Thanks to our grandfathers: Regione Valle d'Aosta.
When you’re travelling through Valle d’Aosta you may have noticed her majesty, dressed in her finest white robe holding court over the valley.
Her name is Monte Bianco and at 4808.73 meters (according to the last official measurement taken in 2015), she is the highest mountain in both the Alps and in Italy.
One of the famous Seven Summits on the planet, Monte Bianco is composed principally of granite with bristling spires and ridges all carved by the numerous - 65 in total - glaciers found on the mountain. These are currently being monitored, as climate change as well as a general rise in temperature has had a big impact on these ice-giants, especially the ‘smaller’ ones.
At the higher altitudes, as one might imagine, Monte Bianco is rather inhospitable towards flora and fauna.
However, the lower altitudes harbor a wide variety of flowers, including the rare yellow campanula. The same abundance is also true for mammals; animals that are unable to survive at higher levels, flourish at lower altitudes. Certainly, the proximity of the mountain to two national parks (Gran Paradiso and Vanoise) plays a notable role in the increased population of chamois, deer, ibex, groundhogs, and a wide variety of bird species. Monte Bianco is also home to the Saussurea botanical garden, displaying a variety of alpine species of colourful flora.
Today, Monte Bianco is considered a great attraction for both international and local mountain climbers.
From a historical perspective, the birth of alpinism coincides with the date of the first ascent of Monte Bianco: August 8, 1786. As a matter of fact, mountain climbing became such an important aspect of life in the valley that special military units were created to fight in the mountains during WWII and, in 1934, the Military School of Mountaineering was founded.
During the war, Monte Bianco would become the theatre for combat between the Germans and the partisan resistance (both Italian and French).
Today more than 15 million tourists visit the mountain every year and it is one of the Alps’ most visited tourist spots.
For centuries, Monte Bianco has been the inspiration of nobles, writers, artists, scientists, alpinists, and nature lovers. While its praises and history are too rich and maybe impossible to extol here, when you see Monte Bianco in person, its majestic beauty shines without saying a word.
A tip: if you're curious to reach the top of this incredible mountain, the Skyway cablecar will take you right to the top of Punta Helbronner. There, at 3466 meters, it'll feel as if you were on top of the world!Any suggestions ?
Founded and built by Luigi Amedeo of Savoy, Duke of Abruzzi, the Museo Alpino Duca degli Abruzzi was first inaugurated in 1929.
The museum serves as testimony to the rich history of mountain climbing not only in the region, but boasts a display of images and objects from excursions all over the world.
On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Society of Courmayeur Mountain Guides, the oldest in Italy, the museum was completely renovated. Today it hosts a charming display where visitors can retrace the history of professional mountain guides from its earliest days.
One of the wonderful areas to be explored is on the first floor and is dedicated to a group of pioneers known as le guide à mulets - these were the famous guides who, with the help of their mules, accompanied travellers (including members of the Royal Family!) to some of the, at that time, highest, unexplored altitudes.
Mountain-climbing enthusiasts as well as visitors who prefer to keep their feet at lower altitudes, can discover and enjoy the various objects and photographs which tell the story of a sport and pastime filled with tradition and passion.
Some of the items in the collection include: images from Luigi Amedeo’s excursions to Alaska, Africa, India, the North Pole, and K2.
Visitors can also learn about Toni Gobbi, the inventor of ski mountaineering, and see the sling invented by the famous guide Arturo Ottoz, as well as some of the tools and equipment used during excursions.
If you’re a climbing buff or simply someone who appreciates the rich history that the Valle d'Aosta has to offer, the Alpine Museum has something for everyone.
Photo Credits: Gughi Fassino, Gianluca MarraAny suggestions ?
Discovering the Tour de l’Archet di Morgex means entering a world where an ancient turreted garrison now stands guard over a patrimony of culture.
