The Aosta Valley, called the Valle d'Aosta in Italian, is the country's smallest and least populated region. It's way up in the northwestern corner of the country, bordered by the Piedmont region, France, and Switzerland.
The Aosta Valley is a semi-autonomous region with historic ties to France. French is one of the region's official languages, and many towns still have French names. The name of the region may have the word “valley” in it, but this is an area known mostly for its mountains—including the famous alpine peaks of the Matterhorn (called Monte Cervino in Italian) and Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco in Italian).
During the winter months, the mountains of the Valle d'Aosta are covered with skiers and snowboarders. In warmer weather, those same mountains attract hikers, mountain bikers, and rock climbers. There are historic towns and medieval castles, less familiar wines to discover, and plenty of peace and quiet to be had.
Reaching the capital of Aosta by train is no problem, but from there getting around the Aosta Valley by rail is difficult or even impossible. In a mountainous region such as this, you're better off with a rental car—and the fortitude necessary to drive on twisting mountain passes.
Photo credits: Antonio S