4 May 2016 / 13:05

Travel. Valle d'Aosta: wine, spas, sport and gourmet tables

Valle d’Aosta in spring is an excellent choice for travel foodies: gourmet destinations for all palates and pockets, plus valid alternatives to winter sports. At the foot of majestic Mont Blanc massif lies the Valdigne valley, 5 districts of tasty.

Travel. Valle d'Aosta: wine, spas, sport and gourmet tables

Valle d’Aosta in spring is an excellent choice for travel foodies: gourmet destinations for all palates and pockets, plus valid alternatives to winter sports. At the foot of majestic Mont Blanc massif lies the Valdigne valley, 5 districts of tasty.

High altitude wines

Morgex and La Salle – territories joined by highway SS 26 – are bound to the fame of their wines: the Blanc de Morgex et La Salle is grown on Europe’s highest elevation vineyards, heroic vines that plunge their roots above 1,000 metres and that yield excellent wines Our wine is the result of the vinification of prié blanc, an autochthonous ungrafted vine grown on the left bank of the Dora Baltea river” explains Nicola Del Negro, oenologist at Cave Mont Blanc “The cooperative produces regular whites and sparkling wine refermented in the bottle, according to the Blanc de Morgex et La Salle ‘metodo classico’ disciplinary, like the Cuvée des Guides, which is produced at 2,200 metre elevation in Pavillon, the first station on the Courmayeur Skyway cable car lift. It’s now been ten years we’ve been experimenting this high altitude cultivation. Our objective is obtaining the perfect perlage”.

Another special wine of the Cave is the Chaudelune, an amazing ice-wine that pairs perfectly to blue cheeses, like the local bleu d’Aoste, or that can be served with typical desserts and puddings, like tegola valdostana.

 

White water rafting

So if on the left bank of the Dora is planted in vines, the right bank is for white water rafting. From Morgex the flow plunges to La Salle along what many rafting aficionados consider one of Europe’s most important rivers. In an hour and a half, the rushed navigation reaches Sarre, located above Aosta.

Alejandro Sopranzi, Argentine born and Valdostan by adoption after 20 years living here, he is one of Italy’s 30 Federal rafting instructors: “We are in the green Vachérie area, in one of Valle d’Aosta’s most characteristic locations, in a structure managed by Lilli Breuvé. With her help we created a perfect fusion that changes incarnation according to the time of day and night: the morning is dedicated to sports and outdoor recreation, while at night we organize ad hoc dinners featuring Valdostan cuisine, music and piano bar entertainment”. During summer on the Vachérie’s lawns it’s all a flurry of barbecues and après ski parties, which are open to all.
 

Terme di Pré Saint Didier

The thermal spas

After an intense day on the slopes, spending time at the thermal spas is mandatory. The Terme di Pré facility, well-known and loved in centuries past, have been in recent years completely renovated and expanded. Indoor pools, saunas and steam rooms, relaxation lounges and Kneipp Cure hydrotherapy circuit. Outdoors are panoramic infinity pools, sauna chalets and a vast sundeck with sweeping views of the Mont Blanc mountain range. In 2015 we celebrated our 10th year anniversary, after being closed for 40 years” tells Federica Bieller, the facility director “Our thermal waters flow from Orrido, a panoramic waterfall that plunges down from La Thuile and that can be admired from an elevated walkway suspended above the spa”. Relaxation, yes, but it doesn't stop at just that. This spa facility also offers a buffet featuring local specialties – yogurt made only with local Valle d’Aosta milk, chocolate covered breadsticks, biscotti, fresh seasonal produce – washed down by organic fruit juices, tea and tisanes. On Fridays from 6pm onwards it’s aperitivo time, with an ample choice of local wine and beer paired with the area’s best cheese and cured meats.
 

