Somewhere on a small beach near Vieste in southern Italy, I feel a soft sea breeze while immersed in my book. I immediately put it down and close my eyes. Despite the sunglasses, I can totally feel how strong the sun is. Engulfed in this delicious warmth, I read the last sentence of Paulo Cognetti’s The Eight Mountains.
in southern Italy, I feel a soft sea breeze while immersed in my book. I immediately put it down and close my eyes. Despite the sunglasses, I can totally feel how strong the sun is. Engulfed in this delicious warmth, I read the last sentence of Paulo Cognetti’s The Eight Mountains.
At the ending, realization upon realization hit. Things are so finite. And what is this desire brewing inside me to be part of a story, to discover? I ponder over this and so much more. This is precisely the moment that I decide, on that small unknown beach, that I will someday go to Val D’Aosta. Spurred on by the warmth of the sun and Cognetti’s words, I begin dreaming of the mountain tops and rivers.
An excerpt from The Eight Mountains:
He took the handle of a suitcase and was about to lift it off the roof when he changed his mind. Something had fallen into him that he found quite entertaining by looking at his gaze.
“Can you see what has elapsed once again?”
“Hm … awkward,” I said, trying to keep me down. He always gave me that kind of riddle. He attributed to me an intelligence as big as his own, with a talent for logic and mathematics, and he thought it was his duty to test me.
“Do you see that stream there?” He said. “Suppose the water is the time that elapses. If the present is where we are, where do you think the future is? “
I thought about it. This mystery seemed easy. I gave the most obvious answer: “The future is where the water goes, down there.”
“Error,” my father said. “Fortunately.” Then he said, as if a burden had fallen from him: “Hopla,” the word he used when he lifted me up, and the first of the two suitcases fell to the ground with a thud.
The smallest region of Italy
Less than a year after reading this excerpt, I walk through the streets of the village of La Thuile for the first time. My mouth falls slightly open when I look at the beautiful snowy mountain tops. It is almost the end of June and there is still more than seven meters of snow in some places.
Whenever I am allowed to experience such tranquility and landscapes, I always take a deep breath. I fill my lungs fill with that magical crackling mountain air and feel the stress fall off from my shoulders. My smile always becomes even wider.
I can hear you think: La Thuile? Are you in France then? Nope, I am indeed in Italy, even though it feels a bit like Switzerland, France and Italy all at the same time. This is perhaps because of Val D’Aosta’s geographical placement close to the borders of Switzerland and France.
And then, when I see the giant pasta and pizza dishes in the evening, there’s no room for doubt: we are in Italy. But not in the clichéd Italy. There are no Gucci-clad men and no Fiat Pandas on steroids in sight. In this part of the country, there is a wonderful no-nonsense mentality.
Right on the first day, I fall deeply and hopelessly in love with this wonderful place.
How to get here
- By train or bus
You can reach Val D’Aosta by train in both the summer and winter. Aosta has a good train connection with Turin, or you could take the train to Martigny in Switzerland and then the bus to Aosta. The journey time from Ghent is just over 10 hours.
- By bike
Wow, you fool! Yup, that would also be my reaction. It is indeed a long way to Val D’Aosta (around 900km to 1000km from Brussels) but if you like a challenge, then why not? Fans of the Giro d’Italia will certainly have heard of Val D’Aosta as it is the perfect cycling destination. So, even if you get here by car or train, take your bike with you.
- By Flix bus
- By motorcycle
The Aosta valley is a true motorcycle paradise, full of beautiful curves and nature. Actually, Mappy indicated that the fastest and easiest way to get to Val D’Aosta is by motorcycle. About 930 km from my home base Lede, it would just take me just 8.5 hours.
- By car
Belgians, of course, continue to prefer car travel over all else (at least for the time being). Let’s hope this will change in the future!
The fastest route by car from Flanders to Val D’Aosta is through France. Via the beautiful Autoroute Blanche and the (expensive) Mont Blanc tunnel, you will reach quite fast, in just nine hours.
Keep in mind that you pay quite a lot of péage/toll in France (count on more than EUR 100). Therefore, the fastest route will not be the cheapest way to get to Val D’Aosta.
