Travel the Aosta Valley - Best Places to Visit, Maps, Pictures, Videos
The Aosta Valley is famous for skiing at Courmayeur, Cervinia and Gressoney, but there is much more to this region than winter sports. I love this beautiful area surrounded by unspoilt beauty with an abundance of forests, wild flowers and many castles in good condition.
The National Park of Gran Paradiso contains many rare animals and plants and the whole region is ideal for winter sports, especially at the ski resorts mentioned above. As for Aosta itself, the city takes its name from the Emperor Augustus, its founder in the year 24 B.C. and it contains substantial Roman buildings, including a remarkable theater.
Being such a small region, occupying just 100th of the national territory, the Aosta Valley is naturally also Italy's least populated due to the high and forbidding mountains. After all, it is here that the southern most slopes of the Alps can be found. Mount Blanc, Monte Rosa and the Matterhorn (called Monte Cervino here) can all be seen from the Aosta Valley region.
The Blue Lake and the Matterhorn (Monte Cervino) in the Aosta Valley
Despite its small size, the Valle d' Aosta, as it is known in Italian, is rich, not only in landscapes of rare, natural beauty, but also in admirable architectural monuments as well.
The Aosta Valley itself is made up of a series of Alpine valleys that converge on the central valley of the River Dora Baltea, the northern tributary of the Po, on whose banks lies the city of Aosta - the only center of true urban dimensions in the entire region.
The city of Aosta's illustrious Roman past is still clearly visible to visitors, offering significant testimony to the times of Augustus such as the imposing Arch of Augustus, erected after the city's foundation in 24 B.C., the ruins of the Theater and the remnants of the city walls that date back more than 2000 years.
The Middle Ages was also a particularly prosperous era for both the Aosta Valley and the city of Aosta, as they found themselves at the center of several major trading routes.
Two churches of immense beauty date back to the Middle Ages. The Duomo and the Collegiate of Sant' Orso are well worth visiting. I found the old slate shingles on the roof very beautiful. A timeless piece of architecture that works well with the heavy snowfalls they experience.
Collegiate of Sant'Orso, Aosta Valley
Following the course of the River Dora Baltea upstream, one finds much of the region's medieval heritage, such as the Castle of Fenis, built between 1337 and 1340, and, further on is the town of Saint Vincent, a spa town famous for its state licensed casinos and the Castle of Issogne. This elegant 15th century residence offers remarkable testimony to everyday medieval court life in the beautiful frescoes that can be found in its portico.
Where is the Aosta Valley?
The Aosta Valley can be found north of Piedmont in the very northwestern part of Italy and shares its borders with France and Switzerland.
Map of Aosta
courtesy of www.italy-weather-and-maps.com
1 Beautiful small Town to visit in the Aosta Valley
Aosta the town, is the capital of the Aosta Valley, and lies in the center of the region which is handy as this is the ideal place to stay to see the rest of the 11 valleys and their resorts.
Getting around Aosta is easy as it was built by the Romans on a grid and so most of the historic center is thankfully closed to traffic which allows you to wander around without worrying if you or the kids will be run over!
Via de Tillier is the main boulevard, west of Piazza Chanoux, and has a good selection of shops, bars, cafes and restaurants.
Top 6 Sites to see in Aosta are:
1) The Arch of Emperor Augustus
2) The Roman Theater
3) The Roman Amphitheater
4) Torre dei Balivi
5) The Church of Sant' Orso
6) The Catherdral (Duomo)
Gran Paradiso in the Aosta Valley
The Gran Paradiso is one of Italy's most spectacular national parks, 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.
I think that the best time to visit Aosta is when the Alpine wild flowers are out. Buttercups, gentians, campanulas, mountain vanilla, anemones and eldelweiss all put on an appearance in the spring to early summer and carpet the landscape.
Alpine flowers in the Gran Paradiso
Castles of the Aosta Valley
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. I hope you will like our choices of those to visit.
Fenis Castle (Castello di Fenis)
The top of the "castles to visit list" has to be the Fenis Castle found in the small village of the same name. It is one of the most magnificent medieval fortresses in the whole of Italy. There are square and round towers and embattlement walls.
The castle was started in the mid-14th century, but was added to well into the 15th century. Within the outer wall is a very pleasant courtyard with circular steps rising to a beautifully decorated frescoed gallery.
The beautiful Fenis Castle
Castle of Issogne
The Castle of Issogne is the other castle that I would recommend visiting. I enjoyed the frescoes on the walls of this castle that not only show the daily life of medieval times, but were also quite humorous in places. This window into times past is really interesting and one can only imagine the lives of those who were living there at the time.
There are several other other unique features of this castle. The first is the fountain in the shape of a pomegranate tree. The other is the graffiti that can be found all over the castle, but particularly in the portico of the courtyard, in the corridors and surrounding doors and windows of the castle. The graffiti is either in French, Latin, or Italian and was done by the people who lived in the castle and tells of romantic love, sadness of leaving the castle, money issues etc.
Traditional Aosta Festivals
There are many annual fairs and festivals in the Val d' Aosta but these are some of the main ones:
Fiera del Legno (Wood Fair), Donnas
This fair precedes the Sant' Orso Fair in Aosta as it happens on the penultimate Sunday of January in the little village of Donnas.
Here you can see the woodworkers displaying carved wooden rakes, spoons, kitchen and farming equipment, there are also the old wooden clogs that were given to the poor more than 1000 years ago. There are also courses that one can take in both carpentry and other crafts that are also showcased.
