Riserva del

Gran Paradiso

Riserva del

Gran Paradiso

Paradise, and Aptly Named

Originally part of the Savoy hunting grounds, Italy's oldest national park boasts an impressive area of pristine nature. Over 170,000 square meters of lakes, snow-capped mountain peaks and grassy meadows dazzle visitors with their surreal colours while, just outside the park's grounds, incredible castles and mountain heritage survive the passing of time.

Thanks to our grandfathers: Regione Valle d'Aosta.

Discover all the excellence in this Riserva

  • Places & Landscapes
  • Culture
  • Food & Wine
  • Craft
  • Passionate Individuals
  • Industry

A Feast for the Eyes

The Lillaz Waterfalls

With their stunning beauty the Lillaz Waterfalls are a popular destination for those who spend their holidays in Cogne and for all ice climbers, experts or beginners alike.

In summer the path leading to this wonderful site is a must for all tourists visiting the valley, while in winter the waterfalls freeze solid, thus becoming an ice-climbing wall.

To reach the multi-step waterfalls you can park the car in the lot in Lillaz, walk past the Urtier stream and, leaving the village behind, take the trail walking along the stream. After a short and easy walk surrounded by unspoilt nature you will reach the first falls. If you continue along the path, which gets a bit steeper as you go, you will find a wooden bridge: after the bridge is a 1745 metres high plateau from where the third plunge can be seen. 

As you admire the crystal clear water you will enjoy spectacular fountain effects spotting the different layers of rock that created the waterfalls.

It's also a great way to get a glimpse of Gran Paradiso so do remember to include this short hike when next visiting the valley.

Coming back will be easier: a proper road, luckily closed to the traffic, will lead you back to the village, where you can enjoy a drink and taste some delicious local food.

Because of their location and exposition, the waterfalls cannot be climbed at all times - even if they appear solid - and it is essential to gather all the necessary information before you start the climb.

Any suggestions ?

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One Thread, One Land

Soc. Coop. Les Tisserands

There are places that are particularly connected with the history and the activities of the people who inhabit them. Places and activities that challenge the comfort and the dictates of modern economic practices to preserve and pass on centuries-old knowledge and values.

One of these places is undoubtedly Valgrisenche, a small town at 1600 metres above sea level, known as the Pays des Tisserands.

It isn't difficult to guess the origin of the name: here, for almost five centuries, people have been weaving Drap: a warm fabric perfect for the cold winters in this almost untouched alpine side valley, just 30 minutes from Aosta.

It was not unusual in the past for the local villagers, the vagrezén, to remain isolated during the entire winter.

To pass the time and protect themselves from the cold they would weave: this is the origin of the Pays des Tisserands, the weavers' village. Entire families would gather and weave, usually in the stables, which was the warmest area of the house because of the animals. Parents and children alike would participate in this activity while, contrary to popular belief, the actual weaving was mainly a men's job because of the heavy weight of the looms.

Up until the end of the 19th century weaving was not only a leisure activity but also a proper commercial trade and therefore was practiced also after the snow had melted and the paths were accessible again.

World War II and the construction of the Beauregard Dam brought the activity to a halt and almost to extinction. The last weaver, Joseph-Julien Frassy, died in 1952.

Thanks to the efforts of the regional administration and local representatives the Draps Cooperative was founded in 1969.

The main purpose of this cooperative is to preserve the cultural, artistic and social tradition of the weaving craft through the exhibit "Lo Drap: l’anima tessile di una comunità" ("Drap: the textile soul of a community"). They offer guided tours to the Atelier, weaving classes and, above all, they create drap clothing, accessories and home textiles.

Today the cooperative is known as Les Tisserands and it consists of three women. Although faithful to tradition and firmly rooted, they are also interested in following more modern trends and always ready to try new patterns and new colour combinations in order to offer a wider range of products.

Since 2002 the connection between the cooperative and the territory has become even stronger, as they chose to use only wool from the Valle d'Aosta local breed, Rosset, for their clothes and home accessories.

There is a strong thread binding Valgrisenche and the drap: without the drap we wouldn't talk about Les Tisserands and, at the same time, the tradition, history and ancient art of drap weaving couldn't exist anywhere else than in Valgrisenche.

The cooperative does not offer an online store but you'll find pictures of some of their beautiful products and useful information about their activities and projects, as well as opening times, on their website www.lestisserands.it.

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500 Years Under One Roof

Maison Bruil

A few kilometres from Aosta, in the village of Introd, stands Maison Bruil, one of the few and most relevant examples of a multi-functional rural house. This means that all areas that had to do with rural life, whether for people or animals, were placed under the same roof.

The main structure was built in 1680 and had several enhancements over the years until 1856, when the various areas of the house were joined, giving the building its present shape. 

Maison Bruil was built with mountain architectural materials typical of the Valle d'Aosta. The stone pillars are the main feature of the structure, which is completed with entirely wooden parts and a typical flagstone roof.

Thanks to extensive restoration the house is now a local history museum and can be visited by the public.

Visitors can access the crotta (ice cellar), the crotteun, the peillo (kitchen), the drying areas and the loft room, thus getting an idea of traditional architecture patterns while travelling back in time.

The museum also has an exhibition called ‘conserver le souvenir … se souvenir pour conserver’ (preserve the memories…remember in order to preserve). The exhibit focuses on traditional products and the evolution of food preservation methods such as drying, cooling or salting across the centuries.

Another interesting section of the museum is the Atelier du Gout, a showcase for typical food products from the Gran Paradiso Area, to which Introd constitutes a proper entrance gate. Visiting this exhibit allows tourists to learn about the production techniques and the socio-cultural context where these products are created. 

