This article appeared in Forbes Travel.
The settimana bianca (ski week) is perhaps Italy’s most cherished unofficial holiday. For a full week, friends, families and couples put everything on hold to head to the mountains for a bit of snow, snacks and shopping, without ever having to take out their passports. Italians know that their side of the Alps is the ideal location for a white week, thanks to optimal conditions, good food and unmatched ambience.
Though the Dolomites mountain range has long been on the map for Italy destination skiers thanks to the 1956 Winter Olympics and an incredible stunt sequence in 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, the shy and sumptuous Valle d’Aosta, Italy’s smallest region, is where you want to put down your bags and get your ski pass.
These are the four cities to really focus your vacation:
Courmayeur Mont Blanc
Bordering France and Switzerland, the Valle d’Aosta has a series of charming villages with extensive and varied range of pistes, easily reachable via train stations and airports in Turin and Milan. Valle d’Aosta’s best-known area is Courmayeur Mont Blanc, the picture-perfect traditional Alpine village at the base of Mont Blanc (Italy’s highest mountain). Courmayeur boasts Italy’s oldest ski school and is host to the World Cup Downhill and the International, a four-mile run that drops 3,300 feet on descent.
Where to stay: Hotel Villa Novecento. This 26-room chalet exudes yesteryear charm with 21st-century luxury. Expect a traditional mountain style, onsite spa and restaurant.
Inside Nira Montana, Photo Courtesy of Nira Montana
Italians love La Thuile for its family friendly vibe and it is easy access to France. It’s one of the few towns where you can actually ski into another country for the afternoon. Charming La Thuile is perfect for a quiet getaway, and it’s ideal for beginning skiers and experienced, off-piste daredevils.
Where to stay: Nira Montana. This hotel is the area’s newest high-end property. With 55 rooms, an on-site spa, sweeping mountain views and a pet-friendly nature, Nira Montana is the peak of rustic chic.
The Monterosa area is one of the world’s largest ski regions (the tri-valley of Champoluc, Gressoney and Alagna) and is coveted for its 10-plus miles in lifts and wide pistes, which translates to ski tourism at its best. Expect all levels of skiers and lots of socializing.
Where to stay: Hotellerie De Mascognaz. Eight luxurious, multi-room chalets hidden in the mountains (and accessible by snowmobile) are what you’ll find at this Champoluc stunner. Beyond the private, convenience-filled units, you can also expect a spa and wellness center, gourmet restaurant and a virtual golf station in a restored farmhouse.
This section is exceptionally well known as a great destination for all levels of skiing and heli-skiing. Additionally, the village is linked to the renowned Zermatt resort across the Swiss border. Ski schools and instructors are available throughout the entire region, with a ski pass offering access to all slopes.
Where to stay: Principe delle Nevi. The super-chic ski-in/ski-out mountain lodge and hotel consists of six chalet suites (ask for a slope view). Aside from stunning vistas, you’ll also discover an on-site Balinese-themed spa, indoor and outdoor pools, a gym, an apres-ski bar with a barbecue terrace and a restaurant.
Snowy Mountain Fun, Photo Courtesy of Nira Montana
Beyond the skis
When not on the slopes, Valle d’Aosta visitors head to the thermal springs of Prè Saint Didier and Saint Vincent, historic wellness spas founded in the early 19th century as healing destinations. The newly inaugurated Skyway is literally breath-taking — a panoramic and rotating cable car connecting Courmayeur with Pointe Helbronner that reaches an altitude of nearly 11,000 feet and supplies spectacular looks onto Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn.
For alpine history and culture, visit The Duke of Abruzzi Alpine Museum in Courmayeur or Jovecan’s Center for Ancient Remedies. Generally speaking, enthusiasts of the past will love all of the ancient Roman ruins — arches, theater, towers and roads — radiating from Aosta.
And when it comes to dining, the Aosta Valley is a bread basket of incredible dishes, from fresh pasta and meats to world-renowned cheese and cured meats. The region also has some shining-star restaurants, including Morgex’s Café Quinson, Courmayeur’s Petit Royal and Aosta’s Osteria da Nando, all rustic and incredible eating experiences. If you can’t get to those eateries, never fear — after all, this is Italy. Most any mountain rifugio (like Frantze Le Rascard in Champoluc) or village trattorie will do you well when it’s time for a good meal.