Kings and Queens in Valle Gesso

A century with the House of Savoy

King Vittorio Emanuele III and Queen Elena in Sant'Anna di Valdieri | Archive APAM

It was love at first sight. The thunderbolt between the House of Savoy and the Gesso Valley struck on 29 August 1855. Young Vittorio Emanuele was a passionate hunter of chamois (and, apparently, of beautiful shepherdesses) he wasfascinated by the abundance (of both) in this mountain backwater on the edge of the kingdom. Le Marittime offered the future king of Italy abundant game, enchanting views, a healthy climate and the healthy diversion of the thermal waters. In 1857 Vittorio Emanuele obtained exclusive hunting rights over a large part of the upper valley from the municipalities of Valdieri and Entracque and so the hunting reserve of Valdieri and Entracque was born.

Both in the mountains and lower in the Valle Gesso, the arrival of the Royal family was a whirlwind. The half-empty coffers of the municipalities saw thousands of lire a year pouring in. Not to mention the rents of mountain pastures, extra contributions to build roads, mule tracks, paths and shelters at altitude - infrastructures that also benefitted the locals. Gamekeepers were hired for the Reserve, there were frequent alms from the sovereigns and paid work of all sorts related to the visits by the royal family of Savoy and retinue: artisans and labourers for the construction and maintenance of royal housing; servants, waiters, gardeners, servants, shopkeepers and handyman to meet the personal needs of the family.

Three generations of rulers came to the Gesso Valley, leaving a deep impression in the Maritime Alps, not only because they have marked the territory with buildings, chalets, shelters, shooting hides and kilometres of paths and mule tracks that today are a joy for hikers, but also because they left a mark on the collective memory. Not to mention that two positive "side effects" of the institution of the Reserve, that were to ensure the survival of chamois and to bring ibex from the Gran Paradiso that now thrive in the Alpi Marittime Park!