Guided tours and tastings are organised and visitors can meet the actual farmers, craftsmen, dairy and wine producers that are a vital part of the production process.

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Between the Waters

Introd Castle and hamlet

Set in Introd, a pleasant mid-mountain village at the foot of Gran Paradiso National Park, the town's castle is a beautiful edifice, whose phases of construction, improvement, restoration and expansion took place from the 12th all the way to the 20th century.

The name of the village where the castle lies comes from French Entre Eaux, which means between waters.

Introd lies, in fact, between the Savara creek and the river Dora of Rhêmes. In medieval times it was a fief within the estate of the Lords of Sarriod and their castle still stands on a rocky headland between the two water streams.

Pierre and Jean, the founders of the noble families Sarriod de La Tour and Introd, were heirs of Marco of Bard, a member of the fierce and indomitable Bard family who controlled the strategically valuable castle of Bard. In 1242 the powerful and authoritarian Savoy set out to gain hold of the castle, starting a terrible war: Marco decided not to take part in the conflict, thus saving the Introd fiefdom. 

Little is known about the original castle of Introd, which probably dated back to the 12th century.

At the end of the 13th century the building was extended and elegant features were added to combine the more refined taste of its lord, Pierre with the needs of a military stronghold. 

Today the imposing tower rises above a polygonal, almost circular, surrounding wall, like a curious child standing on tiptoes trying to see the world outside. The tower, with the kitchen and a portion of the wall, are the only survivors of terrible 19th century fires.

The elegant interior that we now admire is the product of restauration works that took place at the beginning of the 20th century by architect Giovanni Chevalley, who wanted to give the castle its antique dignity "by putting in a little bit of everything. A little of Fénis, something from Issogne, a touch of Sarre, a taste of Gressoney… a real cocktail of medieval Valle d'Aosta architecture".

Introd manor now resembles a brief guide book to the most important castles in the valley: make it a game to spot details from all the other castles mentioned.

Further 15th century buildings make Introd an enchanted place: the granary, with its peculiar lock depicting a castle with towers and the Ola, an extraordinary farm that inspired the train station of the Valle d'Aosta.

Let the magic of the castle and the village transport you and free yourself of the stress of our modern life. The area offers wonderful hiking or mountain-bike paths in summer, amazing itinerary for snow-racket trips in winter and is an ideal holiday destination all year round.

A curiosity: Both Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI repeatedly chose the area of Les Combes, near Introd, as their summer destination, alternating between relaxing mountain hikes and intense moments of prayer, reading and meditation. The Maison Musée Jean Paul II in Les Combes was founded in memory of the pope, who loved the Valle d'Aosta so much: inside you'll find personal objects he used during his stays in the valley and a collection of photos and documents from important moments of his pontificate.

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Dining like Noblemen

Avise Castle

After a pleasant time spent skiing or hiking, what better way to end the day than with an aperitif in a unique and elegant setting? If you agree then Avise, a small village only a few kilometres from Courmayeur, is the right place for you!

The lovely medieval centre of the village can be reached after crossing a majestic bridge, leaving the main road behind. A few beautiful small houses, a church and two castles make up the small hamlet.

The more illustrious castle, the castle of Avise, will welcome you as you enter.

The building, erected in 1492, has three floors with an adjacent quadrangular tower.

You'll be greeted by the ancient owners through a writing carved on the entrance gate "Qui tost Avise tart se repent” (those who think first will not repent). This precious sign of wisdom allowed the Avise to preserve their independence: they were one of the few families who did not subject to the Savoy.

Upon entering you'll notice a large room with a fireplace and antique furniture.

On the first floor two more rooms will catch your eye: the "coffer room" and the "panels room". The latter is particularly fascinating, with its 14 wooden panels carved with figures in 15th –century costumes, animals and monsters.

This is not a castle like the others, only alive during visits or special events. The castle of Avise hosts a wine shop called "I signori di Avise" and a restaurant on the first floor called "La chiave del gusto", where you can enjoy delicious meals treated like a nobleman.

A unique suite has also been created for guests who want to experience the extra luxury of spending the night in the castle.

There are other treasures in the village; for example, a short stroll will lead you to the older, 11th century castle - the castle of Blonay, first residence of the lords of Avise.

Not far is the church dedicated to San Brizio, built upon the ruins of an older, smaller church. The attractive bell tower dates back to the 15th century.

According to tradition there was an ancient church, dedicated to Saint Martin, standing along the old Roman road on the other side of the village, beyond the river Dora Baltea.

This was a strategic area close to the Pierre Taillée Gorge, on the way to France and therefore an important point of defence towards the Little St Bernard Pass.

If you decide to spend more time in Avise after having visited the castle and hamlet, you can take the easy downhill path that in ten minutes will lead you to the bridge on the Dora Baltea. 

The bridge was destroyed twice over the centuries, once in 1595 and again in 1680. It was rebuilt in 1780 and remained the only way to cross the river until 1953, when the new road bridge was erected.

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A Park in Paradise

Gran Paradiso National Park

The Gran Paradiso National Park was created in 1856 by appointment of King Vittorio Emanuele as a royal hunting reserve in order to preserve the last surviving colony of alpine ibex or steinbock.

To protect the local fauna the king even established a corps of specialised rangers and commissioned the construction of a road network.

His grandson, Vittorio Emanuele III, gifted the reserve to the Italian State in 1920 so that it could become a national park. Gran Paradiso National Park was established in 1922 and was in fact the first Italian national park.

