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There’s a lot to do in this region – it makes for good weekend getaways, but could easily fill a week of holiday. See also Courmayeur notes for the northern end of the valley.

Good source for castle info: https://www.lovevda.it/en/culture/castles

Aosta

Close enough for a day trip, ***Aosta is a good driver’s destination, at the end of the ***St. Bernard Pass. One day is enough to see the major sites, but it works nicely as a weekend with Courmayeur or castle-touring thrown in. The town is very touristy and we have yet to find great dining options, but it’s a cheerful place and the ruins are impressive.

Food/Lodging:

  • **Birrificio ’63 is decent, brew pub setting. Food is good, service can be painfully slow.
  • *Ristorante Vecchia Aosta has an exceptional setting in the old Roman wall. Unfortunately, the food isn’t very good.
  • ***Maison Bondaz was an awesome hotel pick. Family run, in a series of historic buildings in the old town. One of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had.
  • Ad Podium looked like a good backup hotel option, excellent location overlooking the Roman theater.

Activities:

  • ***Area Megalitica di ​​Saint-Martin-de-Corléans: this was a surprise – more than a dig site, it’s a massive museum in progress that will eventually tell the history of the region. Very high budget, worth a stop.
  • For 7 Euros, you can buy access to the 4 major Roman sites in the city (+ several more are accessible for free). Don’t miss the ***Roman Theater, and my favorite – the ***Criptoportico Forense, which is massive. You’d never guess the scale from the outside. The *Archeology Museum itself is the least interesting.

Arnad

Arnad is a tiny town with international fame for the Lard of Arnad (which is indeed amazing, pure white smoked lard).

  • **Osteria Dell’Isola: Super regional, family run spot that feels like it’s been around forever. Very good food.

Bard

A very impressive fortress is the one in Bard. The current building dates back to the 1830s, rebuilt after rebuffing the advance of Napoleon’s troops into the Po Valley for 13 days. It’s grand, has great views, and you can actually stay in it! The original historic town tucked behind the fortress is very cute.

The fortress was featured in the Avengers movies. 

  • **Hotel Ad Gallias: I wouldn’t stay here if there are rooms available at the castle itself, but it’s not a bad option otherwise. The restaurant is the only fine dining option around, and it’s good but not great. Food is uneven, setting charming, staff very nice.
  • ***Hotel Cavour Et Des Officiers: the hotel inside the fortress. There are 11 rooms, sparsely furnished but quite elegant. #7 had a balcony. We loved having the fortress to ourselves after it closes to tourists at 6pm.

Châtillon

Arguably the best views in the valley, the ***Castle of Baron Gamba holds the regional collection of modern and contemporary art with over 1,500 works of art presented in 13 rooms of the castle. We haven’t been inside but the exterior was worth the climb.


Cogne Valley

Cogne is a relatively isolated valley near Aosta. On the drive up the valley, don’t miss ***Pont D’Ael. It’s a drive (a really pretty one), but well worth it for an incredibly well preserved aqueduct/footbridge that dates back to 3 BCE.

Cogne

The town of Cogne itself is situated in a stunning spot, ringed around a large meadow at the intersection of four other valleys. It’s quite small, but makes for a good weekend destination and jumping off point to more athletic adventures.

The area is famous for cross country skiing and ice climbing, and in the warmer months hiking and biking in the adjacent National Park of Gran Paradiso. Under the King Vittorio Emanuele II, the park became the “Royal Game Reserve” in 1856 – an act that contributed to the saving of the ibex from extinction. The establishment of the royal reserve enabled the valleys and the mule tracks that connected the villages with the hunting lodges to develop and the king and his court could easily move around the reserve and the routes that still shape the park. .

  • Bellevue Hotel & Spa is the fancy, Relais & Chateau option on the meadow. We didn’t stay, but had a really good ***lunch on the Terrace. It’s elegant and high end, extensive wine list, locally sourced food, lovely sun exposure, making for a warm spot even in mid-winter.
  • **Hotel Sant’Orso also faces the meadow, with great views. It’s not quite as fancy, but quite nice, with a big pool and sauna area. Rooms are comfortable, food is good (and comes in overwhelmingly large portions). I’d stay here again.
  • Lou Ressignon is the famous dining place – a classic dating back to the late 1960s. Haven’t been yet.

Lillaz

At the end of the valley, the Cascate di Lillaz is a major destination for ice climbing. It’s a small town, doesn’t appear as interesting as Cogne. The bottom of the waterfall is an easy 10 minute walk; the top requires more work but reveals a much more impressive view.


Fenis

The Castle of Fénis is a surprise – it’s hard to see from the freeway, but up close it’s the mostly “castley” of the castles in the region. Today, the entire structure houses the Museum of Furnishing in Valle d’Aosta. Reserve in advance, only accessible by guided tours.


Gressoney-Saint-Jean

The drive to Gressoney is quite stunning – I look forward to a future winter trip to ski at the end of the valley. There are many small towns that look rather wealthy and well-maintained.

Gressoney itself features ***Castel Savoia. Make a reservation in advance, only accessible by tour and you can wait. The architect Emilio Stramucci, who designed the neo-Baroque decorations for Palazzo Reale in Turin and for the Quirinale in Rome, designed the mediaeval-style castle, described as “15th-century Lombard style”, quite frequent in France and Savoy, the homelands of the reigning sovereigns. It’s charming to see a new(ish) building following the traditional stalls, with a bit of an art deco twist. The kitchens were located in a building a short distance away and were connected to the castle by an underground Decauville track. 

We ate farther down the valley at a very local place, **Trattoria Bar Arquibus. It was not fancy and very good. 


Saint Vincent

Saint Vincent is a slightly nicer than average ski town (though not particularly close to the skiing). We enjoyed walking through it, had a good meal, and would come back for the Terme.

There’s a very nice, mostly paved biking trail through the valley from Saint Vincent to Fenis (and potentially further), running along the river.

  • **Maison Perrière was a really great hotel choice – 10 minutes outside of town (definitely need a car), in a very small old village filled with cats. The views are great, the hosts lovely, the bed comfortable, did I mention cats?
  • Parc Hotel Billia – Saint-Vincent is the classic place to stay – we liked the look of it. Recently redone with tasteful flair, a big pool & sauna area.
  • **Vinosteria Borracho was a charming dinner option, friendly staff, cozy setting underground. 

Verrès

On the west of the river, **Issogne Castle is one of the most famous manors of the region, noteworthy for its fountain in the form of a pomegranate tree and its decorated portico, a rare example of medieval Alpine painting, featuring a frescoed cycle of scenes of daily life from the late Middle Ages. It has a long history, and  the current version has made fairly elaborate attempts to showcase furnishings typical of the 1700s. It’s impressive. Book in advance, tours only, and only in Italian.

The **Castle of Verrès was built in the late fourteenth century and is highly visible from all directions. The structure, which looks like a huge cube of rock, a hundred feet high on each side, is the best example of a fortress-like house in the entire region. We loved the unusual interior, quite striking. It is considered one of the most impressive medieval buildings in the area, and was one of the first examples of a castle built as a single structure rather than as a series of buildings enclosed in a circuit wall. The Castle is accessible from Verres itself on foot, but you’d regret the climb – this is definitely a driving destination. Open March-October.

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