In Upper Valle d’Aosta, in a sunny valley bordered by forests of conifers to the south and slopes surrounded by vineyards and small villages to the north, lies Morgex; a lovely village set in the foreground of her majesty, the Mont Blanc mountain range.
Since ancient times, Morgex has been an area of transit; the village was founded and grew along the Via delle Gallie, a road built by the ancient Romans which today, leads into France via Colle del Piccolo San Bernardo.
When you cross the main street, you’ll discover historic houses, the Church of Santa Maria Assunta which dates back to the 5th century, and of course the austere Tour de l’Archet.
Tour de l’Archet was once the ancient tower of De Arculo. Its name derives from the Arch of Augustus, the imposing arch built in honor of the emperor Augustus in the area once known as Augusta Pretoria, now Aosta. The arch strengthened the noble family’s power during the medieval period.
Later on, the De l’Archet family would abandon their curious garrison in Aosta and settle in at the tower, one of the oldest in the region, in Morgex. In fact, scientific analysis has shown that the beams used in its construction were cut around 998 A.D.
However, the origins of the tower are even more mysterious: some date it back to Roman times where it may have been a strategic military facility.
The structure of the tower is nothing short of amazing; more than 15 meters high, its walls are more than 2.5 meters thick. In the past, the tower was also surrounded by buildings that ran along the perimeter of the two original city walls.
Grandeur mixed with elegance. Today, this refined manor welcomes guests like it did in the past, such as the Savoy family who visited regularly during their travels in the area.
At the end of the 19th century the tower was purchased by the city that used it to house the city’s schools, a dairy, the communal oven, even the headquarters of a band and a firehouse. If you speak with local seniors in the area, they will share fond memories of their school inside the tower and the chilly temperatures they withstood during the cold winter months.
The tower represents the heart of the people of Morgex; a symbol of their love for the area they were born and raised in along with the relentless march of time and a past that can never return.
The tower was reopened in 2010 after a series of extensive archaeological digs and restoration projects, and today stands as headquarters of the prestigious Natalino Sapengo Foundation and Literary Studies Center, housing the precious collection that once belonged to this historic Valle d’Aosta native, well-known literary critic and one of the greatest Italian literary scholars of the 14th century.
When you walk inside the tower you will surely be left breathless as you take in 7 floors of libraries all connected by stairs and walkways that highlight the original structure.
Today, the tower features thematic rooms, a conference room, and exhibition spaces - you’ll find yourself in an atmosphere that begs you to sit down and immerse yourself in literature.
Fortress outside, cultural epicenter inside. The soldiers have been replaced by shelves of priceless books: a “tower of books” open to everyone.
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Twenty minutes, a jacket, and a Skyway ticket are all you need to reach the top of Europe. At the end of your journey to the top you'll find yourself upon Europe’s “roof” and surrounded by breathtaking views of indescribable glaciers, the Alps and mountain peaks all over 4,000m.
To get an impression of the magnitude of this wonder of design and engineering, it’s enough to look at the impressive numbers of the Skyway technology: more than 500 people and 4 years of hard work were involved in the production, over 130 million euros and an impressive 38,000m of cables reaching a height of over 2000m at the Pontal d’Entreves station to 3466m at the Punta Helbronner station.
Thanks to its rotating cabins, the ride on Skyway is nothing short of incredible.
Riders can take in a 360° view of the Valle d'Aosta and its mountains. Then, upon arriving at the Punta Helbronner station, visitors will be stunned when they go out onto the panoramic terrace. As one might imagine, the air can be a bit brisk to say the least at 3,460m above sea level, but the temperatures certainly contribute to the amazing sensation of literally feeling on top of the world - all while being suspended between Italy and France.
If you’ve got your mobile phone in hand while you’re up there, it won’t take long to confuse service providers as to where you are since you’ll most likely receive messages in both Italian and French.
If in addition to being a nature lover, you’re a hopeless romantic as well, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that the stunning backdrop of the Alps has already served as an ideal setting for many a marriage proposal.