The park covers an area of 70,000 hectares, in a high mountainous area, rising from 800m at the bottom of the valley to the 4,061m peak at mount Gran Paradiso.

The scenery in the park is idyllic, with spruce and larch woods, alpine pastures, rocks and glaciers which are inhabited by ibex, deer, chamois, eagles, groundhogs, foxes, stoats and wolves… you'll feel closer to paradise than ever before! 

Between mid-June and mid-July the botanical garden Paradisia in Valnoney will allow you to admire an unforgettable show of over one thousand varieties of blooming flowers, especially the Paradies Liliastrum, the marvellous white lily that grows in the alpine meadows giving its name to the garden.

The vastness of the park offers a wide range of itineraries for all ages and abilities. These excursions will be a unique opportunity to come close to the beautiful inhabitants of the Alps and to learn about them in the three visitor centres of Cogne, Valsavarenche and Rhêmes-Notre-Dame.

In the latter you'll find exciting information about the bearded vulture or lammergeyer, the largest vulture in Europe that only recently has returned to fly in the skies of the park. Vera, the youngest offspring, was born in the park in March 2016.

Whether you are looking for demanding hikes or easy walks, extreme sports or relaxing days in the sun, you'll find the right place in this wide and beautiful park. Check the park's website for information about hotels, restaurants and attractions and to learn about upcoming events in the area.

Tip: Visit the royal Sarre Castle at the foot of the Cogne Valley to immerse yourself in a past where park and royal family were intimately linked. The castle was purchased by Vittorio Emanuele II in 1869 and became the king's "head Quarters" for the organisation of the grandiose hunting campaigns. Surrounded by thousands of ibex and chamois horns which decorate the walls and the ceiling you'll be able to feel the king's great passion for the grand and wild nature of Gran Paradiso.

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Dare to Look?

Sarriod de La Tour Castle

Who wouldn't like to be a child again and forget, if just for one moment, the problems of adult life and dive deep into a magic world of enchanted castles, powerful kings, good queens and beautiful princesses?

The sight of the village of Saint-Pierre, with its fairy-tale castle perched on a rock on one side and the Sarriod de La Tour Castle to the other will allow you to find this world of magic.

Sarriod de La Tour Castle stands on a plain overhanging the river Dora Baltea, surrounded by apple trees. The manor consists of various buildings that were added to the original structure at different times. For this reason, the complex might seem disconnected and irregular but remains nonetheless immensely fascinating.

The castle is a reminder of the history of the family who started its construction between the 10th and the 12th century, holding it until 1921.

The original structure consisted of a tower surrounded by walls but when Luigi Sarriod de La Tour married Antonia of Challand in the 13th century, the Sarriod family ascended to higher ranks in the nobility; with their new status the chapel of the castle was built.

During the 15th century the castle saw its golden age, when renovation works commissioned by Jean Sarriod and his son Antoine transformed the original fortress into an elegant noble residence.

Refined mullioned windows were installed in the tower, rooms were added to it and the "viret", a wonderful winding staircase, was laid. The chapel was also renovated and a new cycle of frescoes depicting the crucifixion and Saint Christopher was commissioned.

Older frescoes, dating back to the 13th century, depict unusual subjects such as mermaids and other grotesque illustrations.

Further peculiar subjects are to be found in the incredible hall of honour, called the Hall of the Heads because of the stunning wooden ceiling with 171 panels containing monstrous carvings of deformed human faces, devils, mermaids, unsettled souls, half animal-half human creatures… The carvings are a masterpiece of local sculpture and evoke the memory of that mythical world of Medieval popular imagination.

Today the castle belongs to the Region and is open to the public. The guided tour includes the visit to the exhibit "Fragmenta Picta" which shows 13th and 14th century paintings from the Castle of Quart.

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Not Far from Paradise

Gran Paradiso Mountain

The Gran Paradiso massif is the 7th highest mountain in the Graian Alps and the focal point of the Gran Paradiso Group. 

With its 4061 metres of altitude, it watches over the valleys of the Gran Paradiso Natural Park: the Valleys of Cogne, Valsavarenche and Rhêmes in the Valle d'Aosta region and the Valleys of Orco and Soana on the Piedmontese side.

The only alpine mountain higher than 4,000 metres situated entirely within Italy, Gran Paradiso was first climbed in September 1860 by John Cowell and his party. Despite the altitude this is not a particularly difficult mountain to climb.

But what is the origin of such a heavenly name? Could it be the celestial impression given by the imposing vision of the mountains? Or maybe the presence of the nearby Range of The Apostles that made the mountains resemble an alpine representation of the Kingdom of Heaven?

No, it isn't. It's not even because the mountain is an "ibex paradise", like Abbot Frutaz suggested.

The name is relatively young and little connected with celestial features; the summit has been called Gran Paradiso since 1827. Before this date it had several different names, amongst which Monte del Broglio, Montandayné, Monte Iseran, Lausquer and Evesqueur. These names currently identify other peaks in the group.

Gran Paradiso is simply the Italian translation of the French Grande Paroi or Granta Parei, which means "gran parete" in Italian and Grand Wall in English.

This is how the mountain appears from the Valnontey, an enchanted side valley in the Cogne basin, a place loved by hikers in summer and cross country skiers in winter.

Now aware that we are not talking about paradise on earth but simply about an imposing mountain... let's head to this amazing area and enjoy the heavenly views and majestic serenity that it affords!

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A Pearl of Roman Architecture

Pont d'Ael

At the beginning of the road to Cogne, three kilometres from the elegant and unique castle of Aymavilles with its four round towers, a narrow and steep road will lead you to the hamlet of Pondel (or Pont d'Ael), a charming village hidden abut a kilometre below the main road.

