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Valle d’Aosta

Incline. It’s a familiar concept when you look out over the highest mountains in Europe. If it’s the smallest and the tallest at the same time, it can only be Valle d’Aosta. The smallest region in Italy, but the one where it’s 4,000 metres to the mountain peaks. A borderland where the sky seems just an arm’s length away.

The mountain marks borders and connects cultures. That’s why there are Italian-speakers in Valle d’Aosta who are equally fluent in the patois and in Walser German. Alpine hospitality welcomes visitors year round. In winter, of course, with the state-of-the-art equipment, the snow and the jet set will be at Courmayeur. But during the milder seasons, when ski boots are put away on the shelf, the regions open up with an extraordinary range of experiences and adventures among the colourful fields and welcoming villages. But there’s something else you’ll want to know about, and it has to do with play at a different level. It is the Saint-Vincent casino, where you can challenge your fortune or simply spend a memorable evening, then wait for the sunrise bathing at the spa, outdoors of course: just you, the snow and the Alps.

There is a small exhibition space that tells a great story. It’s the story of Innocenzo Manzetti, the true original inventor of the telephone. This land was a necessary part of a journey across the Alps since antiquity, and fascinating traces of those times still remain, such as the Roman ruins of Augusta Praetoria. Even from the Middle Ages, dozens of fairy-tale-like castles remain looking down over enchanting views. Italy’s smallest region has so many stories worth hearing. Whether in Italian, in the Franco-Provençal patois or in Walser German, or expressed through the wealth of local artisan traditions. Finally, there is the unique architecture – particular to the inclines, in fact – which makes everything seem so precariously ungrounded.

The best herbs – twenty-four different kinds – are harvested during the desarpa, the migration of the cows. That’s why the cheeses from Valle d’Aosta are so fragrant. Tasty, hearty dishes such as polenta concia are the best incentive to get moving in any season. Gelato flavours even include polenta with brossa (a creamy product made from whey). Fontina is the key to everything. In the local cuisine, it’s found in every meal, from appetizers to sweets. Wild game, such as venison, is tempered with delicious blueberry sauces, while the trees in the valley are weighed down with small, juicy fruits such as Martin Sec pears and delicious apples. It may surprise you, but there’s more to drink than just grappa. Valle d’Aosta DOC promises wines of the highest quality, produced in conditions that are extreme to say the least.

Valle d’Aosta truly offers shopping opportunities for everyone. Are you a passionate about tradition? At the Fiera di Sant’Orso in Aosta, you’ll find the best of local craftsmanship. Are you looking for refined luxury and high fashion boutiques? Few other places in the world are like Via Rome, the trendy centre of Courmayeur, where you can stroll along more than 1000 metres of luxury boutiques. Of course, you could always flaner (wander) without a destination and without a care, through the streets and shops of the beautiful and sophisticated centre of Aosta.

White and silent like the Ferret Valley near Courmayeur. Pleasant like the natural oasis of Gran Paradiso. Majestic like the peaks of the tallest of the Alps. Romantic like the sun setting behind Fort Bard. Placid like the Dora Baltea, which originates at Mont Blanc and crosses the whole region before reaching the Po in Piedmont. The landscapes of the small Valle d’Aosta give not a single impression, but myriad, to entice the traveller’s senses.

Indoor and outdoor. It’s truly a challenge to find a plausible excuse not to do sports in Valle d’Aosta. In the winter you can decide between donning your ski boots and trying a hike off the course. If you aren’t afraid of heights, you can admire the view from above, paragliding, or try an excursion in a glider. Those who love ice can choose between skating and – for experts – the many opportunities to climb ice walls. In the summer, the mild climate makes the outdoors even more inviting. The days roll pleasantly by between fishing trips, bike tours and barefooting, fantastic barefoot nature hikes.

Harmony in a balance of simple B&Bs with charming, grand hotels; humble dishes and gourmet restaurants. Valle d’Aosta is an oasis for the palate and for the senses. Who could complain while enjoying the fragrant woodland scents or admiring the sight of the sunlight reflected on the ice? An enchanted land is what comes to mind while gazing at the snow-capped Alps from the outdoor swimming pool at the spa at Pré-Saint Didier.

Glamorous nights with chic discos, lounge bars and après-ski in the most sublime and sophisticated alpine resorts, such as Courmayer and Cervinia. Daring wagers at the Saint-Vincent casino. Valle d’Aosta is the best possible reward for the efforts of athletes and travellers. The borderland is the meeting place of the chic French lifestyle, the creativity of Italy and the precision of Switzerland.

This is the Alpine pass par excellence between Italy and France. An unavoidable part of the Via Francigena, the long pilgrim route between Rome and France. This part of the journey involves stops at marvellous and fascinating Alpine churches in Gothic style. Far from the main road are the hermitages, remote refuges between earth and sky where San Bernardo, the patron saint of mountaineers, may also have passed. At over 2565 metres you will find Notre Dame des Neiges, the highest shrine in Europe.

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