3 Nights in Aosta Valley, The Italian Side of the Alps
From Villa Tiboldi in Canale, Italy, in the Piemonte Region, we plotted our route to Aosta Valley for our next leg of exploration in the Italian Alps region. It was a pretty drive, transitioning from rolling hills with vineyards to meadows and hills, to mountainous terrain with medieval castles and fortresses dotting the hilltops
We arrived in Aosta and did a quick walk around the city’s pretty main street. Pictured below is the Arch of Augustus, an honorary arch dedicated to the Emperor Augustus. You can learn more about the history of Aosta at their tourism website: http://www.lovevda.it/en/database/8/roman-architecture/aosta/arch-of-augustus/728The Tourist Office is beside the Porta Praetoria, the city’s main gates built in 25 B.C. You can spend the day shopping from their unique boutiques, clothing stores, etc., and of course so many restaurants, cafes and gelato and pastry shops to eat or relax. It is such a beautiful city! I loved all the geraniums and cool wood carved sculptures scattered throughout the city.
We wound our way up the switch-back roads to find our vacation rental that was perched high up on the valley side. Our Airbandb host Gian met us there, and was so friendly and nice! https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/22246590?eal_exp=1555023336&eal_sig=39ec16ba89a634e0ab6e16c745b320515628c58e617fb9ed0ab3e8c6fc6882ae&eal_uid=38773163&euid=64692fde-4041-ff06-61ea-8479dded1a02&guests=1&adults=1Gian opened the door to our little chalet-style house and WOW!!! Look at that view!! The house was perfect for us with one bedroom, comfortable living room, well appointed kitchen and a large balcony. We highly recommend this fabulous rental!
However to get to the apartment, and really anywhere in this region, you need to be a BRAVE driver and have a good navigator. We’ve learned to “free style” navigate as many times the GPS doesn’t catch up with you, will miss turns, get confused on switchbacks, and start spinning in circles. Experiment with setting your route on Google Maps, start the route and then exit it. It should continue to show your planned route and will have a little circle with you on it and a beam facing the direction you are going. Instead of having the navigation running and getting confused, it just shows your movement in real time, so you can watch your route. Here’s a sample of driving to our apartment…
There are soooo many amazing castles and fortresses in Aosta Valley that you could spend weeks visiting them all. The valley was a historic crossroads through the mountains throughout history. We drove around the valley a bit to get oriented that afternoon, then back to the apartment to enjoy sunset over the valley with some excellent wine.
And sunrise… Again, What a view! So peaceful – here’s a quick video view.
Time to get out and explore – back down the mountain road – so glad Wally’s a good driver! He has fun driving these roads!
Our destination on this clear beautiful day was up on the Mont Blanc/ Monte Bianco Skyway. Some sights along the way to Courmayeur.
Time to go UP the mountain! We got our tickets and waited for the next cable car to arrive. The car rotated 360 degrees and had cool music as you ascended. There’s a panoramic terrace you can hang out or depart from for hikes, a cafe and bar, a crystal exhibition of crystals found in the mountains and some movies on the history of the Skyway. It’s COLD up there, so be sure and take a jacket or coat if you want to stay long. We were so fortunate that it had been windy the day before, producing a clear day for our ascent. https://www.montebianco.com/en
I got a Moscow Mule in the bar and was able to let it chill in the snow while taking pictures. It was so cold my hands started going numb (as usual in the cold). The crystals were amazing! Here’s a quick panoramic video view from the top platform.
Back down to the bottom, we were hungry and it didn’t take us long to find La Palud Ristorante Pizzeria and it was amazing! Ahhh… Italian food and wine heaven in the Alps! They had a fresh basket of porcini mushrooms awaiting selection from diners. http://www.lapalud.it/
After lunch, we drove just up the road to find some trails to hike and see the scenery. Here’s a link to an interactive website that has maps and information on hiking trails in the area, as well as hiker’s comments. https://www.alltrails.com/italy/aosta-valley/courmayeur/hiking
As we were walking on a trail by a stream, I spied the cow tourism mascot having a photo shoot on the bridge and got to get a hug.
We drove further up into the valley “Val Ferret”, where The Golf Course of Courmayeur and Grandes Jorasses, a 9-hole course is located along the Dora River. Find out more about Courmayeur at their website: https://www.lovecourmayeur.com/
Tired, we retreated back to our amazing little chalet to watch night fall…
We awoke the next morning to clouds and drizzle. I walked around our neighborhood, admiring the gardens and views. I just love those slate roofs!
Although it was yucky weather, castles and mountain meadows were on our agenda for the day. Our first stop was at the Castello di Sarre/ Sarre Royal Castle, located on the main road through the Aosta Valley. This building was built in 1710, and King of Italy Victor Emanuel II had it renovated and resided here while on his hunting expeditions in the Val d’Aosta. This was his “hunting lodge,” and several great halls featured his collection of ibex and chamois trophies he had hunted in the area, along with beautiful painted designs. There is a nice collection of family paintings scattered throughout the castle, along with memorabilia. Our guide spoke good English, and we enjoyed learning about the castle and King Emanuel’s family. This is a “manly” castle and men that like the outdoors and hunting will enjoy it!
You can learn more about this castle and all the others in the valley at: http://www.lovevda.it/en/database/8/castles-and-towers/sarre/sarre-royal-castle/1131
Leaving the castle, our next destination was up into the valleys where King Emanuel traveled to go on his hunts. It is now the Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso and nature lovers will enjoy exploring this amazing area. We explored the village of Cogne and walked along their meadow trail for a bit. There was a bike race going on that day and the town was full of racers and their families. Learn more about Cogne at: http://www.cogne.org/
The meadows were blooming with so many kinds of wildflowers!
Hungry, we searched the town for where to eat and decided on Ristorante Sant’Orso in the Hotel Sant’Orso, as they had a view of the meadows. http://www.hotelsantorso.com/en/
It took a while, but the wine was good and the food was sooo worth the wait. Melt-in-your-mouth delicious!!
After lunch, we drove further up the valley to the next hamlet to see the Lillaz Waterfalls. You park next to the bridge at the stream, and walk through the tiny town to the trail head marked by a beautifully carved Jesus on the cross. This is such a quaint little hamlet, and I bet it’s bustling in the winter during ski season. http://www.lovevda.it/en/database/7/lakes-waterfalls/cogne/lillaz-waterfalls/1233
The weather had cleared by the time we got back to our chalet, so we rested a bit and then drove back down the hill to walk around the town of Aosta. We got our tickets to see the Roman ruins that are scattered throughout town, and as it was nearing dusk, did a fast tour. You can check out all the history and info at: http://www.lovevda.it/en/database/8/roman-architecture/aosta/roman-theatre/736
I dodged in and out of shops as we walked through town to the various Roman sites, and you could spend several days shopping this lovely town! There was a local food market with vendors set up under a portico on one of the main piazzas.
There was one shop I was drawn into that was a treasure trove for those that love to dig for antique and vintage treasures, unfortunately, they were closing for the day!
We picked up dessert from a pastry shop, and made our way back up the windy roads for our last evening in Aosta. We could have spent a week or two here, exploring all the castles, towns and nature. Tomorrow it’s onward through the tunnel to Chamonix, France, on the other side of the Alps.