The Aosta Valley (Valle d’Aosta), in Northern Italy. is most famous for its extreme outdoor activities. However, there are so many other things to do in the Aosta Valley, from easy hikes to exploring medieval villages and the ancient Roman Road.
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Read on to see another side of the Aosta Valley that shows you why it’s a perfect destination if you’re travelling with friends and family with different interests.
Who Will Enjoy Visiting the Aosta Valley?
It’s easy to think that the only things to do in the Aosta Valley are hard-core adventures with its snow-capped peaks, including the Matterhorn, Monte Bianco, Piz Bernina, Monte Rosa, and the Gran Paradiso.
Or that you’d only come here to ski, given there are an incredible 24 ski resorts and 822 km of ski runs in the Aosta Valley.
And admittedly, my first time in the Aosta Valley was several years ago when I hiked the epic Tour du Mont Blanc, stopping in the popular mountain town of Courmayeur. And if you’re looking for harder outdoor adventures, you certainly can’t beat the Aosta Valley.
But there’s a softer side to the Aosta Valley as well. One that will appear to travellers who:
- love being in nature but still want the comforts of a warm bed and the chance to sample regional cuisine – prepared by someone else
- love the ambiance and quiet that small mountain villages provide allowing you to unwind and relax
- enjoy hiking for a couple of hours but don’t want to spend their entire day hiking
- are fascinated by history, especially the Roman Road
- have a variety of interests, from visiting castles to exploring medieval villages to soft adventures like e-biking, to wine tasting
So let’s get started. We’ll focus on nine villages and towns in the Aosta Valley and things to do there.
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Gressoney-Saint-Jean and Gressoney-La-Trinite
Gressoney is the home of the Walser people, which sets it apart from other regions in the Aosta Valley with the distinctive Walser architecture, traditional costumes and language.
They originated in the Swiss Canton of Valais and speak German, or Titsch, as it has evolved in the Gressoney region.
The Walster people were known as trading folk and were shepherds. You’ll definitely want to check out a Walser settlement – more on that below.
Gressoney-Saint-jean is certified with the Orange Flag (the environmental tourism quality mark) from the Italian Touring Club.
Things to Do in Gressoney
Your first stop should be at the friendly tourist office, which has a ton of information and can provide maps.
Visit Castle Savoia
For me, one of the highlights of Gressoney is a visit to the fairytale castle of Castel Savoia. It was built by Margherita of Savoy, who became so enchanted with Gressoney that she built a castle there, complete with botanical gardens.
To really experience the beauty of Gressoney, I recommend the Queen’s Walk from Lake Gover to Castle Savoia. You’ll give a view over Gressoney Saint-Jean and will pass the Underworld Waterfalls until you reach Savoy Castle. Return the same way for epic views of Monte Rosa (4634 m), the second-highest peak in the Alps and in Western Europe after Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco in Italian)
If it’s spring or summer, you’ll also want to check out the castle’s botanical garden.
You can only visit Castel Savoia on a guided tour. The views of Monte Rosa are incredible. I also loved seeing the photos of Margherita of Savoy climbing the Monte Rosa Massif)
Visit the Traditional Walser Settlements
Another highlight is visiting one of the traditional Walser settlements. there are a few different ones you can visit, but the one I recommend the most because it’s the largest and the views are amazing is the one to the Alpenzu Grande.
If you’re not able to visit it, then the tourist office can show you a map with the location of the other Walser settlements. If you’re visiting in the winter or summer season, also check out the Walser Ecomuseum in Gressoney-La-Trinite, where you discover the Walser culture by exploring three 18th-century buildings.
Insider Tip for Visiting Gressoney Saint-Jean: Stop by the Viveri K Panetteria Gastronomia, a gourmet deli where you can buy fresh meat and cheese to make a picnic lunch if you’re planning on doing one of the easy hikes below.
They also have homemade specialties that you can heat up in your apartment. I tried both the polenta and meatballs, and they were delicious.
