During winter, the Valley of Aosta is one of Italy’s points of interest, offering a holiday capable of satisfying even the most demanding travellers.
From those who enjoy outdoor activities to those who prefer historic or gastronomical tours, there is something for everyone in Aosta Italy and its surroundings.
During the Christmas holidays, we had the opportunity to spend some days in the mountains of the Aosta Valley. We packed up our car with sports gear as skis, snowshoes and hiking baby carrier. But due to the lack of snow, we decided to turn back and cross through the villages of the region looking for an alternative activity.
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Practical tips for planning your Christmas holidays in the Valley of Aosta
The weeks before Christmas tend to be quite hectic. Therefore, it is essential to plan your trip in detail with your children, giving priority to finding the appropriate accommodation that fit your families needs. Whether you choose a hotel, an apartment or a B&B is up to you. In general, Aosta town is trendy in winter, even more during the Christmas holidays, the carnival or Easter.
If you prefer to sleep in the villages neighbouring Aosta, we suggest you book ahead of time to find the lowest rates.
Aosta Valley is a perfect destination both for a day trip or for a relaxing weekend away from the city, as it is very close to the highways.
From Milan, Aosta is at merely 165 km or about an hour and forty minutes by car. For a winter holiday in Italy, a car is certainly the best mode of transportation to move around, especially with children.
This is a very popular destination not only for the Milanese but also for those who live in Piedmont and from the bordering countries of France and Switzerland, from where you can easily travel through Monte Bianco (Mont Blanc) and Gran San Bernardo (Great St. Bernard Pass).
For the lovers of sustainable travels, Aosta can also be reached by train from Porta Nuova station in Turin and Milan Central station. During winter months, there’s a special “Snow Train” which connects to the main skiing sites. Pila, for instance, is two steps away from Aosta Station. All you need to do is get off the train, take a few steps, and you will find the entrance to the cableway which will lead you straight to the ski slopes. Aosta is one of the best places to ski in Italy.
If you prefer to drive instead of taking the train, a great alternative would be to stay at the Hotel Notre Maison in the village of Cogne which offers a holiday package that includes a room in Aosta along with a test drive of a BMW i3, from the Porta Nuova station in Turin
Aosta is the beating heart of the region, and it is the best place to base yourself if you choose to explore the neighbouring valleys. However, prices in the city centre are not always low. Therefore, we have opted for an apartment in the surrounding area of Aosta to save money, be centric and to have all the comforts of a home. We choose an apartment in Aymavilles, a delightful little town about a kilometre from the highway exit Aosta Ovest (West Aosta).
The house was equipped with everything needed for a family of 4 like ours: towels, sheets, crockery, breakfast and a very tasty “polenta concia” a super yummy dish from this area. Danila, the owner, gave us a wonderful welcoming, making us feel totally at home and giving us advice on which attractions to visit and how to move around the area.
The apartment consists of a living area (with a sofa bed where the children slept), a fully equipped kitchenette, a double bedroom and a bathroom. Danila’s house is the result of a recent, beautiful renovation. From the window of the living room, you can enjoy a very relaxing view to East, which lights up in the morning with the sunrise, and from which you have a spectacular view of the castle of Aymavilles.
What to pack for your Winter vacation to Italy
In the coldest months of the year, the temperature can be very harsh. Therefore, you must be well equipped, especially when travelling with small children. Before packing, think about the activities you want to do once you arrive at your destination, whether you spend most of your time in the snow or not and if there is clothing that you do not want to forget at home.
Make a checklist with the clothing, medicines and equipment you need, and as you pack them, check them off the list.
Always remember that in this season the mountains are very cold and it is essential to have appropriate socks, gloves and hats. Your extremities are more likely to get affected by the low temperatures or cold wind. This is why we recommend that you purchase something that will properly protect the hands, head and feet of all family members.
Underneath your winter jacket (or ski suit) it’s advised to use fleece and thermal clothing, even for the little ones, and don’t leave without having packed your trekking boots. These will be very useful in the case of icy roads so that you don’t slip, for playing in the snow without needing to wear snow boots, and for snowshoeing, hiking or trekking, even without snow.
If you wish to add a stop at a spa to your itinerary in Aosta, then make sure to leave a space in your luggage for a bathing suit, a bathrobe and slippers.
A helmet and a mask are essential for the days in the snow, even for children who are not going to ski. For safety reasons, we advise you to use them. Yes, even for adults. On the ski slopes, however, we remind you that helmets are mandatory for children under 14 years of age.
