Claudia Da Rin

Ten things not to miss in the Aosta Valley

A mountain of treasures: the Aosta Valley

The smallest region in Italy. Mountainous and squeezed between big guns such as Mont Blanc and Matterhorn, there is so much more to the Aosta Valley than edelweiss and polenta, cowbells and pretty views. The region has stood at the crossroads of many cultures for millennia, being the ancient Via delle Gallie: if Emperor Augustus founded Augusta Pretoria (now Aosta) in 25 bC, he must have seen something extraordinary–  the Roman treasures you will see dotted around are second only to Rome.  The truth is, everyone can float on cloud nine here: find your

passion and the Valley will deliver. A regular on challenging alpine routes? You will meet your match here – just think of multi-peaked Monte Rosa, pretty Grivola or the many routes in the Mont Blanc massif.  In search of sick lines to shred? Go down Piure or Toula canals once and you’ll be ecstatic. Gourmet travellers will revel in the pretty Michelin-starred restaurants that come few and far between, but are simply unforgettable. And oh, did we mention gentle strolls or more active hikes, a paradise for winter sports and the highest vineyards in Europe? The Aosta Valley is waiting for your visit.

1. Colourful vineyards: the Cammino Balteo

Who said you have to reach a four thousand metre-peak to feel like an explorer? The Cammino Balteo is the new route that will take you along superb hikes. Crossing the entire region at mid altitude, the path is made up by 23 legs. Explore the Aosta Valley following the Dora Baltea river, walking through vineyards, small hamlets, Roman bridges, noble castles and lovely landscapes. Superb for sport fanatics, who may run  long its lengths, or families who can take it one step at a time, just pick your pace and you will just love it. Going from Aymavilles to Aosta (leg 18) or the Chambave area (leg 3) will take you along colourful vineyards, organised through dry-stone walls that make them so peculiar.  Leg 6, in the lower Val d’Ayas, takes in the Lago di Villa, by Challand Saint-Victor: come in the autumn or winter and you will just marvel at the beautiful scenery. 

2. Foliage in the Aosta Valley

There is no better time to discover this fabulous region than late autumn, when auburn and orange shades make your stay unique. Pick magical lakes such as the Place Moulin or Lexert lake in Valpelline: the emerald blue lake of their waters act as a superb contrast to colourful leaves. For stunning vistas, Lake Arpy is second to none, while Val Ferret, above Courmayeur, is the lovely playground of cross-country skiing in the winter, with magical views of Mont Blanc. Between Saint Vincent and Brusson, you will enter the stunning realm of the Col de Joux, a superb wood where conifers abound and offer stunning hues. Don’t forget to find some chestnut trees and pick their fruits: they do taste different here!


3. The city from above

In search of something extraordinary? Try a hot-air balloon experience. The Charbonnier family has been in charge of this magical experience for many generations and they are set to take you on a mythical journey. Set off from Aosta and admire the lovely surroundings, coming face to face with the highest mountains in Europe, reaching a height of 2,000 metres. A tourist guide will point out the most important sites and tell riveting stories. Or you can get a view of Mont Blanc and celebrate with a toast at height, for a most original experience. Skilled, competent pilots ensure your tour is safe and enjoyable, for a new view onto the world, feeling like old-world explorers in search of new exploits. Not to be missed indeed

4. The sky at night

Far from light pollution, several areas in the Aosta Valley offer the ideal place to marvel at the sky. The Saint Barthelemy Astronomical Observatory is just sublime. Located at an altitude of 1600m, the planetarium and observatory offer an Heliophysical laboratory and a theatre of the stars to observe them with naked eye. Amateur astronomers will revel with the observation stands: measuring 9sqm, they feature power stations and red LED lights. Scientific observation is also at the core of the observatory, with research undertaken in collaboration with other institutes and related to Asteroids, active galactic nuclei, extra solar planets and the Antarctica Projects.  Pick a night visit for a memorable experience!

5. A park for all seasons – Gran Paradiso

The oldest park in Italy (established in 1922), the Gran Paradiso National Park is certainly one of the most fascinating. The ancient hunting ground of Emperor Vittorio Emanuele II, spotting ibexes, marmots or mountain goats in their natural habitat comes easy here. Covering three valleys in the Aosta Valley (Cogne, Valsavarenche and Val di Rhemes) and Val Noasca in Piedmont, this is where you want to be to experience unspoilt scenery. Enjoy the lovely autumn colours or the lovely snowy blanket that envelops everything in the winter: whatever the season, fabulous things happen here.

