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Bis Travel Aosta Valley
Aosta Valley is the smallest region in Italy; in its northwest, it is located between France and Switzerland. At its core are its majestic peaks (the region is, after all, mostly mountainous). Here we can find the highest peaks in the Alps: Cervino, Monte Rosa, Gran Paradiso and the king of them all, Mont Blanc, which at 15,781 feet is the highest mountain in Europe, the roof of the old Continent.
Those who are not familiar with mountaineering can use the comfortable, yet thrilling, cable car; catch it just a few miles from Courmayeur, one of the most important ski resorts in the world.
In this setting of stately mountains and diverse valleys sits the oldest National Park, the Gran Paradiso, where it is still possible to see animals in their natural habitat – ibex, chamois, eagles and marmots live in vegetation that changes according to the surrounding environment.
Historically, the Aosta Valley has been viewed as land of contact and conjuncture between Italy and France; such is also reflected in its official bilingualism and its special status as autonomous region. The great modern tunnels of Gran San Bernardo and, even more so, those under Mont Blanc – extraordinary engineering masterpieces that run to France – highlight even more clearly this aspect of intersection between Italy and the rest of Europe.
When we think about the Aosta Valley, we immediately think of the ski slopes of Cervinia, Courmayeur and Pila, famous all over Europe and the destination for anyone who loves skiing, trekking, snowboarding and ice skating. This region offers amazing natural attractions, but other cultural and traditional treasures also abound.
Those who come from the south can use the symbolic entrance represented by the municipality of Pont Saint Martin, starting point of the road that penetrates into the beautiful Gressoney Valley. The first century BCE Roman Bridge, over which the old consular road to Aosta used to pass, is an example of the Roman influence on this territory.
Along the valley that goes from Pont Saint Martin to Courmayeur, we can count 82 buildings that stand on the valley like sentinels, including primitive fortifications, military fortresses, residences and watchtowers. These are evidence of the region’s rich feudal history, and offer visitors the opportunity to follow an incredibly-engaging and interesting route. The most famous castle in the Aosta Valley is the Castello di Fénis, which looks austere but is in fact a collection of the best defence techniques of the time; its refined interiors reveal the wealth of its former occupants. Other beautiful castles are the Castle of Issogne, Sarriod de la Tour, Sarre, Saint-Pierre, and Ussel, to name but a few.
The road plotted by the castles leads to Aosta, a mix of Roman and Medieval history, and enriched by picturesque traditions.
This essentially Roman city shows some visible signs of that period, with important monuments such as the Arch of Augustus, the Praetorian Gate and the city walls, on which you can walk, taking a long and pleasant stroll for almost the entire length. 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.
The fair that takes place every year in Aosta at the end of January is dedicated to St. Orso as well. Thousands of tourists fill the decorated streets of the old town, which shows off the oldest crafts of Aosta Valley, from sculpture to wood, wrought iron to hot stone, leather, wool fabrics and lace, and games and masks.
In any season of the year, visiting Monte Rosa, practicing sports on its slopes, or simply walking along the paths to reach the top, you will enjoy the enchanting and magical surroundings that are created by the interplay of light, colors and hues that cover your way. A number of sports can be enjoyed on Monte Rosa and in its valleys; the three valleys of Ayas, Gressoney and Valsesia are the hub of one of Italy’s largest ski resorts. Cross-country skiing, mountain skiing and snowboarding can all be enjoyed in the coldest season, while climbing, rafting, canoeing, hiking and mountain biking are the options during the warmer months.
To admire the beauty of the glaciers, Punta Helbronner is a magnificent terrace where you can take in the stunning views.
A cable car will carry you up to Mont Fréty, where you can visit the Pavillon du Mont Fréty Natural Oasis, a large protected area that is home to numerous examples of mountain fauna; it houses the Saussurea Mountain Garden, one of the highest mountain gardens in Europe, with more than 900 plant species of wild flowers from Mont Blanc and other mountain ranges around the world.
During the summer, trekking lovers will appreciate the paths that unwind inside the Oasis, ideal for with nature and admiring the magnificence of the landscape. If you would want to see Mont Blanc from above, you can experience the thrill of a hot-air balloon flight and practically skim the mountaintops!
For those who love good wine, the Aosta Valley offers a wine trail, directing tourists to vineyards and wineries in order to discover the different grape varieties that grow in sometimes harsh conditions.
The regional food of the Aosta Valley is hearty, creative and composed of authentic flavors. Some regional specialties are carbonada, (stewed meat with wine, onions and spices), and mocetta (dried beef or ibex seasoned with mountain herbs).
Salami is 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.
The cheeses are equally-excellent, including the renowned Fontina Dop, used for many recipes like fondue, which is served before or after the typical soup of the Aosta Valley (made with cabbage, Savoy cabbage, fontina cheese and stale rye bread).
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.
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.