Valle D’Aosta

A fairytale land of snow-capped peaks, castles and flowers, Europe’s highest region is breathtaking.

  • Many visitors only see this Alpine region from atop a pair of skis. However, a closer look finds it steeped in history, culture and, of course, food and wine.

  • The region, Italy’s smallest and least populous, is situated in the country’s north-westernmost corner. It shares international borders with France to the West (at Mont Blanc/Monte Bianco), and Switzerland to the North.

    Steep mountain walls guide the Dora Baltea River, which rushes apace from the foot of Mont Blanc, to the Piemontese plain at Pont St. Martin.

    Lateral valleys flow into the Dora Baltea, giving the map a fishbone look.

  • History

    The region’s human history stretches to Neolithic times. This is best expressed at the Alps’ most important neolthic site, the Area Megalitica di St. Martin de Corléans, on the western edge of the city of Aosta.

    Elsewhere in the city we find abundant evidence of its Roman origins, by way of the Arco d’Augusto (pictured), the Roman walls, the Amphitheatre, the remarkable acqueduct at Pondel and much more.

    As an important region on the trade routes to France and Switzerland, we also find traces of the early Christians, followed by pilgrims following the Via Francigena between Canterbury and Rome.

    Medieval castles dot the region, the earliest being simple lookouts – symbols of the local noble’s dominion over their peasants – to imposing fortified palaces.

  • Modern times bring us some remarkable architecture like Les Crêtes’ rifugio del vino and, of course, the extraordinary Skyway cablecar which takes us to the top of Monte Bianco.

    Everything mentioned here is visited by walkers on MacNay Travel & Wine’s Heart of the Italian Alps self-guided walk. Enquire today.

  • Between the valley walls there is little space for viticulture, which is why so little Valdostano wine leaves the region – let alone the country…  What is made, however, enjoys great prestige in wine circles.

    The reason for this is that vine growing (not to mention walking) conditions are perfect.  A dry climate and constant airflow gives no chance for mildew or infection to take hold.  In fact, successful vine growing is only possible due a steady flow of subterranean water from snowmelt above.  Endless spring and summer sunshine ensures perfect ripening. Significant day/night temperature variation lets this happen without the loss of a characteristic bright, refreshing acidity. 

  • Much of this happens at the sort of altitude and temperature conditions which most grapes find too taxing. So while in the lower areas we find high quality international and regional varieties such as Nebbiolo, Syrah and Merlot, in the higher reaches we find only rare, indigenous varieties such as Prié Blanc, Petite Arvine, Cornalin, Premetta, and so on.

    One of the features of the region is the array of traditional ways in which vines are trained to protect them from the elements. This is referred to as Viticultura Eroica (literally, heroic viticulture). 

    In the photo you can see a part of the Enfer d’Arvier subzone, where the vines cling to a patch of rocky soil between the river and mountainside as the heat reverberates off the rocks around them.

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