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.
By plane: the nearest commercial airport is Turin TRN, with flights across Europe and within Italy. Aosta can also be reached from the Milan / Bergamo airports, and from Geneva GVA via the Mont Blanc Tunnel. Aosta's own airport handles private aviation but is too small and hemmed in by mountains for regular flights.
By train: Trains run hourly to Ivrea, 80 mins. These connect immediately with trains to Turin Porta Susa and may be shown on timetables and displays as through trains, but usually it's a change. For Milan and elsewhere in Italy, take the train towards Turin but change at Chivasso. Aosta is now the terminus of the line up the valley - trains no longer run further up to Pré-Saint-Didier. 1 Aosta railway station is just south of town centre.
By bus: three Savda buses per day link Aosta with Turin Porta Susa and Porta Nuova, taking two hours. Two of them extend west to Pré-Saint-Didier and Courmayeur.
By car: The main road up the valley is Autoroute A5 (toll) from Turin, with a crosslink to A4 from Milan. It bypasses town to the south and continues west up the valley (mostly in tunnel) to Pré-Saint-Didier (turn-off for Little St Bernard pass, summer only, via La Thuile to Bourg-Saint-Maurice in France) and Courmayeur, where it enters the Mont Blanc tunnel to Chamonix in France.
The old valley road SS26 skirts Aosta to the north, with SS27 branching north to climb the Great Saint Bernard pass and tunnel (open year-round) to Martigny in Switzerland.
Aosta is a small town and, for the tourist, everything can be easily visited on foot.
The bottom 2 cable-car station for Pila ski resort is at Charvensod, 500 m south of Aosta railway station. A shuttle bus hairpins up the hill in the evenings when the cable-car isn't running.
- Via Sant' Anselmo is Aosta's pleasant traffic-free main street, stretching from the Augustus Arch and river bridge at its east end, through the great Roman gateway of Porta Praetoria midway, Town Hall in Piazza Emile Chanoux, to end in the west at Piazza della Repubblica. All the main sights are along or just off this stretch.
- Collegiata dei Santi Pietro e Orso at 14 Via Sant'Orso is a charming church, part of a still-functioning monastery. It dates to 10th century but is mostly 15th. There are notable frescoes and Gothic choir stalls, and a Romanesque cloister fronted by a later loggia.
- Basilica di San Lorenzo at 12 Via Sant'Orso is now an art space.
- 1 Roman amphitheatre, Via Porta Praetoria. Roman ruins are dotted all over town and are mostly free to access. The Amphitheatre has a small charge. It often hosts outdoor performances.
- Ski: Pila is a small family-oriented ski resort just south of Aosta, you can drive up or take the cable-car from Charvensod. Pistes run from 2700 m down to 1765 m. Wooded and mostly intermediate / red standard, great views, but also a good choice for poor-viz days. It's often included on the lift passes of other nearby resorts, such as La Thuile and Courmayeur.
- Mountain trekking, Alpinism, Rafting, traditional woodworks
- Saint Ursus' Fair (Fiera di Sant'Orso) is held in town centre end of January, every year since 1000 AD. Dates for 2020 are not yet announced.
Aosta is a good place to stock up on local food products and wines.
- Gros Cidac, Via Paravera 4 (South of railway tracks at west end of town). Daily 07:30-20:30. Large supermarket, with a good selection of local foods, wines and spirits.
It can be difficult finding a good restaurant open between 2 pm and 7 pm in Aosta. If you want to eat early, it'll be pizza, kebabs or similar fast food.
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. Keep your receipt, the police sometimes check.
Lots of local specialities - look for the word "Valdostana" or "Valdôtaine" in the names of dishes. Carbonade is ground beef meat roasted in red wine. Fontina cheese is made locally. Tegole are sweet thin biscuits.
- Hostaria del Calvino, Rue Croix-de-Ville 24. W-M 12:00-15:00 & 18:00-23:00, Tu 12:00-15:00. Good pizza, local beer and friendly service.
- Pam Pam, Rue Guillaume Mallet 5-7. Tu-Sa 12:30-14:00 & 19:30-22:00. Small restaurant, nice ambiance, local specialities.
- Moderno, Via Édouard Aubert 21. F-W 12:00-15:00, 18:30-22:30. Pizza & pasta favourites.
- Ulisse, via Édouard Aubert 58. Th-Tu 12:00-14:30, 18:45-22.30. Traditional Valdostan specialties.
- Not that you'll admit to wanting a change from Italian, but there are two Japanese eateries in town. These are Oishi Sushi at 74 Via Edouard Aubert, and I-Sushi at 45 Via B. Festaz.
Notable local wines include the white Blanc de Morgex et La Salle. Genepy is a strong olive-coloured liqueur, herbal and sweeter than absinthe, usually drunk neat.
- Old Distillery Pub, 7 Via Pres Fossees. M-Sa 18:00-02:00, Su 06:00-00:00. English pub with range of beers and food.
- Bar Haiti is north side of the centre near the hospital, at 1 Corso Saint Martin de Corleans.
- Le Reve Charmant is a small chalet B&B at Via Vaudan Marchè 6, west end of the pedestrianised centre.
- B&B Al Nabuisson, 50 Rue Édouard Aubert. Good central location, friendly staff speak English and French.
- 1 Hotel Milleluci, 15 Strada Porossan, ☏ . Farmhouse-chalet going on palatial film-set, this luxury hotel is in the hills looking over the "thousand lights" of the town below. B&B double £180.