SkyWay Monte Bianco. Foto Enrico Romanzi


The Skyway in Courmayeur

Let’s now explore the pearl of the mountain, Courmayeur, with its newest attraction, the Skyway cable car, eighth wonder of the world: a completely transparent and futuristic cable car lift which rotates on itself and reaches the perennial glaciers of the Mont Blanc massif, above 3,400 meter elevation. From the panoramic terrace, sweeping views of the highest peaks in the range, dovetailing France and Aiguille du Midi, connect to Chamonix. “This is a unique international achievement that allows to discover a new aspect of Mont Blanc” explains Ivette Clavel, architect and president of the cable car company “Skyway is not merely a means of transportation, it rather offers an experience in travel that does not simply aim at the final destination”.

Skyway has two stations: the Pavillon du Mont Fréty, equipped with a bar, gourmet restaurant, local wine shops, conference room and the fascinating Saussurea: one of Europe’s highest elevation botanical gardens, open from mid June to the end of September. In Punta Helbronner – at 3,466 metres – 360° views on the rooftops of Europe lend the chance to admire the 4,000 elevation of the Western Alps. This is also the home of Europe’s highest elevation cocktail competition, Skydrink held October 12th. This is a competition that wants to celebrate the beauty of the surroundings as well as the wholesome products of local businesses. Playing the starring roles in the cocktails are Génepì and mountain Gin” says Bernardo Ferro, head barman of Grand Hotel Royal & Golf in Courmayeur. In his bar last year’s edition winner is still very popular, the Su Frisu, made with a mix of Génepì, vodka, lime, apple juice, ginger and cardamom.
 

Nira Montana


Where to eat

In Palleusieux – a fraction of the Pré-Saint-Didier locality – Emma Restaurant is the right place for a tasty stop, allowing to savor the cuisine of Giuliano Lodi, the young and eclectic chef and owner of the restaurant. “Seasons and territory guide us” he smiles “and modern technique serve us to offer customers a 360° view of local Valdostan cuisine and much more. In fact we like to play and span”. Echoing him is Daniel Mochet, the Maître D’: “Among our strongest dishes are the Mc Emma (a beef tartare made with Fassona breed meat served in rye sandwiches) and the Emma’s carbonada: a typical local dish made with veal cooked sous vide and served with whole grain polenta. In summer we obviously add lots of mountain vegetables, herbs and fruit”.

For dinner in Courmayeur we move to Petit Royal, hotel restaurant and reign of beautiful and talented Maura Gosio and her husband Andrea Corradi, Maître D’ and sommelier “It’s been 4 years since we moved from the Varese province to here in Valle d’Aosta” the chef tells us “this has been a true challenge: I want customers to discover and appreciate the products of this rich and generous land via my dishes. Mine is a contemporary cuisine that is however bound to tradition, over the years I have learned about mountain ingredients like herbs, flowers and fruits, and which I attempt to showcase without twisting or distorting flavors”. The wine list and management of the wine cellar at Petit are curated by Andrea Corradi: “Over the last few years Valdostan wines have matured greater interest, thanks to the passion and competence of local wine makers. Our clients appreciate it when I suggest local labels, and I am more than happy to recommend them and talk about them. Maura is right: this was a real challenge. One which I’d never turn back on: the Valle d’Aosta region initially welcomed us, then won our hearts with its colours, flavours and aromas”.

Those who prefer relax paired with luxe elegance, there’s Nira Montana, a new peaceful oasis at La Thuile. Opened last year, this boutique design hotel has immediately become a magnet thanks to its trendy cocktail bar and its restaurant, Stars. “Our chef Alessio Mecozzi highlights local ingredients with skill and imagination” explains Giuseppe Artolli, General Manager. Hence the creative ravioli filled with local cured meat mocetta, Swiss chard and local Gressoney toma cheese, or the low temperature egg served with polenta, bleu d’Aosta cheese and a turnip “boudin”, all recent dish creations by Alessio. “The bartenders also create original cocktails” smiles Artolli “they use flowers, fruit and herbs foraged in the area: our collection of Spritz cocktails is a must”.