This fair takes places over the 2 days of the weekend, including the Friday where there are street processions, including a torchlight procession by the artisans, music, and traditional folk shows.
Sant 'Orso Fair, Aosta
At the end of January on the 30th and 31st there is the woodcarvers' festival called the Fiera di Sant' Orso. This fair has a very old history as it has been going since the Middle Ages when it is said that Saint Orso himself, who lived before the 9th century, stood in front of the Church of Sant' Orso and distributed wooden shoes and the like to the poor.
These days, not only can you see finely crafted wooden items including the wooden clog-like shoes, there are artisans of all types who present their crafts at the fair, leather work, lace, wrought iron, sculptures, woven goods along with a few other crafts. In addition, there is also folk dancing, Alpine music, and food and wine for tasting from the local areas.
Verrès Carnival, Verrès
This February carnival is a medieval pageant that has its roots in an event that happened in the town back in 1450 when the lady of Verrès castleCaterina 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.
Verres Carnival Aosta, Italy
Foire d'Etè or Summer Fair, Aosta
If you miss the Fiera di Sant' Orso in January then come to the Summer Fair which takes place in early August. Not only will you see a lot of the crafts here that are shown at the Fiera di Sant' Orso but there are also displays of dried flowers, salt paste and fabrics.
There is a similar fair held in Antey-Saint-Andrè in August.
Battle of the Queens Cow Festival, Aosta
Every year in October thousands gather to watch the cow fights. Known locally as the Bataille des Reines (Battle of the Queens) the festival watches cows lock horns in battle until on the 3rd Sunday in October the queen of the cows is crowned. This is a bloodless sport, and so all good fun where the losing cow is lead away just suffering from a bruised ego or probably more that of the owner. The queen is then put up for sale, selling for a handsome sum.
There are mini-battles that take place in the region through the months of August and September but the main event can be witnessed in the Croix-Noire arena in Aosta on the 3rd Sunday of October.
Two cows battling it out for the Queen of the Cows Festival
Aosta Ski Resorts
The Aosta Valley region is one of the few places in Italy where you can ski both winter and summer as the peaks have snow on them all year round. Pila is the largest ski area with more than 80 km of runs, including 10 km of cross-country skiing. It is serviced by 15 lifts, 4 cable ways, one of which is connected to the town of Aosta itself. It has a mixture of beginner slopes and black runs for the expert skier, so all levels of skiers are well catered for.
Courmayeur is one of the most picturesque skiing resorts in the Aosta Valley. It is also the most expensive so be prepared to dig deep into your pockets. Courmayeur lies in the shadow of the Mont Blanc and has more than 140 km of down-hill and cross-country runs and many summer activities too, including summer skiing, horse riding, hang-gliding, canoeing and many mountain paths for hiking.
Spectacular scenery from the cable cars in the Gran Paradiso
The Valtournenche Valley that stretches from the Aosta Valley to Monte Cervino has many smaller ski areas that are considerably cheaper, and probably offers some of the best skiing in Europe. However, the town itself is unattractive and a little seedy, and only worth visiting if you want go skiing.
Highlights of the Aosta Valley
The Mount Blanc tunnel that was opened in 1965. It was closed in 1999 after a truck caught fire in the tunnel and 39 people died. It reopened 3 years later.
Courmayeur and the Mount Blanc mountain. The resorts here are open both summer and winter.
The Matterhorn mountain - the southern approach at Cervino and Brevil is within the region and is still popular with skiers and climbers.
The Gran Paradiso National Park
The St. Vincent Casino - only one of four in Italy. It also has a thermal spa in the lower valley.
The 70 castles dotting the landscape
The city of Aosta at an altitude of 583 meters.
Slow Food Italy - Aosta Valley
The food in the Aosta region is based largely on the local cheese Fontina, a curious cross between Gouda and Brie. It is a semi-hard cheese that has a rather nutty, sweet taste that is very pleasant. The other food that the region is known for is pork lard.
Shopping in the Aosta Valley
There are a number of shops along Via Porte Pretoriane that sell the carved traditional wooden shoes, tiny wooden houses and ceremonial pots. Because of the high concentration of artisans in the area you can also find outlets that sell lace, leather work, wrought iron, woven cloth and sports equipment.
The climate for the Aosta Region is affected by the high altitude, averaging 8 degrees celcius at Courmayeur below Mont Blanc, 1o degrees celcius at Aosta in mid-valley, and 12 degrees celcius at St. Vincent lower down. There is a lot of rain in the fall and winter provides a lot of good snow for the ski slopes.
Temperatures in Celcius (high)
Temperatures in Celcius(low)
Hours of Sunshine
Depth of Rain
Month of Year
Getting to the Aosta Valley
Getting to Val d'Aosta by car:
The A5 from Turin and Milan ends east of the of Aosta and continues along its northern edge as Via Roma and then Via Parigi, which connects with the Mont Blanc tunnel. Viale Gran San Bernardo, also to the north, connects Aosta with the Great St. Bernard Tunnel and Switzerland.
There are several large car parks if you are visiting the town of Aosta with one opposite the railway station which is very handy.
Getting to Val d'Aosta by train:
Aosta town is serviced by trains from most parts of Italy, via Turin and Milan. Most travelers to and from Milan must change at Chivass. There is a limited train service from Aosta to Pre-St Didier, about 5km from Courmayeur.
Getting to Val d'Aosta by plane:
Aosta has a small airport which services commuter flights, otherwise the airports at Turin and Genoa are both about an hour away by car.
Travel Videos for the Aosta Valley
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