Travel Guide for Valle d’Aosta

This travel guide for Valle d’Aosta is to introduce you to a region we love. Valle d’Aosta, Italy’s smallest region, is known for its snow-capped mountains, Roman-era monuments and medieval castles. Some of the highest Alpine peaks in Italy are valdostan, like the Mont Blanc (tallest peak in the Alps at 4810m), the Matterhorn (Monte Cervino in Italian 4,478 m), the Monte Rosa (4,634 m) and Gran Paradiso (4,061 m), where the first ever Italian National Park was founded in 1922. Ski resort areas such as Courmayeur and Cervinia offer skiing in winter, hiking and panoramic cable-car rides year-round. Valle d’Aosta is one of Italy’s most beautiful valleys , renowned for its romantic villageswith gingerbread houses and slate roofs, and medieval castles set in high alpine scenery.

Aosta Valley: Interesting Facts

  • Aosta Valley is the English name for this region, and it actually has two Italian names (as well as one official French name). The official Italian name is Valle d’Aosta, but it’s commonly shortened to Val d’Aosta
  • The capital of the Aosta Valley is conveniently called Aosta
  • The Aosta Valley is one of five autonomous regions in Italy
  • Though there are more UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy than any other country, the Aosta Valley is one of four regions that doesn’t have any within its borders
  • The Aosta Valley shares a border with the Piedmont region in Italy, and also with the countries of France and Switzerland
  • Famous people from the Aosta Valley include Italian soccer players Sergio Pellissier and Paolo De Ceglie
  • People from the Aosta Valley are called valdostani. Other variations are: valdostano (masc. sing.), valdostana (fem. sing.), and valdostane (fem. pl.) and they fluently speak three languages: Italian, French, and Valdôtain, a dialect of Franco-Provançal Italian.

    The morning sun lighting up the town of Aosta in the Valle d’Aosta, view from our hotel/Photo Audrey De Monte

Where to Go in Aosta Valley

Valle D’Aosta is a fascinating place with a rich history and many castles creating a picturesque fairytale setting. The tiny region is visually beautiful and culturally alluring. It combines languages, gourmet pleasures, and pretty towns with Alpine characters. Whether you enjoy its landscapes that are always sprinkled with snow, hit the world-famous ski slopes, or simply indulge in food and wine pleasures, the region has much to offer the discerning traveler.

The Aosta Valley doesn’t have a long list of big cities to visit but there are several cities and towns that are well worth visiting. This is a region to visit if you want to settle in for a bit, explore the great outdoors, and enjoy whatever the cities and towns around you have to offer.

Here are a few of the cities and towns of Aosta Valley you might have on your list:

  • Aosta:   This essentially Roman city, capital of the Valle d’Aosta, shows some visible signs of that period, with important monuments such as the Arch of Augustus, the Praetorian Gate and the city walls. The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is particularly interesting, with the archaeological excavations under floor of the most recent church, as are Piazza Chanoux and the monumental building of the Sant’Orso Collegiate Church, which dates back to the 11th Century. Walking around the historic center is easy – no cars are allowed.
  • Courmayeur:  Located at the base of Mont Blanc, shares Mont Blanc summit with Chamonix in neighboring France, Italian town with highest elevation, famous ski resort town, popular with hikers in the summer.
  • Breuil-Cervinia:  Located at the base of the Matterhorn (Monte Cervino in Italian), ski resort town, shares ski area with Zermatt in neighboring Switzerland.
  • La Thuile:  Alpine town, smaller base for skiers and hikers, formerly an important coal region.
  • Cogne:  Small town in a valley in the southwestern part of the region, near the Gran Paradiso National Park, popular for cross-country skiing and hiking.
  • Chamois: On the slopes of the Aosta Valley, the hamlet of Chamois is the only Italian village that can’t be accessed by car. The cluster of seven hamlets that make up Chamois is connected via trails and streets. Indeed, Chamois is one of 19 “Alpine Pearl” villages that dot the Alps of Austria, Germany, Italy, Slovenia and Switzerland. This group of popular resort towns and lesser-known villages is united by a commitment to environmental sustainability, including climate-friendly transportation options. And though it’s isolated, Chamois still draws visitors looking for a slower speed, Matterhorn views and outdoor pursuits. In summer, cyclists and hikers explore the area at a relaxed pace; in winter, skiers glide down 16km of uncrowded slopes and off-piste routes at Chamois’ modest ski resort. The few minutes that separate Chamois from the valley below are enough to shelter it from the velocity of modern life.

