The Aosta Valley, a mountainous region in the north western corner of Italy, is the smallest and least populated in the country. It is bordered by France to the west, Switzerland to the north and the region of Piedmont to the south and east.
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It is the only region in Italy which has not been divided into separate provinces and is one of the country's five legislatively and administratively autonomous regions.
Classed as the least Italian region of Italy, the Aosta Valley is bilingual with both Italian and French taught in school and both languages commonly used at home. The road signs are in Italian and French and the local cuisine contains dishes influenced by Switzerland, France and Germany as well as Italy and the Mediterranean.
Mont Blanc Tunnel entrance Photo: Lennart Bolks
The principle city is Aosta, situated near the Italian entrance to the Mont Blanc Tunnel and only 110 km away from Turin. Aosta is a small city, with a spacious, open feel to it and a five centuries of Roman influence have left their mark. Today, Valle d'Aosta is little known to tourists, other than serious skiiers and hikers, but it was once the main access route between northern and southern Europe. The Mont Blanc Tunnel and Great St Bernard Tunnel have made the region more accessible, but it somehow remains off the beaten track. In spite of this, the region contains Italy's oldest national park, the Gran Paradiso National Park and three first class ski resorts.
Gran Paradiso National Park - Photo: Alessandro Vecchi
The Gran Paradiso National Park is 173,000 acres of snow capped mountains dotted with tiny glacial lakes and bordered by wooded slopes and huge flowering meadows. It is home to chamois, marmots, foxes, golden eagles and of course the famous ibex. 450 miles of marked trails and mule tracks make it a paradise for advanced hikers and walking enthusiasts. There are also a number of organised flat, wheelchair and baby buggy friendly walks, which along with the 70 castles contained within the park make it an ideal family day out.
Mont Blanc from Aosta Valley - Photo: Ximonic
The Aosta Valley is sheltered by the soaring peaks of Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa which give it a milder, sunnier climate than the ski resorts on the other side of the Alps.
There are ski trails everywhere in this area but the three main ski resorts are:
Courmayeur - the main attraction here is the southern face of Mont Blanc but Cormayeur also offers skiing all year round thanks to the Gigante Glacier.
Courmayeur - Photo: franco56
Cervinia - lies beneath the great Matterhorn and is a very popular resort for Italians.
Champoluc - has over 120 miles of trails and an 18 mile cross country run.