Italy's Aosta Valley, or Valle d'Aosta, region is the smallest of Italy's 20 regions. It contains much of Italy's first National Park, the Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso. The Valle d'Aosta is a wonderful place to ski in winter and hike in summer. The region has many picturesque mountain villages, small rural churches, castles, and Baroque art.
Where to Go in Valle d'Aosta, Italy's Smallest Region
Getting to the Valle d'Aosta
The main road through the Valle d'Aosta is the A5 autostrada, which continues to Milan and Torino after Pont Saint Martin. It is one of the most scenic autostrada rides you'll take. From France, you can get to the Valle d'Aosta from the Little Saint Bernard Pass or through the Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco in Italian) tunnel. While the tunnel does shave lots of time off the route and is used by most trucking operations, the toll is fairly expensive. The tunnel links the valleys of Chamonix (France) and Courmayeur (Italy).
While a car is the best way to see the Aosta Valley, there is a train station in the city of Aosta and buses run to some of the smaller towns. The closest Italian airport is Turin airport.
Towns to Visit in Valle d'Aosta
Aosta is the largest city in the Valley. It's an ancient Roman town, as evidenced by its grid system, with many Roman ruins to see. The main piazza is quite attractive and hosts one of Italy's best historic cafes, the Caffe Nazionale, which has been around since 1886.
Pont Saint Martin is the gateway to the Valle d'Aosta. It has a Roman bridge from the first century BC, after which it was named, and the area has a number of medieval castles.
Saint Vincent is home to one of the largest casinos in Europe. It's also known for its therapeutic spas and is sometimes called the Riviera of the Alps.
Aosta Valley Mountains and National Park
Mountains of Valle d'Aosta
Gran Paradiso National Park, Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso, was once the royal hunting ground of the House of Savoy. Mount Gran Paradiso, after which the park was named, is the highest peak completely within Italy. Gran Paradiso National Park has hundreds of different alpine flowers, many of them rare, as well as interesting birds and animals.
The Valle d'Aosta shares the chain of Alps with Switzerland to the north and France to the west. Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn are the tallest mountains and usually have snow nearly year round providing lots of opportunity for skiing and winter sports as well as scenic beauty.
The route between Valtournanche and Champoluc, two ski resorts, is one of the region's spectacular scenic drives. The area is popular in summer for hiking as well as in winter for skiing.
Valle D'Aosta Castles and Cuisine
Many castles dot the hillsides of the Aosta Valley, some of them no more than evocative ruins.
Cuisine of the Valle d'Aosta
Aosta Valley's cuisine is simple but based on fresh ingredients from the mountains and streams. Cows are abundant so you'll find good cow's milk cheeses, such as fontina, as well as butter, cream, and beef dishes. The mountains provide lots of game and mushrooms while fresh fish from mountain streams are plentiful. Because growing grapes for wine takes a lot of work, the region's wine tends to be expensive, but you'll get good wines from the nearby Piemonte wine region.
Near Valle D'Aosta
The Aosta Valley is bordered to the south and east by the Piemonte region, known for its excellent cuisine and for winter skiing, where you'll find the Susa Valley and the less-visited Chisone Valley. The city of Turin is an elegant city with Baroque cafes and architecture, museums, cultural events, and good restaurants.
North of the region is Zermatt, Switzerland, a car-free medieval village known as one of the top ski resorts in Europe and to the west is Aix les Bains, one of France's top spa towns.