 

Fontina

Cheese: His Majesty fontina

Hallmark reference point of the Valle d’Aosta, fontina cheese is one of the region’s most famous products in Italy and worldwide. Protected by DOC appellation since 1996, fontina is made with whole cow’s milk of the Valdostana variety”: this is the detail inserted in the production regulations that makes the true difference and lends the cheese its unique mountain hay aromatic note. Transformation envisions keeping the milk raw (unpasteurised) and immediately following the milking.

Legend has it that the name of the cheese derives from an ancient Alpine pasture and dairy farm called Fontin, some on the other hand maintain the name comes from the village of Fontinaz. Another thory holds the French derivation of the word fondis (melt).

The aging cellar in Pré-Saint-Didier is one of the shrines where this cheese matures. The very first historic building of the cooperative Cooperativa Produttori Latte e Fontina was obtained from a requalified ex-WWII military bunker dug in the side of the rock. The place can be visited with prior appointment (tel. 0165 87755) and cheese can be bought across the street in a purchase point.

In Courmayeur and in La Thuile, the stores owned by the Fratelli Panizzi have always been a representative go-to place for the vast assortment of Valdostan and Savoy products, with fontina cheese in the first place. Other specialties include toma cheeses, fresh goat and sheep’s milk cheeses, local salami and other cured meats like mocetta, the Saint Marcel prosciutto crudo, boudin, in addition to dried mushrooms and local wines.

 

 Cave Mont Blanc. Foto Nicola Del Negro

Wine: the coop model applied to 6 cellars

There are 6 cellars belonging to the Vallée wine cooperative, one of which belongs to the Doc appellation Valle d’Aosta. Caves Cooperative in Donnas is located at the very region’s edge, at the foot of the majestic Forte di Bard. This area is known for its ancient winemaking tradition, vines planted in nebbiolo and freisa, but also pinot gris and erbaluce piemontese.

Not far is also La Kiuva, one of the first regional “social cellars” founded 40 years ago. Among wines of local grapes, all grown between 400 and 500 metres, are Picotendro made from single-variety valdostan nebbiolo; Petite Arvine, and Arnad Montjovet, in which nebbiolo is blended with local cornalin and fumin grapes.

Past the city of Saint Vincent and its famous casino, is Crotta de Vegneron in Chambave, a winemaker that holds its strength in the tight bond between local varietals and territory. Among its reds are Chambave (blend of petit rouge, vien de nus and the precious cornalin). Among whites are the aromatic Muscat and Pinot Gris.

The Cave des Onze Communes is located on the road that leads to Cogne and gathers the indigenous grapes of 11 municipalities, among them petit rouge, fumin, Mayolet and Gamay. This cellar also produces Génepì, a liqueur derived from a local plant grown between the areas of Cogne and the Gran Paradiso range.

The journey continues towards Valdigne in what can be considered a local “hell”: here the vineyards of Co-Enfer are south-facing and the climate is milder. The star of this cultivation is the petit rouge grape with which Enfer is made (including the organic version labeled in green, without added sulphites) and Clos. Born in 1978, this particular coop has recently embraced environmental sustainability and is currently converting its entire production to certified organic farming and production.

Last but not least, located between the towns of La Salle and Morgex, is the Cave Mont Blanc: welcome to Valdigne. All the labels are sold in Courmayeur at Panizzi Cheese & Wine and at Liquorilandia in La Thuile. 

 

Bike Park

Sporting competitions, street fairs and food festivals

The summer solstice Solstizio d’Estate event is an annual appointment held in a unique and evocative location: on the French border, at 2,000 meter elevation on the Piccolo San Bernardo pass, is a rare Italian megalithic stone circle. The Cromlech made of 46 stones is embraced by the sun’s rays every 21st of June before setting behind a saddle at Lancebranlette. “Every year on the first day of summer we organize a huge festival partnering with our French cousins of Séez, of Pass Pitchu, with traditional folk music, local artisan crafts tasting and street fairs featuring local Savoy products” explains Dario Bandito, La Thuile tourism council member.

