Aosta, Pila, Valpeline, Great Saint Bernard

This is an excerpt from the book “Aosta Valley Itineraries”.

Aosta Roman walls - Photo © zimrilim
Aosta Roman walls – Photo © zimrilim

Aosta is the main city of the region.

It was founded by the Romans in 25 BC and still boasts beautiful monuments from its origins, such as the Roman bridge, the Arch of Augustus, the theatre and the Roman walls. Not surprisingly, it is also called the “Rome of the Alps”.

The history of the foundation of Aosta is presented in the Archaelogical Museum, where you can also admire a rich numismatic collection. In addition there are remains of one of the four Roman gates, the Porta Principalis Sinixtra, recently discovered in its basement.

From the Medieval period: the monumental complex of Sant’Orso, with the Romanesque bell-tower, the cloister and the priorate, the cathedral, with the museum of the treasure, the wooden carved stalls and some newly discovered frescoes are worth a visit.

Sant'Orso Cloister - Photo © anto_gal
Sant’Orso Cloister – Photo © anto_gal

Interesting exhibitions are hosted every year in the towers Fromage and Lebbroso, in the Saint Benin center and in the San Lorenzo church.

Aosta is also famous for its weekly market which is held every Tuesday in the Market Square close to the railway station and for the Sant’Orso handicraft fair, held every year on 30th and 31st of January in the historical center (wooden and wrought-iron objects, pillow-lace, woven-blankets and stone sculptures).

Still highly attended and very popular are the battles between cows (bataille des reines), with the finals taking place the third week of October in the Croix Noire arena. From Aosta a lot of interesting excursions can be organized.Only 18 km drive from the town, you can visit Pila, which you can also reach by cable car: it is a natural balcony facing the range of the Alps with a 360° view from Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa.

You can find a lot of easy hikes and a wide net of tracks for mountain-bikers.

On the road leading to the Great Saint Bernard pass (SS.27), at Variney, just a few kilometers from Aosta, you can turn right into the Valpelline Valley. The first village you meet is Valpelline, at 954m , surrounded by pastures. It is the starting point for a wide range of excursions. On the last Sunday of July the “Seuppa a la Vapelenentse” feast takes place.

You can taste this gastronomic specialty made of brown bread, fontina cheese and broth. From Valpelline, following the state road, you meet Bionaz, the last village near the Place Moulin Dam, where there is an enchanting artificial lake. From Valpelline you can reach also Ollomont, a small and very traditional village.

Porossan castle - bridge - Photo © Donato Arcaro
Porossan castle – bridge – Photo © Donato Arcaro

Coming back to Variney, you can take again the road to the Great Saint Bernard. The first village you encounter is Gignod.

In the village square the “Fete du teteun” is held every year, a gastronomic occasion based on a local specialty: salty and spiced cow udder served in slices. Going on you then meet Etroubles, Saint Oyen and Saint Rhemy-en-Bosses (1632m), famous for its tasty ham.

The road, through a wooded gorge, leads to the pass, dominated by the statue of Saint Bernard, patron of mountaineers, which stands near a small lake. Nearby, you will find a few Roman remains and, already in Swiss territory, the hospice where monks breed the famous Saint Bernard dogs.

The Great Saint Bernard valley is also well-known for its carnival with typical velvet costumes, mirrors and little bells evoking the passage of Napoleon in 1800.

Where to stay in Aosta

There are high quality hotels, apartments, B&Bs and guesthouses available, check them out and make a reservation here.

Where to stay in Valpelline

There are high quality hotels, chalets, country houses and B&Bs available, check them out and make a reservation here.