AOSTE A holiday in Italy conjures up visions of escaping cold, grey winters for a sunnier and warmer clime. The Meteo even reports sunnier weather in Italian-speaking Ticino right here in Switzerland. Nevertheless, just on the other side of the Mont Blanc tunnel, in Italy’s Val d’Aoste, the weather can sometimes be colder than in the Valais or the French Alps. This means that Val d’Aoste ski resorts often have better ski conditions lasting well into Easter week, as was the case this year.
Visitors have access to four peaks of over 4,000 metres: Mont Blanc, Matterhorn, Monte Rosa and Gran Paradiso. They will also find Roman ruins, mineral spas, fabulous wine and food and few tourists. The style and quality of the shops along the cobblestone pedestrian streets of Courmayeur testify to the influence of visitors from Turin and Milan, yet the prices are more affordable than in neighbouring France or Switzerland.
Courmayeur comes to life on market days and most evenings when shops and bars burst with life. An apero in the Val d’Aoste usually means a copious complementary plate of local sausage and Fontina cheese. There’s no problem meeting the locals. They don’t yet have foreigner-phobia and welcome arrivals to cafés and taverns with a boisterous “Ciao, benvenuto, vieni!”
When the snow melts and the sun comes out to stay, hiking in the Val d’Aoste is sublime, with access to the 165km Tour du Mont Blanc, the Gran Paradiso national park, and two high-altitude trails. The Gran Paradiso is home to protected species such as marmot, chamois and ibex and some hikers have even glimpsed a rare ermine, ptarmigan or golden eagle.
From 1530 the valley was part of Savoy and later the Kingdom of Sardinia (along with Carouge) until it joined Italy in 1861. Mussolini imposed a programme of Italianization, but it gained special autonomous status after World War II. Today this semi-autonomous region is officially bi-lingual (Italian and French) but many villages still speak a Franco-Provençal patois called Valdôtain. More and more young people in the larger towns now speak English.
In one of Italy’s most sparsely populated areas, the soaring peaks, hidden valleys and glaciers of the Val d’Aoste with their abundant wildlife are a wilderness waiting to be explored. And most conveniently, the region is just 90 minutes away from Geneva.