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At the Heart of the Valley

In Aosta's basin, in 25 B.C. the Romans founded the ancient Augusta Prætoria Salassorum, a settlement surrounded by a natural amphitheatre made up of mountains and peaks. Today, the area comprised between Sarre and Fénis seems to be a history book full of churches, palaces and castles, while the road to the Gran San Bernardo is home to rugged landscapes that will enchant you like pages full of images, filling your soul and eyes with wonder.

Thanks to our grandfathers: Regione Valle d'Aosta.

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A Village and a Museum in One

The Village of Étroubles

Étroubles is a charming village located in a deep and narrow valley at an altitude of 1270 metres. Situated on a strategic point on the Gran San Bernardo route to Gaul, it appears in Roman documents with the name of Restopolis and is believed to have been a winter residence for the Roman garrison.

The same route, named Via Francigena in the Middle Ages, connected the northern European countries to Italy and the South and was an important route for Christian pilgrims (and, alas, crusaders) on their way to Rome and Jerusalem.

Throughout the centuries armies, merchants and pilgrims have crossed the village, peaceful visitors or invaders alike. The most famous crossing was probably that of the Napoleonic army in May 1800.

Today Étroubles is the only village in the Aosta Valley to be part of the "Borghi più belli d'Italia" circuit (the most beautiful hamlets in Italy), a network of over 200 small villages chosen following specific criteria. It is also the only Aosta Valley "Bandiera Arancione" (orange Flag) village, a similar certification awarded by Touring Club Italiano and is one of the "Villaggi Fioriti" (villages in bloom), a group of villages chosen for their beautiful displays of flowers in public and private buildings.

Preserved in its original beauty, the hamlet’s old cobbled streets have typical, recently restored stone houses with flagstone roofs. Beautiful fountains with fresh water from Mont Vélan are scattered throughout the village.

An impressive 13th century Romanesque bell tower as well as a 1317 hospice are certainly worth visiting but the most important attraction of the village is without any doubt the exhibit À Étroubles, avant toi sont passés… (In Étroubles the past is in front of you), an open-air permanent art exhibition. It consists of works of world-renowned artists displayed in the squares, on the house facades and even in the house numbers. One could say that the village itself is a museum!

Noteworthy is also the 19th century church, with splendid frescoes, standing in the same place as the original 12th century church.

Latteria Turnaria, the site of the first dairy consortium in the region, is now an interesting small museum on milk and cheese production, giving information on typical products like Fontina or Seras.

A fierce fight by the proud, but less than 500 inhabitants of the village prevented the construction of a viaduct that would have destroyed the charm and peace of the area. Instead, resources have been used to promote tourism, an important source of income: Étroubles' particularly sunny position, well protected from the wind, the magnificent views over the surrounding mountains and the clean fresh air have attracted visitors in search of peace and beauty since as early as 1880.

Sport lovers will find excellent hiking routes and an outstanding 18 kilometres cross-country skiing trail while summer festivals like the Veillà and the famous winter carnival celebrations of Coumba Freida guarantee entertainment to those interested in folklore and traditional customs.

Several hotels and B&Bs as well as restaurants and bars make the village the ideal destination for day trips and longer stays.

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Aosta’s Hidden Treasure

The Forum Cryptoporticus

No one really knows the exact purpose of the Forum Cryptoporticus in Aosta, or at least no one has established a general consensus around it. Was it a warehouse or used as military storage rooms, or was it simply an elegant passageway, shielding people from the freezing weather or the blazing sun? What is certain though, is that it served as a stable structure for the entire Forum, because of a difference of level between the area dedicated to the sacred and the area used for civil and trade purposes.

Historical disputes aside, nobody can argue against the beauty, the charm and the mystery of this strange structure. Above it once stood a marble colonnade, which unfortunately is no longer, acting as a picturesque frame for the two original twin temples of the holy terrace, one dedicated to Augustus and one to the Capitoline triad of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. Regrettably only a single pedestal remains.

You enter the cryptoporticus from the garden in piazza Giovanni XXIII, on the left side of the Cathedral.

The cryptoporticus is a system of underground galleries with a quadrangular horseshoe layout, composed of a double passageway with barrel vaults supported by solidly-built pillars in blocks of travertine limestone, delicately plastered and lit up by splayed windows.

Recent restoration has made it possible for visitors to walk through practically the entire cryptoporticus, which is in excellent condition and makes for an evocative background for various theatre shows and events. Definitely a must-see!

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A Ham worth a Festival

Vallée d’Aoste Jambon de Bosses

The village of Saint-Rhemy en Bosses, at an altitude of 1600 metres has been producing raw ham for centuries, as recorded by inventory registries documenting the sale and exchange of goods dating back to the Middle Ages.

Today Vallée d’Aoste Jambon de Bosses, a DOP (protected brand name), is still produced using the same ingredients and method that were used in the past.

The ham is produced according to strict rules that regulate not only the production process but also the raising and breeding of the pigs used. Only top quality meat from pigs born, raised and slaughtered exclusively in the Valle d'Aosta, Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia-Romagna can be used.

Production starts with rubbing blood and serum away from the gammon. Afterwards, salt, coarsely ground pepper, sage, rosemary, garlic, juniper, thyme and bay leaves are added and no artificial additives are allowed. The ham is then left to season for 12 to 24 months on a bed of hay in cool rooms.

The aromatic herbs and hay give the ham its distinctive fragrance and flavour.

The Comitato per la Promozione e Valorizzazione del Vallée d'Aoste Jambon de Bosses DOP (Committee for the Promotion and Enhancement of Vallée d'Aoste Jambon de Bosses DOP) was created in 2009 to meet the ever-increasing demand for this raw ham guaranteeing that only a quality and genuine product is sold under that name.

A brand mark has been introduced to prevent counterfeiting: it must be burned on the skin of the gammon and printed on the tie, while a label records the manufacturer's code number and the ingredients used.

Various producers can be found in the area and local restaurants and shops offer this delicate and tasty treat. In addition to this, in July, a four-days long festival celebrates the ham and is the ideal occasion to treat yourself to good food, music and cabaret shows and, of course, taste and purchase Vallée d’Aoste Jambon de Bosses as well as other local products.

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In the Footsteps of Napoleon

The Gran San Bernardo Pass

The Gran San Bernardo Pass, between Switzerland and Valle d'Aosta, is one of oldest routes that cross the Alps, connecting Northern Europe to the South.

With its highest point at 2472 metres, it's the most challenging stretch on the pilgrim route "Via Francigena" to Rome and Jerusalem. Surrounded by imposing mountains, the pass was a favourite stop for pilgrims and travellers and was already used during Roman times, when it was just a small path. Roman ruins have been, in fact, discovered along the route.

In the 11th century Saint Bernard of Menton founded the Hospice du Grand-Saint-Bernard, a hostel which provided accommodation to those who had reached the pass.

A larger hotel with a restaurant was opened in the 20th century, offering higher level of comfort to modern travellers. On the Swiss side the hospice is still open all year and is committed "to offer hospitality to anybody who reaches the hospice by foot or by bike" and statue of the saint can be seen in front of it.

The pass also gives its name to the famous Saint Bernard rescue dogs, one of the most cherished symbols of the Colle. Although their name dates back to the more recent 19th century, these large dogs were bred starting from the beginning of the 16th century by the friars of the hostel and were used to protect the hospice, mark the route in fresh snow, find travellers lost in bad weather and search for avalanche victims.

The most famous crossing over the mountain pass was undoubtedly that of Napoleon, who marched through the valley in 1800 with an army of 40,000 men, 5,000 horses, 50 canons and 8 howitzers.

Today, the pass is only open in the summer, has a modern road, with hairpin bends and breath-taking views. Opening dates depend on snowfall and weather conditions and therefore vary each year. In fact, weather conditions can be challenging even in summer and the beautiful lake is often frozen until late spring! Just out of curiosity, the highest temperature recorded in the last 100 years was 20 °C in 1947 while the lowest was -30 °C in 1929.

The Gran San Bernardo Pass is a popular destination for demanding hikes and easier day trips by car. Spectacular views over Italy and Switzerland attract tourists, who can relax on the lakeshore, enjoy the restaurant and café, take a pleasant hike and cross the border between Italy and Switzerland as many times as they like!

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A 2000 Year Tour

Aosta’s Roman and Medieval Past

A walking tour along the 2000 years of Roman-based history of Aosta city.

A Peak into Switzerland

The Hollow of By

Once a stop on the way to safety towards Switzerland, today the hollow of By is a haven of natural beauty.

When Life Was Not So Easy…

The Saint-Marcel Mines

A stunning walk among the mining villages and extraction sites of the Saint-Marcel mines.

