Home of 31 14th to 18th century castles, Roman ruins, world-class ski resorts and two of Europe’s most iconic peaks, Italy’s Aosta Valley is brimming with unforgettable attractions. The Aosta Valley is located in the northwestern corner of the Italian Alps and is the least populous region in all of Italy. The Aosta Valley is comprised of seven regions, all of which offer a different experience. A group of Ski.com Mountain Vacation Specialists and a couple lucky staffers were recently treated to a 10-day trip to this beautiful valley and the many ski resorts it accesses. We visited the Mont Blanc region, the city of Aosta, the central valley, the Monte Rosa region and the Matterhorn (Cervino) region.
We flew into Milan’s Malpensa airport, which proved to be a cake-walk experience. Malpensa is served by United Airlines, Delta and American Airlines among 60 other airlines and provides connections via six major U.S. cities (Newark, New York, Atlanta, Miami, Chicago and Las Vegas). Before we knew it we had our bags and were seated in a comfortable, spacious shuttle van and on our way to the Aosta Valley. The two-hour drive from the airport is incredible. You can see the looming Alps in the distance, and, as you drive closer, you begin to truly comprehend just how big these mountains are.
Day 1-2: Monte Rosa – Champoluc
After driving through quaint, slate-roofed town after town and slowly gaining elevation via exhilarating switchbacks, we arrived in Champoluc around 11 a.m. Information about the hotel we would be staying at for the next two days was withheld by our group leader, who cited that it was “a surprise.” And it certainly was when two men began loading our bags into a hauling carriage attached to the biggest, burliest snowmobile I have ever seen. We then piled into the passenger carriage, which was in front of the hauling carriage, and began our four-mile ascent to our accommodations.
As we continued to climb, the views of Champoluc below and the jutting mountains became more and more spectacular. Our accommodations came into view, and the surprise got even better. We would be staying at the five-star Mascognaz, a boutique property with 22 rooms spread around converted 14th century farm houses and buildings. The Mascognaz features a main lodge with a charming lobby, restaurant and seven standard rooms as well as several separate “suite-style” buildings, including two deluxe suite buildings which are connected via an underground spa. A babbling brook runs through the property, and there are incredible 360-degree views.
There are plenty of less adventurous lodging situations in Champoluc, too. Located right in town and walking distance from the gondola and the town’s shopping, bars and restaurants, Champoluc features a nice variety of comfortable three-, four- and five-star accommodations.
Skiing at Champoluc
After grabbing our rental skis and walking just 50 yards to the ticket office, both of which are conveniently situated right in town, we piled into the gondola and enjoyed our first glimpses of the Italian Alps from a higher elevation.
It was clear right away that Champoluc is an ideal ski resort for families with young children learning to ski, as there’s a children’s fun park located at the top of the gondola. Of the 50 kilometers (31 miles) of trails, a quarter are designated as blue (beginner) and three-fourths are designated as red (intermediate). While there are technically no black pistes, experts can access off-piste skiing from the Sarezza summit.
We enjoyed Champoluc’s picture-perfect groomers on a clear, sunny day — the effect was remarkable. We cruised around the resort catching glimpses of the Matterhorn, neighboring ski resort Gressonay and even Mont-Blanc. Our lunch at Ostafa was spectacular, with views to match. After our meal was over we experienced our first “Bombardino” of the trip, a traditional Italian, on-piste adult beverage comprised of an egg nog and orange liqueur (Bombardino), whiskey (in our case, but sometimes it’s mixed with brandy), cinnamon and fresh whipped cream!
Day 3-5: Cervinia & the Matterhorn
After an hour-long bus transfer, during which I fell asleep, I awoke to one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen. Cervinia is located right at the base at the Matterhorn— in Italy it’s called Monte Cervino. No matter where you go, the 14,692-foot peak is looming majestically above.
We were treated to a two-night stay at the luxurious five-star Hotel Hermitage, a hotel which has enjoyed a 100-plus-year reputation as being one of the Italian Alps’ finest. Bedecked in a beautiful combination of traditional Alpine luxury, turn of the 19th century charm and modern elegance, the Hermitage lets no detail escape. When we arrived to the hotel we were greeted with warm smiles and kind gestures from the staff, and when we reached our rooms, we were greeted with chocolates and berries and chilled white wine. How lovely!
Cervinia has a nice array of lodging options, too, including the four-star Sertorelli Sporthotel, which offers an incredible buffet breakfast and dinner spread; spacious, charming rooms and a spa on the top floor which provides unobstructed views of the Matterhorn. It’s a great option for larger groups or those looking for true skier’s hotel.
