Valle d’Aosta is one of the smallest regions in Italy, but which contains within it a quantity of history and infinite beauty. After Rome, Aosta is the city that in Italy preserves the largest number of finds from Ancient Rome, as the region collects the largest number of castles and fortifications in the entire peninsula.
Ultimately, the Valle d’Aosta is a green island that offers visitors a wide choice of activities: from sports related to the mountains, to the more cultural ones linked to the numerous historical and artistic circuits.
In detail, this itinerary will take you to discover the more cultural side of the region, showing you everything that can be seen in a week. Without haste and enjoying every moment to the fullest. With small naturalistic forays (for beginners) and why not even a touch of pure well-being!
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On the trail of the Challants
Château de Fénis
The journey through the castles of this wonderful region begins by following the branch of the renowned Challant family, historically famous for being feudal lords of the Savoy.
The first castle we are talking about is that of Fénis, inherited by Aimone of Challant in 1337.
At the time the property included only the dovecote tower, a housing body and a single wall. It will be Aimone to expand the property with a central housing body and the external walls.
Subsequently the son, Bonifacio I of Challant, will adapt the fort to the courtly life by building the small quadrangular courtyard where the characteristic semicircular staircase is located. On the top it’s possible to admire the fresco depicting San Giorno killing the dragon and saving the princess.
Interesting, along the walls, are the representations of essays, each of which holds parchments bearing proverbs and moral maxims written in old French.
It’s the 1379 when the Issogne Castle passed from a bishopric to the property of the then Lord of Verrès Ibleto of Challant.
Giving it a courteous Gothic imprint will refine the building and give it the shape that can be admired today.
Subsequently the son, Francesco of Challant (where the daughter will see her story intersect with that of the Sarriod family), obtained in 1424 the title of first Count of Challant by the Savoy.
The real beauty of the castle is contained within with the famous pomegranate fountain in knocked down iron. The same was built on the occasion of Filiberto of Challant’s wedding with Louise d’Aarberg.
On the ground floor there is one of the most beautiful frescoed rooms in the whole castle, where a fake loggia, in trompe-l’oeil style, contains hunting scenes, courtly life and Nordic landscapes.
The Sarriod brothers
The story of the Sarriod brothers, needless to say, is closely linked to that of the Challants. In fact, this family is related to Yblet de Challant, whose daughter Antonia married Louis Sarriod of Introd. From this union will be born Yblet and Jean who, on the death of the famous grandfather Ibleto, will divide the fiefs: Yblet giving rise to the branch of the Sarriod d’Introd and Jean to that of the Sarriod de La Tour.
Château Sarriod de la Tour
In this castle Jean will have the pre-existing tower enlarged by adding a series of buildings and transforming it into a castle with representative functions. His son, in 1470, will modify the external walls instead, providing it with defensive towers and will fresco the chapel.
This castle, which today appears as an irregular group of buildings, deserves to be visited for its peculiar history as well as for its famous “Sala delle Teste”. This was the Representation Hall and 171 heads are represented in it, all different from each other. Some grotesque, others fantastic and still others erotic and sarcastic, make this room a unique example of its kind of medieval vision.
The castle will remain the property of the family until 1921, when the last descendant dies without heirs.
Another is the story of Yblet Sarriod who in 1260 will have the Castle of Sarriod d’Introd expand making it become a real fortress.
Among the most important events witnessed by the castle is the marriage between Pierre Sarriod and Caterina of Challant, daughter of Francesco, towards the middle of the 15th century. Determined to reclaim her father’s inheritance she will ask for help from the cousin she will marry, however, following his early death, Caterina will surrender all her lands to Giacomo, son of Aimone di Fénis, who will thus become the second Count of Challant.
Between history and cinema
Among the other prominent families that meet in the history of many of the Valle d’Aosta’s castles there are, of course, the Savoy.
Fort de Bard
The ancient castle became the property of the Savoy family in the mid of the 13th century when Amedeo IV of Savoy took it over and placed an imposing garrison there.
