I invite you to discover the Aosta Valley, a beautiful region of Italy, nestled between France and Switzerland, between nature, culture and sport.
In the preamble, let’s get rid of some preconceived ideas about the Aosta Valley:
- We don’t say “A ‘from Aosta, we go directly to” O “
- If you think that the Aosta ham that you find in the supermarket comes from Italy, you are wrong!
This is indeed a pure industrial ham, made in France, in a village of Isère which is called Aosta certainly, but which has nothing to do with the beautiful Italian region … For having tasted for three days this famous Italian ham, believe me, it has nothing to do with the vacuum-packed ham that we serve with our raclettes:
To make sure you have real Italian raw ham on your plates, look for the Aosta Valley PDO Jambon de Bosses. You will have to go somewhere other than a supermarket … and why not in Aosta directly?
Come, I take you with me in a white, powdery, gourmet universe, rich in its unique history and its popular traditions.
Snow in Aosta Valley
The Aosta destination is best known for its mountains and it is quite legitimate. With several peaks of more than 4000 meters, it has everything to seduce fans of downhill and large spaces.
The most famous are Mont-Blanc, the Matterhorn, Dent d’Herens, Mont Maudit …
The Aosta Valley ski areas are renowned and over 839 km of slopes await skiers of all levels each winter. I wrongly thought that the region was mainly dedicated to great athletes and this is not entirely correct. If the high peaks and heli-skiing obviously attract the most experienced, the stations have well understood that not everyone practiced the mountain at a high level and were able to adapt to the demand of all visitors, skiers or not, downhill or cross-country skiers.
I could not tell you about all the ski areas in the region but I had the opportunity to discover the Monterosa area on snowshoes from Champoluc and it is magnificent. The skiers present during this stay confirmed to me the quality of the slopes, the ski lifts and the facilities in general.
Admire Mont-Blanc from Skyway
I did not know the Skyway Monte Bianco at all and what a surprise that this ultra-modern cable car from Courmayeur (1300 meters above sea level) which connects 2 platforms, those of the Pavilion of Mont Frety at 2200 m and that of Punta Helbronner in 3,466 m, in just 18 minutes.
Departing from Pontal d’Entreves station, you take a seat in a round cabin that rotates 360 ° on itself and offers a sublime view of all the surrounding peaks, including the sumptuous Mont Blanc.
I advise you as we did, to take a break for a few minutes at the Mont Frety station in order to get your body used to the altitude. Climbing so high in less than 20 minutes puts a strain on the body and we all felt a little mountain sickness (feeling of ground shaking, slight dizziness …).
It did not prevent us from enjoying this magical moment and in particular the lunch that we took in front of Mont Blanc but it is better to make sure to arrive up there in great shape!
At the Mont Frety pavilion, you will have a panoramic view of the slopes of Val Veny and Val Ferret and can discover its facilities such as the botanical garden, a playground for children, two restaurants, a bar, a cinema … and a wine cellar in which the peak wine, the highest in Europe, is produced.
Once you have recovered from your first feelings, you can take a cabin to reach the highest platform with its circular panoramic terrace of 14 meters in diameter which offers a crazy 360-degree view of the high peaks of the Alps: Mont-Blanc, the Mont-Rose, the Matterhorn, Gran Paradiso and the Grand Combin.
In summer, it is possible to reach the Aiguille du Midi station by taking the “Panoramic Mont-Blanc” gondola.
From there, it is possible to explore the surrounding slopes such as those of the Toula glacier, the Marbrees, the Vallee Blanche but also to go off-piste to descend to Courmayeur.
I will not hide it from you, it is expensive, very expensive even since the return trip is at 52 € and the family package for 2 adults and 2 children (over 8 years) is 164 €. Yes, it hurts!
Is it worth it? I honestly find it hard to advise you to spend so much money on an activity, but the experience is great and the view is truly breathtaking. On the other hand, lunch at the bistro des glaciers, with a view of Mont Blanc, will not cost you more than lunch in the valley.
It is a nice gift to be made once but considering the price, choose your day well and favor the blue skies, just to fully enjoy the unobstructed view of the peaks, on Courmayeur and the whole valley.