    The town of Chamois, only accessible by cable car/Photo Audrey De Monte

What to Do & See in Aosta Valley

The biggest draw for most visitors to the Aosta Valley, besides the peace and quiet and a chance to get away from the big crowds of tourists, is the great outdoors. The mountains in the region provide natural playgrounds in both winter and summer. There are also some excellent natural hot springs in the area, some of which are open year-round, so it’s a popular destinations for spa lovers, too.

Any region that changed hands multiple times like the Aosta Valley did is bound to have some pretty cool fortifications, and the region doesn’t disappoint in that department, either. There are fantastically-preserved castles throughout the region, most from the medieval era, as well as some Roman era monuments.

The great modern tunnels of Gran San Bernardo and, even more so, those under Mont Blanc (7.3 miles/11.7km long), extraordinary engineering masterpieces that run between France and Italy.

Funivie Monte Bianco for a bird’s eye view over the mountains/Photo Audrey De Monte

Skyway Monte Bianco

Dubbed “The Eighth Wonder of the World” due to its previously impossible views of the Alps, the Skyway Monte Bianco transports visitors above 7,000 feet. That’s not all: the rounded gondola cars also rotate 360 degrees, allowing people to see the breathtaking slopes on the Italian side of one of the world’s most famous peaks, called Mont Blanc across the border in France. Requiring 110 million Euros and 10 years of construction. Skyway Monte Bianco doesn’t stop at a mere 7,125 feet above sea level. The new glass-fronted lodge filled with restaurants, cafes and shops at that Pavillon du Mont-Frety may tempt the agoraphobic, since the next stop, “The Eagle’s Nest” at Punta Helbronner, is at 11,371 feet, high enough that you can glimpse the Matterhorn in the distance.  The new Skyway’s construction exemplifies energy efficiency and environmental conservation, including special pholtovoltaic surfaces and insulating materials. The result is a marriage of sustainable architecture, cutting-edge technology, and cutting edge design that allows visitors to focus on the surrounding natural beauty.

Punta Helbronner mountain, 3462m, is part of the Mont Blanc massif.  It shares borders with Italy and France and lies between the Grand Flambeau and the Aiguilles Marbrées. Pointe Helbronner is served by the Funivie Monte Bianco, a cable car from next to Entrèves, a village near Courmayeur in the Aosta Valley.  Both the cable cars, Funivia du Monte Bianco from La Palud (Italy) and the Panoramic Mont Blanc gondola from Chamonix (France), reach its summit.  The station’s platform here has fantastic views and straddles the border of France and Italy.

Ski in Three Countries at Once

Looking for a perfect spot to ski this winter? This region is popular for great ski resorts and alpine skiing championships. The trails are divided into different levels, so you can easily choose a route of suitable difficulty.  Moreover, even if you’ve never skied in your life, you’ll have no problem picking it up with the plethora of renowned professional instructors that call this region home. Valle d’Aosta will also be a suitable option for traveling with kids since there are children’s ski schools with particularly convenient lifts.

In addition, “Aosta Valley Skipass” is an exciting opportunity for cross-country skiing. This unified system gives you a chance to ski on the same ticket, directly accessing the ski lifts in three countries. You have access to Zermatt resort in Switzerland, La Rosière resort in Savoie, France, and Alagna Valsesis resort in Piedmont.

Castello de Fenis in Fenis/Photo Audrey De Monte

Marvel at the Medieval Castles

As there are over 70 castles in the Aosta Valley it can be confusing as to which ones one should visit. However, there are definitely a few that you don’t want to miss. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Fénis Castle (Casello di Fenis) renowned for its frescoes. It is one of the most famous castles in Aosta Valley, and for its architecture and its many towers and battlemented walls has become one of the major tourist attractions of the region.
  • Castello di Issogne built by Georges de Challant, whos family controlled much of the valley for centuries.
  • Forte di Bard. This fortress complex was built in the 19th century by the House of Savoy and contains a permanent exhibition called “The Prison.” Held in the prison’s 24 cells are short films, documents, 3D reconstructions, and more – all detailing the fortress’ rich history.
  • Sarre Royal Castle used as a hunting lodge by Vittorio Emanuele II.
  • Other beautiful castles are  Sarriod de la Tour, Saint-Pierre, and Ussel

    Forte di Bard/Photo Audrey De Monte

Taste Authentic Cuisine and Wines in Valle d’Aosta

More than 20 wines are designated as originating from “Aosta Valley – Vallée d’Aoste.” Some examples are Arnad Montjovet, Enfer d’Arvier, Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle and Donnas. Complete your meal with the extraordinary herb liqueur “Genépy des Alpes,” traditionally drunk from a wooden goblet called a grolla. The most familiar indigenous grape varieties used in wine production are the high-altitude Nebbiolo wines (locally called Picotendro), Nus Malvoisie (Pinot Grigio), Petit Rouge, Fumin, and ruby-colored Cornalin. As the result, the tiny region is famous for its wines. Try crisp white wines of Petite Arvine, and bright and mineral Prié Blanc.

