Sacra di San Michele

Top choice in Piedmont

This Gothic-Romanesque abbey, brooding above the road 14km from Turin, has kept sentry atop Monte Pirchiriano (962m) since the 10th century. It housed a powerful, bustling community of Benedictine monks for over 600 years and was a staging point for high-social-level pilgrims. Look out for the whimsical ‘Zodiac Door’, a 12th-century doorway sculpted with putti (cherubs) pulling each other’s hair. The monastery was the likely inspiration for Umberto Eco's masterpiece The Name of the Rose.

To get to the abbey by public transport, there's a steep 90-minute hike from Sant’Ambrogio station. Alternatively, there’s a special bus from Avigliana train station six times a day from May to September. If coming by private vehicle, there are various car parks on the road to the abbey, including a pay lot just outside the entrance (€1.50 per hour).