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General Information On Valle D'Aosta

Discussion in 'Aosta Valley' started by Veronese, May 9, 2008.

  1. General Information On Valle D'Aosta

    History and Traditions


    The region was not populated until the 9th millennium B.C. — long after the rest of Italy was populated. The Celts were among the first inhabitants of the area in the 9th and 8th centuries B.C. and some signs of this period are still recognizable in a few place names as well as the local dialects. The Romans followed and, in 25 B.C., gave the region its current name, composed of the word Valle, or valley, because of the configuration of the land, and Aosta, originally in Latin Augusta Praetoria, from the great roman emperor Augustus. In later times it was a colony of Piedmont, the home place of the Savoy house that ruled over Italy until the end of WWII and the birth of the Italian Republic.

    The traditional Aosta Valley way of life reflects the geographic quality of the region and still deeply affects popular festivities and celebrations. Some traditional ceremonies are deeply entrenched in the stark isolation brought by long snowy winter months high on the Alps, while others borrow traditions from across the mountains. The badoche for instance, a festival celebrated on the 14th and 15th of July in La Salle, has tight ties with similar events in French-speaking areas of Switzerland as well as in communities in the French Alps. By contrast, the German ritual songs performed in Gressoney and the Lys Valley are remnants of the ancient Walser colonization that established a German-speaking community in an area where the locals are usually bilingual Italian and French.

    Another aspect of the social life that has traditionally set Aosta apart from other Italian regions are the mixture of skills that the inhabitants were forced to develop, lacking regular trade routes to the outside world in the face of the impassibility of winter bound alps. Thus, a traditional valdostano, or inhabitant of the Aosta Valley used to be part farmer, part animal breeder, and part artisan. Small communities were forced to be as independent as possible. Through the centuries this contributed to the development of multiple ways to take advantage of many agricultural and animal products such as hemp, leather and wool in addition to abundant natural products such as wood, stone, iron and copper. The local craftsmanship suffered a strong setback in the 1800s with the mass introduction of industrial products at cutthroat prices. Fortunately, this did not decimate the traditional skills and today the traditional artisans are producing artistic crafts with strong local connections and nuances.

    Holiday in Valle d'Aosta

    The cliché is that Valle d'Aosta is the least Italian region of Italy, although we'd have to say it shares that distinction with its neighbouring region of Piedmont.
    But as you drive into the region from Germany, France or Switzerland you'll get a few clues to its cultural ambiguity. Valle d'Aosta is one of the regions with semi-autonomy from Rome and central Government. You'll find both the conversation and the road signs in both Italian and French. And when you sit down in a restaurant, you'll find the dishes on offer reflecting Switzerland, France and Germany as well as Italy and the Mediterranean.

    Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn

    Of course you may not even have heard of Valle d'Aosta, though it is well known to skiers. It's the smallest of the Italian regions and is also the least populous. Packed within this small and almost exclusively mountainous region are Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn (and the Mont Blanc tunnel). And it has excellent winter sports at resorts like Breuil-Cervinia and Courmayeur.
    Dual language, underpopulated and very much a crossroads ... much of this is down to geography and history needless. Continental Europe is divided from Italy by the imposing barrier of the Alps. Even today, you can only enter Italy via a handful of tunnels through the Alps, such as the Frejus and the Mont Blanc Tunnels.

    On the pilgrim's way

    Such isolation moulded the region. From the earliest times, this region was a hugely important gateway, both strategically and economically. He who held Valle d'Aosta earned good money from the continuous stream of merchants and pilgrims, early day tourists heading to Venice, Florence and Rome. Militarily, holding the passes conferred huge strategic power.
    Being more akin to its Swiss and French neighbours, the dishes of Valle d'Aosta have a strong flavour of the north. Holiday in Valle d'Aosta and you may try the valdostana: a veal chop covered with breadcrumbs, fried, wrapped in ham and the local fontina cheese, then baked. The local cheese, Fontina, is a staple of soups and fondues, themselves a large part of the Valle d'Aosta menu. Typical soups include pumpkin, onion and cabbage, with other dishes including mint fritters, nettle omelettes, polenta and ratatouille: not what you expect in Italy but marvellous nonetheless. There are very good wines too, with the highest vineyards in Europe producing fragrant wines such as Nus Rouge and Torrette.




    Skiing and snow boarding

    Today, the religious pilgrims have been largely replaced by those on vacation in Valle d'Aosta. They head for winter sports meccas such as Courmayeur. Good for skiing in winter and with beautiful walking in summer, the mountains are a superb holiday destination all year round. The slopes are covered in firs and pines, with rhodedendrons and junipers, edelweiss, gentians and buttercups. The lower slopes of the main valley are clad in birch, hazel and sycamore woods, orchards and vineyards.
    The Gran Paradiso National Park covers some 15 per cent of Valle d'Aosta; this a present from Italian King Victor Emmanuel II, who gave his hunting grounds to the nation in 1922. This superb countryside is a protected haven for ibex, chamois and golden eagles.

    Valle d'Aosta must sees:

    Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn - even if you're not a winter sports enthusiast, make time in your Valle d'Aosta vacation to see some of Europe's highest and most beautiful mountains. Those with strong stomachs can take a cable car excursion.
    Winter sports - and if you are a fan of winter sports you're in luck. With Courmayeur, Cervinia, Champoluc and the rest, you have excellent snow, good runs and lifts and excellent apres ski. Winter sports holidays in Valle d'Aosta are highly recommended.
    Gran Paradiso National Park - in 1922, King Victor Emmanuel II gave his hunting grounds to the nation. A haven for golden eagles, chamois and ibex and containing an astonishing 70 castles ... the stuff of fairytale holidays. No holiday in Valle d'Aosta is complete without a visit here.







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