Hiking trails designed by the same people
who brought you the renaissaince, the sistine chapel,
and the ferrari.
After arriving at Malpensa International Airport (MXP) in Milano, you'll pick up your rental car and drive two hours to Aosta.
We—Skye and Craig—will greet you at a very special agriturismo:
an Italian farm offering accommodation. It's in a serene, pastoral, uncommercial setting on a hillside above Val d'Aosta. This small, boutique B&B has eight, simple-but-comfortable guest rooms. It will be our group's home for our time together.
Mornings, we'll enjoy a hungry-hiker buffet breakfast in the dining room. Evenings, we can relax in the spa. The Aosta centro storico (ancient city-center) is a 15-minute drive, and all our trailheads are within 40 to 70 minutes. We'll dine out each night, choosing from Aosta's wealth of ristorantes, trattorias, and osterias.
10 hikers, 9 days, 7 premier trails
We've banished the expected from our itinerary. Courmayeur, for example, is famous, expensive, crowded, and inconveniently located relative to most of the premier trails. And what about the Italian stretch of the Tour de Mont Blanc? It's fine—for the uninquiring hordes oblivious to alternatives. But the daring trails we'll hike together are more exciting. Of course, we too will see Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco to Italians). But we'll see this great massif—bristling with pinnacles and draped with glaciers—from extraordinary vantages.
We've timed our trip for optimal conditions. Most Europeans will then be back at work or school, so the trails will be reasonably peaceful, and the mountain roads uncongested. Yet the weather should still be comfortably warm and dry. Plus, here on the Italian/southern side of the Alps, the weather is generally much sunnier than elsewhere in the range, such as France and Switzerland.
Most of our hiking will be alpine: above treeline. But each of our trails is distinct. One day we'll roll for hours through meadowy, lake basins linked by three passes. On another, we'll traverse the wall of a deep, fantastically-glaciated gorge. On yet another, we'll cruise (nearly level!) beside an ancient, irrigation channel while probing a sprawling cirque beneath huge peaks. It's impossible for us to pronounce any of these trails our favorite. But if we hit it on a bluebird day, perhaps it's the one starting in a tiny village, climbing beside a glacier-fed stream, passing a lovely lake, then cresting a high col where we'll likely be alone yet rewarded with a slap-bang view of Monte Bianco rising from the opposing valley wall.
"These trails rank among the most captivating we've hiked in our many, multi-month explorations of the French, Swiss, Austrian, and Italian Alps." — S & C
Europe's highest summit, 4809-m Monte Bianco, dominates the Alps. But each of our hikes probes a different aspect of a vast mountainscape. So we'll see many arresting peaks. Part of the Monte Bianco massif separating Italy from France is the 4208-m Grandes Jorasses. On the Italian-Swiss border are 3,727-m Mont Vélan, and 4314-m Grand Combin. Nearly as striking as Monte Bianco is the highest summit entirely in Italy: 4061-m Gran Paradiso.
For North American hikers accustomed to long slogs just to reach treeline, the Alps offer a luxury so foreign it's almost inconceivable: excellent, paved roads to high-elevation trailheads. Though these serpentine roads are a thrill to drive, you might prefer the passenger seat, so you can devote your attention to the spectacular scenery. Either way, we'll always surge into the alpine zone shortly after we snug our bootlaces.
All our hiking will be on established trails. None will be cross-country. Nevertheless, this is not a tour for the effete. Most days we'll cover a significant distance, gaining and losing substantial elevation. Only devoted hikers who stay fit year-round have the speed and endurance to work this hard and enjoy it. And while this is trail hiking, it's not always carefree striding. Some sections of trail are narrow, others are rough, and a few brief passages are narrow and rough, on sheer slopes. So you must be stable, agile, confident. If you're acrophobic, you'll be unable to complete a couple of the hikes. That said, we—Skye and Craig—are age 62 and 66, and we find this level of challenge exhilarating yet within our comfort zone. Many hikers of all ages will feel the same.
Most days we'll hike about six or seven hours, covering distances of about 16 to 19 km (10 to 12 mi), ascending and descending about 1000 m (3300 ft). Our two shorter days will entail about three or four hours of hiking.
Rest days? We've planned two, because they're necessary when hiking so vigorously, and because common sense dictates we allow for inclement weather. Just relaxing at our lodge is an agreeable way to spend some down-time, but you'll likely find other options more enticing. Aosta was a Roman Empire provincial capital, so you can see impressive remains including the Teatro Romano, and the Pont d'Ael aqueduct bridge. Visiting outdoor shops qualifies as a cultural experience in Europe's mountain-minded cities like Aosta. Here, for example, you can shop for Montura clothing. It's Italian, the Lamborghini of mountain wear, yet unavailable in North America. You might want to drive 30 minutes from Aosta to Courmayeur—the resort town beneath Monte Bianco, at the head of Valle d'Aosta. Courmayeur's Skyway cable car invites you to effortlessly attain views of many of the Alps most famous peaks, including 4478-m Monte Cervino (the Matterhorn), and 4634-m Monte Rosa. Also in Courmayeur is the Duca degli Abruzzi Alpine Museum, which celebrates the history of mountain guiding.
When our group departs Aosta, you might drive back to the Milano airport and fly home. Or you might want to travel in the Alps for a few more days on your own. If so, we'll provide detailed suggestions: hikes you'll enjoy, villages you'll appreciate, and accommodations we recommend.
In the italian alps, the meals in the village
rival the views from the summit.
Italy, as we all know, is synonymous with distinctive, delectable cuisine. And even if you're hesitant to dine indoors due to concerns about Covid, you'll still be able thoroughly enjoy this pillar of Italian culture.
Last August, we arranged for our group of 12 to dine alfresco most evenings. That's because the nighttime temperatures in Aosta during late August and early September tend to be lovely, and all the restaurants we've selected have terrazzas.
Should cold, wind or rain prevent one of our restaurants from serving our group outside, we can all adjust according to our preferences. Some might choose to dine indoors. (The restaurants are not crowded that time of year.) Or, as Skye & Craig have occasionnally done—because they remain Covid cautious—you can opt for take-out or prepare a simple dinner in your room at the agriturismo, because you'll have your own kitchenette.