Among the most important historical events that saw its as a protagonist there is in 1800 when the Austro-Piedmontese army manages to stop nothing less than Napoleon Bonaparte who, frustrated by the resistance of the enemy soldiers, will have the fortification razed to the ground.
It will be Carlo Felice of Savoy, who, fearful of new French attacks, will have the fort rebuilt with the appearance we can admire today.
The fortress is also famous for being used in 2015 as a set for the movie “Avengers: Age of Ultron” where it’s presented as the secret base of Hydra located in the imaginary Sokovia.
Château Royal de Sarre
Among the other important Savoy properties we find the Royal Castle of Sarre, buy of Vittorio Emanuele II in 1869. After having expanded it, transforms it into one of the major seasonal residences dedicated to hunting.
Subsequently the castle was much frequented by Umberto I, less by his wife, Queen Margherita.
It will become a summer residence for Umberto II and Maria José who will modernize it in 1935 and then abandon it in 1972. 17 years later it will be purchased by the Italian state which will entrust it to the Valle d’Aosta Region.
Queen Margherita in 1899 had her personal castle built with a view of Monte Rosa in Gressoney-Saint-Jean.
Here the King will never stay there, because he was killed in 1900 in Monza, while the now widowed Queen spent long periods of vacation there until 1925. Here invited illustrious guests such as the poet Giosuè Carducci or his nephew Umberto II.
Although it’s called a castle, in reality the residence is a villa of delight in an eclectic style that mixes the neo-medieval, neoclassical and art noveau styles inside.
The most curious aspect is the absence of the kitchens, which the Queen herself wanted were built outside the building about 30m away. The connection was guaranteed by an underground tunnel equipped with a double track. Here the courses traveled short distances on special electric trolleys closed symmetrically up to an internal lift that brought meals directly into the dining room.
Valle d’Aosta, as already mentioned, offers much more besides the historical and artistic beauties.
The Maison Animalier is located in Introd. Here the animals live in a state of semi-freedom and it’s pleasant to observe them in their habitat.
In the Gran Paradiso Park, the Lillaz Waterfalls, near Cogne, and Lake Pellaud in Rhêmes-Notre-Dame are absolutely unmissable. Both are easily accessible and offer naturalistic glimpses and panoramas that leave you totally breathless.
The same goes for the adrenaline-pumping ravine of Pré Saint Didier, with a completely transparent panoramic platform/terrace that I personally admired from below while spending a delightful afternoon at the QC Terme below.
In the city of Aosta, you cannot miss visits to its churches. Obviously passing by the Cathedral, but also discovering two slightly more hidden gems such as the Church of Saint Etienne and the Church of San Lorenzo.
Tickets for the castles can all be purchased at the MidaTicket portal HERE. An excellent tool to plan your visit in advance. (and to have a total guarantee regarding access to individual activities).
Alloggio nel cuore di Aosta is the ideal accommodation for those who want to explore the city as well as engage in various types of excursions in the surrounding area.
A few steps from Piazza Roncas the apartment is located in an old building, but the house has been totally renovated. With private parking, a few meters from the house, and two bedrooms (as well as a bathroom and a half, because a service one) the apartment also offers wi-fi, TV, heating, washing machine/dryer, essentials, oven, coffee machine and everything you need for children. (on average $ 83 per night).
Book here and take advantage of exclusive discounts on your first trip!
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In the heart of Aosta it’s possible to find a wide choice of places and for this reason the choice is often difficult. However, there are gems worth discovering for their excellently executed menus and competitive prices.
If you are looking for a pub that offers craft beers and fast but quality dishes, the choice can only be “Birrificio B63” in Piazza Severino Caveri. If you prefer wine and the desire for a young but professional place that offers gourmet combinations with every good glass or bottle then the best choice is the “Decanter” in Via Croix de Ville 35. Finally, if you are looking for an excellent restaurant where you can taste typical dishes, but also other excellently cooked delicacies and with flawless service, a must stop is at “Trattoria Aldente” in Via Croix de Ville 34.