Italy, Road Less Traveled. Part 1 (Aosta)

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Advisor - Allen Bartimioli
Curated By

Allen Bartimioli

  • Aosta

  • Italy

  • Couples Travel

  • Nature Escapes

  • Off-the-Beaten-Path Travel

  • Mountain

  • Local Culture

  • Budget-friendly

Val Ferret at the Aosta Valley
Curator’s statement

On our second trip to Italy, Ellen and I began to search for places that were not so much about recognized tourist destinations, but more about cultural immersion, authentic encounters and slow engagement. After all, the “dolce vita” Italy is famous for isn’t about huge crowds, long lines and fast meals. This series is about a different way to travel in Italy, the road less traveled. Aosta is the smallest region of Italy tucked away in the furthest northwest part of the country. Here, Italy France and Switzerland meet near the highest mountain in the Alps, Monte Bianco. We flew into Milan, grabbed our car rental, and drove north for about 2 hours to our temporary flat in the town of Aosta. One of the benefits of visiting places that are not high-volume tourist spots is the price of housing. It is still easy to find a nice boutique hotel or apartment for about $100 a night for two people. However, if four or five-star hotels are more your style, there are plenty of those scattered throughout the valley as well. They range from about $150 to $700 a night, depending on the time of year. Our apartment had a wonderful balcony with a clear view of the mountains.

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Day 1

Aosta Roman Theater

On our first full day, we decided to recover a bit from our travels. We slept in, got our cappuccino and breakfast at a local bar and began our journey into the historic center (Centro Storico) of Aosta. The historic center of Aosta is filled with historic memories ranging from the Renaissance to the days when Rome was once the capital of the Alpes Grales (Grey Alps). The town was of great importance because of two alpine passes, the Great and the Little Saint Bernard Pass. After the fall of the Western Empire, this area was ruled by various conquering kingdoms. The ruins left behind are stunning and intriguing.
We walked through town visiting the local shops near the Piazza Emile Chanoux, visiting the ancient churches and cathedrals like Sant’Orso, strolling through the Porta Pretoria, by Sant’Orso and took a tour of the Roman theater. The journey ended at the stunning Arco di Agosto and a lovely tree-lined park where Ellen decided that the park bench was a perfect place to nap off a little jetlag.

While strolling through the town we stopped at a small Delicatessen where we were served a charcuterie board of delicious meats, cheeses, olives, and bread accompanied by some wonderful wine. This carried us through the day until we visited a local pizzeria for our evening meal.

Day 2

The Matterhorn from Breuil-Cervinia

On our second day, we drove to Cervinia, the mountain home of the famous Matterhorn. On the way there was a small town that had an outdoor market. We stopped, bought a few items and some lunch meats, cheeses, olives, and bread for the road. Near the Matterhorn is a small but gorgeous lake called Lago blu (Blue Lake). It took about 30 minutes to stroll the entire circumference of this stunning, petite lake. We then proceeded to Breuil-Cervinia at the foot of the Matterhorn where we wandered the Bavarian village and sat for an Alpine lunch. We returned to Aosta, stopping along the way at quaint mountain villages hosting local artisan-crafted shops.

Day 3

View of the Alps from Monte Bianco

It was a day full of adventure. I asked Ellen if we could start at sunrise so that we had every ounce of sunlight to see the sights I had planned for us to see. We drove about 30 miles to the town of Courmayeur where we climbed aboard an amazing feat of engineering, the Lift to the top of the Alps and Monte Bianco. This Gondola has 360 degrees of glass that rotates one full rotation on each of the two segments of the journey from the valley floor to about 13,000 feet. From the perch at the top of this fabulous ascent is a view of the Alps in three countries, Italy, France, and Switzerland. There is a small café at the top where we had a cappuccino and a breakfast dolce before returning to the valley floor. Once back in the car, we began a mini road trip through the 17-mile tunnel that runs under Monte Bianco and empties out in Chamonix, France. We then continued a loop through the French Alps that crossed over into Switzerland. After stopping to get some Swiss chocolate, we continued through the Swiss Alps to Martigny, Switzerland. From there we headed to Monte San Bernardo (Mount Saint Bernard) where the dogs gained their heroic status as rescuers of people lost in the snowy mountains. Another long tunnel through Monte San Bernardo and we were back in Aosta, a short drive from our flat. The entire loop is only a four-hour drive, but there are many reasons to stop along the way.

Day 4

Waterfalls in Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso

After an easy morning, we drove no more than 30 minutes to Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso (Grand Paradise National Park) This stunning protected reserve is the home to one of the Alps most majestic creatures, the Ibex. Unfortunately, they are usually high in the mountains and a rare sight to see. We parked at the Lillaz parking lot. From there, we took a short and relatively easy hike to Lillaz Falls. From the falls there is a fairly steep hike up to a footbridge that crosses over the falls. From there we wandered along the trail until we decided to return down the trail. This Park is vast and there are many hiking paths and camping spots. Ther towns of Cogne and Gamillan are nearby. The unique use of stone shingles makes the stone architecture in this region seem a bit other-worldly. Because of this ancient style of architecture, wandering through the villages to find a pizza, a gelato, or a souvenir shop is a truly unique experience

Day 5

The Pizza of Aosta

Our five-night stay in Val d’Aosta was filled with fabulous encounters, breathtaking scenery, and tasty meals.

Need to Know

Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out my guide, A Slow Roll Through Northern Italy.

Advisor - Allen Bartimioli

Travel Advisor

Allen Bartimioli

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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Italy.