If you leave your car in the parking lot and proceed along the picturesque road lined by mountain houses you will come to an amazing sight: a grand single-arch bridge crossing the Grand-Eyvia, a dashing stream which, like a betrayed lover, flows rapidly and furiously down the Cogne Valley.

The arch of the bridge is almost 15 metres long, while the bridge itself, dating back to the year 3 B.C., stands over 50 metres above the water.

Pont d'Ael, as this an amazing Roman work is called, was commissioned by a private person from Padua, Caius Avillius Caimus. Today, the inscription of its commissioner is still visible on the northern side of the bridge.

The Pont d'Ael is not a simple bridge. It is a two-level aqueduct with two different lanes: an external one for the water and a covered one for pedestrians and animals. Today pedestrians can walk along the former water lane.

This masterpiece of hydraulic engineering stands in a rather peculiar place: far away from the roads to France, far away from towns and villages, it seems to stand literally in the middle of nowhere. The reason why it was built where it stands is still a mystery; the most likely theory is that it was built near the marble mines of Aymavilles.

The aqueduct was probably used to bring the water necessary to cut and shape the marble blocks, which were then used to build Augusta Praetoria, today's Aosta.

Visiting the site is very a very exciting experience. The itinerary starts from what archaeologists call specus, the ancient water conduit, and proceeds along the bridge towards the opposite side, where the two main entrance gates to the old covered pedestrian way can be seen.

Once inside you'll find yourselves walking in the void: don't worry, you won't fall!

The glass-bottom pathway is 50 metres long and lit from underneath so that you can see the 3-metres-deep gap.

The glass is there to substitute the wooden area where the workers and their master would walk while building the bridge. Under the glass the actual frame of the aqueduct is visible, a complex and stable structure which is a great example of Roman engineering.

Reaching the other side of the bridge you'll once again find yourselves walking in the air: a panoramic steel footbridge will take you along the now collapsed path and take you to the small visitors' centre.

Pont d'Ael is also a protected area where over 96 species of wonderful butterflies and rare varieties of orchids can be found. The ideal season to explore this beautiful site is autumn: the amazingly coloured maple trees which surround the bridge will be the perfect frame for this extraordinary place.

If you like to walk, you can also reach Pont d'Ael from Aymavilles: this pleasant hike will take around an hour. As you walk along Aymavilles with its vineyards do visit the Cave des Onze Communes wine cellar or other local producers to taste the wines of the Strada dei Vini del Gran Paradiso (the Gran Paradiso Wine Route).

Tip: Pont d'Ael is not the only marvel of Hydraulic engineering in Valle d'Aosta. The majestic medieval Grand Arvou Bridge can be found in Porossan, a village not far from Aosta.  It is a spectacular stone and plaster aqueduct set between Neyves and Serod which allowed the Ru Prévot canal to cross a deep valley where the Parléaz stream runs. The bridge appears to be a massive building because of the flagstone roof and the windows that light the interior making it possible to visit it. This is a fascinating structure and it's well worth a visit!

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Where Beauty Soothes the Soul

Lake Miserin

Lake Miserin is a lake in the upper Champorcher Valley. It lies at 2577 meters above sea level, in a wide valley surrounded by high mountains, including the imposing peaks of Rosa dei Banchi and Mont Glacier. The views from the lake are breath-taking and the clear water has different shades of green and deep turquoise which are a delight to the eyes.

The perfect destination for a summer hike, the lake can be reached following a medium-low difficulty itinerary starting from Dondena.

With a difference in elevation of 490 metres and a 1h 45' walk, the hike is suitable for most. Take the trail that crosses the bridge in Dondena following a farm road along beautiful pastureland. 

Colourful mountain plants and flowers as well as marmots can be spotted in the area. Eventually you will reach Pian Enseta, at 2340 meters: proceed south along the dirt road and at the intersection follow the mule track Strada Reale di caccia (hunting road) built by King Vittorio Emanuele II. Several minutes later you'll see the splendid lake basin.

Along the lake stand Rifugio Miserin (Miserin mountain hut) and the Santuario Madonna delle Nevi.

The rifugio offers accommodation in dormitories and has a restaurant providing tasty local dishes and refreshments. Originally built in the 17th century to welcome pilgrims to the sanctuary, it was fully restructured in 2000. After a few years of closure it is now open all summer and on selected dates in winter.

The Sanctuary has a long and fascinating history.

Although the present building is relatively recent, a first shelter is said to have been built in the area by Saint Porzio, a Christian Roman legionnaire who had escaped the legion because he refused to kill fellow Christians when defending the Empire borders between Italy and Gaul in the 3rd century A.D. He had sought refuge near the lake, where he lived as a shepherd, spreading the Christian faith. Legend narrates that he also built a statue of the Holy Mary, hence the name of the Sanctuary.

A later chapel was built in the 17th century during the plague: every year the inhabitants of the valley would walk to the chapel to pray to the Holy Mary to protect them from the disease. In fact, the plague never reached Champorcher! The chapel was later destroyed and built again in 1881. In 1947 a fire destroyed the 1881 sanctuary, which was again rebuilt by the local population.

Every year on the 5th of August a procession starts at 4 am from the church of Champorcher and heads to the sanctuary to pay tribute to the Holy Mary of the Snow.

This lovely haven of peace attracts sports enthusiasts and others who cherish uncontaminated nature: it makes the perfect day trip on a hot summer day.

Tip: For those who love mountain biking, there is a 28 km bike route starting in Chardonney which is a medium/difficult itinerary leading to the lake.

