Snuggled between France and Switzerland, in Italy’s remote Northwest corner, the Aosta Valley is a plush secret long privy to European cognoscenti. But even if you aren’t ready to ski up a storm swathed in Prada, it serves up Michelin-starred pampering and an alluring après-ski scene, writes Aparna Pednekar.
Every winter, the who’s who from Milan, Turin and Geneva descend upon the cobblestoned streets and quixotic castles of Valle D’Aosta. Home to some of the continent’s loftiest peaks including the Matterhorn, Monte Rosa and Gran Paradiso, its pride is the magnificent Mont Blanc. While the city of Aosta – an ancient Roman military base boasting lovely ruins and homely trattorias – is a big draw, serious skiers head straight to the town of Courmayeur for high-voltage backcountry action.
Separated by the Monte Bianco, the towns of Courmayeur and its French cousin, Chamonix are head-to-head in Europe’s most-adored ski resort list. To experience the best of both, grab your skis, brain buckets and an experienced guide to tackle Vallée Blanche, one of the world’s most daring glacier off-piste ski routes. For hiking enthusiasts, the Gran Paradiso National Park has 450 miles of marked trails and mule tracks. Even more fetching is the verdant Val Ferret on the Swiss border, its tracks meandering through the Pré de Bar glacier and Grandes Jorasses peaks, with the Dora di Veny stream flowing placidly in between.
Wonder car to paradise
If you prefer reaching heaven without skiing towards it, the good Italians have a smashing solution, the Skyway Monte Bianco. Positioned as the Eighth Wonder of the World, the 360 degrees rotating cable car was under construction for over four years at a cost of €110 million. The ride is divided into two sections, starting at the aerodynamic-styled Pontal d’ Entrèves to the crystal-shaped Punta Helbronner. After frolicking with snowflakes, you can wander the pretty botanical garden, crystals museum and lunch on chicken curry and eggplant bruschetta at the restaurant.
Eat, Gush, Repeat
Back at Courmayeur, the town’s famed après-ski scene is alive and shimmying. I’m staying at the homey but lavish Villa Novecento, an Edwardian-style chalet with friendly staff and multi-national customers. Equally cozy is the Duca d’Aosta Hotel, where I down a glass of the potent local poison, an Italian absinthe called génépy.
For spa rats, the QC Terme Pre Saint Didier is set in cavernous premises, featuring thermal pools, Turkish baths and Vichy showers. Post-pampering, book a table at the Michelin-starred Petit Royal Restaurant for Chef Maura Gosio’s Scampi Tempura, Turbot and Caviar Parmigiana and Crème Brûlée. Another popular dining option is Chiecco, with superb plates of ricola-stuffed ravioli and ragù of wild boar with polenta. I have the privilege of dining at Au Coeur des Neiges. A luxury chalet lodge, it’s the sort of retreat where you can imagine Giorgio Armani escaping from the paparazzi; lying back by the hot tubs and pondering his AW 2016 line.
A toast to that thought over a flute of Courmayeur’s very own biological wine, The Blanc de Morgex et de La Salle Piagne.