The history of the Aosta Valley
This region of Italy is ideal for those who are a little afraid to venture into unknown lands. Indeed, the Aosta Valley is bilingual French-Italian!
The autonomous region of Italy, French is studied by children from kindergarten, just like Italian.
The town hall of Aosta carries both appellations, French and Italian.
The Aosta Valley has had a common history with France since the 6th century.
In turn attached to the kingdom of the Franks, of Charlemagne, of the kingdom of Burgundy, it was in 1561 that the Duke Emmanuel-Philibert of Savoy imposed the use of French in place of Latin in the Aosta Valley.
Shortly after 1789, the French occupied the region and it was not until 1861 when the kingdom of Italy was born that the Aosta Valley was incorporated into the province of Turin… See how the links between France in the Aosta Valley are old!
Throughout the valley, people speak both languages and beyond this spoken bilingualism, it is the whole of daily life that is done in French and Italian. Perfect if you want to change your air without the risk of getting lost on the way.
Castles in Aosta Valley
If the practice of snow sports occupies a considerable place in the valley, it would be reductive to omit the other assets of the region and in particular its castles. Here, it is not 2 or 3 crenellated buildings which make its reputation but it is well more than a hundred castles and towers, particularly well preserved, which testify to its rich past and its strategic position which made it away must-see alpine crossing.
The region is rich in legends, fantastic stories and each castle allows you to cultivate your imagination and those of the little ones.
I found this to be a great region for a stay with children who will enjoy the mountains and its magic walls.
Be careful not to expect the sleeping beauty castles! We are in mountainous territory and austerity remains in order even if some castles are more spectacular than others.
The castle of Issogne
Do not be surprised and disappointed when you approach the castle of Issogne, its exterior will not make you grow wahou of surprise!
Built in this gray stone characteristic of the region, it is like a fortified residence, quite humble from the outside, without decorations or frills.
However, as soon as you cross the front door, you become aware of your past wealth.
Property of the bishops of Aosta, the castle of Issogne was transformed between 1490 and 1510 into a sumptuous residence, a luxurious residence of the Renaissance. If it was in the 15th and 16th centuries that it took its scale, the castle is much older and was cited for the first time in 1151.
The most famous castle in the Aosta Valley, it is remarkable for its medieval frescoes and all of its period features.
The Grenadier Fountain of The Castle Of Issogne
In the courtyard of the castle, there is an amazing fountain, very beautiful. Of traditional invoice, in its center, one finds no water but a tree a wrought iron representing a pomegranate tree (symbol of fertility) with leaves of oaks (symbol of family unity). This fountain was certainly an engagement gift.
The Frescoes of Everyday Life
Under a covered passage, you can admire many frescoes from the Middle Ages reproducing scenes from everyday life such as the butcher and the bakery, the fruit and vegetable market, the couturier’s workshop, the pharmacy and the grocery store.
They are particularly well preserved and it is very surprising to observe these drawings dating from the XV / XVIth century, even if we know that the representation by the lords was generally distorted by their desire to portray themselves in glorious and benevolent light, sometimes far from the reality of the time.
Small particularity of the castle: all its frescoes are covered with graffiti, some very old, made by visitors and passing guests. Far from distorting the drawings, they complement the knowledge we have of the Middle Ages and the following periods.
The Inside of the Castle
The interior of the castle can be visited and will appeal to all lovers of the Middle Ages: a beautiful kitchen, the bedrooms, the chapel, the oratories, the council rooms…
Owner of a lover of medieval times, the painter Vittorio Avondo from 1872, it was completely restored and above all refurnished with its furniture, when it was able to find them in flea markets in Italy or furniture period from other bourgeois residences.
The castle is really worth the visit for this incredible historical wealth and it will appeal to children, who are generally very fond of stories of lords.
A word of advice: cover up, the château is not heated and in December it is very cool.
The beautiful Aosta
Let’s continue with the history of the valley and go to Aosta, also called the little Rome of the Alps .
Nestled between high snow-capped peaks, it is a city of 35,000 inhabitants, on a human scale, very lively. I did not feel the austerity of the mountain cities there, I found it on the contrary very joyful.