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Easy Hikes Near Gressoney
Hike to the Alpenzu Grande
If you only did one hike near Gressoney, I’d recommend hiking to the Alpenzu Grande, one of the most important Walser settlements. I love hikes that include culture and history like this one does.
According to my local guide Nicola, he said it’s the same language as what’s spoken in Zermatt, but if you go to Zurich while there are still similarities, it becomes more difficult to understand each other.
The Walser community was mainly made up of shepherds. Indeed, the only two other people I saw on my hike were two shepherds tending to their cows in the pasture.
Their houses are incredible examples of architecture designed for maximum functionality in harsh conditions. The Alpenzu Grande village is an excellent representation of this. The current buildings date back to 1668!
While the buildings are privately owned, so you can’t enter them, you can, however, eat or stay at the Rifugio Alpenzu in the summer season.
The only way to reach the village is on foot. It’s 45 minutes to an hour, depending on which route you take. You can either start from Gressoney-Saint-John (nicer but slightly longer way) or from Gressoney-La-Trinite.
Ask the tourist office in Gressonary for a map showing you the starting points for the hike. Once you reach it, it’s well-signed.
If you can’t get enough of the Walster villages, then continue your hike from the Alpenzu Grande to the Alpenzu Piccolo, a smaller Walser settlement. You’ll see a sign for it, but I’d recommend having the route in GPS or at least a paper map of it.
Insider Hiking Tip for Visiting the Alpenzu Grande:
Hike a bit just above the village to get a birds-eye view of the village and of Gressony.
Bard is recognized as one of the prettiest villages in Italy by the Borghitalia, and it’s easy to see why.
The medieval village of just 120 people has buildings that date back to the 15th and 16th centuries, although evidence from rock carvings shows that the area has been inhabited long before that.
You get clues as to the village’s history from the frescos, the ones at Casa Challant are especially notable and the date carved into the village’s oldest water fountain.
The Roman Road was built first. The village was built after that, with imposing gates at each end of the village.
With a mountain on one side and the Dora Baltea River on the other side, the only way for traders and anyone else who wanted to pass by was through the village. Hence, the noble Bard family imposed a toll on anyone that wanted to pass, making them very rich.
Today, the famous pilgrimage route, the Via Francigena, passes through the village, similar to traders from centuries ago. But only now, they don’t need to pay a toll.
Things to Do in Bard
Visit Fort Bard
Anyone coming to Bard will visit Fort Bard, and it’s easy to see why. The imposing Fort Bard overlooks the village. which dates back to the 19th century. There had previously been a castle there, but when Napoleon attacked expecting an easy takeover with his army of 40,000 vs 400, and it took him two weeks, he retaliated by completely destroying the castle.
At Fort Bard, there are numerous museums and changing exhibitions. You could easily spend a day exploring everything. I also highly recommend the scenic walk down from the castle to the village. It’s incredible and was one of the highlights of my trip.
Discover the Village of Bard
While so many visitors just go to the fort, this is a huge mistake. I encourage you to do a self-guided tour of the gorgeous village. There are signs at the entrance. You’ll just need your Smartphone. While you’re there, consider stopping at one of the restaurants, bar or wine shops. Your support really makes a difference and keeps small villages alive!
Insider Travel Tips for Visiting Bard
You’ll also want to go through the village gates to the stone bridge. It dates back to 1250 and, for centuries, was the only way to reach the village. It’s stunning, and it’s one of the best places to get a photo of the fort.
On the opposite side of the village, past the church and old hotel, opposite the staff parking, you’ll want to go up the rocks on the same side of the valley as the fort. Here you’ll find rock carvings upon close inspection that date back to prehistoric times! If you’re wanting to get pregnant, go down the fertility slide which is said to have magical properties.
You’ll also want to continue on the Marmita del Gigants. It’s a deep hole (so be careful) that legend said was created by giants, but in reality, was created by the moving glaciers.
Most tourists miss these last two spots, but they’re absolutely fascinating.