Skyway is more than just the perfect setting for nature enthusiasts; it has something for everyone including bars, restaurants, and shopping areas. The Pavilion Mont Fréty is home to La Cave du Mont Blanc which is the highest winery in Europe as well as a restaurant, shops, a conference center, and a botanical garden.
Be sure to visit the Mont Blanc room where its glass walls offer a true living picture of Europe’s largest mountain.
Punta Helbronner features its own bars and restaurant, as well as a crystal museum where visitors can see and study some of the most outstanding examples of crystals from the surrounding mountains.
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The Lago D’Arpy is an alpine lake sitting in the middle of a flower filled meadow. On a sunny summer day, the surface of the lake’s blue-green water reflects the three surrounding mountain peaks, making this lake a favorite among photographers and nature-lovers in general.
The small 200 meter-squared lake is of glacial origin and located some 2066 meters above sea-level - this tranquil setting makes the Arpy lake the perfect spot to forget the demands of modern life.
The Lake can be reached in from the Arpy mountain pass after an easy six-kilometre walk from the Colle San Carlo.
Once arrived, adventurous visitors can follow trails up the three mountains overlooking the lake - Mont Charvet, Becca Pouegnenta and Punta della Croce. Alternatively, visitors can lie down and catch some rays in the meadow, paddle or swim in the lake and observe the unique flora and fauna of the area.
In addition to being filled with wild mountain flowers, the area is home to many unique species, such as the hardy Alpine Newt. As a sign of respect towards this corner of pristine nature, when you visit, don't forget to leave everything as you found it.Any suggestions ?
Embraced by Europe’s highest peaks, the shrine of Notre Dame de la Guérison stands on the rocky slopes of the Val Veny in Courmayeur. The sanctuary evokes ancient times when numerous pilgrims made their way to show their gratitude to the Virgin of Notre Dame for her miraculous help in difficult times.
Religion is an element that has always been a characteristic of the people of the Alpine Valleys and from the past to the present it has constantly been a part of everyday life: it’s seen in the calendars where the names of saints mark each day, it links the periods between work and festivals whilst creating rituals and traditions, and for many, it even helps to explain the weather.
It’s the element which expresses man’s needs, fears, and need for protection and thus, leads people to resort to faith.
Evidence of this devotion can be seen all over the Valle d’Aosta in its numerous crosses and chapels often found even in the harshest and most difficult to reach places on mountaintops.
These sites are unique, not only for the charm of the nature that surrounds them, but also because they are enrobed in an aura of sacredness, magic, and mystery that leaves even non-believers in awe.
Among the most striking of these sanctuaries is the Shrine of Notre Dame de la Guérison (Our Lady of Healing). Located at the foot of the Brenva glacier, it is a charming area that is worthy of a visit for believers and non-believers alike. It’s a place where the border between the Earth and sky are difficult to distinguish and creates a bond between the human and the divine.
According to the legend, in 1690, along the road up to the Col del la Seigne, a woman placed a statue of the Virgin in a niche between the rocks in an area known as Berrier or Croix du Berrier.
In local dialect, lo barrio means ‘boulder’ and the Val Veny is an area full of them. One boulder, however, was quite different from the others and the area in which it’s located held a special meaning for the people. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the statue was relocated inside a chapel until 1792 when it was eventually moved to a larger chapel.
Sadly, the advancing Brenva glacier destroyed the chapel after a few years, but the statue was miraculously spared from damage.
In 1821, a new church was built and then expanded to accommodate the many pilgrims arriving to show their devotion. More than 200 cubic meters of rock had to be levelled in order to complete the expansion and the building was finally inaugurated in 1867.
Still today, the shrine is a destination for the devoted pilgrims who carry their offerings to express their faith and their gratitude to the Virgin, thanking her for her help in moments of great need, especially for illness and mountain accidents.
In the chapel you can see hundreds of offerings in the form of paintings, sculptures, carvings, embroidery work, silver hearts, and ice picks, all offered as a sign of gratitude and devotion.