A 2000 Year Tour

Aosta’s Roman and Medieval Past

This time travel starts in 25 B.C., the year in which the Roman city of Augusta Prætoria Salassorum was founded. The name “Augusta” comes from the Emperor Augustus – the city is, in fact, dedicated to him – while “Prætoria” comes from the Prætorian Guards, who were some of the first to establish colonies in the territory. “Salassorum” – meaning of the Salassi – is instead a tribute to the heroic, steadfast local population who had given the Roman Legions such a hard time.

The Romans never left anything to chance and the location of the city was no exception.

A strategic position was chosen for the initial settlement; an area of essential transit between two important directions – the roads leading respectively to the Little Saint Bernard Pass across the Grain Alps and to the Great Saint Bernard Pass over the Pennine Alps.

To start your journey through time, we suggest you enter Augusta Prætoria much the same way as a traveller from the Po Valley might have back in the day; through the ancient Roman bridge. Today, however, you’ll see no water underneath. In the 11th century, a flood caused the river Buthier to be moved elsewhere, forever depriving the bridge of its original purpose.

From the bridge it is impossible not to notice the impressive Arch of Augustus; an important monument that marks the presence and the power of Rome. From here, you aren’t far from the ancient city entrance. Moving along the Decumanus Massimus, the main road leading from the east to the western city entrance, now via Sant’Anselmo, remember that you are still on the outside of the Roman city; this quarter was developed later on, in the Middle Ages.

The majestic Porta Prætoria is a truly monumental entrance, once capable of leaving anyone who entered in awe. To this day it is still possible to admire the two parallel curtain walls equipped with three passages; the central one for carts and the lateral ones for pedestrians. Not far from here, to the right, stand the remains of the old city walls - it’s still possible to tour most of the remaining city walls with their several towers, or at least what is left of them!

From here, enter the ancient quarter of all things spectacular, where the amazing façade of the Roman Theatre (22 metres high!) greeted visitors for centuries. Its splendour is still in the air today, and can be perceived just by looking at the remains.

Then head on from the theatre and reach the Piazza della Cattedrale, where the Roman Forum once lay. Unfortunately, not much of it is left today, only the pedestal of one of the twin temples that once towered on the holy terrace. 

However, the real hidden gem of Augusta Prætoria has been perfectly preserved over the centuries: the cryptoporticus, a system of galleries with a horseshoe layout that the Romans had built in order to raise the level of the terrace of the temples, but which also, at the same time, served as an elegant passageway. Walking through it, one feels like entering a parallel universe, what with its suffused light and mysterious atmosphere.

Going back, not far beyond the Forum, is also the interesting Museo Archeologico of the Region, where various objects from the underground of Aosta and the Valley can be admired. And lastly, outside the city walls, heading towards the hills are the remains of the Villa della Consolata, an incredible, rustic country villa, once occupied by extremely sophisticated people, in as much as it even included a spa facility! These are worth a visit if you have time.

A city which has managed to preserve unexpected masterpieces, Aosta doesn’t merely safeguard treasures from the Roman period, but also some from the Middle Ages, such as Sant’Orso, a collegiate church, with its Romanesque cloister from the 12th century and the Cathedral.

You will be blown away by this breath-taking journey through more than 2000 years of history!

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A Peak into Switzerland

The Hollow of By

The Hollow of By, once an important stop on the route to Switzerland, is a wonderful green area surrounded by imposing peaks and untouched nature. Mont Vélan, Grand Combin, Tête Blanche and Mont Gelé are just some of the majestic mountains that can be seen from the valley.

The tiny village of By, at an altitude of 2050 metres, is now only used as high mountain pasture dwelling.

However, in the past, the few buildings that make up the hamlet were inhabited all year round by shepherds and mountain guides, who took travellers and merchants to Switzerland through the Fenetre Durand. According to non-official documents, religious reformer John Calvin took this route to escape from Aosta to Switzerland in 1536 when the region decided to remain faithful to the Catholic Church and expelled all Protestants. Centuries later Luigi Einaudi, the future President of the Italian republic, like many other anti-fascists, followed this route to escape from Nazi-fascist persecution after the German invasion in September 1943. Casa Farinet, the building where Einaudi and his wife spent the night on their way to Switzerland, can be visited in the village.

Beautiful and colourful wild flowers and plants, crystal clear alpine lakes and breath-taking views will reward you after the steep but not too difficult 1 hour and 15 minute hike from the Ollomont area of Glassier. You will cross larch tree woods and streams, walk through pasture land and beautiful meadows and admire local fauna like marmots or ibex. On your way are the lovely small Chapel Madonna degli Alpini and a characteristic “aqueduct” consisting of a metal pipe supported by massive stone columns.

The itinerary starts from the village of Ollomont, not far from Aosta.

The hike is recommended as a pleasant summer excursion to escape the heat and becomes a more demanding though still appealing trek in winter, when the route is covered in snow. More expert hikers can consider the Tour des Combins, a 200 km hike across Italy and Switzerland.

If you decide to visit in summer and you choose the right day you might find an unusual surprise: every year By hosts a round of the famous Aosta Valley “Bataille de Reines”, a cow fighting tournament where the best cows of the valley compete over several months for the title of Reina di lacë (Queen of milk). It might sound strange but it's well worth the walk so keep this peculiar battle in mind when planning your trip to By!

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When Life Was Not So Easy…

The Saint-Marcel Mines

The iron and copper mining complex of Servette-Chuc, situated at an altitude between 1400 and 1800 metres, was an important mining area near the Valle d'Aosta village of Saint-Marcel. Both in the Servette-Chuc and in the nearby Praborna manganese mine, extraction activities are documented since the Middle Ages, though mining in the area was most likely introduced already by the Romans, if not by earlier inhabitants.

During the 18th century the mines were operated by the Challant family, as reported by Nicolis de Robilant (1786-87). In the 18th century at Treves Foundry the minerals from the mine were melted and copper was extracted from the ore.

Today, the itinerary to the Servette-Chuc mines starts from the Druges Alte picnic area at 1594 metres and takes approximately two hours, leading the visitor through the main sites of the abandoned mines and mining village. Most of the still visible mining site dates back to the last periods of exploitation between 1854 - the beginning of the most active period of the mine - and 1957, when all mining activities ceased.

Large furnace slag heaps can also be found near the Servette mine: the Fontillon dump and the Strada Cavour slag deposit. The old cable car, built in 1918, was discontinued in 1940, when the main cable broke, and its departure platform can still be seen.

Further stops along the itinerary are the former guard house and powder magazine, the entrance to the San Giuseppe tunnel and the remains of what is believed to be the ancient Roman mine.

In the years of extraction activity, life was hard for the miners. Most of them were from neighbouring villages but some came from as far as Bergamo or Venice and lived in the mining village. They worked in shifts of 8 hours, 6 days a week. Their holiday entitlement was six days a year and injuries and sickness were frequent, as working conditions were precarious and dangerous.  No specific protective clothes were worn and helmets were introduced only in 1947.

What is today a pleasant hike to the mines was the daily route to work for most of the miners, who didn't own shoes but only wooden clogs.

So get those comfortable hiking boots and book a guided tour of the mines to get the most from this interesting site and learn about its history and the geology of the area. Apart from the mines, you will enjoy a wonderful landscape and amazing views!

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Castle Romance

La Tour de Villa Castle

Every young girl dreams of a wedding like Cinderella's: with a wonderful dress, on a carriage drawn by magnificent white horses leading her to the magical castle where her prince is waiting… This enchanting image might disappear when growing up but the reverie of a fairy-tale wedding stays.

This dream can come true at the fascinating La Tour de Villa Castle, which, with its crenelated tower surrounded by defence walls, sits in the idyllic countryside area of Gressan, a few minutes' drive from Aosta.

The oldest part of the manor is more than 900 years old. It was an imposing symbol of power erected by the De Villa family and later turned into a more refined residential complex by the De Graciano family. After the De Villas family line died off the castle changed owners numerous times and went through both good and very bad times until it was completely abandoned in the 19th century. Monsignor Duc, the Bishop of Aosta chose it as his summer residence in 1885 and gave it a new revival after extensive restructuring.

Today the castle belongs to the Arrugas, a Milan family who shares this treasure with anybody who wants to experience timeless magical moments in the enchantment of a fairy-tale location. The charm, poetry and atmosphere that surround the castle make it the ideal setting for weddings and perfect for unforgettable events, unique parties, dinners and meetings.

The suggestive Hall of the Shields and Hall of the Snail and the wide belvedere over Aosta, from where you can enjoy a splendid view, will make any visit or event truly unique.