Visit the small wine estates that are still family-operated, and the wine making traditions are passed down through generations. The wines perfectly capture the purity of Alpine terroir, expressing crisp acidity and minerality. Thanks to the region’s microclimate, vines can bear fruit up to 3,937 feet in altitude, while the fruit trees bear such delicacies as walnuts, chestnuts, Rennet apples and the famous Martin pears.

Enjoying local specialties/Photo Audrey De Monte

As a foodie, you will enjoy the local cuisine. Valle D’Aosta is the only Italian region to produce Fontina cheese (DOP), a key ingredient in many regional dishes such as fonduta (fondue) and Cotoletta alla Valdostana, a veal chop covered in Fontina DOP. Hearty stews are popular in this mountainous area, such as Capriolo alla Valdostana, made with wine, vegetables, and some grappa, and the other typical soup of the Aosta Valley (made with cabbage, Savoy cabbage, fontina cheese and stale rye bread). Tartiflette, which is a rustic cheese and potato dish from the nearby Savoy region, is another local delicacy: a decadent baked Reblochon cheese mixed with boiled potatoes, bacon and onions. Fondue is also present on many menus. Yummy!

Other dishes you’ll find during your alpine activities in Valle d’Aosta are gnocchi alla bava made with flour and buckwheat covered with the everpresent melted Fontina. Pair this typical dish with either a white Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle or a red Enfer d’Anvier (some of which are organic). Salamiis another delicacy to taste, as is the wonderful Arnad lard, a type of Aosta Valley sausage cooked with boiled potatoes, lard, seasoning, and the reputed Bosses ham.

Many Italians also come to this region in the fall to celebrate apples (apples orchards can also be seen in the Valtellina and Val di Non in Trentino Alto Adige), one of their main products. The apple festival in Gressan and the Mele Vallée Autumn festival in Antey-Saint-André both happen in October, when the foliage further enhances the Valle d’Aosta’s charm.

Hiking in Valle d’Aosta

Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso is one of Italy’s most spectacular national parks, and holds the distinct honour of being Italy’s first National Park. offering excellent hiking opportunities as well as some superb skiing. Here you can enjoy the best cross-country skiing in Cogne, and you can also see many protected mammals, birds and Alpine flowers. In the national park you should be able to see ibex and chamois, as these are quite common. If you are lucky and look really hard you will also see ermine, ptarmigan, golden eagles and ravens. With regards to the trees and flowers of the area on the valley floor, and up to about 1000 ft up there are grape vines, fruit trees and woodland with sycamore, beech, birch, hazel, elm and alder. Further up the mountain slopes at about 2000 ft there are larch, fir and pine trees. Alpine shrubs such as rhododendrons, alpine alder and juniper grow towards the summit.

Chamois enjoying the sun/Photo Audrey De Monte

Take the road from Sarre to Cogne, a good place to stay although the best scenery is a little deeper into the park. Lillaz is a peaceful village, and from here a short hike eastward along the valley brings you to the dramatic waterfall of Cascata di Balma. Valnontey is a busier village, and the trailhead to the Vittorio Sella mountain refuge, one of the park’s most popular hikes. Along with Hotel Miramonti, Hotel Bellevue are both great choices to base yourself in Cogne. Le Petit Restaurant is one of the best places to eat in the region.

Courmayeur offers stunning views of the Mont Blanc and the Glaciers. The best time to fully enjoy the mountains is from May to November. There are plenty of beautiful hikes to discover, some very easy, other more challenging. And if you are looking for mountaineering adventure, you can rely on the expert guides of the Società Guide Alpine Courmayeur. Fashionable Courmayeur is also well known for shopping.

