The two regions on the Western side of the Italian Alps are Piemonte and Valle d'Aosta. They are both famous for the skiing resorts, the magnificent hiking trails and the beautiful historic villages and medieval castles. Both are very influenced in culture, food and dialects by bordering France and Switzerland.
I am starting with Valle d'Aosta, as it is also the region where Luigi grew up! (check the photo gallery below).
Gressoney St. Jean is not only Luigi's hometown and the place where we go every time we are in Italy to celebrate the holidays, but is also one of the villages with the best settings on this side of the Alps, with magnificent views of the second tallest mountain in Europe, the Monterosa, and many activities to do, both in the summer and in the winter.
If you go there to ski (and YOU SHOULD!), be aware that the huge Monterosa Ski resort is composed, in this valley, of three main areas:
The main village of Gressoney St. Jean, located by the river Lys that names also the valley, is centered around the two main squares, Piazza Re Umberto and Piazza Superiore, on the two sides of the beautiful 1700 church San Giovanni Battista. From the upper square you can walk towards the mountain on the left of the valley and reach the turquoise Lago Gover where you can fish trouts in the summer and ice skate in the winter. If you want to walk more, you can take the famous hiking trail of "La passeggiata della regina" that leads to the amazing Castello Savoia (that you can visit, and you can also reach by car, 2 minutes before getting to the center of the village, coming from the bottom of the valley, on the left) .
From the main parking lot in the center of the town, where you also find a nice Tourist Info Center, you can take another trail on the right of the village and head up towards the upper valley, that passes, besides the golf course, along many wonderful fields, called Piane di Dresal.
Another great hike from the valley is up to the small village of Alpenzu where in the summer you can also have a great lunch at the Rifugio Alpenzu and spend the night there.
For a complete list of hotels and residences check here.
Restaurants and bars not to miss:
-Snackbar on the main square
-Gran Baita, near Castello Savoia
-Lo Stambecco (our favorite pizzeria)
-Pizzeria Oro argento e bronzo
Gressoney La Trinité, in the upper part of the Lys valley, is much smaller but still pretty and with a good variety of places to stay and restaurants to dine. We tried Walserschil and it was good, but we heard that Bar Hirsh Stube is also good and the more expensive Castore, in the central little square.
Bell'articolo in italiano del Touring Club qui.
(Most tips by my friend Stefania, who is also an amazing artist!)
Courmayeur is probably the most famous Alpine resort in the Western Italian Alps, at the foot of Monte Bianco. It's two hours away from the airport of Milano Malpensa, very conveniently connected by a fast highway. If you go to Courmayeur in the winter though, I highly recommend you not to rent a car, because usually when there is a lot of snow and a lot of people for the ski "white" weeks (February is a popular month for that) driving tends to be very tricky, especially if you are not used to drive on the snow with chain tires - which is what most people use in Europe.
Therefore, if the hotel you book offers you a transfer from the airport, you should take it! And in Courmayeur there are many public buses that take you everywhere and to the ski trails.
There are many the activities you can do on the Italian Mont Blanc area in the winter... apart from the many ski trails (check the map, together with the near La Thuile sky area) I recommend also to go cross country one day, as it is particularly nice there, especially in the Val Ferret.
Another thing you absolutely have to do is climb to one of the Mont Blanc peaks (Punta Helbronner) with the new amazing Skyway gondola: https://montebianco.com/en/ , where you'll have the most incredible view on the Alps!
Check this website that has all kids of info: https://www.lovecourmayeur.com/
and this one: http://www.courmayeurmontblanc.it/
And read this nice guide that The Telegraph put together (this area is very popular with British tourists): https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/ski/resort-guides/italy/courmayeur/
In any case if you want to go to Chamonix (via the Mont Blanc tunnel, 70 euros) you can do it by bus or car (no train). People usually go there to ski only if there's not enough snow on the Italian side.
The FOOD in Valle d'Aosta is very traditional, rich and varied so check this out this guide before going: http://aosta-valley.co.uk/discover/food-wine/
Stefania helped me to compose a list of very good restaurants you should definitely try in Courmayeur (all to be booked well in advance):
- L'Auberge de la Maison (in Entrèves- 10 minutes from Courmayeur, also a lovely hotel) fabulous for the aperitif, dinner or after dinner!
- La Baita Hermitage (5 minutes above Courmayeur)
- Grand hotel Royal and Golf (also a fantastic hotel, in the heart of Courmayeur) very elegant and Michelin-starred (it also has a beautiful aperitif with firepits outside in the garden with oysters and champagne)
For lunch, on the cross-country track of Val Ferret (which also has a walkable trail, if you want to go without skis) Lavachey, with typical polenta dishes and game meat.
If you want to be really frivolous try also the restaurant on the slopes (they pick you up with the snowmobile)
Alla Grolla near Val Veny, on the cableway from Courmayeur to the Chaumiere of Plan Checrouit.
Valle d'Aosta is full of beautiful castles, due to the compulsory passage it offered towards Alpine passes during the Middle Ages. These are the most famous ones and an absolutely must stop:
Forte di Bard, a majestic fortress that has recently renovated and host an amazing Museum of the Alps.
Fenis castle (pictured above). The fairytale castle!
Issogne, a luxurios Renassiance residence, filled with frescos!
Cly castle, one of the oldest of Valle d'Aosta
Sarre, a royal hunting palace of the savoy family
Valle d'Aosta's natural springs are some of the most beautiful in Italy.
The Bellevue Hotel in Cogne has also an amazing spa, on top of the incredibly elegant Rélais et Chateaux accommodation.
Montana Lodge in La Thuile has also a nice spa.
Grand Hotel Royal and Golf is in another hotel with spa in Courmayeur.
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