I’ve visited the mountain village of Gressoney in Italy’s smallest region, the Aosta Valley, twice now. Each time I went, I went with the intention of getting out into the outdoors again in the middle of grey, sunless winter days spent inside at home. I went to change my scenery and my perspective.
Gressoney in the Monte Rosa mountain massif is actually made up of two towns, or comunes in Italian, Gressoney-Saint-Jean and Gressoney-La-Trinité. The towns sit along a road heading North that bizarrely goes nowhere, stopping abruptly before the Swiss border. On the other side, in Switzerland, there’s the Matterhorn, and to the West, there’s Chamonix in France, so you know these mountains are in good company.
It’s a place full of Germanic alpine houses and structures, all wood and stone and very cute. Smoke billows from chimnies, where the houses are planted amidst a mountain backdrop, winter-white surrounds and Christmas-sy pine trees. Walking from Gressoney-Saint-Jean to the Savoy Castle takes you up through a forest path overlooking these types of scenes. Snow sparkles on the ground when the sun shines bright and the joys of snowball fights, making snow angels, shuffling through feather-soft powder underfoot and sliding down soft hillsides on your bum all can be experienced here.
On the other side of this walk, you’ll find the Savoy Castle, built by and named after Margherita of Savoy, Queen of Italy, who, according to legend, the margherita pizza was named after. Built in 1904 as a summer residence for the Queen and her consorts, it’s the perfect fairytale castle complete with turrets and stained glass windows. You can take a nice walk in the grounds around the castle or go inside and meander through the sumptuous rooms on a guided tour.
Down to business and it’s time to go up the mountain! Start at the town of Staffal, a 15-minute drive from Gressoney, at the very end of the aforementioned road to nowhere. From here you can take the ski lift up to the Monte Rosa ski area.
I’ve been to this town twice now and still never skiied the 100km+ of trails. Nevertheless, I’ve made it up the mountain in the lift both times to have a walk around and bask in the sun, though we did have a little shiba inu snow dog we were dogsitting in tow to keep us entertained.
The real reason I’ve never made it onto the slopes here may be the presence of the Adler’s Nestrifugio (the Italian name for a snow shelter or hut). Nestled in the snowy mountainside at the base of one of the main tracks, adjoining the rifugio’s wood and stone hut is a two-storey sun terrace glorously positioned to receive the maximum amount of sunlight on those light and bright winter days.
They serve good Italian mountain fare for lunch, where polenta smothered in local Italian fontina or pasta with bleu d’Aosta cheese is on the menu amongst other local specialties. Cold beer is available on tap with a range of interesting liquors handmade in house too. I’ve whiled away many hours here watching the skiiers ski their little hearts out and interesting characters come in and out for a break.