The Valle d'Aosta is an area particularly tied to their Virgins and it’s no surprise that August 15th, or Ferragosto was chosen as the feast day to celebrate the patron saint of mountain guides.
An area profoundly full of faith and devotion to the Virgin, the Valle d’Aosta visitors will find many other sites dedicated to Marian devotion including Notre Dame de la Garde and Notre Dame du Tout Pouvoir to name some examples in a list that goes on and on. All of these areas represent something sacred and moving that pervades not only the souls of the locals, but manages to touch visitors in a way that inevitably leaves them with a lasting sense of magic and mystery.Any suggestions ?
The road to Saussurrea leads to yet another example of Valle d’Aosta’s excellence: the highest alpine botanical garden in Europe. A backdrop that will leave you breathless with a singular view of Val Ferret and Val Veny at 2,173m above sea level, the Sassurrea Alpine Botanical Garden is a magnificent natural display of the valley’s indigenous flora.
Sassurrea alpina, a plant that grows in rocky pastures and windy areas, was named in honor of the Swiss scientist Horace Benedict de Saussure, who was a naturalist, the father of mountaineering, and historic promoter of the first Mont Blanc climbing expedition completed in 1786.
The botanical garden, instead, was created thanks to the passion of Laurent Ferretti, an extraordinary intellectual from the Valle d’Aosta who was especially fond of alpine flora.
His passion inspired the creation of an area that hosts more than 900 various mountain plant species, all displayed in rock gardens and other settings.
The rock gardens boast some extremely rare and interesting species found only in the highest alpine areas. Among these, the Stella Alpina (edelweiss), typical plants used in alpine medicine, plant varieties from foreign mountain ranges and other plants typical to the area where the land is rich in calcium carbonate.
An amazing array of mountain environments can be found in such a small space: alpine pastures, marsh environments, and the snowy valley just to name a few.
If you are thinking about planning a visit and want to enjoy the garden to its fullest, the flowers begin to bloom at the beginning of July and reach their peak between late July and mid-August.
Sassurrea is located in Courmayeur, in the area of Pavillon du Mont Fréty.
A visit to the garden is a unique opportunity to enjoy not only the beauty of the flora particular to this area, but it is also an excellent opportunity to explore all that the area has to offer.
The garden is accesible both on foot, through a 2.5 km long path starting from La Palud, or by cablecar. If you choose to go by cablecar you’ll be riding the Sky Way Monte Bianco, a two-tract state-of-the-art cableway that reaches the Pavillon du Mont Fréty – where Saussurea is situated – and, in its second part of the journey, Punta Helbronner, at 3466 metres.Any suggestions ?
The scenic, semi-circular walkway of the Orridio di Pré-St-Didier gives visitors a sense of the awesome scale of the Alps.
Located just a forty minute walk from the sleepy mountain town of Pré-St-Didier, the metallic runway is suspended at the mouth of a giant gorge, slowly being carved into the hillside by a gushing waterfall.
The walkway is a short, not-too strenuous walk from Pré-St-Didier and the routetakes trekkers past the town's historic thermal springs.
While it is easy enough to reach, visitors who step out on to the walkway will need a head for heights.
The pathway steps out over a 160-meter drop, suspending walkers above the turbulent waters from the waterfall, which continue their progress down the mountainside beneath their feet.
From the bridge, visitors can also drink in the spectacular views of all the snow-capped peaks of the Mont Blanc range, rising above the town in the valley below.
The panoramic terrace is usually closed during the winter due to heavy snowfall and dangerous weather conditions, but opens again each spring, welcoming visitors to the awakening mountains.Any suggestions ?
Located 2020 meters above sea level on the Mont Blanc massive, the Lago del Miage is a small lake fed by melt water from one of Europe's largest glaciers – the Miage Glacier, which stretches for 10 kilometres beyond the lake.
