Five things... reasons to visit Aosta, Italy: Part 1
Ever wanted to spend the winter in a cold, snowy, mountainous landscape, but still have the convenience of a bustling historic town? Here are five reasons why Aosta might be the perfect place to visit…
Need more reasons to visit? See Part 2 here!
If you’ve chosen to spend winter in the mountains, you’ll probably want your surroundings to be picturesque – and Aosta has it all. Set in the valley by a river, but surrounded by mountains, there’s always a view to be found. The town centre itself is pretty and in winter beautifully lit and decorated, it has Roman ruins, stunning churches, a grand square… everything you’d expect from a European city break, but with the added bonus of the scenery.
The food is delicious
Italian food is well known for its excellence. The north of the country is heavy on polenta, meat and especially cheese, and there is no shortage of comfort food perfect for the winter months! A favourite on a cold day is polenta concia, or as I called it ‘dirty polenta’ – creamy polenta covered in the local speciality cheese, fontina, and melted butter. Or try crespelle alla Valdostana, pancakes rolled and covered in fontina and sometimes lardons and mushrooms. Of course there is always fonduta – fondue made of, you’ve guessed it, fontina! A plate of venison ragu on tagliatelle is a staple on the mountain, or a carbonade Valdostana (a rich stew). In the morning, a delicious coffee and cornetto – like a croissant filled with apricot jam or Nutella – will get you going, and for pudding after your dinner, make sure you sample a Crème de Cogne – a loose chocolate mousse cut with rum. Ok, it’s high calorie stuff, but after a day of activity in the cold the food in Aosta is a treat.
The drinks are warming
Italians are also good at wine, and the Valle d‘Aoste is no different. The region is famous for having some of the highest vineyards in Europe, including Morgex where a dry white is made from a local grape variety. We mainly drank the reds, and loved the Nebillo and Fumin varieties. The white Petit Arvine is also very good. Restaurant wine lists usually feature plenty of choice from the local vineyards and the waiters were always happy to make recommendations, or check out the shelves of local wine at the supermarket Gros Cidac. Leaving aside the wine, after a day on the slopes you’ll need a bombardino – a creamy, eggy advocat concoction with brandy – or a Calimero, which adds coffee. Or just order a hot chocolate so thick you can stand your spoon up in it. Italy does hot drinks just right!
Skiing on your doorstep and beyond
Aosta is the entry point to the ski resort of Pila, via a 20 minute gondola ride, so if you’re staying in town it’s easy to get up the hill even if you don’t have much time. Pila has slopes for all and some nice spots for a mountain lunch or an apres-ski bombardino. But of course the Valle d’Aoste has so much more to offer - by car or public transport you can easily reach La Thuille (and ski into France), Courmayeur, Cervinia (and ski into Zermatt, Switzerland), Monte Rosa, as well as a host of small quirky ski stations in picturesque villages. If going down hill on a couple of planks (or a bit of board!) is your thing, you’ll be spoiled for choice on a long stay in the area.
Ascend the highest mountain in Europe
At the end of the valley, next to the ski resort of Courmeyeur, is Monte Bianco (you may know it as Mont Blanc but ALWAYS use the Italian name on this side of the border!) The Monte Bianco Skyway cable car lifts you to almost 3,500 metres, via a mid-station which includes an exhibition about its construction. The cable car rotates and is almost fully glazed, so you get spectacular views on the way up and down. If you’re feeling wobbly at the top, the café does a great hot chocolate! If you are an adventurer, Punta Helbroner is the start point for climbs and ski-touring with a guide; if you are really extreme it’s possible to parapent off the mountain and land on your skis. The tickets are a bit pricey but if you have a season long Aosta Valley Ski Pass you have one trip included. Pick a clear day and enjoy!
Bombardino and beer!
Skiing in Pila
Mid-station at the Monte Bianco Skyway