Don’t think of Italy as only a summer destination. There are lots of things to do and to see during the Italian spring, fall, and even winter. This series of articles provides ideas for your Italian winter vacation, describing regional spectacles, tourist attractions, and special events, and sometimes skiing and other winter sports. Italian winter holidays offer several advantages: You won’t have to fight the crowds, hotels and other accommodations are easier and cheaper to find, and every region has its own winter festivals. When we say winter, we mean November to February; spring comes early in Italy. Don’t look here for information about Italy’s marvelous Carnivale; we plan a separate series covering regional Carnivale celebrations. Talk about planning; start organizing your Italian winter holidays now. Keep reading.
The Aosta Valley is a tiny bilingual (Italian and French-speaking) enclave in the northwest corner of Italy bordering on France and Switzerland. This is alpine country so I don’t have to tell you about all the skiing opportunities. You’ll find the rugged, unspoiled Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso is open all winter. It’s a great place for hiking.
On November first the village of Cogne at the edge of the Parco celebrates the Cantes Festival, which is dedicated to the community’s boys. They are offered wine and food and participants sing until sunset. About one week later Perloz celebrates the final of the Concours Bataille des Chevres (Goat Fight). There’s an exhibition of the local breeders’ best animals and a competition among these goats, which are classed into three categories. The winners are awarded “tchambis”, maple and walnut collars hand inlaid with the traditional bell. Lesser prizes honor eight other goats in each category.
In the capital Aosta December means a week long International Hot Air Balloon Encounter culminating in the ascent of Mont Blanc. You’ll find Living Nativity Scenes almost everywhere in the region. On December 30 in the alpine resort of Breuil-Cervinia at the base of the Matterhorn you can enjoy a torch lit procession on skis followed by a fireworks display.
On the next to last Sunday of January the village of Donnas hosts the Fiera del Legno (Wood Fair) similar to the event taking place in the regional capital about two weeks later. On January 30 and 31 the historic center of the capital Aosta celebrates the Saint Orso Feast Day, a woodcarver’s fair that started about 1000 years ago. You’ll find over seven hundred artisans displaying and selling their woodwork, soapstone, wrought iron and leather, weaving, and other fine work. The Fair is an excellent expression of the Aosta Valley’s historical and cultural environment. There is also music and food and wine tasting that includes mulled wine. The streets are full until dawn. And wherever you go and whatever you do, check out the fine Val D’Aosta wines.