Skiing at Cervinia
It can be difficult to focus on anything other than the Matterhorn when skiing at Cervinia, but the rolling 12-mile-long pistes from the top of Cime Bianche Laghi-Plateau Rosà gondola will help you keep your head in the game. If weather permits, you can ski from the Plateau Rosa to Zermatt, Switzerland. If wind or ice shuts down the lifts to get back to Cervinia, you may find yourself facing a five-hour drive back, so it’s suggested that you only ski to Zermatt on good-weather days.
At Plateau Rosa we were treated to a traditional on-piste lunch at the cozy Rifugio Guide del Cervino restaurant. The restaurant’s handmade, hearty pasta dishes and generous salads are just what the body needs to ski the never-ending pistes of Cervinia. You can even ski along the base of the Matterhorn via a nicely maintained red piste (intermediate) and potentially touch the “feet” of the Matterhorn, or several million-year-old rock that’s tumbled down from the peak’s dizzying heights.
A Night at Saint Vincent’s Casino de la Vallee & Grand Billia Hotel
Located in the Aosta’s central valley and a mere 30-minute drive from Cervinia, Saint Vincent is a great place for the skier who wants to make day trips to the area’s many resorts and experience the casino by night. San Vincent is a 40-minute drive from Monte Rosa ski areas and a 45-minute drive to Mont Blanc ski areas.
We spent an evening at the recently remodeled ultra-glamorous, five-star Grand Bilia Hotel, which included an amazing dinner at 1908 Restaurant. After dessert we were presented with the “grolla” or friendship cup. A deliciously boozy concoction of coffee, grappa, brown sugar flambe, genipi and spices was prepared table-side in the traditional grolla, an intricate wooden cup. This cup features multiple spouts along its circumference. The grolla is passed around the table and cannot be set down until the group of friends has collectively finished the cup’s contents.
After the grappa-fueled bonding experience our group felt ready to try our luck at the casino next door. The two-floor luxe casino features 612 slot machines and 96 table and poker games. You really feel like you’re in a James Bond movie.
Day 6-9: Aosta, Courmayeur, La Thuile & Mont Blanc
After an hour drive from Cervinia we arrived in the city Aosta, the capital of the region. Our afternoon in Aosta turned out to be a delightful surprise and one of the highlights of the trip. Nestledamidst the towering Alpine peaks sits the ancient city of Aosta. This beautiful city dates back to 25 B.C. and was an important Roman military outpost. The ruins start with a huge archway which points to a well-preserved fortress wall, which protects the remnants of a Roman theater, forum, coliseum and even an underground mercantile city. The more modern aspects of the city, especially the pedestrian shopping district, exude heaps of European charm— the perfect place to sit on a patio cafe with a nice cappuccino and watch the world go by. The family-friendly Pila ski resort is also located in Aosta. The gondola is literally accessed walking distance from downtown Aosta. The amount of cultural and outdoor activities and attractions to experience in this breathtaking city is incomparable.
Another 30 minutes in the shuttle and we arrived in Courmayeur, the Italian side of Mont Blanc. France’s famed freeride capital, Chamonix, sits on the other side of Mont Blanc. The two resorts are connected via the off-piste Vallée Blanche route. The village of Courmayeur has a rustically elegant pedestrian shopping district, known as the “passagiata,” which is also home to a nice smattering of popular après-ski bars and traditional pizzerias. Many of the hotels are located along the outskirts of the main shopping thoroughfare, making it easy to walk just about everywhere.
We enjoyed a two-night stay at the four-star Cresta et Duc, which is among the Courmayeur hotels that are steps from the shopping. The Cresta et Duc is a charmingly cozy hotel. The lobby is a great place to sample yet another local cocktail, the aperitif, made with Campari, Aperol and soda water. We enjoyed two breakfasts and a dinner at the onsite restaurant—several of us felt the dinner at Cresta et Duc was one of the best meals of the trip.
Skiing at Courmayeur
Experts will be pleased with the easily accessed off-piste terrain at Courmayeur. Adventurous skiers have excellent options from the top Cresta d’Arp cable car, but you’ll need a guide.
A guide is an absolute necessity when skiing off-piste. A couple of the expert skiers in the group were able to experience the terrain off the top of Cresta d’Arp along with our guide for the day. A somewhat challenging traverse produced access to a beautiful above-treeline bowl that directly faced the unobstructed Mont Blanc. The conditions were surprisingly soft, but as we skied down heavy, spring conditions made the experience a little more interesting. After our initial descent our guide instructed us to continually head right so we’d end up back at the resort. Thankfully we had him to lead us, otherwise I doubt we would have made it back to the resort. Take heed, hire a guide.