In the cool mountain air of La Thuile in summer is another celebration, the chocolate fair Chocolathuile, three days of pastry and confectionary art dedicated to the food of the gods held on the last weekend in August. On this festive occasion comfort food par excellence transforms into social food, thanks to the Tometta di La Thuile, a dessert copyrighted by the Pasticceria Chocolat Collomb pastry shop: 350 grams of pure pleasure made with milk chocolate, gianduja (milk chocolate blended with ground hazelnuts) and Piedmontese hazelnuts. But the foodie appointments don’t end there: in July there is Mercato dei Sapori Regionali (regional food street fair) and in September, in conjunction with the Tor des Geants passage, a world-famous trail race, the Festa della Birra beer festival is also held. “Last year,” explains Bandito “we gathered small Valdostan farmers and producers and set up a full-blown street food festival featuring traditional local specialties made by the villagers”.

For enduro biking aficionados, consider the extreme downhill event: from June 24th to September 4th bikes are hauled on the cable car and rode downhill on specially equipped paths. “Kids can also enjoy riding the cable car up to take hikes immersed in nature” explains Killy Martinet, President of the cable car company “there are a number of marked trails in the entire district as well as lodges where families can stop to taste local mountain specialties”.

For a true immersion in a local Valdostan buvette (refreshment stop) participate in the San Rocco patron saint festival held in Palleusieux between August 14th and 15th – an unmissable event. The program features parades in local costume; games for children, barbecues and dance parties.

 

ADDRESSES

Where to eat

La Macina | La Salle (AO) | v.le Col de Bard, 1 | tel. 0165.861334

Cafe’ Quinson | Morgex (AO) | p.zza Principe Tommaso 10 | tel. 0165.809499 | www.cafequinson.it

Vacherie | Morgex (AO) | s.s. 26 | tel. 377 202 8078 | www.vacherie.it

Emma Restaurant | Pré-Saint-Didier (AO) | fraz. Palleusieux | tel. 0165 1856 596 | www.emmarestaurant.it

Stars dell’Hotel Nira Montana | La Thuile (AO) | fraz. Arly, 87 | tel. 0165 883 125 | www.niramontana.com

La Grotta | La Thuile (AO) | via Collomb, 27 | tel. 0165 884 474 | www.lagrottalathuile.com

Taverna Coppapan | La Thuile (AO) | fraz. Villaret, 68 | tel. 0165 884 794 | www.coppapanledahu.it

Pepita | La Thuile (AO) | fraz. Entreves | tel. 0165 883 047

Petit del Grand Hotel Royal & Golf | Courmayeur (AO) | via Roma 87 | tel. 0165 831 611 | www.hotelroyalegolf.com

Baita Ermitage | Courmayeur (AO) | fraz. Ermitage | tel. 0165 844 351 | www.baitaermitage.com

Chalet Plan Gorret | Courmayeur (AO) | fraz. Plan Gorret, 45 | tel. 0165 841 988 | www.chaletplangorret.it

Sushiball | Courmayeur (AO) | via Circonvallazione, 48 | tel. 349 5522 464 | www.sushiball.it

Al Camin | Courmayeur (AO) | fraz. Larzey | tel. 0165 843 442

 

Where to stay

Mont Blanc Hotel Village | La Salle (AO) | loc. La Croisette, 36 | tel. 0165 864 111 | www.hotelmontblanc.it

La Jolie Bergere b&b | La Salle (AO) | fraz. Planaval | tel. 0165 861 292 | www.lajoliebergere.it

Hotel Les Montagnards | Morgex (AO) | v.le della Rimembranza, 26 | tel. 0165 1710 000 | www.hotelmontagnards.com

Locanda Bellevue | Pré-Saint-Didier (AO) | av. du Mont Blanc, 52 | tel. 0165 87074 | www.locandabellevue.com

