Saturday, February 22, 2014

Published 6:46 AM by with 0 comment

Aosta Valley

Aosta Valley is the smallest region in Italy; in its northwest, it is located between France and Switzerland. At its core are its majestic peaks (the region is, after all, mostly mountainous). Here we can find the highest peaks in the Alps: CervinoMonte RosaGran Paradiso and the king of them all, Mont Blanc, which at 15,781 feet is the highest mountain in Europe, the roof of the old Continent. 
Those who are not familiar with mountaineering can use the comfortable, yet thrilling, cable car; catch it just a few miles from Courmayeur, one of the most important ski resorts in the world. 
In this setting of stately mountains and diverse valleys sits the oldest National Park, the Gran Paradiso, where it is still possible to see animals in their natural habitat - ibex, chamois, eagles and marmots live in vegetation that changes according to the surrounding environment. 
Historically, the Aosta Valley has been viewed as land of contact and conjuncture between Italy and France; such is also reflected in its official bilingualism and its special status as autonomous region. The great modern tunnels of Gran San Bernardo and, even more so, those under Mont Blanc - extraordinary engineering masterpieces that run to France - highlight even more clearly this aspect of intersection between Italy and the rest of Europe. 


The old name of Aosta, “Augusta Pretoria”, reveals that it was founded by Romans (in 25 B.C.) and the Arch of Augustus, the Porta Praetoria, the theatre, and the town walls are the main monuments of that Roman city that have survived . 
There are also remarkable Medieval ruins, such as the Collegiate Church of Saint Orso, a monumental structure that characterizes the city with its decorated Romanesque cloister. 
Another remarkable monument is the city’s Cathedral, dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta: it embraces sixteen centuries of history and art that you can visit thanks to the archaeological site below the floor. 
Another charming tract is the Pierre TaillĂ©e stretch, beyond Runaz, in the direction of theLittle St. Bernard Pass. Here the stone has been cut in order to create a passage in the narrow gully, and there are many rather reckless structures spanning the gorge. In Italian this is often referred to as the “Northwest Passage”, and indicates that the province of Aosta has been one of the most important transit points in Europe for centuries. 
The Via Francigena path branched off from the trail on the Great St. Bernard Pass, and was even used by Napoleon’s army in May 1800. It was also the route for pilgrims to reach Rome. 
The path to the pass starting from the small village of Saint-Rhemy, on foot, by mountain bike, or on horseback -following the Napoleonic road- is charming and is an enchanting excursion, a real trip back in time. 
Also on the pass and open to the public are the Chanousia botanical gardens. 
On the way to Aosta, it is well worth visiting the various manieri valdostani (country houses), which make the landscape even more evocative.


Gressonay has impressive ski resorts whence, outfitted with skis, visitors can cross the three valleys of Monte Rosa: the St. Vincent, Courmayeur and Cogne resorts. 
Not only, but it is possible to book skiing excursions in any of the Province's parks and enjoy the magnificence of the glacial zones. The Gran Paradiso National Park - inhabited by ibex, chamois and golden eagles - is the perfect place for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. For the more adventurous, hiking routes line the mountain paths of the Aosta Valley, while less expert enthusiasts can wander in woods and flatter areas with snowshoes. 

Aosta is considered a haven for winter sports, with 28 ski resorts to satisfy any and every demand. For those who want to fly above the mountaintops, the are a is also known for its annual international balloon rallies.
Finally, the Fiera di Sant’Orso in Aosta is a must see international event dedicated to the creativity, refined talent and ingenuity of mountain inhabitants. And no matter when you're in town, check your calendar for local events, music festivals, open-air markets and food and wine tastings.



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