Hikes in Bard
Bard is very small at just 3 km2
so while it isn’t known for its hiking, I highly recommend the walk up (if you’re feeling energetic) to Fort Bard. Or at the very least, the walk down. You’ll get spectacular views over Bard.
You’ll also find two short hiking trails at the entrance to Bard (close to the bar) which I’m told provide fantastic views over Bard and Fort Bard.
Donnas is perhaps best known for being the first DOC wine of the Aosta Valley and trust me, you’re going to want to try it, but there’s so much more to Donnas. I fell in love with this town!
What To Do in Donnas
Visit the Vineyards and Wine Museum of Donnas
Let’s start with what Donnas is most famous for – its wine. If it’s a weekend, check out the Museo Del Vino e della Viticoltura (a wine museum). It’s only open on weekends but gives you a good overview of the wine production in Donnas.
You’ll also want to visit the vineyards and check the grape’s progress for yourself, ideally on foot (more on that in the hiking section below). However, you can also drive. You’ll get incredible views and also a glimpse at the Pramotton Tower, which dates back to the 13th century.
Stroll Through the Medieval Village and Roman Road to the Arch
Next up is exploring the medieval village marked by the Porta Orientale, the gate marking the entrance to the medieval village. Download the free app, which gives you a self-guided tour of the village. You’ll see the instructions right by the gate.
Then explore the village and greet any pilgrims you see doing the Via Francigena or the Camino Balteo.
Continue on to one of the highlights of Donnas to the Roman Road. You’ll marvel at the 4-metre-high arch painstakingly carved by hand. You’ll also want to look down and see the tracks from carts, worn into the stone – an indication of how busy the road was.
Insider Travel Tips for Visiting Donnas
Try the award-winning Caves Cooperatives de Donnas ‘Napoleon’ Donnas. It’s said that Napoleon appreciated the wine, hence the name.
Donnas is also known for its fontina cheese, so I recommend ordering something that includes it, whether it’s gnocchi, polenta or something else. Or pick up fresh fontina from the Caseifico Vallet Pietro, a cheese factory with a shop. If you have a large group, you can also arrange wine and cheese tastings.
Hikes in Donnas
Surrounded by mountains, there is no shortage of hikes in Donnas. I recommend picking up the book “The Paths of Donnas” by Marco Blatto and Luca Zavatta, which you can find in local shops.
Hike the “Vineyard Path” in Donnas. It’s an easy walk that’s the perfect opportunity for you to check on the grapes. GPS tracks here: https://www.lovevda.it/en/database/7/one-day-excursions/donnas/the-wineyard-path-of-donnas/3186;
You’ll also want to check out Climbing Park Balteo. While intended for climbers, there are also via ferratas, and you can also hike there. I did an easy hike that only took about 20 minutes for an amazing view over Donnas. There’s a sign at the entrance to the park with a map of all the trails.
Step back in time to one of the prettiest villages in Italy, according to Bourghitalia. It’s also certified with the Orange Flag (the environmental tourism quality mark) from the Italian Touring Club.
Located in the heart of the Gran San Bernardo Valley and an important stop on the Roman Road (Via delle Gallie in Italian), the medieval village continues its history with pilgrims passing through walking the Via Francigena to Rome.
There’s a surprising amount to see in this medieval village with just 500 inhabitants.
What To Do in Etroubles
Stroll Through the Medieval Village of Etroubles and Enjoy the Open-Air Museum
You’ll want to visit the medieval village starting at the Parish Church of Santa Maria Assunta (1177) and the bell tower (1480).
Right across from the church, you’ll see a map that shows you the location of all 22 art pieces in the Open-Air Museum. It’s a permanent exhibition of contemporary art that you discover as you stroll along the cobblestone streets. I loved discovering the artwork.
You’ll feel like you’ve stepped several hundred years as you stroll through the medieval village. The water fountain, where pilgrims and animals could stop for a drink, and the washing station, used by villagers in medieval times, is of special interest. Keep your eyes out for the occasional fresco.
Visit a Chapel and the Torre Di Vachery
Take the steep cobblestone road, passing one of the five small chapels found around Etroubles, and admire the remaining frescos.