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Because Details Matter

Cogne's Intricate Lace

Precious, refined, and intricately patterned, the hand-woven lace of Cogne is an art which has miraculously survived for centuries.

The story goes that a number of Benedictine nuns, fleeing their monastery in Cluny, took refuge in the Valle d'Aosta. It was the year 1665. As a sign of thankfulness to their hosts, they taught them the art of bobbin lace: a labyrinthic work consisting of braiding and twisting lengths of thread using only spindles and a cloth-covered circular base to work on.

Today, the traditional pillow-lace method is still followed - which means that no patterns whatsoever are used, unlike similar lace-traditions in Belgium and France.

The designs all come from the superlative creativity that has always been passed down from one generation of women to the next.

This art is said to have arrived in Cogne in 1853 thanks to Honorée Guichardaz, the mayor’s sister. She had learnt it in Saint Nicholas and brought it back with her to Cogne, where she revived the age-old tradition.

In Cogne’s Pizzi al Tombolo, the thread used is always linen and while it is usually natural in color, it can sometimes also be bleached to achieve off-white.

From there, the skillful female hands weave intricate motifs in a continuous fast-paced shuffle of wooden bobbins. The width of the lace is linked to the number of bobbins used and, as you might imagine, the wider the lace, the more precious it is. The traditional designs are all linked to the local territory: wildlife, panoramas and the historical origins of Cogne. Some of the most-frequently found motifs are named "teppa cleire" (pale clod), “joue de perni” (bird's eye), “pavioula” (butterful).

If you’re looking to see this marvel of tradition for yourself, you’ll find a cooperative in Cogne, named Les Dentellières, in Rue Doct. Grappein n°50. There, 40 women work on precious lace, producing around 1,500 meters of intricate details each year and bringing on this winding heritage.

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Where Mountain and Industry Meet

Cogne Mines

The old magnetite mines of Liconi, Colonna and Costa del Pino, on the slopes of Mount Creya, are a stunning example of high altitude mining. Said to have been in use since the Roman times, these mines were exploited throughout the centuries and were the main source of income for the inhabitants of Cogne and the adjoining villages for years, especially in the 20th century.

The extraction activities of the Cogne mines were also the main reason for the development of iron metallurgy and other industries in Valle d'Aosta. Eventually, the general decline of the mining industry and increasing labour costs resulted in the closure of the mines in 1979.

An interesting episode in the long history of the mines is the so-said "Grappein Experiment".

Born in Cogne in 1772, César Emmanuel Grappein was a doctor, philanthropist and a convinced political reformer. In 1816, as the mayor of the town, he brought about a revolutionary change when he allowed the mines to be managed in cooperation with the local citizens, following his egalitarian beliefs.

This included exclusively employing the local labour force and sharing the profits with his fellow citizens. Needless to say, this caused fierce opposition by the wealthy families and the bishop of the town, leading to his political defeat in 1833. Nonetheless the experiment remains an extraordinary moment in the life of the town.

In 2014 the mines were sold to the Town of Cogne and the Villaggio Minatori Anselmetti (the Anselmetti mining village), only a few km outside the town, was then transformed into a museum, also hosting the Gran Paradiso National Park visitor's centre.

The section on mining, called Alpinart, is a specific exhibition on the magnetite mines and provides interesting information on the history and geology of the mining complex and the activities that were carried out there. Tools and instruments used by the miners are displayed and pictures and videos show images of mining life.

The village was a self-contained settlement where miners lived: it had a shop, a library and even a cinema. 

The remains of the cableway used to transport the minerals, the passenger funicular and several buildings can still be seen today. In the exhibition dedicated to hydraulic power you can see the restored power plant of Molina, one of the first stations to have used water as an energy source.

Tip: the village also has a hostel (Ostello e caffetteria del Villaggio Minatori di Cogne) called 'Les Mines', offering good value dormitory accommodation, a bar and restaurant services. The structure was opened in summer 2015 and is the ideal starting point for visits to the area.

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Water, Rock and Time

The Gullies of Saint-Nicolas

Saint-Nicolas is a small village 15 km from the city of Aosta at an altitude of 1200 metres, famous for  its perched position on a terrace overlooking the surrounding landscape. However, the area is also noteworthy for the presence of a curious geomorphological phenomenon: the so-called gullies of Saint-Nicolas and the earth pyramids.

Gullies are formed by erosion in areas where water runs freely, particularly on steep hillsides with lime terrain while pyramids are created where the terrain is made up of different materials (typically lime and rocks) that do not erode in a uniform way, thus creating stone columns with large caps on top.

These incredible formations can be found in the area around Saint-Nicolas and have been created over thousands of years by the Gaboë stream. This is relatively rare in Valle d'Aosta and is well worth a visit.

The itinerary starts from the gravel parking area situated just a km after Saint-Nicolas, where you can leave your car. Take the trail to the hamlet of Fossaz Dessus. Proceed along the paved road and then turn right at the country road (signposted “Les Crêtes”), leading to the edge of the slope. From here you can enjoy a closer view of the gullies.

For a clear look at the pyramid return to the departure point via the country road and follow the paved road that leads to Avise-Courmayeur, cross the Gaboë stream and proceed a short distance after the intersection marked Avise-Vetan. A short trail will take you to the edge of the incision, where you will be able to enjoy a view of the pyramid from above. Another short track will take you to a small flat area, from where both the formations and the village of Saint-Nicolas can be seen.

The views are breath-taking and will reward you for the long walk!

The entire trip takes around two to three hours and is particularly recommended in spring and autumn. Plus, if you visit in the afternoon you'll enjoy the added pleasure of admiring the gullies in full sunlight!