Now that you’ve begun planning your trip to the Aosta Valley, it’s time to decide what to do and see around Aosta.
Sports and winter activities
Let’s start with the thing we love to do the most when in the mountains: being outdoors even when it’s cold! If you are a lover of the mountains, and if you are wondering where to ski with kids in Italy, the Aosta Valley will be a perfect fit for you. With these mountains, you won’t be missing the Dolomites. In fact of the 37 existing peaks in this region, 4 of them exceed 4,000 meters in altitude: Monte Bianco, Monte Rosa, Cervino and Gran Paradiso which is the only one located entirely inside Italy. Moreover, 80% of the territory in the Valley is occupied by mountains that are more than 1.500 m tall, which makes it the smallest and most mountainous region of Italy.
Winter activities are almost infinite from slalom, to nordic skiing, mountain climbing, snowshoeing, riding Fat bikes, playgrounds in the snow or simply trekking in the woods, even without snow. For those who love slalom, skiing in the Aosta Valley means exploring 23 different ski lodges with over 800 km of trails. There are so many snow parks ready to welcome their visitors. The best districts are Breuil-Cervina, La Thuile, the three all Italian valleys of the Monterosa ski, Courmayeur and Pila which is the closest one to the city of Aosta.
One point of interest in Aosta is climbing Monte Bianco. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do this due to the strong winds, but family and friends that have been there recommended it and said that the experience is worth the cost of the tickets even though the prices can be quite high. There will surely be an opportunity to return to Aosta to see this wonder on a clear day, but in the meantime, I will leave you a link with all the information — https://montebianco.com/en/
Castles and art
If during your trip children asks “why are there so many Aosta Valley castles” you can explain to them that the history dates back centuries and it is fascinating.
In fact, most underestimate the importance this region had in the ancient times. The Valley of Aosta was a significant way of communication with the rest of Europe. The Romans built the “Via delle Gallie” which connected Rome with Northern Europe, thus founding the city of Aosta. In the middle ages, the pilgrims and merchants crossed through the Alps using the “Via Francigena”, and the noble lords built castles in a strata strategic position to dominate the different valleys.
Today, you can count up to 120 castles which were erected throughout the years of the feudal lords’ dominion to defend their territory and as a means to express their power. The most important castle that you will encounter during your holiday in the Aosta Valley is Forte di Bard. In this impenetrable fortress, the Savoia kept all of their weapons to block the way to Napoleon.
A weekend will not be enough to visit all of the castles. Take at least two full days to visit the Castle of Fénis, Issogne, Sarre and of course, Forte di Bard. Many of these castles are closed for renovation while others are private homes and therefore are not open to visitors. Others are in a state of preservation which makes them less ideal for sightseeing, but certainly, each of them has an exceptional charm.
You can not return from a Christmas holiday in the Valley of Aosta without having spent at least half a day in the city. The Christmas markets that are held in the area of the Roman theatre are beautiful, especially when visited in the evening, and are a stop not to be missed to learn more about the traditions, tastes and flavours of this region.
When walking through the local craft stalls, you can tell your children the story of the Friendship Cup. Created as a simple wooden bowl to drink wine from, over the centuries, the Friendship Cup has undergone a few changes. Now it includes a lid and several spouts to drink the Aosta Valley coffee from.
If you are unable to visit the Valley of Aosta during Christmas but can visit in January, be sure to mark the 30th and 31st of January on your calendar as these are the days of the Sant’Orso Fair, one of the most popular events of the year. Sant’Orso was a Christian monk who lived in the village, engaged in prayer and became famous for his work with charities. Today he is the “patron” of the entire Valley and has monuments, churches and famous places throughout the region dedicated to him. Make sure to visit the abbey of Aosta, which is also dedicated to Sant’Orso.
For some time, the city was called Augusta Pretoria Salassorum and thus, you always find signs posted in both the Italian and French languages. The influence of Rome is still powerful, and it’s recommended to walk along the walls to get the feeling of Italian pride. The fortresses are 7 meters tall and enclose the whole village. You can park outside the walls and walk to the theatre, an impressive building which once held up to 3,000 spectators. However, only a 22-meter facade remains today with three floors of windows.
When walking in the city of Aosta, you should consider planning a visit to the cathedral and the Cryptoporticus, which today are majestic underground tunnels that once surrounded the sacred area.
Close, small and accessible within a handful of kilometres, there are infinite possibilities and recreation available. Aosta is the perfect destination for a family holiday, even during winter.
Visiting the Valley of Aosta is definitely one of the best things to do in Italy.