This magnificent building also hosts a bed & breakfast: the master bedrooms in the 14th century residential wing on the first floor can be booked for a unique stay. In summer breakfast is served in the inside garden, where you can taste delicious local products in the shade of ancient lime trees just below the tower. You'll feel like castle owners, damsels, knights, princes and princesses… a real-life fairy-tale!

For the more passionate dreamers, who can never get enough of fairy tales, we suggest moments of pure poetry in a nearby Aosta Valley fort: the Malluquin Tower in Courmayeur. Standing on the Piazza Petigax, it was built in the 13th century by the Malluquin family. A square building with seven very low storeys divided by wooden ceilings, the castle can be accessed from the ground floor while in the past the only entrance was at 8 metres above the ground, to protect from enemies.  In this historic setting exclusive dinners prepared by a celebrity chef are served in the only one table available in the tower: a truly unique experience where you'll be treated like kings and queens!

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Hard to Believe it’s Stale Bread and Cheese

Seupa à la Valpelenentse

The seupa à la Valpelenentse is a traditional farmer’s soup made from stale bread and local pride, fontina cheese. In Valpelline, where the soup has its origin and from where it takes its name, you can feel the enthusiasm and passion that the people share for this ancient recipe.

To prepare this soup, which represents one of the most well-known traditional dishes, you’ll need meat broth, fontina cheese, cinnamon, butter, Savoy cabbage and stale white bread.

First of all, you need to layer bread and fontina in an oven pan, as you would with lasagne, taking care to finish off with a layer of fontina. Then, you need to boil the cabbage in the broth, adding it to the bread, mollifying it. Afterwards, add melted butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon and bake at 200-220 degrees for about 40 minutes, or at least until the cheese is light-brown.

The soup should be served steaming hot, mainly because of its original purpose, which was getting warm during winter.

Tip: to accompany the seupa we highly recommend the Arnad Montjovet, a full-bodied Nebbiolo based red wine.  

The peculiar thing about this nutritious dish also adds a historical connotation and that is the use of stale white bread. In the past, white bread was very expensive and practically only bought to nurture the elderly and the ill. If something was left over, it was used to make soups, so as not to let this precious product go to waste.

Since the 60s, the seupa has been one of the most famous dishes in the traditional cuisine of the Valle d’Aosta and, thanks to the various local festivals (sagre), it has become a regular attraction. In celebration of this soup, which has been compared to an actual landmark because of its historical significance, the town of Valpelline organises an annual festival the last week of July, in conjunction with the patron saint.

In this occasion, the majority of the people from Valpelline come together to prepare the seupa. Thanks to the unaltered methods of preparation, the seupa à la Valpelenentse has obtained the Denominazione Comunale di Origine, an Italian high quality designation of origin.

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A Thousand-year Old Fair

The Sant'Orso Fair

During the coldest days of the year, more specifically on the 30th and the 31st of January, when most parts of the regions are covered in snow, the people of the Aosta Valley celebrate the approaching end of winter with a 2-day festival of their favourite patron saint, Sant’Orso – Saint Ursus.

This event is deeply embedded in the local population - and so has been for more than a thousand years.

Legal documents from the year 1240 refer to a local fair dating back to 300 years before. But why hold a fair during the dead of winter? Recent studies show that from 750 to 1550, the climate in the Alps was much warmer than it is today: winters were shorter and milder and the 31st of January was considered to be the end of the winter season. Thus, this period seemed to be the ideal time to acquire new farming equipment for the springtime.

In the Middle Ages the fair was held in the Borgo di Aosta, on the area near the collegiate church of Sant’Orso in the city of Aosta.

Today, the entire city centre is abuzz with people exhibiting the traditional craftsmanship of the Valley: sculptures and woodcarvings, carving of soapstone, wrought iron works, leather crafting, drap-weaving (an old-fashioned way of weaving wool on wooden looms), lacework, wickerwork, household items, wooden ladders, barrels…

The Sant’Orso fair is a homage to the creativity and the industriousness of mountain folks and it is an event through which the identity of the people of the Aosta Valley becomes manifest.

Browsing through the stands you’ll find the symbol of the fair: the cockerel. A symbol of rebirth and awakening, but also of vigilance and protection against evil spirits looming in the darkness.

A visit to the Sant’Orso fair is a unique experience, and is be to enjoyed to the fullest. The exhibitors aren’t in it merely for the money, but to engage in a relationship with the public, to share an unforgettable moment with them, which culminates in the veillà: the long night between the 30th and the 31st of January, where otherwise unnoticeable cantine (wine bars) open their doors to the public and dancing and singing can be heard till the early morning, when the fair continues where it left off the night before.

The Aosta fair isn’t the only one to pay homage to local craftsmanship. 15 days before, in the medieval village of Donnas, another Sant’Orso fair takes place. Less grand than its neighbouring Aosta version, it is nonetheless an exclusive opportunity to relive traditions from the past in intimate and cosy surroundings.

For those of you wishing to admire the local craftsmanship all year round, a visit to the MAV (Museo dell’Artigianato Valdostano) is obligatory. It lies close to the Fénis Castle and is a place of confrontation of views and a workshop of new ideas, as well as a treasure chest of traditions and heritage.

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When Water Flows Green

The Eve Verda of Saint-Marcel

Not far from the village of Saint-Marcel, the Eve Verda (Green Water) is an interesting geological phenomenon that has attracted the attention of scientists for centuries. If you’re curious to see this peculiar and intriguing anomaly, know that it can be observed at an altitude of around 1300 metres on the route that leads from the Sanctuary of Plout to the old mining village of Chuc.

A beautiful bluish-greenish precipitate covers the rocks and pebbles of a stream descending from the mine, making the water and everything else on the streambed (leaves, twigs, etc.) appear green.

The cause of these wonderful colours is a mixture of minerals: two separate streams, one coming from the mine and the other from the Chuc village, converge a few metres uphill, causing a change in the pH of the water.

This spectacular “fontaine colorée” was first studied in 1784 by scientist Saint-Martin de La Motte, a member of the Académie Royale des Sciences in Turin and a prominent exponent of the Enlightenment.

La Motte was fascinated by the waters and carried out extensive studies, both analysing their chemical properties and interviewing the local inhabitants to find out more. The stream was later observed by Horace-Bénedict de Saussure, who wrote about it in his book “Voyages dans les Alpes” (1796).

If you’re curious to see this mystical natural sight, to reach the stream leave your car at Plout parking lot and proceed along the road.

At the signpost follow the path until your reach a spectacular chestnut tree with a wooden sculpture inside the huge open trunk. Proceed until you get to a hiking path marked as ‘path 13’.

This trail will take you through woods, water and berry bushes, past the ruins of the old mine and a beautiful waterfall. 

Surrounded by wonderful flowers and butterflies, you'll reach the stream and the entire easy hike will take around 1 hour and a half.

Tip: please note that not all the stream is green so make sure you find the right spot to admire this amazing phenomenon!

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A Monument of Triumph

The Arch of Augustus

Dating back to 25 B.C, the Arco di Augusto was built by the Romans in commemoration of the final defeat of the Salassi, which enabled the creation of Augusta Prætoria Salassorum – today’s Aosta.

The Main Entrance to Alpine Rome

Porta Prætoria

The eastern entrance and the largest of the four city gates of the Roman colony of Augusta Prætoria, the Porta Prætoria still stands with its well-preserved towers.

Touch the Stars

The Observatory of Saint-Barthélemy

At 1675 metres of altitude the Saint-Barthélemy Observatory is an innovative scientific outpost for astronomical research. 

Rock Solid

The Grand Arvou Bridge

A masterpiece of engineering dating back to the 13th century, the Grand Arvou bridge features a powerful aqueduct and architectural wonders.

A Monument of Triumph

The Arch of Augustus

Aosta has many reminders of its Roman past, having once been an important defensive and residential place to the Romans, situated on the consular way from the Po Valley to Lyon through the Alps. One of these reminders is the Arch of Augustus built in 25 B.C. in commemoration of the final victory over the Salassi population by general Aulo Terentius Varrone Murena, creating the colony of Augusta Prætoria Salassorum – today’s Aosta.

To look at, the Arch is quite austere and without much embellishment but that was typical of the time of the late Republican era.

Built from conglomerate, it has a single vault and measures exactly the same as the road that runs through it, that is 8.29 metres. The monument itself contains two different classical styles; the ten engaged columns decorating the façade and sides finish with Corinthian capitals, while the entablature, ornate with triglyphs and metopes, is Doric.

On top of the entablature, there used to be an attic with a dedicatory inscription in bronze, but since the attic was removed centuries ago and replaced with a slate roof, it can no longer be detected.