Alternatively, the route that runs through Switzerland will save you a lot on péage costs. Mappy estimates just about EUR 3.5 in toll costs. The St Bernard tunnel in Switzerland is also cheaper than the Mont Blanc tunnel (no up-to-date prices found) and the pass is phenomenally beautiful for cruising. This route will take you around 12 hours, but you will pay much less and have better views.
And don’t forget BlaBlacar. If you have some space left in your car, take a traveler with you. Better for the environment and can lead to some super fun stories!
- By plane
If you want to go to Val D’Aosta and you want to get there fast, consider taking the plane. Simply check the prices for flights to Milan, Turin or Geneva.
What to do in Val D’Aosta
- Cycle, cycle, cycle!
Whether you’re into mountain biking, have guts enough for crazy downhills, or are an avid cyclist who likes to make altimeters, there is something for everyone here. Especially good, heartening challenges!
We climbed the cols ourselves with e-mountain bikes and believe me, that was already a challenge. The Giro passes here during the summer months so you’ll find pink bikes on the walls, painted on the street, literally everywhere.
Allez les flandriens!
- Hike away
Would you rather reach the heights without two wheels? Well, then Val D’Aosta has a hiking trail network of more than 5000km for you. And it’s super sweet.
You will find charming mountain huts and bivouac huts (without managers) where you can sleep well at night and set off again at dawn.
Go hiking in the shade of the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa, and also try the Giants Trek. The Giants Trek is a ‘7-stage round-trip trekking’ around the Aosta valley and the four highest mountains in Europe. Intense, but worth it!
- Visit Forte di bard
Imagine yourself in The Avengers: Age of Ultron or just enjoy the silent view and the wind through your hair.
Forte di Bard is more than a beautifully maintained 19th century fortress. It also houses various exhibitions and museums. For example, since 2006, you can visit the ‘Museum of the Alps’ here as well.
Always dreamed of sleeping in a fort for the night? Well, Hotel Cavour et des Officiers is inside the fort and not even that expensive! You can even hold your wedding or company events here.
Address: Forte di Bard, Bard – Valle d’Aosta
- Go rafting, kayaking and canoeing
Last year I went rafting in Siberia. Since I had zero rafting experience, that was a bit intense, to say the least. But you can also go rafting in Val D’Aosta… and I’m sure it’ll be less extreme.
- Wine tasting at local farmers
Hmm, a smile spontaneously comes to my face when I think of the warm hospitality of the Permes Pavese family. You can taste excellent wines here (and two of their wines are named after their children Ninive & Nathan!).
Strada Pineta, 26 – Fraz. La Ruine – 11017 MORGEX – Valle d’Asta
- Spend a day at the spa
Yup, in Val d’Aosta, you will find very nice spas.
After a day of skiing in the winter, it can be an incredible experience to relax those muscles in the sauna. And in the summer after a hearty hike, an evening of wellness is always very welcome.
Here’s how you can get to QC Terme in Pré Saint Didier.
- Reach the peaks
Go up Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe! With Skyway Monte Bianco you can reach the top peak via cable car from Courmayeur.
Make it a day trip. For a stopover, discover Giardino Botanico Alpino Saussurea. This is not only a beautiful botanical garden but also a play paradise for children with fun activities such as climbing, a raft, playground, and so much more.
Don’t forget to explore the Pointe Helbronner station at an altitude of 3400m. But do dress warmly because the temperatures sometimes go down to -40 degrees Celsius.
With this activity, you’ll enjoy 360° panorama view of the peaks of Mont Blanc and the other majestic 4000m summits of Val D’Aosta: Cervino, Gran Paradiso, Monte Rosa and Grand Combin.
Note that in the alpine resort town of Courmayeur, the system is designed to meet the Zero Energy Building standards as much as possible.
Additionally, the mid-way station, the Pavillon, is a phenomenal piece of architecture. Also make your way to the Cave Mont Blanc and taste some fabulous wine.
The amazing thing is that you can also rent the Skyway Monte Bianco as an event location. Always wanted to get married at a crazy location? Simply hold the ceremony at 3466m with a view of Mont Blanc! What do you say?
According to 2019 prices, a ticket costs between EUR 28 and EUR 52.
Strada Statale 26 director, n. 48 – Entrèves