Le Miramonti | La Thuile (AO) | via Piccolo San Bernardo, 3 | tel. 0165 883 084 | www.alpissima.it

Chalet Eden | La Thuile (AO) | fraz. Villaret, 74 | tel. 0165 885 050 | www.chaleteden.it

Hotel Lo Scoiattolo | Courmayeur (AO) | v.le Monte Bianco, 50 | tel. 0165 846 716 | www.loscoiattolohotel.it

Hotel Pilier D’angle | Courmayeur (AO) | fraz. Entreves | tel. 0165 869 760 | www.pilierdangle.it

Maison Des Melezes - Le Vercuino | Courmayeur (AO) | s.da Plan Gorret, 18 | tel. 340 7433 928 | www.bb.melezevercuino.it

Grand Hotel Courmayeur Mont Blanc | Courmayeur (AO) | s.da Grand Ru | tel. 0165 844 542 | www.grandhotelcourmayeurmontblanc.it

 

Where to shop

Macelleria Ottoz | La Salle (AO) | via Gerbollier, 1 | tel. 0165 861 165 | www.macelleriaottoz.com

Emporio Artari | Morgex (AO) | via Trotterel, 10 | tel. 0165 801 123 | www.emporioartari.it

Chocolat Collomb | La Thuile (AO) | fraz. Entreves | tel. 0165 884 783 | www.chocolat-collomb.it

Liquorilandia Ruitor Vinoteca | La Thuile (AO) | via Collomb, 16 | tel. 0165 884 268

Fratelli Panizzi | Courmayeur (AO) | via Roma, 54 | tel. 0165 844229 | www.panizzicourmayeur.com

La Thuile (AO) | via M. Collomb, 10 | tel. 0165 067020

Morgex (AO) | Fromagerie Valdigne Mont-Blanc | rue du Mont-Blanc, 53 | tel. +39 347 6883666

Tanina | Courmayeur (AO) | via degli Anziani, 18 | tel. 340 929 0930

Dolce Voglia | Courmayeur (AO) | rue Entrelevie, 4 | tel. 0165 846 685 | www.pasticceriadolcevoglia.it

Cooperativa Produttori Latte e Fontina | Pré-Saint-Didier (AO) | route du Mont Blanc, 2 | tel. 0165 87755 per le visite e tel. 0165 87850 per il negozio | http://www.fontina-valledaosta.it/

 

Wine

Caves Cooperatives Donnas | Donnas (AO) | via Roma, 97 | tel. 0125 807 096 | www.donnasvini.it

Cooperativa Vini La Kiuva | Arnad (AO) | fraz. Pied de Ville, 42 | tel. 0125 966 351 | www.lakiuva.it

La Crotta de Vegneron | Chambave (AO) | piazza Roncas, 2 | tel. 0166 46670 | www.lacrotta.it

Cave des Onze Communes | Aymaville (AO) | fraz. Urbains, 14 | tel. 0165 902 912 | www.caveonzecommunes.it

Cooperativa Vini Co-Enfer | Arvier (AO) | Via Corrado Gex (SS 26) | tel. 0165 99238 | www.coenfer.com

Cave Mont Blanc | Morgex (AO) | loc. La Ruine | tel. 0165.800 331 | www.cavemontblanc.com

 

Sports

Rafting | Morgex (AO) | av. Mont Blanc, 139 | tel. 0165.809 736 | www.raftingmontblanc.com- www.raftingunited.com

Terme di Pré | Pré-Saint-Didier (AO) | Allée des Thermes | tel. 0165 867 272 | termedipre.it

Downhill | La Thuile (AO) | Funivie del Piccolo San Bernardo | tel. 0165 884 150 | www.bikevalledaosta.it- www.comune.la-thuile.ao.it

Skyway | Courmayeur (AO) | s. s. 26 | tel. 0165 89925 | www.montebianco.com

 

by Arabella Pezza 
translated by Eleonora Baldwin

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