The wooden crucifix under the vault is actually a copy of the original, which is stored at the Museo del tesoro della cattedrale di Aosta. The original was placed there in 1449 as a ritual donation after the flooding of the nearby river Buthier. Before the crucifix, an image of the Saviour was positioned in the same spot, giving the Arch the nickname Saint-Vout (Holy Arch).

In 1912, the Arch underwent a definitive restoration superintended by none other than Ernesto Schiaparelli, the famous Egyptologist and director of the Museo Egizio (Egyptian Museum) in Turin, where a nearby excavation brought forth two bronze letters, probably once part of the honorary inscription.

Fun Facts: Both Turner and Stendhal were fascinated by Aosta and its Arch, the former sketched two drawings and the latter wrote one of his famous quotes on this Roman marvel!

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The Main Entrance to Alpine Rome

Porta Prætoria

The Porta Prætoria was built in 25 B.C. along with the foundation of the Roman colony of Augusta Prætoria Salassorum (today the city of Aosta) and other important monuments in the city, such as the Arch of Augustus.

It was the eastern entrance and the largest of the four city gates, the other three being the Porta Decumana on the west, from where you could reach the Little St Bernard Pass; the Porta Principalis Sinistra on the north, that ran into the Gaul road toward the Great St Bernard Pass; and the Porta Principalis Dextera on the south, whose chief purpose was to provide access to Roman funds in the nearby neighbourhood.

The Porta Prætoria is composed of two fortified towers, still well preserved, united by a double curtain wall with three openings. A large central one for wagons and two smaller lateral openings for pedestrians, all equipped with portcullis to be lowered at night. Beyond the openings, the indoor area was used as parade ground. 

The construction is built with large blocks of puddingstone and on the eastern façade it is still possible to detect the greyish-green marble slabs, which once covered the entire monument, and the white marble slabs covering the sculpted entablature and the cornices of the arches.

In the Middle Ages, the Lords of Quart took possession of the Porta and the two supporting towers and transformed them into a fortified residence. Above the arches on the eastern curtain wall, alongside the ancient rampart walkway, there used to be a chapel dedicated to the Divine Trinity, which is why the Porta Prætoria went by that name for centuries.

To truly get a sense of the impressive magnitude of this Roman testament, one of the most beautiful and best preserved constructions of its kind, you must keep in mind that the original ground level was situated at about 2,60 metres below the current embankment.

This is now possible to admire thanks to a recent redevelopment project, which has dug out over 2 metres of debris from river floods that had caused the ground level to rise.

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Touch the Stars

The Observatory of Saint-Barthélemy

If we could get closer to the stars and touch them this would be the ideal place… The amazing observatory of Saint-Barthélemy, opened in 2003, can be found at an altitude of 1675 metres near the village of Lignan, located on the higher side of the Saint-Barthélemy Valley.

The site was chosen because of the area’s specific weather conditions and the extraordinarily high number of clear days per year, ranging between 198 and 250. Minimal light pollution caused by artificial lights and low levels of atmospheric turbulence were also considered when choosing the location.

The state-of-the art technical equipment guarantees high profile scientific research and at the same time provides the opportunity to offer educational activities for schools and university students. The Observatory also functions as a weather station with a series of teaching panels for visitors and has a fascinating planetarium.

A visit to the Observatory is a unique experience and provides high quality astronomical information for experts and tourists alike. During the day visitors can participate in sun observation tours where images from the sun are taken by a spectroscope, filtered and projected on a TV monitor using a CCD camera.

The informative night visits, carried out by real scientists, reveal the secrets of an unspoilt sky full of stars and planets thus explaining the wonders of astronomy and making it appealing to both professionals and lay men.

There is access to use the telescopes in the teaching balcony and gain precious knowledge about the instruments of the observatory and constellations in the sky. Moreover, all this with the added value of a breath-taking view over some the highest and most appealing alpine peaks.

The observatory is open all year long with different opening hours according to season. Check their website http://www.oavda.it for details on opening times and upcoming special events, for example comet or planet viewings, conferences and children's activities.

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Rock Solid

The Grand Arvou Bridge

In the hamlet of Porossan stands a feat of engineering genius that dates back to the Middle Ages. The Ponte Acquedotto Grand Arvou (the aqueduct bridge of Grand Arvou), is defined as an “arched-bridge channel” and it is one of the very few in the Valle d’Aosta that has not only remained in outstanding condition, but is still fully functioning.

The bridge runs across the Ru Prévôt (ru meaning irrigation canal in the local language). These irrigational canals became necessary at the end of the 13th century when the area in and around Aosta began to suffer from a lack of rainfall and high temperatures which resulted in a need to transport water. The Ru Prévôt was given its name by its constructor, Enrico di Quart, a man whose masterpiece would later be described as “an example of one of the most beautiful monuments that has preserved the Middle Ages for us”. Yet, when we look at the bridge in more detail, the word beautiful doesn’t quite seem to be enough.

Built around 1288, the bridge is about 70 meters long and its load-bearing arch structure features a unique, but specifically-designed irregular trapezoidal shape.

The remarkably solid construction of the bridge is even more impressive when you learn that it is made of masonry stone and lime and uses only weight distribution, buttresses, and static reinforcements to maintain its structure. The only plaster used is in the almost perfectly preserved interior walls. The coating of smooth, waterproof plaster has kept the interior corridor leak free and without any traces of moisture.

Since the area around the aqueduct was once in severe need of water to irrigate new pastures, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that this mighty hydraulic work has the capacity to transport 400 litres of water per second. The aqueduct was able to irrigate around 225 hectares of land in the municipalities of Roisan, Aosta, Saint-Christophe, and Quart.

When you first see Ponte Acquedotto, you’ll notice that is almost seems to be a magnificent building rather than a bridge.

This is because the bridge features a roof-like covering of loess and the windows that go along the length of the interior corridor allow just enough light in in order to pique one’s curiosity and imagine a period that seems almost light years away from today’s modern world.

Although the interior corridor of the bridge was high and wide enough to allow someone to enter for constant inspections (obviously when water wasn’t flowing), due to safety reasons, the entrance of the bridge is now closed.

Engineering and artistic excellence combined into one. Why just build yet another bridge, when you can build a masterpiece of engineering that stands and continues to stand the test of time!

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The Most Famous Castle in the Valley

Fénis Castle

The location of Fénis Castle at the top of a small hillock surely wasn’t meant for military purposes, even though the building itself is impressive, in terms of its defensive structure. In fact, Fénis Castle was the residence of the Challant dynasty until 1716, when it was sold to Count Baldasarre Castellar of Saluzzo Paesana.

After various vicissitudes and a period of complete dereliction, it was purchased on behalf of the Italian State by architect Alfredo d’Andrade in 1895. D'Andrade started a restoration project, which was completed by Vittorio Mesturino. Today the castle is the property of the Regional Council and since 1936 it has been the home of the Museo del Mobile Valdostano (the Valle d’Aosta Furniture Museum).

A curiosity: if you happen to visit the furniture museum you might want to know that only a small part of the furniture pieces on display is actually from the valley. In fact, those at the time in charge of collecting the pieces created a muster of Italian furniture, sometimes resorting to making alterations in order to have the items comply more closely to the standards of real Valle d'Aosta furniture. Nevertheless, the collection is interesting and worth a look at if you're in the area.

The castle’s current appearance dates back to the 14th and 15th century, when Aimon of Challant and his son Boniface the First began expanding it.

The layout is pentagonal and the corners have round towers, except for the south-west corner that holds a massive tower and the southern corner with its foursquare tower. The double perimeter walls surrounding the keep are crenelated with a number of watchtowers, linked by a walkway.

The centre of the keep is divided into three floors enclosing an inner courtyard with a semi-circular stone staircase and two wooden porticos.

The courtyard is ornamented with fifteenth-century Gothic frescoes, attributed to a painter of the school of Jaquerio, depicting Saint George slaying the dragon and a group of prophets and wise men with scrolls bearing proverbs and maxims in ancient French. On the eastern wall, mostly the work of Giacomino di Ivrea, we find representations of the Annunciation of Saint Christopher. This famous work, however, has been repainted over so many times that it is impossible, today, to attribute it with certainty to the same author.

On the ground floor lie the kitchen, the pantry, the dining room, the study and, last but not least, the tax-collector’s office, which are all, except for the last two, open to visitors. On the first floor we find the private and more elegant rooms of the Challant family and an exquisite chapel with frescoes. The second floor, however, is not open to the public and used to house the servants’ quarters.

A curiosity: because of its picturesque position and ancient charm, Fénis Castle attracts many a tourist each year and is often used for film locations.

