Discovering Piedmont, Italy

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Spending a few nights at the convent lodging at the sanctuary is an incredible treat, but keep in mind there’s nothing luxurious about it—and yet we love it. Picture hallways filled with ex-votos thanking the Virgin Mary for her protection (the first one dates back to 1522) and bare-basics accommodations in the form of a simple bed and austere wooden furniture. It’s a blissful stay that goes superbly on its own or as part of a religious or historic trip into Piedmont.

the passion of sordevolo The region is also home to a unique interpretation of the last days of Jesus Christ that has defined the small town of Sordevolo. Taking place every five years from June through September, the Passion Play of Sordevolo is handled exclusively by Central Holidays for the U.S. market. “It is completely different from the renowned Play in Oberammergau and merits its just praise for the effort, setting and convenience of the experience,” explains Sembiante. “Sordevolo is a hidden treasure that has just been discovered and will become a milestone in the performance of Passion Plays worldwide.”

You have to be a native of the region to make it into the Passion Play, and Marco Caldi, who was on hiatus from his resort management duties in Indonesia and from his love of surfing, begat a rousing interpretation of the main character. “It’s my first time as Jesus,” says Caldi, although he’s played lesser roles in the past. Joining him were hundreds of his neighbors, amateurs on stage but dedicated and eager to be a part of this 200-plus-year tradition.

“Italy is a major center of Christianity in the world and I believe the Passion Play in Sordevolo adds to the whole experience by having the opportunity to also visit other major religious sites within the country itself. Just in Piedmont, you have the Museum and Church of the Holy Shroud, La Superga, holy sanctuaries and so much more.”

Agents, explains Sembiante, don’t just have to promote the Passion Play experience for its religious appeal, but can combine a visit to Sordevolo with many different options, whether near or not. “With two major airports to service the area (Turin and Milan), agents have myriad combinations to make themselves loved by their clients and become true designers of travel programs to the hidden treasures of Italy.” Still, he says, this option clearly adds to a spiritual experience.

Although details for Central Holidays’ 2015 Passion Play itineraries are forthcoming, the 2010 version included stops in Milan and Turin, as well as a stay in the Oropa Sanctuary.

turin wows Speaking of Turin, do not for a minute dismiss this fantastic city. The capital of Piedmont—and the first capital of Italy, in fact—is palpably delightful, great for people-watching and molto moderna in disposition. Hats off to its many piazze and shops on Garibaldi Street, its open markets and historic cafes, its creation of vermouth and devotion to chocolate—purchase a ChocoPass when you get there and sample the most decadent confections in Northern Italy, including the native gianduiotti and their hazel-nutty thunderbolt to the senses.

The Museum of the Shroud is well known here, of course, but there are myriad other museums to discover—more than 80, in fact. The Egyptian Museum is the most important in the world after Cairo’s, while the National Museum of Cinema celebrates both the art and the fact that Italian cinema was born in Turin. There’s also the Palazzo Reale, home of the House of Savoy, and the Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art. Next year the city is set to shine even brighter as it celebrates the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy. “The festivities,” reveals Sembiante, “promise to be spectacular.”

Among Central Holidays’ new Piedmont programs is a jaunty journey to Turin that includes roundtrip air from NYC, a 3-night stay at the Art Hotel Boston or similar, a car rental for three days, a tasting at the historic Pasticceria Pfatisch and a Torino Piemonte card, which offers free admission to more than 160 sites, including museums and castles, as well as discounts on tours, concerts, theater options and more. This package starts at $1,049 pp.