Aosta Valley – A Graceful Mountain Region
The magnificent peaks of the Italian Alps, numerous castle complexes as well as rural traditions are characteristic of the Aosta Valley. This northern region shows Italy in a different light and rather impresses with mountain villages, winter sports and cheese than with beaches, sun and sea.
Geography - Italy's smallest region
The Aosta Valley (Italian: Valle d'Aosta) is a region in Northern Italy which borders on Switzerland in the north, France in the west and on Piedmont in the south and east. With an area of 3,262 km² and about 130,000 inhabitants, the region with Aosta as its only province is the country's smallest and least populous one. It is mainly characterised by the Alps with the Mont Blanc (4,810 m), the Monte Rosa (4,634 m), the Matterhorn (4,478 m) and the Gran Paradiso (4,061 m) as well as the valley of the Dora Baltea. The climate in the region is a temperate mountain climate with mild summers and cool winters. Due to the extreme heights, heavy precipitation and patches of fog may occur.
Nature - The impressive peaks of the Alps
The landscape of the Aosta Valley is dominated by glaciers (250 in number), glacial lakes, great forests, the scenic valleys of the Dora Baltea and impressive mountain peaks. Several of the highest mountains in the Alps are located in this region such as the Mont Blanc (Italian: Monte Bianco) - the highest Italian and European mountain - the Monte Rosa, the Matterhorn and the Gran Paradiso. The latter is located in the country's oldest national park, the Parco nazionale del Gran Paradiso. It was founded in 1922 and is home to ibexes, chamois, eagles and marmots, which you can watch in the wild. Furthermore, the region contains a regional park (Parco Naturale del Monte Avic) and other smaller nature reserves.
Culture - A region full of castles
The Aosta Valley was originally settled by the Celts before it was successively ruled by the Romans, East Goths, Burgundians, Langobards and Franks from 25 BC on. From the 11th century on, the region was part of the territory of the House of Savoy. During this time, French and Franko-Provençal were spoken in the Aosta Valley. The French language has a special status in the region to the present day, which it kept after the Italian Fascism (1922 to 1943). On a trip through the Aosta Valley, you see rural architecture in the form of farmhouses made of wood and stone on the one hand and numerous castles and fortresses on the other. In relation to its size, the Aosta Valley is the country's region with the highest density of castles. 82 medieval castles decorate the landscape altogether, for example in Fénis, Verrès and Issogne. The castle complexes Sarriod de la Tour, Sarre, Saint-Pierre and Ussel also astonish their visitors.
Experience - Branded cheese
The Aosta Valley is one of the most wealthy Italian regions. It is most of all known for its skiing areas Courmayeur and Breuil-Cervinia but also for its excellent wine-growing regions and the popular fontina cheese. This branded cheese is a common ingredient for many local dishes. Furthermore, meat from chamois, ibexes and oxen is used to prepare dishes like carbonade (ox meat with red wine and onions) or mocetta (dried ibex or chamois meat with local herbs) in the Aosta Valley.
Activities - Hiking and skiing in the Italian Alps
Many tourists travel the Aosta Valley because of its wonderful skiing areas and glaciers. The winter sports regions Courmayeur and Breuil-Cerbinia as well as the valleys Val d'Ayas and Gressoney constitute a true paradise for winter sportspeople. Besides snowboarding, downhill and cross-country skiing you can also go curling, ice skating or snowshoe hiking. In summer, the mountains transform into an eldorado for hiking, mountaineering and mountain biking as well as for rafting and canoe tours.
European tourists best reach the Aosta Valley by car or train. There is an airport near the capital Aosta but great passenger planes do not arrive there. The best time for ski holidays is without question the winter. If you want to explore the region by going hiking, you best visit it in autumn. That season is not only the beginning of the grape harvest but also the time during which the beautiful mountain landscape transforms into a sea of colours.
A trip to the Aosta Valley promises a unique natural and cultural experience. Travellers who want to get to know Italy away from the typical Mediterranean beach and want to explore the landscape of the beautiful Italian Alps instead will not be disappointed in this mountainous region.