In the beautiful Val Ferret, you can admire the Mont Blanc, the Grandes Jorasses and the glaciers. Val Ferret is at its best from mid-June to approx. Mid-July, when rhododendrons are blooming, colouring the fields with beautiful fuchsia spots. In August, Val Ferret traffic is regulated but there is a bus shuttle service connecting Courmayeur with the main starting points for the hikes. For a closer look to the glaciers, you can also take the cable car from the village La Palud, riding you up to the Aiguille du Midi from where you can enjoy spectacular views of the alps. We recommend however this journey only to people in good physical shape because you reach a 3,400 meters altitude, and some might suffer from Mountain Sickness.

Hiking in Val Veny with Mont Blanc trying to peak through the clouds/Photo Audrey De Monte

If you want a change, you can go to the Val Vény. It is particularly indicated for families, offering a great green area along the river. Besides, Val Vény offers beautiful hikes, with closer views of the Mont Blanc.

travel guide for valle d'aosta

Hiking in Val Veny/Photo Audrey De Monte

If you are simply not willing to walk but would like to enjoy an enchanting scenery, I advise you to go to the Restaurant Baita Ermitage, which you can reach by car. Baita Ermitage is a characteristic mountain restaurant offering local traditional dishes and a beautiful view on the Mont Blanc. To rest and have some sunbathing, you can enjoy the deckchairs on the terrace. But you can also opt for a traditional dinner (reservation strongly recommended).

Courmayeur is one of the stops on the famous Tour du Mont Blanc, the circular trail that generally starts in Courmayeur or in Chamonix and can be completed in 7 to 8 days. For a good traditional lunch or dinner, I suggest Le vieux pommier. Instead, if you are looking for a high standing restaurant try La Clotze and the restaurant of the Villa Novecento Hotel.

Experience Ancient Spa Traditions

Valle d’Aosta is a perfect place to combine sports activities with the warm waters of the region’s famous spa centers. Valle d’Aosta boasts two important spas: Prè Saint Didier and Saint Vincent. The former, near the border with France, invites you to the highest thermal park, located at the foot of the imposing Mont Blanc massif. The latter is well known for its modern wellness center and distinctive curative properties of the thermal springs discovered in 1770 by the abbot Jean-Baptiste Perret.

Festivals

The locals in the Aosta Valley are, like all Italians, passionate people who love to celebrate and honor their history. Travelers who visit the region have a wide variety of local events, festivals, and carnivals to choose from that are guaranteed to be as lively and entertaining as they are culturally significant.

  • Fiera de Sant’Orso (woodcarvers festival) is a large crafts fair featuring music, plays, and dances held in Aosta on the last two days of January since the year 1000. It is said that Saint Orso who lived before the 9th century, handed out wooden shoes he made to the poor (clogs).
  • Bataille des Reines. The regional heifer head-butting championships have been going on here since the 17th century. It’s a huge event held in Aosta on the third sunday in October at the Croix Noire Stadium. The owners of the winning cow get feasted and presented with barrels of wine.
  • Verrès Carnival, Verrès. Held in Februay, this pageant has its roots in an event that happened in the town back in 1450 when the lady of Verrès castle Caterina di Challant surprised everyone one day when she came into the town square and joined the dancing with her people that was taking place in front of a church that she and her consort had been visiting. As a result a carnival celebrates this event with a medieval procession through the streets followed by an evening ball in the halls of the Verrès Castle.

    Town of Courmayeur/Photo Audrey De Monte

Plan your visit to Valle d’Aosta

Aosta can be reached by train from Turin, taking about 2 hours and changing trains in Ivrea. From the train station it’s a short walk into the historic center. Buses to other towns are in front of the station. By car, Aosta is off the A5 autostrada that runs between Turin and the Mont Blanc tunnel, a beautiful route with views of the mountains. Traffic is restricted in the center but there are convenient parking lots. By car, Aosta is one hour from Turin, 30 minutes from Milan, and 1.5 hours from Geneva.

See the beauty of Valle d’Aosta on a private guided tour with Audrey as your local host. Choose the “Italy’s Northwest Gems” and also see Piedmont and Liguria with Audrey.  

About Audrey De Monte

Born in New York City, to European native parents, and raised in Western Africa, I have studied, lived and worked on three continents (Africa, Europe and North America), and have traveled extensively throughout the world. Travel has shaped my life, who I am, and how I look at the world and travel continues to be my biggest teacher. Together with my native Italian husband, we speak 5 languages (French, Italian, German, Spanish and English of course). I have spent a lifetime in several countries in Western Europe, since early childhood, visiting family, friends, studying, living and working. I grew up with the local customs and traditions of these countries.