right and run straight down that street heading southwest, Via Roma, the one with the arcades leading off to a church tower a few block away. So off we go, heading down Via Roma.
Via Roma
Via Roma is Turin's main expensive shopping street, full of designer shops, and full of shoppers. So it's best to run on the strip of sidewalk outside the arcades, along the street, and you'll avoid the crowds.

In three blocks you'll come to Piazza San Carlo, Turin's most elegant square, with twin baroque churches and more arcades.
Piazza San Carlo
Run straight through the plaza to the churches. At the end of the piazza, turn left onto Via Giolitti to run eastwards.

After four blocks, cross diagonally to right and run through Piazalle Fusi which is a strange, empty, open space with air-vents going way down into unseen depths. The plaza was conceived to be a skateboard park, and you'll find skaters on the other side.
Skaters at Piazalle Fusi
Exiting the plaza at the southern corner, turn left onto Via Cavour, heading east again, towards the river. There's a nice little park to the right side, Giardino Balbo, and it's nicest to run down the park path here. This lively park has a playground and is full of parents and their kids. 
Giordano Balbo
At the end of the park, Cavour continues into another little (equally lively) park, Giordino Cavour. These parks were made possible after the old town defenses were torn down and room was created for the town's wider boulevards and parks.

At the end of Giordino Cavour park, turn right and run to the end of the block -- where the old church is -- and then turn left onto Via dei Mille, where you can run the last three blocks to the river.
The Murazzi from above
Cross the busy riverside street, Corso Cairoli, at the Garibaldi statue on the bluff above the river. Below you is the riverside quay formerly used by local fishermen, the Murazzi. Now it's the home of a stretch of beach bars and activities set up every summer.

Now, turn right, following the river southwards. The pedestrian trail goes down a bit first, then back up to the street level at the next bridge, Ponte Umberto I.

Just ahead of you, you'll see Parco del Valentino, at the monumental arch in the road.
At the rowing club
Running southwards, stay along the trails near the river. After a couple of riverside cafés and the rowing club, the trail merges into a paved street without cars, Viali Virgilio. Follow this street westwards and you'll suddenly discover where the other Turin runners were hiding: this is the place. Every runner in town seems to be here, running behind Castello del Valentino. The back side of the palace is a brick facade looming above the road on the right. The palace was owned by the Dukes of Savoy, and is now used by the Polytechnic University.
Behind the palace on car-free Viale Virgilio
This pedestrian road then goes by (or through) a replica medieval town, built for an expo that happened more than 100 years ago. I went through it and looked at all the buildings, because I like history, but you might as well slow to a walk in there.
Entrance to the medieval town
Past the medieval village, you come back into the main park, with a nice view of the river along the tree-covered shore.
The river trail
When you reach the end of the park, you'll run under the next bridge, where you'll see a section of a submarine on the right (put there as a war memorial for Italian sailors). This is the half-way mark of the run.

NOTE: If you want to add distance, just continue southwards on the riverfront path, and you'll go through a few more parks.

Now running north, back in Parco del Valentino, either follow the same way back (that's the quietest, greenest, pleasantest way), or follow the almost-car-free road, Viale Boiardo, that branches off to the left to see the other side of the park. If you take Viale Boiardo, you'll run a bit uphill past a big fountain, go past a formal garden on the right and then -- at the top of the hill - go past athletic fields and a giant noisy playground and café.
In the gardens in Parco del Valentino
Now run past the fine arts gallery and past the front side of Valentino Palace and its botanical garden.

After that, the street merges back into Viali Virgilio near the river, where you entered the park.
Palazzo Valentino from the front
So now run back the way you came, except instead of following Via Roma for the last few blocks, try a quieter street: two blocks before Via Roma, turn right onto Via Carlo Alberto. This is a quiet pedestrian street that also takes you through a further nice square, Piazza Carlo Alberto, flanked by twin palaces.

The street ends by running into Via Po, where you turn left and run back into Piazza Castello in just a few steps.