Visit the Torre Di Vachery, the medieval watch tower of Vachéry. It dates back to the XII century.
Hikes in Etroubles
You’ll find lots of hikes around Etroubles, but for an easy and historical one I recommend walking in the steps of the Romans and pilgrims on the Via Francigena to the medieval village of Saint-Oyen.
Admittedly, this is in the reverse direction, but the lovely mountain views make the 20-minute walk worthwhile, and you can reward yourself with a traditional meal. Then, on your way back to Etroubles, you’ll be walking in the same direction that pilgrims would take as they walked to Rome and marvel at the majestic views.
Insider Travel Tip for Visiting Etroubles
Cross the bridge for one of the best photo opps of Etroubles.
Saint-Rhémy-en-Bosses is a gorgeous medieval village that was an important trading post in Roman Times. Today, the population numbers only six, but don’t let the small size put you off. It only makes it more charming.
What To Do in Saint-Rhémy-en-Bosses
Explore the medieval village of Saint Rhémy on foot, admiring the medieval buildings and greeting any pilgrims you see walking the Via Francigena.
You’ll also want to sample the local Vallée d’Aoste Jambon de Bosses (PDO product) at the Prosciuttificio. There’s a store so you can take some with you.
In the nearby village of San Leonardo, take in the stained glass artwork near the church. You can also marvel at the Castello di Bosses in San Leonardo, which houses a museum during the high season. Soak in the valley and mountain views
Visit the Great Saint-Bernard Pass
You’ll also want to do the stunning drive (or rent an e-bike) to go up to the Great Saint-Bernard Pass, connecting Switzerland with Italy. Here you’ll find the majestic Grand Saint-Bernard Lake. The pass is also the first stage of the Via Francigena in Italy. There are a couple of places you can have lunch here.
Hikes in Saint Rhémy
There are lots of hiking opportunities near Saint Rhémy, but for an easy one, I recommend walking in the footsteps of ancient Romans by walking the Via Francigena from Saint Rhémy to San Leonardo. It’s an easy walk down, although if you plan to go back on foot, it will be uphill on the way back.
A hike that I loved (which would be even better by e-bike) is the one to Plan Puitz. You not only get stunning views over the valley and of San Leonardo but there’s also a historical landmark of the WW1 fortified artillery post. It’s a cave dug in the mountain which was used as a lookout point. Fortunately, there wasn’t much action there.
You’ll also find an e-bike charging station at the top of Plan Puitz and a picnic table – a great place to enjoy some of the prosciutto you bought.
There are also lots of hikes ranging from easy to challenging, starting from the Great Saint-Bernard Pass and alpine lake area. You’ll see lots of signs.
Valpelline is the ultimate getaway if you’re seeking a tranquil nature-filled getaway. Situated in a valley and surrounded by high peaks, you’ll feel your knots start to loosen as you start to relax.
What To Do in Valpelline
Visit the Fontina Cheese Factory
While you could drive there, I recommend doing an easy walk that leads to the coolest Fontina factory (and largest in the Aosta Valley), The Cooperativa Produttori Latte e Fontina. It’s located in the caves of an old copper mine. You can do a tour and a tasting (trust me, you’ll want to). Just call in advance. Also, ask for the free recipe book, which features regional specialities created with fontina.
Visit the Lake Place-Moulin
Hop in the car and drive to the end of the valley to the stunning Lake Place-Moulin. While called a lake, it’s actually a dam. It’s one of the largest reservoirs in Europe and plays an important role in providing hydroelectric power to the region.
It’s an engineering marvel. If you’re travelling with a large group, you can arrange a tour of the dam’s inner workings.
Note: the road is closed in winter due to heavy snowfall and avalanche danger. Check with a local if it’s open if you’re travelling off-season.
Hikes in Valpelline
Valpelline is a hiker’s paradise. While it’s known for its more challenging hikes, there are also easy ones you can do. The Il Ru di-z-aagne which starts in Valpelline and leads to the fontina cheese factory, is a good – not to mention rewarding choice. Look for a sign, just above the church.
