Aosta: The Best Mountain Base in the Alps?
20th February 2022 | James Cove, Aosta, Italy.
Last modified on February 26th, 2022
It’s an historic Roman city with a ski lift direct to the resort of Pila. Then there’s the variety of fabulous resorts in the Aosta Valley on its doorstep. Verbier, Zermatt and Chamonix are within easy reach. No surprise that PlanetSKI has been based there this winter as Covid-19 restrictions ease. UPDATED
PlanetSKI was in Aosta for a 3-month stay back in 2020.
That came to an abrupt halt after 6-weeks in early March as the pandemic took hold.
We packed in a hurry and left as the borders closed, the ski resorts shut and the virus spread through northern Italy and then beyond.
Now we have been back to finish off what we started.
With a new car too.
Our current 6-week stay is sadly almost up.
This week on PlanetSKI, as we prepare to leave, we are looking at each of its 5 main categories of attractions – we’ll be updating daily, so do keep an eye on our posts this week if you are interested to see why we rate it so highly.
- 1. Skiing in the Aosta Valley
- 2. Skiing Further Afield
- 3. The City of Aosta
- 4. Value for Money
- 5. The Aosta Valley Itself
The Aosta Valley Itself
It is an historic and working valley.
Perhaps a bit rough around the edges compared to its manicured counterparts in Switzerland.
But I like it for that.
The valley is littered with historic castles and forts.
Perhaps my favourite is Forti Bard that sits at the entrance to the valley.
In May 1800 it held back the might of Napoleon and his army.
With 20 cannons and 400 men in Forti Bard, Napoleon was unable to pass.
Then there is Castello Reale di Sarre and Chateau Sarriod.
Then there are the less famous but random architectural offerings one passes when heading to the ski resorts.
On a more modern note some places are boarded up, others just a few meters away are resplendent.
It is a valley full of contrasts.
The Aosta Valley was shaped by the last ice age.
10,000 years ago the Balteo glacier was 5km wide and 600m deep.
The steep sides of the valley and the flat valley floor are due to the glacier.
It also helped fertilise the valley that is re-known for its farming and agriculture.
The Valley also has four 4,000m peaks – the only ones in Italy.
Monte Bianco, Monte Rosa, Grand Paradiso and Mont Cervino.
Value for Money
I simply do not know an area in the Alps that is better value for money.
PlanetSKI’s chief reporter, Jane Peel, has been to stay and she was bowled over by the prices.
We prefer to write about experiences on PlanetSKI rather than the cost of everything, but the prices here in Aosta are an experience in themselves – as Jane has reported in detail:
In most ski resorts one puts up with high prices, mainly in Aosta one revels in the value and quality.
The best pizza you can possible eat is €8.
This cost me €12 in The Belvedere Restaurant right in the city centre.
Who says you shouldn’t eat seafood in the mountains?
This was €11 at the Belle Helena.
Lunch up the mountain is similarly good value.
Here’s the menu at Refugio Gabiet in Gressoney.
A full ski service is €20 at Technosport on the outskirts of the city – it is our preferred shop for rental.
Part of the base of this ski was damaged after an encounter with a rock and the side wall was ripped off – it took them 3-days to repair and cost me just €50.
A coffee costs between €1 and €1.50.
I could go on…
Aosta – The City
Aosta was founded by the Emperor Augustus in 25BC.
It is steeped in history, and I took a tour on my last stay back in 2020 ahead of leaving as Covid-19 spread.
The centre is a huge pedestrian area round the Hotel de Ville (this area used to be part of France).
The area is riddled with bars, restaurants, cafes and shops.
One can spend hours just meandering around.
Its outskirts are nothing to write home about, but it is a working city with a treasure in the centre.
Skiing Further Afield
Zermatt can be accessed from Cervinia.
Verbier is just over an hour’s drive through the St Bernard Tunnel to La Chable.
Then it is a simple gondola ride up to the slopes of Verbier or Bruson.
I was there earlier this month.
Chamonix is under an hour away via the Mont Blanc tunnel.
The tunnel also gives access to a multitude of resorts in France.
On this stay I went to the Portes du Soleil for a day to ski Morzine and Les Gets with friends.
It is fabulously placed to access the resorts in the western Alps.
The southern Italian resorts of Sestriere and Sauze d’Oulx are also within reach, and the other resorts of Milky Way ski area of Claviere, Pragaleto and Sansicario.
The Aosta Valley really is at ‘The Heart of the Alps’.
The perfect alpine base if you want to ski some of the finest ski resorts in the Alps in our view.
Skiing in the Aosta Valley
From the city of Aosta there is a gondola that goes straight to the ski resort of Pila – perfect for a day or just to head up for a couple of hours.
The ride takes 18-minutes.
Pila’s slopes are north facing and varied, with views to Monte Bianco (Mont Blanc) and Monte Cervino (The Matterhorn).
There are a total of 28 ski areas in the Aosta Valley with 800km of runs.
There are 300km of cross-country trails, and countless ski touring routes.
Some areas have special snow-shoeing trails, and at the other end of the spectrum is heli-skiing.
Our go-to resort has been La Thuile which is about 40-minutes away from Aosta with its links to the French resort of La Rosiere.
The skiing is mainly north-facing with some steep black runs just above the resort and a plateau of reds and blues at the top, plus some decent tree skiing.
Slightly further up the valley toward the Mont Blanc tunnel is Courmayeur.
The skiing is not as extensive as La Thuile, but there are some superb slopes and fabulous mountain restaurants.
It is the perfect place to, er, work too.
That is what PlanetSKI is in the mountains to do after all.
There are some other fascinating small resorts to explore in the Aosta Valley including Crevacol, Torgnon and Cogne.
At the start of the valley are the linked resorts of the Monterosa area – Champoluc, Gressoney and Alagna.
Further into the valley are the resorts of Valtournenche and Cervinia that are also linked.
Cervinia needs no introduction, but Valtournenche is a real find.
We even had a PlanetSKI team meeting in the resort as I assembled the crew.
All the resorts mentioned are between 40-minutes and an hour or so from Aosta.
Cervinia has direct links to Zermatt over the border into Switzerland.
That brings us on to Aosta’s proximity to some of the greatest resorts and ski areas in this part of the Alps.
Another reason why the Aosta Valley is perhaps the perfect alpine base.
We will cover that in our update on Tuesday – Skiing Further Afield.
Update, Monday 21st AM:
Seems we are not the only ones to like Aosta.
There has been some swift reaction to this article on the PlanetSKI Facebook page: