by Maria E. Bellini
Where is the Aosta Valley?
Tucked up in the most north western part of the country is Italy’s smallest region, The Aosta Valley – in Italian – Valle d’Aosta. Bordering with France and Switzerland, this region is characterized by it’s large mountains and dramatic valleys.
The Aosta Valley has a strong cultural identity, it also holds special status as an autonomous region and is bilingual French and Italian, however the majority of people also speak the fascinating dialect Valdôtain.
In Italy Aosta borders only with Piedmont sharing some spectacular surroundings. You can read more about Piedmont on Italy on Trail’s dedicated guide.
What Makes The Aosta Valley Special?
There’s too much to list here, so just a selection…
- The Alps and the magnificent scenery
- 30% of the area is over 2500m above sea level
- A superb place for trail running, hiking and outdoor activities – summer and winter
- The spectacular parks
- Well marked trails
- Fort of Bard
The Shape Of The Aosta Valley
A good way to begin to get to know the Aosta Valley is to think of it as the letter “Y” with the two valleys of Val Ferret and Val Veny respectively as the left and right top ‘arms’ – and with the main ‘stem’ as the principal artery, or valley where the river Dora Baltea flows, and where the main towns are located along with the motorway. Stretching out, like branches, are the numerous sub-valley’s in Valle D’Aosta, each with it’s own character and peculiarities.
The main valleys are:
2.Valle del Gran San Bernardo
3.Valle di Saint-Barthelemy
6.Valle di Gressoney
2.Vallone di La Thuile
4.Val di Rhêmes
6.Valle di Cogne
7.Valle di Champorcher
The Mountains – The Alps
Consider that the lowest point in the Aosta Valley is at Pont-Saint Martin, which stands at 343 meters above sea level, whereas over 30% of the Aosta Valley is on land that’s above 2500m above sea level, and a hefty 26%-28% is above 3000m.
In the Aosta Valley we can find some of Europe’s tallest mountains:
- Matterhorn-Cervino highest point 4,478 m (14,692 ft)
- Monte Rosa highest point 4,634 m (15,203 ft)
- Gran Paradiso highest point 4,061 m (13,323 ft)And the tallest mountain in western Europe:
- Mont Blanc that stands at 4,808 m (15,774 ft) above sea level.
Two ranges dominate this part of the western Alps: the Pennine Alps (Valais Alps,) and the Graian Alps, both extend across Piedmont and Aosta in Italy and Switzerland.
The Mont Blanc massif is part of the Graian range.
You can also find more of Europe’s highest mountains peaking at over 4.000 – Dente del Gigante, Grandes Jorasses, Breithorn, Roc, Aiguille Blanche de Peuterey and Lyskamm.
The Glaciers – Ghiacciaio (it)
Glacial and periglacial environments make up an important chunk of the region. The two most well known glaciers are the Miage and the Lys Glaciers.
Miage, at 3,892 m (12,769 ft) lies to the southwest of Mont Blanc and at 10km is Italy’s longest glacier and towards the southern part of the glacier lies Lake Miage.
The Lys glacier is on the southern part of Monte Rosa, and starts at 4248 m above sea level. Kiry.it (in Italian) is a website that’s been recording the Lys glacier’s status over recent years.
The Parks – Nature and Wildlife in The Aosta Valley
There is no shortage of places to discover and explore. Alpine meadows, craggy ridges, dense forests, and vast glaciers – this is what Valle d’Aosta is all about.
Gran Paradiso National Park
This park is spread out equally over Piedmont. Also Italy’s oldest park, instituted in 1922. Situated in the Graian Alps, here you’ll find the the Gran Paradiso mountain, and home to nearly 4000 Alpine ibex.
Official website: http://www.pngp.it/en
The Natural Park of Mont Avic
The Natural Park of Mont Avic – A relatively new park established in 1989. A variety of alpine landscapes will delight the visitor.
Official website: www.montavic.it/index.php/eng
Nature Reserves: Côte de Gargantua – Lago di Lolair – Lago di Villa – Les Iles – Marais di Morgex e La Salle – Mont Mars – Stagno di Holay – Stagno di Lozon – Montagnayes – Tsatelet.
Castles & Forts
For a taste of medieval and renaissance charm, visit some of the seventy castles, and palaces are scattered throughout the Valle d’Aosta.