There are also numerous hikes you can do along the reservoir. While many of these are challenging hikes, the one to Rigugio Prarayer is a mainly flat hike.
There’s no tourist office in Valpelline, but the owners of the Le Lievre Amoureux Hotel Ristorante are friendly and happy to recommend hikes. Just be sure to either stay there or have lunch or dinner there.
Arvier is a unique place in Italy’s Aosta Valley in that there are two medieval villages – Arvier and Leverogne almost side by side.
Arvier was located in a strategic spot on the Roman Road, but prehistoric remains show that it was inhabited long before.
What To Do in Arvier
Explore the Medieval Villages of Arvier and Leverogne
You’ll want to stroll through both of the medieval villages.
In Leverogne, stop at the pilgrims’ hospice which dates back to 1368. On the fresco, you’ll see the “7 Acts of Mercy” on the top row and the “7 Deadly Sins” on the bottom row. The devil’s mouth is missing from the ancient fresco, but that’s where everyone depicted in the bottom row is headed.
The old Roman Road goes through the medieval village. The original road is lower and is under the current road. Fortunately, you can still see the old Roman Bridge.
In Arvier, you’ll want to check out the old bell tower of the church and the castle ruins of La Mothe.
As part of an exciting project called “Agile Arvier,” the castle will be turned into a “Museum of the Future” – such a cool idea.
As you stroll through the medieval village of Arvier, check out the Photo Alp Arvier, a photo exhibition of the best photos of the Tour du Ruitor – one of the largest international ski mountaineering competitions in the world!
Sample Wine from the Arvier Collective
At the Arvier Collective, they do things a bit differently. They play music at 432 Hz for the organic wine. You can taste the difference the innovative technique has on the wine for yourself.
I highly recommend “Enfer,” which means “hell” in French but is referring to the hot microclimate where the wine grows.
Hiking in Arvier
Besides the village, Arvier is also an excellent area for hiking. Right by the church, you’ll see a sign showing all the hikes starting from Arvier.
Leverogne is on the Camino Balteo. I hiked part of it up to the Big Bench, where you get fantastic views of Mont Blanc.
Then, I hiked down a different trail, the Ru Eausourde, a canal system that brings water down the mountain to the farmers.
Along the way, you can see artwork from local students of local flora and fauna. It’s so much fun spotting them.
The next day I did a hike to the ruins of Montmayeur Castle. This is one of the hundreds of castles/castle ruins you’ll find in the Aosta Valley.
For a longer hike, you can start in Arvier. Or, for a much shorter and easier hike, start in the nearby hamlet of Grand Haury. I love hikes that lead to something historical, like a castle ruin!
You might not have heard of the small medieval village of Introd in the Aosta Valley, Italy, but there’s a lot to do in such a small place. In fact, Pope John Paul II loved it so much he often spent his summers here.
What To Do in Introd
Not to be missed is a visit to the Maison Bruil d’Introd, an ethnographic museum showcasing the traditional food of the Aosta Valley. It’s housed in one of two rural houses found in Introd.
You’ll also want to visit the nearby animal park Parc Animalier Introd, which features local animals. Next year, look for the newest additions – wolves!
Castello di Introd is only open for special events. However, you can enjoy a picnic with a view fitting for royalty – convenient since there are no restaurants in Introd.
As you stroll around town, you’ll notice the “Old Bridge,” as it’s called with the “New Bridge” visible in the background. , bread ovens and a washing station where villagers used to wash their clothes, and some still do!
Visit the Nearby Hamlet of Les Combes
Pope John Paul II was a fan of Introd, often spending summers here to enjoy his walks.
There’s a museum dedicated to him in the nearby hamlet of Les Combes that’s open in summer. From Les Combes, there’s also a walking trail suitable for everyone, Plan du Saint-Père, where you can follow in his literal footsteps.