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A Call with History

Innocenzo Manzetti

An unknown figure, even to many Italians, Innocenzo Manzetti is one of Aosta’s most well-known citizens and is considered by many to be the true inventor of the telephone well before Antonio Meucci and Alexander Graham Bell.

However, before we get too ahead of ourselves, we should probably start from the beginning. Born on March 17, 1826 Innocenzo Vincenzo Bartolomeo Luigi Carlo Manzetti showed an inclination for studying and an aversion for games and socializing at an early age.

Manzetti attended religious schools, but he would develop a greater interest in science and mechanics instead of Latin and other languages. After finishing his studies in Aosta, his parents sent him to Turin where he completed his studies and became a building surveyor. The modest sum he earned giving lessons in French and Maths during his studies enabled him to return to his beloved Aosta, where he started working in the Office of Civil Engineering. There, just as in his childhood days, his free time was dedicated to research and experiments rather than socializing.

Manzetti dedicated his time to studying everything from acoustics to astronomy. One of his first inventions was “Il Suonatore di Flauto” (the flute player): a robot of sorts composed of at least 500 pieces all made to resemble a real man that could play the flute.

Manzetti had many other inventions and often had many admirers and interested buyers. Unfortunately, the genius didn’t have a great business sense and, as was the case with his pasta maker, no great profits were ever earned.

Manzetti’s lack of a head for business may have been one thing, but what he lacked in business sense, he more than made up for in genius and creativity.

His greatest discovery was the precursor to the telephone. He had always been intrigued by the idea of remote communication and some say that his experiments began as early as age 18. His discovery was given international recognition in France, Italy, and America, but sadly Manzetti’s name never became firmly established in the world of telecommunications. His early death (just one year after Bell’s patent) as well as Manzetti’s social awkwardness may have contributed to his inability to defend his invention.

Being one of Aosta’s most treasured citizens, it shall come as no surprise that there is a museum dedicated entirely to his work.

We could contribute to describe Manzetti and his inventions, but nothing will compare to looking into the eyes of “Il Suonatore di Flauto” in person. Thanks to Manzetti’s biographers, Mauro Caniggia Nicolotti and Luke Poggianti, the Valle d'Aosta inaugurated a museum dedicated to the inventor in April of 2012, which is located in the former church of Saint-Benin.

The Saint-Bénin Exhibition Centre is located in the centre of Aosta in via Jean-Boniface Festaz. The goal of the exhibition is, for those who aren’t familiar with Manzetti and his accomplishments, help one of Valle d’Aosta’s most creative inventors receive the long overdue credit he deserves.

The museum is managed directly by the regional administration and is open every day except Mondays from 9:30 to 12.30 and from 14:30 to 18:30.

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Plants, Witches and Magic

Maison des Anciens Remèdes and Valle d’Aosta’s Traditional Medicine

Leaving Aosta, the stress of urban life gives way to the peace and quiet of the rural environment, where Jovençan lies, a small village surrounded by apple orchards, meadows and vineyards.

In the centre of the village, between the church and the town hall, is Maison des Anciens Remèdes (the House of Ancient Remedies), a site where medicinal plants are studied and used following both old and modern methods.

The Maison is located in a fascinating building dating back to the 17th century, previously used by the parish as a winter barn for animals, hay and grains. Maison des Anciens Remèdes aims to preserve the memory of the Valley's traditional curative practices and methods.

What's inside? Old agricultural tools? Dusty showcases with dried out herbs? Long explanatory panels that make you sleepy? None of these! Here, we are not dealing with the usual ethnographic museum. Instead, multimedia and interactive installations will guarantee an interesting and fun experience.

Young guides welcome you dressed as Violetta, a magical human flower, or Lanta Melie, a lovely old lady, and you'll discover secret remedies that help to solve many problems without having to use medicines. Reaching into drawers full of leaves, roots, dried flowers and seeds, you'll be able to touch, crumble, smell and even taste these natural products.

Perfumes will guide you through sensory riddles, take you to the workshop where cosmetics are produced and herbal teas and infusions can be tasted.

Young visitors will also find a dedicated area with activities such as the Goose Game, "medicinal Sudoku" or the "Apothecary Dominoes" and interactive spaces where they can learn and explore through play.

The Maison will introduce you to ancient traditions, such as the old healers' practices.

Healers were mainly women, who, in the valley’s tradition, had the gift to cure illnesses by the use of their hands, plants and secret formulas. Even in this day, some refer to these figures to seek help in case of accidents, sickness or surgery. But who are these modern "witches"?  They are usually peaceful, down-to-earth people who live following nature's rules and cycles, feeling its energy around them.

Healers and herbal remedies were a common custom in the past. The castle of Issogne, a grand Renaissance residence, has frescoes depicting colourful life scenes from that time. In one of them, "the apothecary", images of herbs, jars and medicinal remedies prove that plants and herbs have been widely used in medicine for centuries.

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An Artisan’s World

The Museum of Aostan Craft

Opened in the hamlet of Chez-Sapin (Fenis), the MAV or Museo Dell’Artigianato Valdostano was inaugurated on January 24, 2009 and is dedicated to the traditional arts and crafts of the Valle d’Aosta as well as the artisans themselves. The museum is run by IVAT (Valdôtain Institut de l’Artisinat de Tradition), an organization that has been working tirelessly in the development and promotion of local arts for the last 7 years.

Made up of six areas, the museum is all designed to take visitors through the artisan’s world: the chance to become familiar with the materials, the craftsmanship, the daily life of the artists and the equally as important social life that surrounds them.

Through the 800 objects it has on display, the MAV takes the visitor through the evolution of the artistic tradition of the area all whilst evoking the personal, emotional and sensitive aspects that one associates with the word artist.

The setting of the museum is neutral and the objects speak for themselves. Strategically placed lighting and a lack of glass containers eliminate the distance between the viewer and the stories that these objects have to tell, thus inspiring all the emotions that being that close to history is able to do.

The MAV also features a didactic area: tradition is meant to be passed down to the youngest visitors. Young visitors will have the opportunity to become artisans for a day: the museum vaunts an authentic kid-sized workshop complete with workbenches and all the tools a young artisan requires. The activities are all designed to put children in contact with the raw materials and to inspire them to create and be creative. The joy of being able to play with a wooden toy you built with your very own hands is sure to be an experience not soon forgotten.

More than a place that simply teaches visitors a little bit of history while celebrating the ingenuity and creativity of the Valle d’Aosta, the MAV is a museum dedicated to promoting the work of these artisans by eliminating all the barriers that make history seem like something from a time gone by. The museum succeeds in leaving the visitor with a sense of how important the future of these talented craftspeople - along with the valley's most rooted traditions - are.

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A Secret Garden of Images

Franco Grobberio

One of the most important artists of Valle d'Aosta, Franco Grobberio is a surrealist-inspired, extremely gifted painter.

One Saint, One People


A cherished saint of Valle d'Aosta, Sant'Orso is deeply connected with the local culture.

The Colourful Works of a Free Spirit

Francesco Nex

An Aostan painter, Francesco Nex is remembered for his colourful works drawing on Medieval images and forms.

The Legacy of an Independent Thinker

Saint Anselm of Aosta

Recognized for his contribution to doctrine and logical thinking, Saint Anselm of Aosta is an important figure of 11th century theology.

A Secret Garden of Images

Franco Grobberio

Franco Grobberio, painter and sculptor, is one of the most important artists on the regional scene. He has always been attracted to the art of painting, even from a very young age, and inside the world of images he has succeeded in recapturing what he defines as his “secret garden; an alternative poetic existence, parallel to everyday life”.

Captivated as an artist by surrealist maestros such as Magritte and Balthus and the metaphysical De Chirico, Grobberio is clearly influenced by these artists - yet he has been able to add a personal dimension to his works, which are all unmistakably his. His earlier works were related to subjects such as the suburbia and the working man, but as he matured his works have taken on new themes and symbols somewhere in between dreams and reality.

For more than 15 years, Franco Grobberio has been a significant part of the Sant’Orso Fair, a 2-day festival during which he exhibits and shows to the public his traditional painted wooden toys, objects of design as well as collection items for art lovers.

The history of Grobberio is a rich one, full of events, group exhibitions and solo shows. Currently, he tends classes on oil painting and watercolour at the University of the Third Age, where groups of students have followed him loyally for years now.

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One Saint, One People


A beloved Saint of the Valle d’Aosta, Sant’Orso (Saint Ursus) is deeply connected to the local culture, with numerous churches, big and small, dedicated to him as well as an extremely popular yearly culture-festival held in the city of Aosta.

