The Aosta Valley in the North Western Alpine region of Italy is a stop that should be added somewhere near to the top of your list and is yet another one of those places that I could see out my existence – I’m aware that I say that about a lot of places. This region is home to the biggest names of the Alps, Monte Rosa, the beautiful National Park of the Gran Paradiso and of course Monte Bianco – perhaps you’ve heard of that one. This valley and its breathtaking peaks will have you in awe the whole year round and the region boasts a wide variety of outdoor activities for you to try. If you’re more of one to watch the world go by then this region also offers some beautiful villages, incredible Roman ruins and of course delicious Italian food and coffee. Everyone is set. There are very few reasons for you to complain, if any.
Aosta, the largest town in this valley, is still steeped in its Roman and medieval heritage. The town itself is still enveloped in Roman walls and the East and South gates are still completely in tact. Its streets are lined with excellent shops and restaurants and glancing up you’ll see the towering Alps casting their shadows over the town. From the centre of Aosta you can also catch the cable car up to the ski resort of Pila, renowned in the winter for its ski in ski out ease.
Perhaps you’ve heard of Courmayeur considering it is one of the most well known ski resorts in Italy, not to mention at the foot of the towering Monte Bianco. The town itself is pedestrianised, boasting narrow cobbled streets lots of great spots for food (some of the best restaurants in the Alps), shopping and that all important après. The terrain is brilliant year round for those that want to keep the rosiness in their cheeks. A lift pass in the winter here will also give you access to the Chamonix and Argentière ski areas meaning you’re spoilt for choice and can access all kinds of levels of terrain – from beginner to some insanely crazy off piste, plus the 20km Vallée Blanche.
If you’re going in the summer then this area will also not disappoint you. Despite being an avid skier I would go as far as to say the Alps are far more beautiful in the summer. There are lots of opportunities for hiking and mountain biking and Courmayeur is a great stop for the Monte Bianco tour. From Courmayeur I headed up to the Rifugio Bonatti, named after the famous mountaineer, here you can get a good look the Bonatti face of Monte Bianco, and is a great spot for a short hike or alternatively a long trek.
Cogne is one of those Alpine towns that will most certainly charm your little heart. This is an area perfect for the outdoorsman or for those people that want to add a postcard shot to their collection. In the summer, Cogne boasts wide green meadows decked with colourful wild flowers and pitched against huge glaciers. In the winter, it turns into a snowy wonderland. It’s a popular tourist spot year round, particularly for ice climbers. From Cogne, you can head up to Valnontey to enter into the Gran Paradiso, but do make sure you jump out of the car here even if you’re heading straight for the great outdoors, as this is a very cute little town for you to soak up.
If you head towards the town of Lillaz from here then go and check out the Lillaz waterfalls if you’re in the mood for a short stroll. There is some rock climbing you can do here as well. For a longer stretch of the legs there are an abundance of walks you can do from Lillaz – I personally headed up to the Lago di Louie and then on to the Val di Bardoney. I would definitely recommend you jumping in this little lake because it’s a pretty steep incline to get up to it and you’ll be a tad sweaty. I would also like to point out that it’s really cold. If you loop back around to Lillaz from here you’ll go via the waterfalls.
If you head towards Valnontey, again there are a lot of treks you can embark upon. The Gran Paradiso is filled with lots of refuges to stay over in without actually coming down the mountain – I stayed in Rifugio Vittorio Sella, which I would recommend. The walks up here have views that will take your breath away, literally. I have excellent memories of sitting on a bright green meadow, eating a tomato like an apple and staring non-stop at the glacier – I could not look away. I don’t think I said a word.
I’m definitely not the person to be telling you what walks to do because I’m one of those people that gets lost even when they know the place – it happens often, you can ask any friend that’s ever left me in charge of a map when hiking- guarantee I took us in the wrong direction, so me giving you any vague directions will probably not end so great for either of us. But what I can suggest is that you get yourself a map, get yourself a guide to hiking in the Gran Paradiso and go for it. Some good starting locations are, as I’ve mentioned: Courmayeur, Aosta, Pila, Cogne, Lillaz, Pont and Valnontey, though there are plenty more.
The Aosta Valley and Gran Paradiso are places you should be visiting whatever the season.
Make sure you munch on:
Fontina cheese – This is genuinely my favourite cheese so this will be very biased. But eat it, it’s really something.