Hikes in Introd
There’s an easy hike just above Introd, which gives you great views over Introd and the Aosta Valley. You’ll also see a stain-glass artwork of Pope John Paul II here.
The above-mentioned Plan du Saint-Père, in which you follow in Pope John Paul II’s footsteps, is an easy walk that everyone can do.
From the nearby hamlet of Grand Haury, you can do an easy hike. to the castle ruins of Montmayeur, mentioned above.
You can hike part of the Cammino Balteo, but the section to and from Introd is steep.
Or if you’re seeking a more challenging hike, you’ll find plenty of those around Introd as well.
Morgex is best known for its outdoor popular activities you can do in the area and for the stunning views of Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco). It’s also famous for its wine, the DOC Blanc de Morgex et de La Salle. It’s known as the ‘highest wine of Europe’ and is produced at an altitude of 1200m in its highest point.
But in addition, Morgex has an ancient history and was an important stop on the Roman Road, even though none of the road is visible today.
What To Do in Morgex
Start in the center of the town with a visit to the De l’Archet Tower. It dates back to the 10th century and is one of the oldest in the Aosta Valley. You’ll also find the tourist office here, which is open in high season.
Nearby is the medieval church, the Parish Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, which dates back to 1176. Of special interest are the painting of the Last Supper on the left-hand side of the central nave (1559) and the frescos of the fifteenth-century chapel at the bottom of the left-hand nave.
Explore Reading Park
The community park references its former history of being a railway. You’ll find interactive play stations for kids and stunning views of Mont Blanc for adults. Cross the bridge and look down to see the former railway tracks a creative reminder of the past.
Work Out at the Recreation Area
If you need motivation, look no further than the recreation area, which has outdoor exercise equipment with a view of Mont Blanc. You’ll also find a barefoot park, which kids will love and is a great way to connect with nature.
Visit the Vineyards
Just above Morgex, you can visit the vineyards. Winemaking has existed in the area before the middle ages. It was traditionally made to feed the family. It was only in the 20th century that people started selling it.
Of special note are the terraces. They’re purposely built low to the ground so that the earth warms the plants in this high alpine environment.
Hikes in Morgex
Morgex is a hiking paradise with all its snow-capped mountains and has something for all levels of hikers. The easy and popular hike that was recommended to me by multiple people was to the alpine lake, Lake D’Arpy, famous for its water reflecting the impressive wall of the Grandes Jorasses. It’s stunning at any time, but particularly in fall when the larch trees are in full color! It’s 10km from Morgex and starts from the Colle San Carlo. Or more specifically, at the Hotel Genzianella where there’s a car park.
You could easily spend several weeks hiking around Morgex and still not do all the hikes. Check with the Tourist Information for further details.
Best Time to Visit the Aosta Valley
If you are looking at doing some of the harder hikes in the higher mountain ranges like the Tour du Mont Blanc, Alta Via 1 or 2, you’ll need to go in summer.
If you want to ski, either piste, off-piste or cross-country skiing, then you should go in winter, obviously. Although some off-piste skiing on glaciers is available even during summer months.
However, If you’re looking to explore the softer side of the Aosta Valley, I’d highly recommend going off-season in fall or spring.
The summer and skiing crowds have disappeared, and you’ll find it’s much quieter. You’ll also find that accommodations are much cheaper since it’s off-season.
5 Tips for Visiting the Aosta Valley in Off-Season
- Many cable cars/lifts close around mid-September and don’t open until June or July. This is fine if you’re OK to hike lower in the valley, but if you have a specific hike in mind, check to see if it requires a lift to reach it and if so, if the lift is open.
- Similarly, many mountain huts close off-season so bring a picnic lunch or check before you start your hike.
- Many museums are closed off-season, so check in advance.
- Depending on when you go off-season, there may be more rain than normal so have some indoor activities in mind for rainy days.
- Visit at least some of the numerous castles found in the Aosta Valley. There are eight open to the public. In particular, I recommend Fort Bard (which has exhibitions and museums where you could easily spend the day) and Savoy Castle in Gressony-Saint-Jean.