We know very little about this locally beloved saint, who apparently lived sometime before the 9th century: a simple man; kind, gentle and generous.

It is impossible to say whether this figure actually existed, but according to tradition, Saint Ursus used to hand out clothes and sabot (typical wooden clogs, still available at the Sant’Orso fair today) to the poor.

A man who dedicated his life to prayer and charity, Sant’Orso paid visits to the ill, fed the poor, comforted the suffering and helped the oppressed. Sant’Orso also worked his field in order to give food to the poor and to birds too, who, in turn, rested on his head, on his shoulders, in his hands...

He is known for a number of miracles, which is why he is considered the patron saint invoked against drought, livestock disease, bad weather, floods, abuse of power, difficult births, rheumatism… and even backache!

In the magnificent 12th century cloister of Sant’Orso, in the city of Aosta, we find a chapel-shrine with representations from his life. The Sant'Orso church, part of the complex, boasts beautiful terracotta pinnacles - a testament to the late Gothic transformation desired by Georges de Challant - and 18th century furnishings, and is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the local saint.

Saint Ursus personifies the identity of the people of the Valle d'Aosta and, regardless of whether or not he actually existed, he sums up the beliefs, the habits and the hopes of the people in the region to this day.

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The Colourful Works of a Free Spirit

Francesco Nex

Francesco Nex was born in Brazil in 1921. His mother was German and his father descended from a long line of famous artists from the Valle d’Aosta, the Artari family. After the death of his mother when he was only two, Francesco's father decided to take him and his older brother back to Italy.

As a young boy he showed a rebellious personality by not wanting to continue with his technical studies, instead following his passionate interest for fine arts and humanities. He went on to study at the Turin Academy of Arts but these studies were interrupted during WWII, when he volunteered to join the army. He finally graduated in 1945, at the end of the conflict.

In 1946 he took a position in a Turin school and while working as an arts teacher he continued painting, drawing for the advertising industry and working with ceramics. During this period he won several awards and his works were shown in galleries in Turin, Aosta and Saint Vincent.

In the late 1950s Nex became increasingly interested in silk painting. 

Retiring from teaching in 1975 he decided to move back to the Valle d’Aosta and dedicate himself almost exclusively to painting on silk. His works became more and more popular not only in the valley but also throughout Italy through increasing exhibitions including a still existing permanent show at the Bard Fort museum.

What makes Nex particularly fascinating is the use of medieval subjects and colours to depict the nature of human beings. His works, evocative of the medieval tapestries, are highly decorative and at the same time profoundly critical of human weaknesses such as the thirst for power or the cruelty towards the weak. Other, more positive images depict love and tenderness or the gaiety of child-play. Looking at these amazing works of art will remind you of the many castles from the Middle Ages scattered throughout the valley.

Another tribute to the valley were the labels drawn by him for the wine bottles of the Institut Agricole Régional, a series of colourful and lively images taken from his work "36 at the Round Table".

Nex lived a long and rewarding life in his beloved Fenis but had to stop working in 2005 suffering from a degenerative eye condition. He died on Christmas day in 2013 at the age of 92. His entire existence was dedicated to the arts and Nex was always a free spirit, never afraid of telling whatever crossed his mind.

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The Legacy of an Independent Thinker

Saint Anselm of Aosta

Saint Anselm of Aosta, better known as Saint Anselm of Canterbury, was a Benedictine monk, Christian philosopher and scholar.

He was born in 1033 of noble parents in Aosta. Under the influence of his pious mother, at fifteen, Anselm asked to join a monastery but was refused by the abbot, who feared Anselm's father's reaction. Following this the young man lost his interest in religion and lived carelessly like most nobility of the time until his mother's death. He then left home and began to study at the monastery of Bec, in Normandy, under the direction of famous abbot Lanfranc.

On his father's death Anselm decided not to return to Aosta but to remain in France and become a monk. He was made prior of the Bec monastery in 1063, after Lanfranc was appointed abbot of St. Stephen's in Caen.

During these years he started writing some of his famous works such as the Monologium, the Proslogium and the De Libertate Arbitrii.

Anselm's life was closely linked to the political and religious events of his time: In 1093 he was summoned to England and became the archbishop of Canterbury. A long lasting dispute with King William II and then Henry I over ecclesiastical abuses and other issues led twice to his exile and later reinstatement. Throughout this period he continued writing about religious and philosophical matters becoming extremely renowned.

Anselm died in 1109. In 1163 he was made a saint and in 1720 he was declared a doctor of the Roman Catholic Church.

Saint Anselm is recognized for his contribution to doctrine and logical thinking. His main achievements were the application of reason in exploring the fundamental principles of faith and the existence of God and his definition of theology as "faith seeking understanding".  Anselm is considered one of the founders of medieval scholasticism. His famous sentence "I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand" was extremely modern for his times and provided a great stimulus to logical thinking, dialectical reasoning and arguing in the monastic schools of the period.

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The Highest Maturing Room in Europe

The Magazzino della Fontina in Ollomont

In the Valle d’Aosta, the number of Fontina wheels produced actually exceeds the number of inhabitants. 350,000 wheels and only 120,000 inhabitants, that’s practically 3 wheels per head!

With that amount of cheese, it’s important to have room for storage and seasoning, because a perfect Fontina needs time to age and ripen before being eaten.

The Magazzino della Fontina in Ollomont, Valpelline, is one of the 6 maturing rooms of the Cooperativa Produttori Latte e Fontina, all carved in rock. Altogether they have a capacity of about 150,000 cheeses. Now that’s a lot of cheese!

Most of these rooms, or warehouses, are former military depots from World War 2, but not this one. The Magazzino della Fontina in Ollomont is an old copper mine, which was exploited up till 1946. The tracks used for transporting the copper are now used for moving the Fontina wheels. The constant temperature and humidity are also perfect for the ripening of the Fontina, all year round there’s a temperature of about 10 degrees Celsius and a relatively high humidity of more of less 90 per cent.

Ollomont is situated at an altitude of 2,646 metres, with pastures of up to 3,300 metres.

This makes the Magazzino della Fontina in Ollomont the highest maturing room in Europe. During summer the cheeses stored here come largely from the Gran San Bernardo area and the Valpelline, but in winter the storage includes cheese produced in farms from the bottom of the valley as well.

It’s very easy to distinguish where each cheese wheel comes from, you only need to look at the labels on the racks. Every day approximately 15 people control, wash and salt each and every wheel, besides the usual loading and unloading.

The Fontina cheese is extremely well cared for, which is also one of the reasons this cheese has been awarded the PDO – Protected Designation of Origin, in Italian DOP.

If you are interested in learning more about the history and the making of Fontina cheese, the Magazzino della Fontina also hosts a museum and a small shop, where you can purchase the delicious cheese yourself!

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A History Lesson in the Sacred Heart of Aosta

The Santa Maria Assunta Cathedral

With its unmistakable slim high towers the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is not only a point of reference when walking around Aosta but also a long established centre for the Christian faith.

A visit to Santa Maria Assunta Cathedral is, in fact, a must for everyone coming to the city of Aosta. The church results from a mix of styles and represents a spiritual and artistic synthesis of the town's long history. Like a strong box it reveals unexpected treasures that leave you open-mouthed.

By the end of the Roman era, radical changes brought about by Christianity caused the decline of the cult for the old Gods.

At that time two twin temples stood on a sacred terrace within the Roman Forum. The terrace, today's Piazza San Giovanni XXIII, was surrounded by a system of double porticos: an upper portico, which stood as a frame around the temples and a lower, semi-subterranean portico, the "cryptoportico", a wonderful jewel still perfectly preserved.

The powerful structure of the cathedral was built on the left wing of this masterpiece of Roman architecture, on the site of a rich patrician domus. It soon became the centre for the town's Christian community and by the middle of the 4th century it was the domus ecclesiae, the "house of the assembly", as promoted by the Edict of Milan in February 313 AD. At the end of the 4th century, when the community became a Christian diocese, the original church's role changed to that of a cathedral. 

The foundations, floors, baptismal fonts and tombstones of the ancient church were discovered under the present cathedral. A glass pane on the central nave floor reveals the main baptistery of the early Christian basilica.

The cathedral was renovated and widened under Bishop Anselmo (994-1026 AD) when wonderful masterpieces were added. The most amazing can be seen in the attic area and consists of fragments of a spectacular cycle of frescoes dating back to the 11th century.

These frescoes, which decorated the walls of the ancient church, were made by expert painters and depict amongst other things the bishops of Aosta, the story of St. Eustachio, the story of Moses and the genealogy of Christ. Walking on boards you'll be able to admire one of the most significant examples of 11th century figurative art.