- Fenis Castle
- Verres caste
- Issogne Castle
- Sarre Castle
Taste and Enjoy…
Some best known Foods are:
- Valleé d’Aoste Lard d’Arnad – spiced and herby lard
- Jambon de Bosses – cured ham
- Motsetta – cured/dried ham
- Cheeses, to name a few: Bleu d’Aoste, Toma, Fontina
- Polenta Concia – with cheese and butter
- Aosta produces a variety of mountain wines including the Blanc de Morgex et de La Salle, Chardonnay, and the red Donnas
- Genepi – herbal liquer
- Cup of Friendship Grolla – Grole coffee
The City of Aosta
Don’t miss the Aosta Valley’s principal city – Aosta, famous for
- Roman ruins, roman bridge, amphitheatre, Arch of Augustus, the Praetoria Gate
- The Cathedral
- The church of Sant’ Orso
When to go
For trail running and hiking the best time is between July and the beginning of September, the snow should have melted.
So Why go to Aosta for Trail Running and Hiking?
Obviously for the amazing experience that the Alps have to offer. There is a vast amount of information available both printed and online, in case you decide to organize your own holiday, plus there are numerous guided and self guided holidays available.
Tour du Mont Blanc, the 170km walking route which circles Mont Blanc. The route of the UTMB Ultra Trail. You can walk this route or run it, at your own pace, stopping off in mountain refuges, along route. It takes you through Italy, France and Switzerland.
See more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tour_du_Mont_Blanc
The Alta Via 1 & 2 – Haute route des Géants – Alta via dei Giganti
Looking for something even more challenging? Explore the Alta Vie 1 & 2, on the Tor Des Geants Route. This will take you on a full circle of the Aosta Valley. A great adventure, to enjoy starting with the planning
The Alta Via 1 – will take you from Donnas to Courmayeur in 17 stages. Take in Monte Rosa, the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc.
More details here along with GPX tracks
altavia1 A Pdf map and guide to (In French and Italian)
The Alta Via 2 – will take you from Courmayeur to Donnas in 14 stages, taking in the Gran Paradiso National Park and the Mont Avic Regional Park.
More details here along with GPX tracks
altavia2 A Pdf map and guide to (In French and Italian)
Tour Matterhorn – Cervino
Tour du Cervino is a circular walk that takes in Switzerland and Italy and circles the Cervino in 9 stages, for a total of 130km.
Official website: www.tourducervin.ch
Tour de Monte Rosa
Enjoy a circular long distance walk around Monte Rosa
More info: www.zermatt.ch/it
Want something more?
Grande Traversata delle Alpi (GTA)
- If you’re up for a challenge see the GTA – It’s just over 1000km long, and runs through the western Alps from the Pennine Alps through the Graian and Cottian Alps to the Maritime and Ligurian Alps. For more details – see the the wikipedia entry:
Books and Maps
Rother Walking Guide:
- “GTA – Grande Traversata Delle Alpi: Through the Piedmont to the Mediterranean. 65 Stages. With GPS – Tracks” by by Kurschner Iris, Haas Dieter
- “Walking and Trekking in the Gran Paradiso” by Gillian Price
- “Through the Italian Alps” by Gillian Price
- “100 Hut Walks in the Alps” by Kev Reynolds
- “Tour of Mont Blanc” by Kev Reynolds
- “Walking in the Alps” by Kev Reynolds
- “Tour of Monte Rosa“ by Hilary Sharp
- “Matterhorn Tour” by Hilary Sharp
Mountain Huts and Rifugi
What Trail Race Events can I enter in the Aosta Valley?
We’ve listed a selection of the Trail Races in the Aosta Valley.
THE ELECTRIC TRAIL – March
CASTLE’S TRAIL – March
QUARTRAIL – May
TOR DES CHÂTEAUX – May
LICONYTRAIL – June
TRAIL DELLA BECCA VIOU – 25 June
GRAN TRAIL COURMAYEUR – July
MONTEROSA WALSER TRAIL – July
ULTRAMARATHON DU FALLERE – July
LA THUILE TRAIL – July
TRAIL 5 COLLI – July
GRAN PARADISO TRAIL – July
NB CERVINO X TRAIL – July
UTMB races – August/September
TOR DES GEANTS – September
TOT DRET – September
MONTE AVIC TRAIL – SEPTEMBER
ARRANCABIRRA – October
Fly to Turin or Milan Malpensa
Maria Elisabetta Bellini is Italyontrail.com’s founder, born in the U.K, she came to running whilst living in Italy, where she still lives and trains. Never ceasing to marvel at what’s at the summit of a hill, or around the bend along the trail, she loves using trail running as a means to explore nature, contemplation and Italy.