Experts, with a guide, can also venture up to the Torino summit accessed via the Funivie Monte Bianco to access all the freeride terrain on the Mont Blanc’s Italian side or expedition across the Vallée Blanche glacier to Chamonix. The on-piste options are also great for intermediates, as the majority of the runs are red. The pistes off of Plan de la Gabba or Bertolini chairlifts will please those looking for zippy groomers.
An Afternoon at Pre-Saint-Didier’s QC Terme Spa
Located just 10 minutes from Courmayeur sits one of Europe’s most popular thermal spas, Pre-Saint-Didier’s QC Terme. A couple of us were able to spend two lovely hours of downtime at QC Terme. The spa is fed by iron-rich 96.8° F hot springs, which has been used for many years to treat rheumatic and muscular disorders as well as skin ailments and blood circulation problems. QC Terme’s beautiful facilities which are spread out over two buildings and connected via undergound spa rooms and passages, features two large outdoor thermal pools with hydro-massage, as well as smaller pools and indoor sitting pools, turkish bath/Hammam, Vichy showers, rain bath, waterfalls, saunas in wooden cabins, an entire wing of relaxation areas with loungers and hot water beds and a well-lit tea and snack room. The size of the spa and many treatment options are vast, but the value to price ratio is incredibly reasonable. A full day pass is just 50 euros, but if you opt for the half day or evening passes the rates are as low as 30 euros. QC Terme provides guests with opportunity to sign-up for “treatment events” at designated times for an additional 10 to 15 euros.
After sampling just about every pool, shower, sauna and steam room we came across, we decided to try out the body wrap treatment, which is held in a large room on the top floor which provides stunning views of the surrounding mountains. We were provided with our choice of creams or gels which we applied to our legs and face, and as we sat there letting the QC Terme products work their magic and taking in the spectacular scenery I was both relaxed and in awe with just how much there is to do and experience on a ski vacation to the Aosta Valley.
Skiing at La Thuile
Situated a valley over and a 30-minute drive from Courmayeur, the sleepy, quaint town of La Thuile is home to some of the best groomers in the Aosta Valley. We spent one night at the four-star Le Miramonti Hotel & Wellness, which offers guests a beautiful riverside setting.
La Thuile is a great area to base a heli-skiing vacation out of, as there are many popular drop zones surrounding the resort. You can see groups skiing on adjacent peaks from the resort. La Thuile is well-suited for a family of intermediate level skiers as nearly 65 percent of the terrain is blue or red. La Thuile is connected to France via La Rosiere, an Espace San Bernardino ski resort, and Les Arcs and Meribel ski resorts can be seen in the distance. We were able to ski to France on our last day. It’s quite a trip to ski one run, and suddenly the ski instructors don’t understand when you ask in Italian, “Dov’è il bagno?” (where is the bathroom?)
Arrivederci a Italia (Goodbye Italy)
As I glanced out the window of our United Airlines plane, which was beginning to rise above the Malpensa airport on our return trip to the U.S., I was stunned. I had never been treated to such a beautiful ascent. As we climbed, Lake Como became recognizable. I was even lucky enough to enjoy one last glimpse of the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc.
Important takeaways for first-time visitors to the Italian Alps:
- Hotels in the Alps, and in Europe in general, offer many services and amenities than most American hotels do not. The standout services include the convenient onsite restaurants and elaborate spa services, like Vichey showers, rain baths, Hammam bath and hydro-therapy. Just about every hotel, even the two-stars, provide at least a sauna.
- The best restaurants are in the hotels, and most visitors take advantage of the affordable bed and breakfast, full-board and half-board rates — this generally works out to additional 10-50 euros a day depending on which package you choose.
- During après- ski both the bars and the hotels provide food with the purchase of a drink; either there’s a buffet of tasty appetizers or you or your party will receive your own plate of appetizers.
- You can purchase resort-specific lift tickets, connecting lift tickets (Cervinia-Zermatt, Courmayeur-Chamonix, La Thuile-La Rosiere) or regional passes.
- If you plan on skiing from one country to another be sure to have your passport on your person.
To learn more about the Aosta Valley ski resorts or any of the hotels listed in the blog post, please call or chat with one our knowledgeable Mountain Vacation Specialists.