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It's a Wild World

Parc Animalier d'Introd

In the small town of Introd, located in the western area of Valle d’Aosta, lies a magnificent and wonderful world where both flora and fauna thrive. The Parc Animalier d'Introd is the first and only park of its kind: an immense natural reserve, it is entirely dedicated to the preservation of the animals and plants that live there as well as the education of its human guests.

Silence is truly golden and all visitors, both young and old alike are encouraged to let nature do the talking. Observation and discovery; the park is a place to learn and visitors are reminded of how precious the forest and all that dwells in it are.

If the idea of where to begin overwhelms you, don’t worry. The park has a suggested path all mapped out. 

The Parc Animalier will also leave you breathless with its incredible variety of fauna: the alpine ibex, chamois, woodchucks, hares, badgers, foxes, wild boar, owls, and various amphibians all live in the grounds, undisturbed in their natural habitat. 

The park is also the host to one of the Alps’ most beautiful flowers, the Stella Alpina (Leontopodium) – if you spot one, you’ll likely want to take it home with you. 

Don’t be dazzled by its beauty, though: it is strictly prohibited to pick this flower, although flower picking in general should be avoided to preserve the natural flora of the area.

To respect nature is to love it and this is the mission of the Parc Animalier. A place where visitors can experience and compare the various ecosystems of the mountain while guaranteeing the peace and harmony of the species that inhabit this corner of paradise on Earth.

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It’s the Hemp that Ties

Champorcher Hemp

Like the very fibers that are artfully woven together, the story of hemp in the Champorcher Valley weaves together the tradition and art of the people of the lower Valle d’Aosta.

While hemp has been also cultivated in Chambave and other areas of the Valley, textile production is historically singular to the area of Champorcher. That of hemp weaving was an art that, throught the ages, combined both high quality and precision; the seamstresses and embroiders worked diligently to create all sorts of household textiles - even bridal trousseaus.

Hemp fiber was stronger and more durable than wool and could be left in its most natural form to produce robust, weather-resistant canvas or even refined to a delicate cloth, making it perfect for even the finest linens!

Unfortunately, the fine art of weaving hemp seemed to have passed out of vogue at one point, but like many other examples of Italian artistry once thought lost forever, the passion of a group of artists has given new life to an antique tradition.

Working on the antique larch-wood looms that were used in the past, today, the Lou Dzeut cooperative (www.loudzeut.com) is a group of skilled artisans who produce everything from household textiles such as bed linens and curtains to tailor-made shirts in the traditional styles of Valle d’Aosta. 

What’s more, these artisans continue to use the traditionally grown hemp from Champorcher, proving that the durability and simple elegance of hemp products have withstood the test of time.

The cooperative, however, is more than a mere production facility; it also features a shop where visitors can not only watch the skilled craftswomen working away diligently, but also buy a wide variety of products. What's more, delicate features such as hand embroidery guarantee that each piece available at the cooperative is a truly one-of-a-kind work of art.

If you’re already in the area, a stop at the Ecomuseo della Canapa - also located in Champorcher and not far from Lou Dzeut - is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the local hemp tradition.

The cultivation of hemp and textile production was definitely more than a hobby for the people of Valle d’Aosta; it was also an excellent way to supplement a family’s income during the long, cold winter months when farming was out of the question. In the autumn, people brought hanks of hemp thread to families who wove it, working all winter long, and in the spring it was returned in the form of robust canvas.

Much of this work was done in the stall of the weavers’ farms.

The stall, for many people who live in the mountains, has always been a place of great importance. It’s the place where people lived a hard life of survival alongside their greatest resource: farm animals. It was nothing short of a real social hub; there, families shared precious moments of serious discussion as well as laughter and good times, passing down the art of weaving hemp from one generation to the next.

The local Ecomuseo della Canapa has recreated the traditional stall in perfect detail for its visitors, offering onlookers a real immersion in life of centuries past. From the authentic antique loom to the other original pieces from times long gone, the museum is a rare example of both ethnographic and cultural immeasurable value.

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A Cathedral of Light

The Champagne Power Plant in Villeneuve

The Valle d’Aosta is not only known for the incredible beauty of its landscape but also for its outstanding role in producing 100% clean electric power by using one of the most important resources of its territory: water.

There are a total of 32 hydroelectric plants in the region with a production of around 2.9 billion KWh of clean energy every year.

These hydroelectric plants with their dams, artificial reservoirs and penstocks can be found throughout the main and side valleys. As an integral element of the landscape and an important natural resource, they are part of "the culture of the mountain". This is a real open-air asset for the Valley, representing an exceptional proof of the important role that the inhabitants of the region had in the economic developments of the 20th century.

Plants and dams have a particular scenic relevance and cultural value as they are considered common heritage, worth being discovered during pleasant walks.

Most plants were built in the early 1920s. Designed to show the financial power of their promoters, they were the expression of the industrial culture of the time. These plants are proper Belle Epoque industrial monuments and the richness of the materials used, their roof trusses, high windows and wonderful decorations bring to mind the architecture of cathedrals and noble palaces.

Some of them are real "signature plants", examples of this extremely innovative way of designing powerhouses.

The most artistic plant of Valle d'Aosta is widely considered to be Champagne 1, in the village of Villeneuve: at its inauguration in 1929, after important renovations of the frescoes and the decorations by a group of artists led by Graziano Michaud di Aymavilles, it was called the "Cathedral of Light".

Today this masterpiece of industrial architecture is a popular destination for visitors. It has a simple stone square structure with side towers, wide Guelph cross windows and large wooden gates which fit perfectly with the castles of the neighbouring areas.

