If traveling to new, exciting places is a big part of why you’re a skier, then it’s high time you added Italy’s Aosta Valley to your “to ski” list. Here’s why:
It’s the valley of 100 castles
In the Middle Ages, the Aosta Valley was not controlled by one authority, rather pieces of land were controlled by elite land owners. These nobles and lords had claimed land along the passage, which led from Rome and other key Italian city states through the Alps and into the rest of Europe. The lords would collect tolls to pass through their land and, thus, became rich, allowing them to build splendid castles, towers and fortified houses. While Aosta Valley has more than 100 to explore, the most accessible for those staying in ski resort towns are the Castle de Sarriod, Castle of Ecours (which is 20 minutes from Courmayeur), Castle Aymavilles and Castle of Sarre. You’ll want to rent a car or arrange for a shuttle to visit these incredible architectural relics.
Home to two of Europe’s most iconic peaks
Basing your Alps ski trip in the Aosta Valley provides a unique opportunity that is impossible to achieve anywhere else. This is due to the fact that the world-famous Matterhorn straddles Switzerland (in Zermatt) and Italy (in Cervinia) and Europe’s highest peak, Mont Blanc, crosses France (in Chamonix) and Italy (in Courmayeur). No other country affords this kind of access to these two geologic wonders. In addition, it’s possible to ski from Italy to Switzerland if you stay in Cervinia via Plateau Rosa. Enjoy lunch at Le Rifugio del Cervino while your at it. This cozy on-mountain lodge at the top of the Grigia lift was once a guide hut.
Explore Roman ruins in the city of Aosta
Nestled among the towering Alpine peaks, just 40 minutes from Courmayeur, sits the ancient city of Aosta. This regional hub 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 protecting the remnants of a Roman theater, forum, coliseum and even an underground mercantile city. You can opt to explore the ruins by yourself or on a guided tour.
Shopping in Milan
Enroute to or from Malpensa International Airport during your travels to the Aosta Valley, a day or two in Milan is must. Why? The shopping of course.
Renowned as a one of the capitals of global fashion, Milan offers designer stores, boutiques and outlets ranging from the uber-expensive to affordable. If you’re looking for haute couture and famous designers head to Via Montenapoleone, Via della Spiga, Via Manzoni or Via Sant’Andrea. These four streets make up the “Golden Rectangle” and feature world-famous designers like Armani, Prada, Versace and Roberto Cavalli. While window shopping along the charming streets is the main draw in Milan, you can also experience the world’s oldest shopping mall, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. Built from 1865 to 1877, this architectural gem allows you to enjoy the art nouveau era while you shop indoors or simply enjoy a cafe. In the Navigli neighborhood, you can pair Milan’s best shopping with its best nightlife. You’ll find the unique boutique shops along these romantic canals and streets, particularly Porta Ticinese and Via Torino for funky shops, or the Via Tortona area for hip design showrooms. Take the MM2 line to get here.
An important thing to remember when planning for a day of shopping in Milan is that small shops and boutiques are often closed Sundays and Monday mornings. In addition, January and July are the best time for bargain hunters as that’s when all the seasonal sales happen.
Pré Saint Didier Thermal Spas
Situated just 10 minutes from Courmayeur, QC Terme Pré Saint Didier is an absolute must for a traveler on a ski or snowboard trip. 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, feature 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 48 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.
Originally from the icy trails of New Jersey, I moved West to pursue powder and a career in writing and editing. Now in Aspen, Colo. and working for Ski.com managing the website and blog content, I couldn't be happier. You'll find me skiing at Aspen Mountain or Aspen Highlands in the winter and mountain biking at Snowmass in the summer.