The lake can easily be reached from the nearby town of Courmayeur and is a popular spot for day trippers thanks to the stunning views of the towering mountain peaks that encircle the lake’s icy blue waters.
In the autumn and winter months, it lies buried under deep snow and ice and can only be seen during spring and summer when visitors have the opportunity to witness the powerful forces that have been shaping the mountains for millennia.
On warm days visitors can often watch huge chunks of ice calving off the glacier into the lake, which then float on its surface as they slowly melt.
The level of water in the lake can change considerably, depending on icefall and how much melt water arrives in its basin.
Over the last decade, the ever increasing pace of climate change has seen waterlevels reach all-time lows and geographers expect that continued glacial retreat means that the beautiful lake's days might be numbered. Enjoy it while you can.
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One of the most wonderful aspects of Italian food is most certainly the attention to detail and tradition involved by its producers. The 'Magazzino Della Fontina' (Fontina cheese warehouse) in Pré-St-Didier is yet another shining example of this passion.
Once the storage facilities for explosives dating back to the 13th century, this area - carved into the rock near the Fort of Valgrisenche - now serves a much more peaceful purpose: today it is the storehouse that belongs to the Cooperative Fontina DOP.
If you have tasted the classic Italian fonduta then you already know about this classic cheese, but if you are just hearing about it for the first time, the basics are that it is an alpine cheese made with the milk of cows from the Valle d’Aosta; the Italian Pezzata Rossa and the Pezzata Nera cows.
Located at 1700 meters, the storehouse provides a perfect atmosphere for the production of this classic Valle d'Aosta excellence.
Being the delicate product that it is, the cheese is aged to perfection since the storehouse maintains both a year-long, consistent temperature of 8°C and a humidity of about 98%.
Anyone interested can plan a guided visit to the magazzino, but please note that reservations are required.
Tours are available Mon-Fri during the months of April-October and include not only a tour with a highly-skilled agro-technician, but the possibility to sample some of the treasures along with local wines.Any suggestions ?
Running along the southern side of the Mont Blanc massif, the Val Ferret is an alpine valley in Italy’s northern region of Valle d'Aosta.
Located in the shadow of Europe's tallest mountain, the Val Ferret is a top spot for anyone who loves the great outdoors.
The valley is a popular departure point for many classic walks and climbs. It is home to some six refuges and a further six alpine huts, which offer shelter to weary ramblers and alpinists.
The formidable tour du Mont Blanc, a trail encircling the 4696-metre mountain, also runs through the valley.
The 150 kilometre path passes through France, Switzerland and Italy, but the section along the Val Ferret offers wonderful views of the gigantic peaks and provides an insight into Italy’s unique alpine culture.
Milk from the cows grazing the V shaped valley’s slopes is used to produce DOP cheese Fontina, which can be sampled in the small towns which run along the valley floor, the largest of which is Courmayeur, located at the valley’s southern entrance.
In colder months the valley loses none of its pull. As the winter snows fill the valley, excursionists give way to cross country skiers - the valley boasts, in fact, one of the area's most popular cross country skiing routes, with over 16 kilometres of tracks available for sport-lovers.
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A symbol of both the union and the separation of its people, the colle del Piccolo San Bernardo has alternated between periods of openness and isolation during the course of its long history.
“The mountain is cold for three months and gelid for nine”, noted abbot Chanoux, the rector of the area’s hospice. Three cold months wedged into the remaining frigid rest of the year.
At 2188m above sea level, il colle del Piccolo San Bernardo is an enchanted land full of meadows, pastures, and ephemeral ponds that appear once the snow has melted, disappearing once again with the arrival of autumn.
A place of borders and passages, this is the alpine pass which links the valley of La Thuile and Valle d’Aosta with the Haute-Tarentaise in France.
