The Aosta Valley: As High As Europe Can Be
The Aosta Valley is the most north-westerly region of Italy, immediately bordering both France and Switzerland. It also lies at the base of the highest mountains in the Alps: Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco), the Matterhorn and the Monte Rosa.
With multiple borders and formidable mountains, the Aosta Valley has a bizarre and fascinating history. The valley has been claimed by a long list of regimes; Celts, Romans, Goths and Lombards are just a few of those who have claimed ownership. This tumult of military conquests stands in contrast to stasis of 'Valedonian' civilisation, developing largely independently, tranquil in their relative isolation.
During World War Two, the Valedonians resisted Mussolini's dogmatic attempts to Italianise the area, fleeing to Switzerland and France where resilient pockets of Valedonian culture remain. After 1945, the region became semi-autonomous, allowing it to preserve its cultural idiosyncrasies to the present day.
The truly unique culture draw thousands of visitors to the Aosta Valley each year, yet hundreds of thousands more come to exploit the sporting potential of this superlative alpine spot. Skiers and snowboarders, hikers and climbers, mountain bikers and road cyclists satisfy their wildest dreams in the Aosta Valley.
Skiing in the Aosta Valley
Unsurprisingly, the towering giants of the Aosta Valley offer world-class skiing and snowboarding. What is surprising is the range of skiing available - the expansive slopes of Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa cater for first-timers as well as seasoned experts, families and off-piste dare devilers, speedsters and cross-country skiers.Beginners have ample choice of easy slopes and excellent courses: they'll also find plenty to do while their thighs recover for the next round, exploring the historical depth of Aosta and sampling the delicious italian food. Experts skiers are spoilt for choice; Gressoney and Alagna provide the finest off-piste skiing in Italy; Cerinia, Champoluc and La Thuile have incredible blacks, steep gulleys and off-piste; you can ski in Mont Blanc's thick powder in Courmayer or take the famous 20km Vallée Blanche run into Chamonix; La Thuile has the legendary Berthod downhill run; Pila has a timed slalom run and offers racing training.
The major ski resorts in the Aosta Valley:
- Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco) - Courmayeur
- Cervinia - overlooks the Matterhorn and links into popular Swiss resort Zermatt
- La Thuile - links with La Rosiere in France
- Pila very close to the historic Aosta town
- Champoluc and Gressoney in the Monte Rosa ski area.
Hiking and Mountaineering in the Aosta Valley
The scenery is breathtaking as you hike through the Aosta Valley, 3000 metres below three stunning peaks. Each path is steeped in history, layered with the military and commercial ventures of thousands of years. Many of the paths are originally Roman, built to facilitate the spread of one of the greatest known empires. Some passes were created in the 17th century, during the Franco-Spanish War, to defend the border against the French. These same passes were used in World War Two, and are still used by curious visitors who wish to explore the historical paths. You can also walk along a trail constructed in the 19th century, to construct a fort in the Va Valley and allow troups to access, or follow an ancient religious road to the Sanctuary of Oropa. If you're in a lighter mood, you might take the Wine Road, which allowed long caravans of mules to export the tasty vino of the Aosta Valley to the Rhone. You can find itineraries for these routes, and several more, here.
If you fancy a longer, higher walk there are spectacular opportunities to trek in the Aosta Valley, over the foothills beside Mont Blanc and Monte Rosa. By day, you'll absorb the incredible, ever-changing view; a medley of skylines, wilderness and fauna. At night, you can sleep under the stars you never see by city light. There are a range of trails and you can choose whether to go higher, harder and longer, cross borders and reach passable parts of the mountains. Find out more about trekking in the Aosta Valley here.
If you want to go so long and high that you can't even walk, the Aosta Valley will already be high on your list. Mountaineerers can't resist trying out the highest alpine mountains and there are plenty of qualified and experienced guides who help them ascend the icy, steep and exhilarating sides (and get back down again at survival speeds). If you're up for it, you'll know how much research and planning such an excursion takes. For basic information on climbing Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn or Monte Rosa, check out this website.
Biking in the Aosta Valley
Road cycling in the Aosta Valley is extemely popular, as it contains a common leg of Giro d'Italia tour (Italy's answer to the tour de France). There are 21 routes on the well-maintained mountain roads, with challenging up hills and the unforgettable downhills that follow. Beyond the ideal conditions, the main attraction for road cyclists in this area is the stunning panoramic view, a clear line of sight from the valley's base to three 3000 metre peaks. Pack your camera with your pump and spare tubes. Better yet, stick one to your helmet.
Predicatably, Mountain Biking in the Aosta Valley is second to none. There is a whopping 1000km of unsurfaced tracks, included mule tracks, farm roads and woodland paths, waiting to be explored. There are easy rides through idyllic vineyards or more demanding routes at altitude. Both Pila and La Thuile keep their chairlifts running throughout the summer, so you can go downhill mountain biking in the Aosta Valley. Plus, Pila has a bike park, with everything from beginner downhill to freeride acrobatics. If you haven't got your own, or can't face the fee to bring it, you can hire bikes in the area - here's a link to mountain bike hire shops in Courmayer. You can discover the routes for yourself by squinting at a map of mountain bike trails in Aosta Valley or go on a guided tour, like the Mont Blanc Mountain Bike Tour.
The Aosta Valley is a prime spot for watersports. Clear, sparkling streams run from the huge mountains as the snow melts in the summer, down the side of the valley to meet in the Dora Baltea and beautiful alpine lakes. Visitors are drowning in options, with white-water rafting, canoeing, fishing, kayaking!
Go Over the Top
There are also opportunites for unforgettable experiences in the Aosta Valley - anyone who wants to have a ride in a hot-air balloon would be hard pushed to find a better place to try it. You can also go hand-gliding, learn how to fly an engine plane, or get a bird's eye view from a delta plane. The high mountain spots also facilitate parachuting and paragliding, with tandem flights for beginners and some companies also cater for wheelchair users.
Unique Accommodation in the Aosta Valley
Visitors come to the Aosta Valley to experience a cultural anomoly yet the area is so popular that they often find themselves instead in the universal bubble culture of hotels and hostels. Its the old chesut - thousands of tourists looking for an 'authentic' experience. There are, however, ways to access the experience of living in seclusion, surrounded by the highest mountains in Europe, away from the rest of the world. The Hotel Village of Quart numbers among the best.
Don't be fooled by the generic title, the Hotel Village is one of a kind. It consists of ten wooden chalets, built in the classic Walser design of the Valedonians - wooden pine, larch and deal supported by stones. The design makes a desirable compromise between the traditions of the area and modern comforts; though you'll stay in isolation, there is a warm and inviting central builiding where a delicious homemade, locally sourced breakfast will be served each morning.
Each chalet has a quirky interior, with contrasting colours and furniture made from predominately natural materials and fabrics. Great care has been taken to take advantage of natural light, so that the hot Italian sun will shine but not scorch you as you rest from your adventures in Aosta Valley.
Take a closer look at the Hotel Village in Aosta Valley and get in high spirits while you discover where France, Italy and Switzerland meet.