The walls and the roof, sustained by a light metal frame, have decorations and architectural motifs on them. A majestic staircase at the back of the main hall leads to the first floor balcony, from where visitors can see the three, almost 100 year old but still perfectly functioning generators.

Pictures by photographer Diego Cesare depicting other plants in the Valley can be admired in the control room, where the functioning and production of the plant were monitored. 

An interesting sight is the former 50Kv cabin, with bars, disconnectors and switches all dating back to the time when the plants of Champagne were supplying power to the factories of Cogne.

Guided tours of Champagne 1 and of the other plants scattered throughout the region can be arranged through CVA, a company partly owned by the Regione Valle d'Aosta which manages 30 of the hydroelectric plants of the region. Contact 0166 823064/3024 or visite@cvaspa.it

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Second to None

Mont Avic Natural Reserve

The evocative landscapes of the Mont Avic Natural Reserve represent not only the beauty of Valle d’Aosta, but they also serve as testimony to the beauty of an area that has remained virtually untouched by man.

Created in 1989, the Regional Park of Mont Avic was the first regional park established after the Gran Paradiso National Park. Expanded in 2003 and integrated with Dondena Valley, the area grew to cover 5,747 of protected hectares that extend from Champdepraz Valley all the way to the Champorcher Valley.

The park boasts 980 hectares of forest - in the past an area exploited for mining activities - and is home to a variety of trees including Mountain and Scotch Pines, Larch and Beech.

There are over 30 lakes, ponds, marshes, and bogs and with such a wide variety of natural environments, there is an equally as vast variety of plant and animal life. The extensive grasslands of the park are home to some of the rarest creatures, such as the chamois and the ibex, who share a home with a less endangered but no less interesting woodland inhabitant: the marmot. Thanks to the rugged terrain of the park, agricultural and tourism activities are somewhat limited, but these limitations are actually what have allowed the flora and fauna of the park to flourish.

The park has become part of the Natura 2000 European Commission, which is one of the most important ecological networks dedicated to protecting and preserving Europe’s biodiversity.

The park hosts two visitor centres; one is located in the hamlet of Chevrère (Covarey) and offers visitors much more than a place to pick up some typical facts and figures. The visitor center includes an information point where experts can provide you with information not only about this specific park but also on the network of parks in Valle d’Aosta.

There is also a museum that describes the rocky environments, wetlands and forests of Val Chalamy, giving visitors a hands-on experience with interactive systems; a chance to discover the lesser-known park. In other words, all those natural elements that often we do not even notice because they’re hardly perceptible to the untrained eye.

The second and newest visitor center is in Champorcher. This center is located in the restored  "Villa Biamonti"; a building built in the early twentieth century with a small tourist resort function that the Park acquired by the city in 2006.

The first floor offers a look at the most interesting geological and morphological characteristics of the Dondena Valley and includes a rich set of photographs, artifacts, dynamic models, including an interesting model on which thematic maps are projected. The second floor features illustrations of flora, vegetation, wildlife and pastoral activity, providing visitors with a more in-depth understanding of the area. 

The Regional Park of Mont Avic may be second in size to its larger cousin, Gran Paradiso National Park, but it is by no means any less important, serving as yet another example of why these areas of pristine nature are of immeasurable importance.

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Royal Hunting Grounds

Sarre Castle

The Royal Castle of Sarre in Valle d’Aosta boasts a rich history dating back to the thirteenth century - it was then that Amedeo IV of Savoy and Godfrey of Challant used the castle as the setting for an important meeting to decide on how they would counter the rebellion of Bard Hugh, lord of the palace at that time.

The alliance forged awarded the castle to Bard’s nephew along with the title of 'Count of Sarre'.

The castle remained under the Sarre dynasty until 1364 when all the descendants died out and the castle therefore returned to the Savoy family. From that point the castle changed ownership several times, including the important local Roncas and Rapet families.

In 1708 the castle was purchased by Jean-François Ferrod d’Arvier, a wealthy and enterprising industrialist, who demonstrated his success by completely rebuilding the castle, with the exception of the tower. This is the castle’s appearance we still see today. Eventually, hard economic times would mean that Ferrod was not able to meet the mortgage payments and the heirs of the Rapet family would reclaim ownership in 1730.

Finally, after another brief series of different owners, the Savoys took ownership of the castle in 1869 when King Vittorio Emanuele II also assumed the title Count of Sarre.

Commissioning even further expansion, he raised the tower and had stables constructed all with the intent to turn the castle into one of the Savoys' largest seasonal residences and a manor dedicated to the king’s passion: hunting. The castle became very important because of the hunting trips that took place in the nearby valleys of Cogne, Valsavarenche and Rhêmes, all areas that were once part of the king’s personal hunting reserves and that today are part of the Gran Paradiso National Park - just to give a better picture of the area.

When the castle was passed down to the Vittorio Emanuele’s successor, Umberto I, it remained the perfect setting for the numerous hunting trophies, still visible today in the museum’s collection. Umberto’s wife, Queen Margaret, did not seem to appreciate the castle as much as her husband and she is said to have spent only the summer of 1880 there.

The Royal Castle remained property of the Savoy family until 1972 and was eventually purchased by the Italian government in 1989, when it was entrusted to the local government in Valle d’Aosta for a long period of restoration before being opened to the public.

Today, the Royal Castle of Sarre is an important symbol of the House of Savoy in Valle d’Aosta.

The massive structure that sits on top of a hill with Mont Blanc in the background is characterized by its high, crenellated tower. The three-story high main building has a smooth stone cladding which renders the castle quite unique compared to other castles in the area. There is even a small, royal chapel with only a single nave and a beautiful, Baroque-inspired altar.