Even more than a land of extraordinary beauty, the colle del Piccolo San Bernardo is a land rich in history and magic. The area harbors a remote and exciting past that dates back to the third millennium BC, the Bronze Age, where the cromlechs, megalithic circles of fifty stones, symbolically represented a transit zone, an exchange, and a fusion of peoples and cultures.
The Romans called the area Alpis Graia and it was an important point along the Via delle Gallie, the road linking Rome to the Rodano Valley. Even today, you can see the remains of the settlements built when the Romans were present there. Here, archaeologists have uncovered fantastic treasures, including a silver bust of Jupiter as well as some plaques of religious devotion, all of which can be seen at the Regional Archaeological Museum in Aosta.
Although the area was once dedicated to Jupiter, the column once dedicated to him is now a pedestal for the statue of Saint Bernard, a patron saint of mountaineers and warrior against paganism, who as the legend tells, climbed the hill to rid the area of demons and robbers.
After Saint Bernard founded the church and the hospice, Jupiter lost all his prestige to the inhabitants and the hill that once bore his name became “the little hill of Saint Bernard”.
In modern times, the hill became an important bulwark of defense and protective line against the enemy during World War II. At the end of the war, the hill was able to leave its dark period behind. Unfortunately though, after 1965, when the Mont Blanc tunnel was opened, the area became more isolated as most of the traffic shifted from the Colle del Piccolo San Bernado to the new passage.
Until that year, the Colle had always been a bivalent symbol of separation and unity of peoples, being an important passage between Italy and the countries on the other side of the Alps.
Today, as in times long gone, the long winters mentioned by the abbot cover the land with snow for several months, thus making it accessible only from May to October. Despite this brief period of accessibility, it is an area that never fails to enchant.Any suggestions ?
Every summer in Val Veny you can experience Celtic culture at its finest. Here you can find one of - if not the - most important festival in all of Europe which celebrates Celtic art, music, and culture: Celtica.
During the festival, organized in the woods of Peuterey, visitors can find various events including: performers, musicians, actors, and dancers all waiting to bring you into the enchanting world of an almost forgotten culture.
Celtica opens its arms every year to thousands of visitors with the rhythm of its music and the warm welcome of its participants.
Since the formula of the event is revamped every year, it’s always sure to leave a lasting impression as no two years are ever the same and the organizers work to make each festival unique and utterly unforgettable.
If you’re thinking about going, it’s important to remember a couple of things. First, visitors are advised to dress adequately for lower temperatures; the event takes place at 1500m above sea level and the temperatures can be much lower than one might think even in the summertime. Second, the area of Val Veny is so spectacular not only as the perfect setting, but also from an environmental point of view, anyone participating in the festival is asked to collaborate in keeping the area clean and preserving its natural beauty.
Celtica has won the approval of experts and boasts the European Celtic Quality Events symbol (ECQUE), which recognizes events with the primary objective of spreading Celtic culture as well as celebrating the area where it takes place. For Celtic culture vultures and anyone who is curious about discovering something new, Celtica certainly lives up to its name.Any suggestions ?
Every year in the village of Baulin in the community of Avise, the Festa Della Fiocca, or Whipped Cream Festival takes place.
If you’re asking yourself "a whipped cream festival?" you should remember that Italians take their food very seriously - in Baulin, they take their whipped cream even more seriously.
At the gates of the enchanting Valgrisenche, the ritual of making panna montata (whipped cream) the good old-fashioned way is celebrated every June.
Armed only with a lot of muscle and their 'fouets', the traditional whisks made from willow, the local women work tirelessly inside the natural grotto, known as 'Borna', of the mountain where they whip the cream into luscious white clouds.
During the festivities, a lively lunch is held outdoors where the participants all eagerly await the grand protagonist’s arrival in the mid-afternoon.
The Festa Della Fiocca is a taste of tradition in a breathtaking setting. It is certainly a must for anyone who appreciates good food as well as folks who know that tradition and passion still trump even the fanciest kitchen gadget.
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We wouldn’t be here today without our stubbornness and the support of these Italian companies and institutions.