Parts of the elegant 12th century floor can still be seen in the sanctuary. 

The beautiful pattern is a refined representation of the Years, surrounded by the Months and the Rivers of Paradise and by typically medieval imaginary animals. By the end of the 15th century, the refined and educated Giorgio di Challant, the Aosta Valley's largest ever patron, commissioned important changes to the cathedral and ribbed vaulting was added to the roof structure, so that the Ottonian frescoes are now hidden in the area under the roof.

Other changes were made in the following centuries: the Renaissance atrium, the Baroque altars and the Neoclassical façade are only a few of the gems added during different artistic periods.

Centuries and styles blend and live together in the church and their discovery will make the visit of this cathedral an incredible journey through time.

If you’re an architecture lover, not far from the Santa Maria Assunta is the monumental complex of Sant'Orso, a splendid medieval jewel of memorable beauty, magic and holiness. The Romanesque cloister, the frescoes under the roof (made by the same artists who worked in the cathedral), the very high tower and the priory are just some of the masterpieces you'll discover during your visit that will be difficult to forget.

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Sanctum Sanctorum

The Sant’Orso Religious Complex

The Beautiful religious complex of Sant’Orso in Aosta includes the collegiate church, the campanile, the cloister, the Priory and an early Christian basilica and rises on the site of an age-old non-urban burial ground.

The collegiate church is dedicated to Saints Peter and Ursus and dates back to the 5th century.

Around the year 1000, the structure was enlarged and restored and the general axis of the building was moved to the south. A bell tower was added to the façade; of which you can still see some of the remains today. Later on, additional renovations introduced a basilica plan with three naves with wooden trusses, which were replaced by Gothic cross vaults in the 15th century. In fact, various stiles can be detected, although the prevailing one is the Baroque.

Worth noting are the Ottonian frescoes, from the same period as the ones in the Aosta Cathedral, and here they are also positioned below the roof of the church.

One of the most ancient parts of the church is the crypt, situated below the apse. In the beautiful 15th century choir, we find an interesting mosaic, revealed during the archaeological excavations in 1999. Black, white and light brown tiles intertwine in this square-shaped mosaic, where we find a representation of Samson killing the lion in the centre, probably a symbol of Christ overcoming Evil.

Outside, next to the church, rises the impressive Romanesque campanile at a height of 46 metres. It was originally part of a defence system erected in the 12th century, along with a boundary wall and another large tower.

Next to the collegiate church, we find the Romanesque cloister – the gem of the entire Sant’Orso complex. It was built in the first half of the 12th century and holds around forty ornate, marble capitals representing scenes from both the Old and the New Testament and the Gospel, events from the lives of Christ and Sant’Orso, as well as folk tales, such as Aesop’s fable of the Fox and the Stork. These capitals are among the finest examples of Romanesque religious sculpture work.

The Priory, wanted by Georges de Challant (prior during those years) was completely refurbished between 1470 and 1500. The choice of material is curious – cotto tiles aren’t that common in Valle d’Aosta.

The stile is Renaissance, with a few Gothic details, especially around the window frames. Inside, a winding staircase leads to the Prior’s Room and a frescoed chapel. Unfortunately, it isn’t currently open to visitors.

Built on behest of the clergy in the 5th century, the early Christian cemetery church used to be called Concilium Sanctorum – Council of Saints. Due to a fire, it was destroyed in the 8th century and the only visible testimony are the remaining ruins of the perimeter wall. On top of these remains, a smaller church was erected in the 9th century, dedicated to San Lorenzo (Saint Lawrence). The church has since been deconsecrated and is now used for exhibitions, while the remains of the pre-existing early Christian basilica underneath can be visited during certain months of the year.

Tip: not to miss is also the magnificent age-old lime tree that stands majestically outside the campanile. It was planted sometime between 1530-1550 and simply goes by the name of Sant’Orso. The legend says it was the saint himself who planted the original tree, right where the current lime tree stands. Since 1924, it has been a national monument and it was granted protection by the Region in 1990.

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Spectacular, Spectacular!

The Roman Theatre of Aosta

The restored Roman theatre in Aosta is a significant example of the architecture of the time. It had to have been an impressive construction of considerable dimensions, or at least this is what the excavations tell us. In fact, it has been revealed that the city hosted quite a large area dedicated to the spectacular and that the complex, made up of the Roman theatre and the Amphitheatre, extended across three blocks next to the Decumanus Maximus and near the majestic Porta Prætoria.

Although the precise building dates of both the Amphitheatre and the Roman theatre are hard to pinpoint exactly, excavations suggest that the two entertainment buildings were built during the reign of Emperor Claudius.

According to archaeological investigations, the theatre covered an 81 metres wide and 64 metres long area and what must have stood out the most, and still does, is the imposing 22 metres high southern façade, defined by a sequence of grandiose, vertical buttresses, magnificent entrance arches with three orders of overlapping arches of different dimensions.

The cavea – the Roman seating sections – was probably organised in three horizontal divisions, as custom was, but only the lower part of the semi-circle is visible today. It is estimated that the theatre could have seated from 3 to 4 thousand spectators.

A unique inscription on the steps has led specialists to believe that the theatre once had an upper cover, much the same as the Roman Odeum at Pompeii, a so-called theatrum tectum, which covered the cavea and the orchestra (stage). Only the foundations of the wall that acted as backdrop – scaenae frons – remain today, and so we are unable to admire the ornately decorated Corinthian columns and statues that once welcomed the spectator. But still, the Roman theatre in Aosta is definitely worth the visit, maybe during one of the many shows or concerts that are still being held in this amazing semi-circle!

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A Toast to Tradition

Bière des Salasses

An unconventional beer, Bière des Salasses is made with simple ingredients and a young spirit that cherishes tradition.

Grappa Runs in Their Veins!

The Saint-Roch Distillery

A family-run distillery, Saint-Roch has been making traditional syrups, grappa and liqueurs (including the famous génépy) since the end of the 1800s.

A Special Treat for More Intrepid Palates


A cold-cut of ancient origins, Teteun is sure to last in your memories for its unique taste!

Mountain Smoked

Jambon de Saint-Oyen

A typical regional product, that of Saint-Oyen is a delicious smoked ham produced exclusively in the homonymous village.

A Toast to Tradition

Bière des Salasses

Before we can talk about the story of a great beer, we need to mention a great culture: that of the Salassi. 

The Salassi were great warriors and craftsmen whose roots and culture are still alive today in the area of Mont Blanc. Belonging to a rich Celtic tradition, they were the founders of Cordelia – according to legend, what we know today as the city of Aosta.

Les Bières des Salasses, a type of beer inspired by the Salassi culture, is the realization of a dream for a local family.

The Miozzi family dreamed of creating a craft beer representative of their territory and this dedication and passion has made them the leading beer distributor in the Valle d'Aosta. Since 1947 the Miozzi family has continued in the production of high-fermentation craft beers of the utmost quality, all of which are greatly inspired by their Celtic ancestry along with the addition of ingredients and spices found in the area. 

Unpasteurized, unfiltered, and obviously free of preservatives, Les Bières des Salasses are available in 3 well-known varieties, yet each with their own distinctive element.

  • La Blonde: A lager (4.6%) inspired by American and Belgian pale ales, but with a unique flavour that comes from local millefiori honey.
  • La Rouge: An amber beer (5.3%) which is similar to English bitter ales. Its particularity is the gorgeous red colour which is derived from the rare and precious red rosehip berries found in small areas of the Valley.
  • La Blanche: This white beer (4.5%) resembles a Belgian white beer, but features a characteristic ingredient which makes it stand out from its Belgian cousin; instead of typical orange peels used, Valle d'Aosta apples give an unexpected twist of flavour.

Simple, local ingredients reveal the singularity of a territory without being too intrusive on the palate.

This is the key to ingredients that offer an elegant taste, balanced aromas and delicate flavours. 

Les Bières des Salasses are beers with passion and structure that pair well with the local cuisine of the Valle d'Aosta, but perhaps, most importantly represent the magic and beauty of a land steeped in tradition and a wealth of local ingredients.

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Grappa Runs in Their Veins!

The Saint-Roch Distillery

Tradition and quality have been the bywords at the Saint-Roch Distillery since the end of the 1800s. In fact, at the end of the 19th century, the Levi family founded a distillery in Aosta, in the town of Sant’Orso, where they began producing grappa.

The Levi’s were descendants of the famous grapat, the so-called distillery specialists, making this an obvious business choice. In time, the company has grown and transformed into what we now know today, changing headquarters from Aosta to Quart in 1968.