The interior of the castle is equally as impressive: the ground floor housed the Crown Prince’s apartment, the caretaker’s accommodation and other elements such as the kitchen, pantry and cellar which were all the backbone of daily life.

Since 1989 all these rooms on the ground floor, as well as a permanent exhibition dedicated to the Royal Family, have been open to visitors.

The first floor, thanks to the help of some original furnishings and the hard work of the individuals who meticulously recreated the fabrics of the period, still evokes the period of King Umberto’s time spent at the castle. 

The trophy gallery, instead, is decorated with elements commissioned by King Umberto I, including decorations made of hundreds of ibex horns combined with hand-painted floral wall decorations.

A symbol of Valle d’Aosta and of the overwhelming natural beauty of the region, the Castle of Sarre tells the story of the Royal Family of Savoy and their role in the history of Italy - definitely a not-to-miss spot during your trip.

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A Dialect and its Bard

Jean-Baptiste Cerlogne

The first known poet of Valle d'Aosta, Cerlogne's works are still an important reference point for all scholars of the Franco-Provençal and related dialects.

A Martyr for Freedom

Émile Chanoux

The leading figure of the partisan resistance in Valle d'Aosta, Émile Chanoux is also considered the founding father of the valley's independence movement. 

Small, no joke!

Le Petit Restaurant

Michelin-starred restaurant led by chef Fabio Iacovone, Le Petit Restaurant only has four tables - rest assured that, from here, you will leave feeling pampered.  

Altitude Wine

Les Crêtes

Wine growers at 600 metres a.s.l. in the wonderful Valle d'Aosta, the Charrère family has been producing fine, award-winning mountain wines since 1800.

A Dialect and its Bard

Jean-Baptiste Cerlogne

Jean-Baptiste Cerlogne is the first known poet in the history of Valle d'Aosta. The bard (poet) of mountain and farming life was born on 6th March 1826 in Cerlogne, near Saint-Nicolas, into a family of humble origins.

Like many poor children of his time, he moved to Marseilles at the age of 11, where he worked as a kitchen-boy and then as a chimney sweeper. He returned to his home country in 1845.

He soon had to leave his beloved valley again, as he was called to arms in 1847 to serve under King Carlo Alberto and take part in the first independence war (1948-49).

After being discharged in 1849 he returned to Cerlogne, where he discovered his vocation and became a "country abbot", nurturing at the same time his love for poetry and the Franco-Provençal dialect.

"L'infan prodeggo" was Cerlogne's first composition in dialect.

His interest and passion for Patois, the Valle d'Aosta dialect, brought him to compose writings that are still an important reference point for all scholars of the Franco-Provençal dialect and of dialects in general. Amongst the most famous works are the first grammar and the first dictionary of the Valle d'Aosta dialect.

Concours Cerlogne, a cultural event aimed to stimulate the interest and the appreciation for the Franco-Provençal dialect in the valley, has been held since 1963.

Every year around 2000 students from local nursery, elementary and middle schools are involved in the event.

What better way to pay tribute to his dialect than to associate it with the undying memory of his mother?

from Dzan-Pouro, 1892 - translated by John Shepley

Lettre ma mamma sayet pà;
A prèdzé llie m'at inségnà
Sensa gneuna Grammère.
Mè pi grantet,
Dze prédzo adret
La lenga de ma mère.

My mother couldn't read;
She taught me to speak
Without any grammar book.
Now that I'm grown up
I speak as one must
My mother’s tongue.

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A Martyr for Freedom

Émile Chanoux

It's not easy to summarise the importance of Émile Chanoux and his role in the history of Valle d'Aosta. 

Born on January 9th, 1906 in Valsavarenche, Chanoux is considered one of the founding fathers of the independence of the valley.

He graduated with a thesis on ethnic minorities at the age of 21. A keen supporter of the ideals of a federal state he thought that the principles of federalism should be applied first of all within the single national states and later for the creation of a European Federation.

More than once he described "Switzerland as an example, in small, of what Europe should have become after the war" in order to maintain a stable and long lasting peace. 

His preferred form of government was a republic, not because he saw federalism as incompatible with a monarchic structure but because the Italian monarchy, by passively accepting Fascism, had created a centralisation of the state and de facto opened the way to its extreme consequences: the fascist dictatorship.

A highly centralised republic though would have been as bad as a monarchy. His federal ideas were based on the diversity of the various regions and cultures that formed the Italian people, united but different. He was a convinced antifascist and became the soul of the Valle d'Aosta resistance in 1941, when he founded the regional partisan group Comité de liberation.

He later became the leader of the Aosta Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale.

On December 19th, 1943 he helped promote a secret conference in Chivasso bringing about the Declaration of Chivasso, by means of which the Alpine people claimed their right to self-government and asserted the need for an economic relaunch of all mountain areas.

Because of his commitment to the antifascist cause he was arrested by the Fascist police and tortured by the Nazis. He died in jail on May 18th, 1944.

In 1984 he received the silver medal of honour by the Italian Army as a martyr for the Italian partisan cause. His political and ideological role in Italian history is of the greatest importance and he will be remembered both for his antifascist beliefs and for his innovative federalist ideas.

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Small, no joke!

Le Petit Restaurant

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Altitude Wine

Les Crêtes

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We wouldn’t be here today without our stubbornness and the support of these Italian companies and institutions.

Custode riserva

Caretaker of the Riserva

We are looking for the Caretaker of this Riserva. If you love your land and want to help us promote it, contact us at info@whyinitaly.it.