The smallest of Italy's regions,
actually an Italian province with
special status, Valle d'Aosta
(Aosta Valley) sits in a completely
mountainous area, surrounded by
France to the west,
Switzerland to the north and
to the east and south.
As you travel through Aosta, as bucolic
and pastoral as you will find anywhere
in Europe, you will not encounter much
in the way of large-scale industry,
except for forestry and the lumber
industries that derive from it, and
hydrolectric dams that produce a
significant amount of electricity for
export. Such secondary and
tertiary industries that do exist are
well planned to integrate into the
landscape, with a strongly inclined view
toward its preservation.
In the valley bottoms, surrounding the
valley towns, and pushing up the slopes,
you will see intensive, small scale
farming. Higher up, the bare,
grassy slopes are used for pasturing
cattle, sheep and goats, still being
shepherded as in times of old.
Not surprisingly tourism has long
played, and will continue to play an
important role in the local economy.
The Alpine sking - some of the best in
the world - particularly at
Courmayeur in the
Gran Paradiso National Park.
Hiking, mountain climbing, rock
climbing, rappelling, rafting, kayaking,
and other such sports draw thousands of
eager outdoors people every year.
Go trekking in the
Grand Paradiso National Park!
Or you can wander around and catch a
glimpse of the medieval castles and
fortresses that dot the countryside, in
all of the 13 valleys that sit between
the mountainous ribs of the Region.
The castles of
Challant, Fenis, and Verres
are good examples.
The population of Valle D'Aosta is, of
course, Italian by virtue of its legal
status, but there is a strong
francophone flavor, with a touch of
German (in the Gressoney area).
The majority of the populatoin speak
Franco-Provencale, and laws are based on
the French civil code, a heritage of the
days when the Region was part of the
Duchy of Savoy,
into which it was incorporated in the
11th Century AD.
At the time of Italian unification,
Valle D'Aosta was part of the Piemonte
area, but gained autonomous status in
Straddling as it does the Dora Baltea
River at a place where it can
control access to (and through) the
Great St. Barnard and Little St.
Barnard passes through the Alps,
Valle D'Aosta has immense strategic
value to those who occupy it, from the
original tribal groups (Celts and
Ligurians) to the many subsequent
Bergundians, Bourbans and Savoians who
have successively invaded and held the
The predominant architecture of the area
is Gothic, with touches of Romanesque.
Roman artifacts are numerous, but it is
the unique wooden and marble statuary
created by local artists, much of which
is exhibited in the Treasury Museum
at the Cathedral in Aosta, that
exemplifies Aostan art.
So, what to make of Valle d'Aosta?
Well, it is quite unlike any other part
of Italy, except perhaps the Region of
with which it shares many social,
cultural and geographic similarities.
If you are looking for an authentic
"Italian" experience, you have to have a
very expansive understanding about what
Italy is, in fact, not how it sits
romantically in the minds of most
tourists - as a kind of Tuscany writ
If you are looking for a place to visit
that has stunning scenery, a picturesque
alpine quality, a place where one can
enjoy a sense of space, breathe clean
air, and commune with gregarious
"locals", it is hard to think of a
better destination than Valle D'Aosta.
Towns and Cities
Coat of Arms, Valle d'Aosta