The Roman colony of Augusta Praetoria Salassorum was founded by the general Marcus Terentius Varro, who conquered it from the Salassi tribe in 25 BC. The colony housed 3,000 retired veterans. After 11 BC Augusta Praetoria became the capital of the Alpes Graies ("Grey Alps") province of the Roman Empire. Its position, at the confluence of two rivers, at the end of the Great and the Little St Bernard passes, gave it considerable military importance, and its layout was that of a Roman military camp.
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the city was ruled sucessively by the Burgundians, the Ostrogoths, the Byzantines and the Lombards (who had annexed it to their Italian kingdom but were later expelled by the Frankish Empire under Pepin the Short). Pepin's son, Charlemagne made Aosta an important post on the Via Francigena, leading from Aachen to Italy. Later it belonged to the kingdom of Savoy.
The train ride in from Turin (Italian: Torino) is outstandingly beautiful and short enough to make it a quick worthwhile detour.
Aosta is certainly accessible by car. The main routes from France (through the Mont Blanc tunnel) and Western Switzerland (through the Saint Bernhard tunnel or mountain pass) to Turin and Milan meet in Aosta, and if you drive along either of these routes, Aosta is the first (or last) major Italian city you will pass.
Aosta is a small town and, for the tourist, everything can be easily visited on foot.
- Roman ruins. From walls to amphitheatres. Get a free map from tourist information (in the Hôtel de Ville) which shows you where to look - it's all within walking distance. The museum is also marked and is worth a visit. You are encouraged to touch the exhibits that are on show, and there are drawers under the display cases containing replicas of Roman artefacts that you can take out and examine. It's all child-friendly too.
- Ski. Mountain trekking, Alpinism, Rafting, traditional woodworks Saint Ursus' fair (Italian: Fiera di Sant'Orso, French: Foire de Saint-Ours) 30-31 January held every year since 1000 a.c.
It can be very difficult finding a good restaurant that is open between approximately 2pm and 7pm in Aosta. Those that are open tend to be very casual, fast-food type places.
All restaurants offer a fixed price menu (menu turistico/menu a prezzo fisso) which is not very exciting but is good if you're watching the euros. Don't forget to keep your receipt. The police can stop you and ask to see it.
For vegetarians and vegans, eating in Aosta, and Italy in general, should not be a problem. Italians are quite relaxed and accommodating when it comes to their cuisine (unlike their French neighbours). At the Aosta tourist office, staff should be able to recommend local dishes that are vegetarian or vegan, or easily rendered so. Pizza is a safe bet as the pizza dough is not made with egg or dairy products in Italy or authentic Italian restaurants elsewhere.
Carbonade: ground beef meat roasted in red wine.
Lots of local specialities - look for the word "Valdostana" or "Valdôtaine" in the names of dishes. Fontina cheese (French: Fontine) is made locally.
- Trattoria Hostaria del Calvino, Rue Croix-de-Ville 24. Good pizza, good beer and friendly service.
- Pam Pam, Rue Guillaume Mallet 5-7. Small restaurant, nice ambiance, local specialities
- Moderno, Via Édouard Aubert 21.
- Ulisse, via Édouard Aubert 58.
Notable wines; among them is a white wine, Blanc de Morgex et La Salle. Genepy is a strong liquor.
- Trattoria Hostaria del Calvino, Rue Croix-de-Ville 24. Has a good little selection of artisanal beers.
- B&B Nabuisson, Rue Édouard Aubert (in the centre of the city). a good place to stay if you want to be close to everything from Roman remains to bars and restaurants. Friendly staff, and they speak English (and French).