Impervious mountains, wilderness, difficulty of access. These are some of the reasons why the Pèllice valley became in the past the utmost shelter of the last medieval heresy. The Waldensian Church went through a long spiritual course and suffered indescribable persecutions, starting from the Waldo's preaching in the 12th century up to the adherence to the protestant religion in the 16th century. In more recent times, the valley gave an active and ideological contribution to the Italian unification. A strong identity still characterizes the Waldensian valleys: faded the industrial dream of the main towns, today the Pèllice valley relies on tourism, agriculture and livestock farming as a way to continue to be loyal to that mountain which three centuries ago was the utmost, desperate shelter.

VISITING ROUTE

Luserna San Giovanni is placed at the entrance of the valley, just after leaving the plane cultivated mainly with fruit trees. The town includes several hamlets scattered on both side of the valley. The main hamlet is Airali which, together with San Giovanni, has a majority of Waldensian inhabitants and is placed on the left-hand side of the valley. On the opposite side, Luserna Vecchia is mainly Catholic. The two municipalities were separated in 1657 and merged again in 1871. In medieval times, Luserna was the most important market place of the valley. In the 19th century, it became a busy textile industrial centre and an important centre for manufacturing of the Luserna stone. From Airali, one continues up to the older hamlet San Giovanni where the eighteenth-century Catholic church of Saint John the Baptist faces the Waldensian temple with its elliptical plan. The latter was built in 1806 and represented the first sacred Waldensian building outside the area where the Waldensian religion was tolerated. The visit continues to Luserna, placed on a hill at the confluence of the river Luserna and Pèllice. Luserna maintains a medieval centre and the ruins of the castle of the Luserna Counts. The parish church of Saint James, renewed in the 18th century, keeps the original Romanesque bell tower (11th century). Behind the church one find the Loggia dei Mercanti (16th century) site of the market on Friday since the 11th century. Beside the church stands the parish house with Romanesque arcades, formerly residence of the Rorenghi family (13th century).
On a hill beyond the torrent Luserna, one finds Lusernetta with its cemeterial Chapel of San Bernardino keeping 15th century frescoes by the Master of Lusernetta depicting a Christ Pantocrator, apostles, the Virgin Mary with Child among Saints and the Sermon of San Bernardino.
At the confluence of rivers Pèllice and Angrogna stands Torre Pèllice, a village in a splendid context of grass lawns and houses with wide gardens dating back mainly to the 19th and early 20th centuries. The village took the name from a late-medieval fortification and to the later fortresses of the Savoy family whose traces are rare. In the lower part of the village one finds the neo-Classic parish church of Saint Martin. The Waldensian quarter is placed on the west-side of the town following the Arnaud and Beckwith roads. The urban architectural plan of Torre Pellice, known as the Italian Genéve, was developed in the early 19th century and was affected by strong British influences. Thanks to the initiative of the priest William Stephen Gilly and to the economic help of general John Charles Beckwith a wide area was built including the Trinity College (1837), the Waldensian Temple (1852) and the Waldensian House (1889) site of the Synod. Several buildings, surrounded by gardens, host the teacher houses, the boarding school, the Historic and Ethnographic museum and the Society of Waldensian Studies. At the corner between Beckwith and Roberto D'Azeglio roads one finds the monument dedicated to Henry Arnaud, spiritual guide and military of the «Glorious Return» of Waldensians from Genéve to Piedmonts valleys.
From Torre Pèllice, the SP 163 road goes up the Angrogna Valley, place of resistance and shelter for the Waldensian Church during religious persecution. At the hamlet Ciabàs one finds the Waldensian temple built in 1555, destroyed and rebuilt several times, where several Waldensian military officers and aldermen are buried. The main hamlet of Angrogna hosts the eighteenth-century Catholic church of Saint Lawrence and the Waldensian temple, the latter several times destroyed and rebuilt. A short walk path brings to the Gueiza d'la Tana, a natural cave used during persecutions as a hidden place of worship. Hamlet Odin-Bertot hosts the School Museum Beckwith whereas hamlet Serre hosts a Waldensian temple dating back to the 19th century, several times reconstructed. The school Beckwith hosts the Museum of Waldensian Women. A walking path brings to the Chanforan pasture where in 1532 the Synod of the Waldensian church adhered to the Protestant Reformation. Further up into the valley at Pradeltorno one finds a nineteenth-century temple and the school of barba (uncle, in Occitan) where itinerant preachers were formed. They were responsible of the Waldensian movement and travelled in order to meet clandestine groups of believers disguised as merchants or pilgrims.
Continuing along the SP 161 road, one arrives to Villar Pèllice with its eighteenth-century Waldensian temple and the Crumière Ecomuseum of industrial archaeology placed in a former felt factory. The village also hosts several sundials both ancient and modern.
The upper village of the valley, Bobbio Pèllice is a starting point for several hiking paths: from Sibaud street, through hamlet Costa, one reaches the pasture Sibaud where stands a small stone as monument remembering the oath of allegiance at conclusion of the "Glorious Return". Going up through the Carbonieri valley on the right-hand side of the valley, one arrives to the Grange del Pis place of the Barbara Lowrie refuge, starting point of hiking trails to the Monviso massif. Following the provincial road to Villanova and continuing to the mule track one arrives to the Pra basin, notable mountain pasture where stands the Willy Jervis refuge. Continuing to the top of the valley, the Monte Granero refuge is to be found dip into an alpine environment with access to the Monviso massif.

The Waldensian "Glorious Return"
It was a long trip, from Genève to the home valleys which had to be left three years before, in 1686, when Vittorio Amedeo II with an Edict forbade the Waldensian worship on the territory of the Savoy Duchy. The same was done one year before by King Louis XIV of France revoking the Edict of Nantes which before granted religious freedom to French Protestants. All Waldensian inhabitants of the Valleys were given two impossible choices: renounce their Reformed faith or face expulsion to the Calvinist Cantons of Switzerland which accepted to host them. The call of the homeland, with the mountains, their own houses, their pastures and vineyards was so strong that pushed the Waldensians to go back to their homeland. The 17th of August 1689 less than thousand men led by Henry Arnaud, well armed and sponsored by the Calvinist William of Orange, king of England, set out from across Lake Genève to make the march into their alpine homeland. The trip lasted less than two weeks, they suffered bitter cold and hunger and had to face French and Savoy troops. The first skirmishes took place in Salbertrand and the Waldensians were victorious. Yet, despite the return to their homeland, the Waldensians were still harassed at every turn: the armed group started a sort of guerrilla lasting up to the following summer which dwindled to a tired band of 300. The temporary suspension of the persecutions against Waldensian happened following the switched allegiance of Vittorio Amedeo which allied with England and Austria against France. Thousands of refugees from Switzerland and Germany returned to their ancient homeland. Today, this is known in Waldensian history as "The Glorious Return".