If there is a region in Italy that scores less on tourist arrivals, but is still worthy of travelers attention, it is the Aosta Valley, located in the north of the country, bordering France to the west and Switzerland to the north. This magnificent valley under the Italian Alps and the majestic Mont Blanc features, among other things, the grand old lady of the Alps – The Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso.
Hiking in this magical park, founded during late 1922 by King Vittorio Emanuele III, is a fantastic way to improve fitness, and cultivate everyone’s mental health, especially in the Autumn season. It evokes a sense of calm and peace to one’s otherwise hectic life. During endless hikes you feel stronger, fitter and more resilient, surrounded by waterfalls, floating streams and snow coated peaks. The trees were dressed in their carnival clothes, the gold and scarlet of the autumn days. Carpets of gold-colored leaves create more beauty than you ever dare ask for.
Aosta Valley is the smallest region in Italy in terms of surface, and it is the least populated. Surprisingly, the numbers of non-Italians yearning to visit is minimal. Forbes magazine reported a few weeks ago that “The number of visitors to Aosta valley this past June was 98,401, or about 2,000 less than during the pre-pandemic month of June in 2019. That is about the number of visitors to Florence every four days. Two thirds of these arrivals are Italian”.
This unrecognized region offers one of the most unique and original lodging options for visitors – The traditional Chalé. Making an ancient Chalé dating back to the beginning of the 17th century a home for a few days, makes the visiting experience even more authentic. The growing numbers of Chalés in a region bring together everything good about Italian hospitality in a homely setting. The Chalé host cares for the visitors every need, allowing all to focus on the adrenaline rushing hiking experience and really relax later on.
Slopes are an important restriction in this Alps mountain environment of the Aosta valley and are an essential part of the countryside and the rural architecture. It is an area that has used the slopes for centuries, to move externally from one floor in a house to another. In the past, self-sufficiency, together with the trade of some surplus food and drink products controlled the rhythm of rural life, which was marked by seasonal movements on the slopes. Here bread-and-milk played a crucial role; this is the importance of Chalés linked to grain farming. When you book one as your accommodation here, you receive the opportunity to go back in time. A well deserved opportunity, combined with a breathtaking visit to Mont Blanc which is certainly a must.
In the early Middle Ages, villages made common use of Chalés linked to the different functions, like barns, cellars and stables. The use of wood to build a structure, starting with the walls, is closely linked to the local history of the high altitude settlement while the forests unfortunately diminish.
The stones are called piòte – sheets made from blocks of gneiss – layers of stone that have the peculiarity of being very easy to divide with a hammer and chisel – are the bread and butter of the architecture here. The roofs of the Aosta valley houses and Chalés are covered with flat grey stones, a scene which is hard to find anywhere else in the Alps.
Stone roof covering optimizes the principles of the alpine economy which are: the low cost, the durability of the roof, the uncomplicated extraction of the stone, minimization of transportation and the resistance to the cold and any violent impact. For centuries Chalés in the high mountains utilized local stones. When buildings collapsed they were rebuilt on the same spot reusing the same stones.
With that in mind, we were determined. Who wants a hotel in this region? We were eager to experience accommodation in these traditional typical Chalés. The small village of Gressan houses the La Moraine Enchantee lodging that became our home for a few days. Francesca and Stafano Viola reside in Gressan for many years and host visitors the traditional way. It became a way of life for them.
“La Moraine Enchantee is a family project. Our Chalé is from 1608 and we renewed it in the last few years”, says Stefano. “So all is new from the interior side with all the services. We have 6 rooms and 3 apartments for our guests, an external garden with a mountain view. We are very happy to have guests because we try to give a family feeling of Italy and Aosta valley in particular”.
Assigned to the Chansonnier room (what an exciting name), walking through the main dining room and the inner courtyard, we indeed felt the middle ages atmosphere. With one significant change. The room is completely renovated, equipped with a wooden double bed, a cupboard and desk. Lighting and heating system are all in place and the intimate bathroom is totally modernized offering countryside colorful towels. The view from the window was breathtaking. I am convinced that in winter – when snow covers every inch – the scenery is twice as magnificent.
Breakfast is served in the wooden farmers main lounge. Stefano is always there, making sure the local products are served separately on each table. Fresh bread, different kinds of cheese, a boiled egg, orange juice, yogurt, vegetables, traditional pastries and hot drinks. At first the presentation looks minimal, but as we understood quite quickly, you can ask for more endlessly and receive more instantly. The welcomed sustainability policy of the owners. With digital technology available the hosts assist kindly and quickly on trip ideas and restaurant bookings. When we departed early in the dark, Stefano woke up especially to prepare for us our favorite breakfast items. True rural hospitality.
We visited the magical Mont Blanc, numerous Alps peaks, and towns like Aosta, Courmayeur, La Thuile, Cogne or Aymavilles (don’t miss the unique Chateau there). Our time travel to Aosta valley and our accommodating Chalé left us with a grandiose feeling. A trip to cherish.