The distillery is open to the public by phoning in advance and their strong points are without a doubt grappa, liqueurs, syrups and génépy, a herbal liqueur extracted from the alpine plant of the genus Artemisia, which was once known as the aspirine des montagnards (the mountain men’s aspirin) because it was used to tackle the first symptoms of mountain sickness, thanks to its countless properties.

Today, Génépy is mainly taken neat to “warm” the soul and is a classic to try when visiting Valle d'Aosta.

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A Special Treat for More Intrepid Palates


Teteun, also called Tetouns, Teutenne, or Tetette, has been produced in Valle d'Aosta since Roman times. It was rediscovered in the Seventies, when ancient recipes and traditional dishes became popular again, as there was a revival of ancient cultures from less affluent times when nothing went to waste.

It is a typical cold cut specialty produced by soaking a cow's udder in a brine of salt, garlic, herbs and spices.

After marinating for nearly two weeks the udder is boiled for at least two hours until tender. It's then hung to drain and subsequently pressed into moulds in order to obtain an easily sliceable shape. The resulting product is preservative-free and can be kept at 0 to 6 degrees for approximately a year. Its appearance is that of cooked ham, with a somewhat spongier consistency.

Teteun is generally served with a sauce made of parsley, olive oil and garlic but can also be accompanied by fig or raspberry jam, balsamic vinegar or other sweet preserves made from apples, pears or raisins. It can be eaten cold or warm.

This rather unique and rare treat might not be for everybody's taste but if you are feeling adventurous make your way to Gignod for the traditional Fëta di Teteun, a fair held every year in August since 1976 to celebrate this special product of the Valley. You'll be able to taste this and other regional specialties, dance in the open air disco, listen to folk music and watch the election of Miss Teteun.

For this occasion local cooks offer several dishes based on Teteun: every year you'll find a new selection of treats ranging from the already mentioned Teteun with green sauce to more daring experiments such as Teteun cannelloni or stew and barbecued Teteun. During the four day long fair a total of approximately 350 kg of this peculiar type of meat are consumed! A small market offers local products and hand-made crafts.

We highly recommend a trip to Gignod for this entertaining event which every year guarantees lots of fun to locals and tourists alike.

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Mountain Smoked

Jambon de Saint-Oyen

Jambon of Saint-Oyen is a premium quality cooked ham, flavoured with mountain herbs, spices, honey and wine. It is only produced in the Valle d’Aosta village of Saint-Oyen, following a traditional recipe that has been handed down orally from generation to generation.

The "secret" of this tasty cold cut is in the cooking procedure, which happens in two different stages: the meat is first backed in a dry oven for approximately 16 hours and then grill-roasted on a spit above large braziers stocked by wood obtained from trees of the High Valley of Gran San Bernardo. This gives the rind its characteristic golden colour and contributes to the slightly smoked flavour of the ham.

Jambon of Saint-Oyen is an IGP, i.e. a typical regional product, and must be produced according to specific rules.

Producers are proud to offer tastings of this delicious ham in their factory stores and during the traditional festival of the Jambon of Saint-Oyen, organised by the local tourist board every year on the first Sunday in August.

This tasty delight is best served with boiled potatoes or green beans, preferably cut in thick slices and slightly warmed. Jambon of Saint-Oyen is also one of the main ingredients of a typical dish of the area, the delicious soup of Saint-Oyen. For a hearty meal that will warm you after a day in the cold follow this easy recipe and soon you'll enjoy Valle d'Aosta at its best!

If you’ve brought some home with you, here’s the original recipe of the Soup of Saint-Oyen:


  • 400 grams Saint-Oyen ham
  • 400 grams old bread
  • 400 grams Fontina cheese
  • 150 grams butter
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 litre meat broth

Preparation: Slice the bread into 2 cm-thick slices. Grease a baking tray with butter and arrange the buttered slices of bread, then top with cheese and ham. Repeat the same procedure until you have three layers and pour the broth over the bread.

Add the mixture of melted butter and cinnamon and bake for 40 minutes at 200 degrees. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving and enjoy!

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Christmas Cheer in the Heart of Aosta

The Marché Vert Noël

Located in the ancient Roman theatre of Aosta, the Marché Vert Noël is one of the most loved and scenic Christmas markets of the area.

The Bizarre Costumes of the Freezing Valley

Coumba Freida

The incredible carnival tradition of the Gran San Bernardo Valley, taking place each year in the freezing month of February. 

Christmas Cheer in the Heart of Aosta

The Marché Vert Noël

From the end of November to the beginning of January a small part of Aosta transforms into a regular alpine village, hosting the Marché vert Noël, one of the most famous Christmas markets in the Alpine area.

What makes this market so special is first and foremost the location; the chalets are situated in the Roman Theatre, which for the occasion is lit up with colourful lights. This all makes for an evocative background attracting more and more tourists every year.

Strolling through the streets of the market, you can observe the works of some of the most important local craftsmen and lose your way in the immense selection of products available.

At the Marché vert Noël, it is possible to find and buy typical food and wine products, candles and handmade soaps, ceramics and wooden handicraft, antiques, clothes and accessories in wool and felt, hemp and lacework. Moreover, the Marché vert Noël is also the ideal place to find that special Christmas gift you’d been looking for, or a typical souvenir from the Valle d’Aosta.

Open every day from the end of November to the beginning of January, the Marché vert Noël has become an obligatory destination for all those fans of Christmas markets, who each year choose to visit this picturesque village that, for the entire 40-day duration, is enriched by concerts and folk performances, making it an event not to be missed for the world!

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The Bizarre Costumes of the Freezing Valley

Coumba Freida

In the month of February, where the freezing winds of the Coumba Freida (the cold valley) blow practically all year round, winter becomes a bit warmer when the landzette walk by. These colourful Carnival costumes bring a little sunshine, joy and colour to the valleys of the Gran San Bernardo, and have done so for as long as anyone can remember.

Tradition links the landzette to the historic march through the Great Saint Bernard Pass by Napoleon and his troops in 1800, and the costumes resemble the uniforms worn by the French soldiers.

A slightly more fanciful version of their origin links the carnival to the wedding of two elderly simpletons.

The village people were set on celebrating the event and having a good time (as was they were with every local wedding), but they felt somewhat awkward going to church in their Sunday clothes and so they decided to wear something unusual. Just like the participants of this legendary wedding, the landzette wear extravagant garments; bizarre hats and colourful clothes, which to this day are hand-made and cared for with attention to the smallest detail, decorated with pearls, sequins, rosettes and flowers and mirrors to fend off evil spirits.

It’s impossible to trace the identity of the ones wearing the costumes, since they are all wearing masks, which were once made of wood. They hold horsehairs in their hands and wear a belt equipped with a bell to scare off hostile spirits.

Accompanying the landzette, there is also the traditional bear, representing the upcoming spring, and of course Toc and Tocca; the two elderly simpletons, painfully dragging along.

In the period preceding Lent, these curious characters go round and visit the families in the surrounding valleys, entering houses, dancing in the streets and squares, eating and drinking whatever is offered to them. Sometimes they play some nasty tricks, but you can’t help smiling when you see them, because they bring such joy and happiness, brightening up the day.

If you’re eager to learn more about the carnival but happen to be in the area during other times of the year, at Allein there’s a magic place in which this unique and charming atmosphere exists all year round. In a medieval fortified building hosting the Mèizoùn di Carnaval de la Coumba Freida (the Coumba Freida’s Carnival House), you’ll find not only the landzette costumes with their typical colours, but also films, photographs, books and research papers that will pass on to you the essence of this ancient festival.

The Carnivals in the Valle d’Aosta are an expression of exuberance and joviality and with their playful and raffish nature they will certainly give you an experience of a lifetime!

A small extra: during the cold winters of the Valle d'Aosta, the Carnival is an important event and not only in the valley of the Gran San Bernardo, but many other towns in the region celebrate the arrival of spring with masquerades and festivals. The historical carnivals of Verrès and Pont-St-Martin are definitely worth mentioning. The first one re-enacts a night in the life of Caterina di Challant, a noblewoman from the 15th century who fought strenuously to defend her lands from her cousin, Giacomo di Challant-Aymavilles. The ballsy countess momentarily forgot protocol and together with her husband started dancing in the streets with the common people, a gesture which is commemorated every year during the carnival.

Pont-Saint-Martin celebrates the legends of the beautiful Lily Nymph and of the Devil and San Martino, in which the bishop of Tours succeeded in tricking the Devil into building the magnificent bridge, which still characterises the village. On Shrove Tuesday, the Devil’s bonfire accompanies a spectacular display of fireworks to celebrate Satan’s definitive defeat.

Photo Credits: Maria Grazia Schiapparelli; Girovagate.

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