Located at the junction of two important valleys, that of the Dora Baltea and that of the Buthier, it has always been an essential route in the Alps. Let us not forget that it is also the gateway to France and Switzerland.
It is not surprising then that the Romans chose this location to make it a place of conquest of the Alps but also a place of strategic defense against the invasions of the Barbarians.
There are many Roman remains in Aosta, including an amphitheater, the fortifications that surrounded the city, the thermal baths and a forum.
We also visit beautiful churches dating from the beginning of the Christianization of the Aosta Valley.
My advice: I really recommend the guided tour of the city, which allows you to understand its history from its creation to its popular festivals today, such as the Saint-Ours fair, very famous in Italy.
This is the craft festival, which presents the work of more than a thousand exhibitors throughout the city.
It is held on January 30 and January 31 and during our visit to the city, we were praised several times the vigil of January 30 during which all the Valle d’Aosta party all night.
Gastronomy in the Aosta Valley
Needless to say, it was not during these few days in the boot that I got lighter, we eat well in the Italian mountains… but hey, it was very cold so we had to warm up
If you like simple, rustic, tasty dishes and good local products, all accompanied by good wines, you will love the cuisine of the Aosta Valley.
A few Aosta specialties
The polenta is consumed in the north of Italy, but also in Savoy, Corsica, Switzerland and Nice also … is cornflour with which manufacturers or past patties in the oven, or a kind compact mash.
Personally, I love it and my stepfather of Italian origin does it regularly.
It is traditionally served with civets.
Here in the Aosta Valley, it is associated with the region’s cheese, Fontina and it is served as an accompaniment. Contrary to what one might think, it is not heavy, the polenta was beaten to be as frothy as possible, it is delicious!!
The recipe is very simple: bread, cheese (lots of cheese), green cabbage, a little broth, cinnamon, butter and presto, we brown.
Not healthy for a penny but famous!
Aosta Valley tiles
These are small dry cookies with hazelnuts and almonds. Very good with Aosta Valley coffee (coffee, sugar, grappa …) served in the friendship cup that the guests circulate one after the other in a counterclockwise direction, using the different beaks of the cup. I thought it was a popular tradition that had run out, that the cups were only there to remind this custom but no, they are really used in families in the Aosta Valley, during family celebrations.
Where to eat and where to sleep in the Aosta Valley?
Here are some tested and approved addresses.
The trattoria degli artisti “Pam Pam” in Aosta
A traditional trattoria where the typical dishes of the region are served, including the famous Vapelenentse soup which I mentioned earlier.
It also serves fontina fondue, a cheese sauce that adorns vegetables and pasta, cold meats, game …
A good address frequented by both locals and tourists where you will leave any idea of diet at the door!
Birrificio B63 in Aosta
In the center of Aosta, there is this brewery that produces several kinds of craft beers and offers dishes, also cooked in beer to accompany them.
It’s simple, good, plentiful, inexpensive and the beers are really delicious. Mention very well for the Rock, a black with tobacco notes and pretty dense foam.
The bistro of the glaciers in Courmayeur
At the top of the Skyway, the glacier bistro offers good quality traditional cuisine with a view of Mont Blanc. Wonderful!!
Campzero Hotel Restaurant in Champolluc
I rarely tell you about 5 * establishments on this site, luxury does not correspond at all to my way of traveling.
During this stay in the Aosta Valley, I stayed one night in a very beautiful establishment and if it is unlikely that I will return there one day, I wanted to say 2 words to you. For those who have a substantial budget for their vacation or who want to have fun, this hotel will be perfect.
Only 30 rooms, a wooden decor that blends beautifully with the environment, a delicious table, an exceptional breakfast, a beautiful spa, and a really lovely staff, brand new (opened in July 2018), it is really a success.
I took advantage of it during these few hours but really, the overflow of stars is not my thing … I do very well with the slippers placed at the foot of the bed and the waitress who pepper your plate:
I am delighted to have presented you with a new piece of Italy, you know how dear this country is to my heart and how I like to share with you its beautiful landscapes and its good addresses. I hope this post has given you some ideas for your next weekend.