Aosta Valley - Travel Guide
Giuseppe Verdi once said, “You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” One can’t help but wonder if he was standing in the majestic splendor of the Aosta Valley when he made that vow. Though it is the smallest region of Italy, the beauty of the grandiose snow-capped mountains and transparent glitter of regional lakes make visitors feel as if they are stepping into a picture-perfect land found only in fairy tales.
The snowy mountains and rolling green hills cover much of this small treasure of Italy, giving it the lowest population density of all its Italian counterparts, with only 128,000 residing in in the heart of the Alpine valley.
Aosta Valley is home to many of the highest peaks in the Alps including Gran Paradiso, Monte Rosa, and Mont Blanc. The Gran Paradiso peak can be found within the Gran Paradiso National Park, a protected shelter for many intriguing animals such as wolves, Eurasian badgers, and ibex goats. Mont Blanc is the highest peak in all of Europe at 15,781 feet and is a must see for visitors.
The Celts and Ligures originally settled the Aosta Valley and some evidence of that heritage can still be seen in the land today. In 25 B.C., Rome conquered the region to secure strategic mountain passes and established Augusta Praetoria Salassorum. The Romans built roads, bridges, and tunnels through the mountains, hence the area’s name “Valle d’Aosta” which translates to “Valley of Augustus.”
Today, the capital is the city of Aosta and inhabitants speak primarily Italian or French. The valley is the only region of Italy that is not divided into provinces. When you are not taking in the small-town delights, a trek through the region’s historical medieval castles is hard to resist. Savoy Castle in Gressoney-Saint-Jean is one of the more popular castles amongst tourists and boasts the Savoy Castle Alpine Botanical Garden.
GEOGRAPHY & CLIMATE
The Aosta Valley is located in far northwest Italy and is bordered by France and Switzerland. With more than 1,200 square miles of territory, this is the smallest region in Italy. However, what the region is missing in size, it makes up for in breathtaking views.
The majestic mountains are a large part of the Aosta Valley landscape, and possibly the most stunning characteristic of the area. Although the mountains themselves are a grand sight, the tributaries, lakes, and ponds they contribute to are so clear and transparent in nature, one sees only a reflection instead of water. In the summer, the rolling green hills at the foot of the mountains sprinkled with medieval castle architecture create a postcard-perfect setting that even Camelot would be jealous of.
It is not unusual for it to snow eight or nine months of the year in the higher mountain elevations, with the highest peaks remaining below freezing. However, lower elevations experience milder, yet still cool temperatures with some rainfall that can give way to a light mist that hangs over the valley, giving the area an almost dream-like quality in appearance.
To fully take in the stunning geography of the Aosta Valley, consider embarking on some of the area’s more interesting options, including mountain climbing, horseback riding and white water rafting.
WHEN IN AOSTA VALLEY
When touring the quaint little villages of the Aosta Valley, spend an hour or two dining in a local eatery to sample traditional fare unique to the region.
Fontina cheese, made from local cow’s milk, is used for a wide variety of recipes. Most popular is the use of fontina in fondue-based dishes that are typically served just before or after a traditional soup dish consisting of cabbage, fontina cheese, and crusty rye bread.
No meal in the valley is complete without sampling some of the more than twenty wines that originate from the region. A few of the more popular wines include Arnad Montjovet, Enfer d’Arvier, Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle and Donnas. To get a bird’s eye view of how these wines are made, consider touring one of the local wineries and learning more about the process and the special grapes that grow in the sometimes-harsh climate.
If you’re looking to work off dinner, there are a variety of interesting things to do including touring local castes, horseback riding through the mountains, white water rafting through the valley, or even taking in one of the luxurious mountain spa and wellness centers. Cable cars offer spectacular views of the mountains for those who want to see the splendor and majesty without arduous climbing or hiking.
Don’t forget to look up at the star sprinkled night sky via the Aosta Astronomy Observatory for a view that is truly out of this world.
The Aosta Valley is one of Italy’s finest treasures, tucked away into the heart of stately mountains, and its simple natural beauty is something that will last a lifetime in the memories of those who visit.