6. Matterhorn galore

Perhaps the most famous mountain in the world, the Matterhorn – or Cervino – is also the lovely backdrop of exciting winter hikes. You can get to know traditional flavours after a lovely walk – with snowshoes in winter – linking Valtournenche to Breuil-Cervinia. This is the old road that still exudes old-world charm and will have you swooning over stupendous Matterhorn vistas. Or you could explore picturesque Cheneil, the lovely village set in a basin at an altitude of 2088 metres where unspoilt nature rhymes with authentic mountain living: peaceful and idyllic, you can reach it with a 15-minute hike from the Valtournenche. Or admire the Lago Blu, the evocative place where the Matterhorn is magically reflected in its waters. A few minutes from Cervinia, this really is a lovely place. You can also reach Plateau Rosa with the cable car and admire the Matterhorn and the Monte Rosa glacier at close-hand: dine at the Rifugio Guide del Cervino hut for a meal at height: a staggering 3480m of pure beauty!

7. The sky’s the limit: Skyway

Reach the sky and feel you belong to it. Travelling to the staggering height of Punta Helbronner (3466m) is a sensational experience in itself. Picture rotating gondolas and superb views onto iconic places where pages of mountaineering history were written. Aiguille Noire, les Dames Anglaises, the Innominata and the whole parade of unique peaks and glaciers that make up the Mont Blanc chain. Walk on the spectacular outside terrace facing Mont Blanc and take it all in. Enjoy a meal at the panoramic bistro or wine tasting at height. Peruse the bookshop and discover the Crystal exhibition. To make it extra special, take the small cable car joining the Italian side to the French one, reaching the Aiguille du Midi station (3842m) in a stunning journey amid incredible glaciers. Explore the Saussurea botanical garden at the Pavillon stop (2173 m), enjoy a meal at the alpine restaurant or watch a film at the Alpine Cinema. We know you will just love this!

8. Winter delights

Cogne. Valsavarenche and Val Ferret have more than one jewel in common: amazing cross-country pistes. This type of skiing is perfect to train your stamina and keep in perfect shapes. Go over many miles in the shade of Mont Blanc or Gran Paradiso, maybe learn a new sport: it will be just sublime. When it comes to alpine skiing, you really are spoilt for choice: come to fantastic Monterosa Ski (linking Champoluc, Gressoney and Alagna Valsesia in Piedmont) to ski while you admire the Matterhorn and the Monte Rosa chain. Explore Cervinia and sky you way onto Zermatt in Switzerland. Visit Courmayeur for epic off-piste skiing, or go down the Vallee Blanche from the top of Punta Helbronner, skiing into Chamonix, France. Astonishing.  And if you are after smaller resorts, you can find many quieter, but equally lovely pistes in Crévacol, Antagnod, Rhêmes-Notre-Dame and many more!

9. Be the Lord of the Castle

Issogne, Fénis, Graines, Castel Savoia… These are just a few names that spark the imagination of children and adults alike. The Aosta Valleys sports many exciting castles, many of which are still incredibly well-kept, and they welcome you into a fairy-tale. Fénis is perhaps the most spectacular, while Issogne holds extraordinary frescoes, detailing scenes from ordinary life that make it unique. Castel Savoia in Gressoney looks ethereal: the ancient dwelling of Queen Margherita of Savoy, its white outline emerges from a wood. The castle of Saint Pierre could well feature in a Walt Disney film, while Verrès stands proud on top of a ravine. And don’t forget Sarriod de la Tour in Saint Pierre for epic frescoes and the Aymavilles castle for stunning views. Don’t miss your chance to be the lord (or lady) of the castle!

10. Come o ye faithful - Marché Vert Noël

You cannot say you have felt Christmas until you have seen a Christmas Market. The Marché Vert Noël taking place in Aosta can boast an extra special atmosphere, the Roman theatre with its 22 metre-high wall and the Arch of Augustus setting the scene for a memorable experience. The ideal place to search for unusual gifts, local handicrafts, taste local cheese and wine, as well as exquisite sweet delights, this is a market like no other.

You can accompany this lovely day out with a discovery tour of the city of Aosta: its Roman ruins fabulous and its pedestrian area makes it a lovely place to discover with no haste. Look for its many towers, ancient Roman walls and small alleys, observing evocative Grand Combin from a distance, and the Becca di Nona and Mount Emilius guarding over the city.


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