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Courmayeur

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Courmayeur is a skiing and mountaineering resort at the head of Valle d’Aosta, in northern Italy. At 1224 m elevation, it has a spectacular location near the foot of Mont Blanc (called Monte Bianco in Italian).

The village has been settled since Roman times, and was a spa resort as early as the 18th century, because of its sulphurous springs. It began to grow during the 19th century's fashion for alpinism, and Italy’s first alpine guide society was established here. The 20th century saw it develop as a ski resort, and the opening of the Mont Blanc tunnel in 1965 greatly improved road access from northern Europe.

The core of the village is the 1 km pedestrianised section of Via Roma, between Hotel Courmayeur at the south end and the town hall at the north end. About 500 m SW of Hotel Courmayeur, down Via Volpi, is the base station for the main cable-car; the north end of the village is served by the smaller Dolonne cable-car. These both rise to the 1702 m station of Plan Checrouit, a small plateau with restaurants, bars and ski rental & schools. All the resort’s skiing is above here: the ski lifts close late afternoon, but the main cable-car runs till 23:40, and the plateau restaurants and bars stay open evenings.

Beyond the centre of Courmayeur, the village straggles along highway SS26. The top of the highway is at the small settlement of La Palud / Entreves, where Valle d’Aosta is formed by the confluence of Val Ferret from the east, and Val Veny from the west. A third cable-car runs up to the ski slopes from here. The SS26 interchanges with the Autostrada, which briefly emerges from its tunnel to take a last gulp of air before plunging beneath Mont Blanc to France.

Get in[edit]

By air[edit]

The closest airport is GVA Geneva, 100 km via the Mont Blanc Tunnel. Most tour operators fly into TRN Turin Caselle (150 km). About 220+ km away are the Milan airports of MXP Malpensa and LIN Linate. All these have good connections across Europe, and Geneva’s reach is global.

By road[edit]

Autostrada A5 (toll) comes up Valle d’Aosta from Turin past Ivrea and Aosta – above Aosta it’s mostly in tunnels, bad for views but good for weather-proofing. After the Courmayeur exit, it continues north to the last exit for Italy at La Palud then into the Mont Blanc tunnel (cars 44 euro single, 55 e return), emerging 11.6 km later above Chamonix in France. This is the obvious route to Geneva, and the recommended route to eastern Switzerland, Austria and Germany. (The short cut from Chamonix to Martigny via Col de Montets may be closed by winter weather, in which case take the long way around via Thonon & Evian.) Switzerland can also be reached via the Great St Bernard Tunnel (open year-round, but the historic road over the pass is only open in summer). The Little St Bernard Pass (open summer only) crosses into France via La Thuile towards Val d’Isere and Annecy.

Savda buses run four times a day between the Turin railway stations and Aosta, taking two hours, change there for the local bus to Courmayeur (see below).

By train[edit]

From Turin, change at Ivrea for the train to Aosta. A connecting Savda bus runs between Aosta station and Courmayeur. Until 2016 trains continued up the valley to Pre St Didier, but this link has been cancelled, citing low passenger numbers for the cost of running it.

There is of course no railway under Mont Blanc, nor any plans to build one. It’s arguably the biggest missing link in the European railway network.

Get around[edit]

Savda buses run every 30 mins between Aosta and Courmayeur, taking one hour. They also do a circuit of Courmayeur (as far up as La Palud) every half hour. There’s a direct service between Courmayeur and La Thuile, 3 times in the morning and 3 late afternoon.

Their direct bus between Courmayeur and Chamonix runs six times a day, just 45 minutes via the Mont Blanc Tunnel. Other destinations will usually mean changing in Aosta.

See[edit]

In Courmayer village centre, the Duke of Abruzzi Alpine Guide Museum documents the craft of mountain guiding. The Duke himself was an early alpinist, founding the guides’ society in 1850, and together they made many exploratory ascents, nearby in the 19th century and then globally in the 20th century. It was always primarily a recreational activity here, and client-driven, as Courmayeur isn’t on a historic transalpine route. Entry 3 euros, the opening times posted are just a statement of good intentions but usually daily from 5 pm.

Opposite the museum, look into the early 18th century Church of St Pantaleon & St Valentine. The other notable church, at the foot of Val Veny, is the Sanctuary of Notre Dame de Guérison.

On a clear day, ride up the Monte Bianco Skyway, the cable-car which ascends from near La Palud. At the midway station of Pavillon (2173 m), in summer take the short walk to Saussurea Alpine Botanical Gardens. The lift continues up to the terrace at Punta Helbronner (3462 m) on the border with France. From here there are off-piste trails down the glaciers, for expert skiers only, and a guide is essential. The lift system then descends into Chamonix but the Skyway ticket doesn’t give access to the Chamonix ski lifts, and it isn’t a practical route into that ski area – drive through the Mont Blanc Tunnel instead. A return trip up the Skyway is 45 euros for an adult, unless your ski lift pass covers it – see below.

If it’s clear-ish but not clear enough for the Skyway (the summit is often mist-shrouded), instead ride up the Courmayeur cable-car to Plan Checrouit. An adult return is 16 euros if you don’t have a lift pass.

Do[edit]

Ski: the resort is good for beginners and intermediates, who for a one-week holiday will be well-served by the Courmayeur six-day pass (in 2016/17 this was 234 euros for adults, reductions for under 18 and over 65). All the skiing is on the two sides of the ridge above Plan Checrouit, mostly blues and reds with limited black runs. Uplift is good and queues are seldom significant except for the cable-car up to Youla, at 2624 m the highest piste. A final cable-car climbs from Youla to Arp (2755 m) but it’s off-piste only from here, or admire the view from the terrace then ride back down to Youla.

As the resort is high, the snow is as reliable as you’ll find in Europe, but this does mean a risk of avalanches: the pistes are well-monitored but fatal incidents off-piste are not uncommon. On 1 March 2017 three people were killed on an off-piste route into Val Veny.

The Courmayeur area does not link into any other ski domain, so you have to return to the valley and jump in the car to get elsewhere. However the six-day pass is also valid for two days skiing anywhere in Valle d’Aosta (La Thuile or Pila being the obvious choices), or one such day and one trip sight-seeing up the Monte Bianco Skyway as described earlier. Expert skiers, and intermediates staying longer than a week, should consider buying the Valle d’Aosta pass, or the Mont Blanc Unlimited pass which covers an enormous domain including Chamonix, Megeve and Verbier. You need your own transport to benefit from these.

Other activities around Courmayeur include climbing - all ranges of difficulty, in amazing scenery, and summer trekking from easy walks to guided hikes.

Events: Courmayeur Noir film festival takes place in mid-December. Check local media and hotel noticeboards for other events and fiestas. Mardi Gras 2017 took place in heavy snowfall, with the brass band, morris dancers and giant papier-mache head of Donald Trump looming out of the swirling snow.

Eat[edit]

Lots of eating places along Via Roma or just off it, eg La Piazetta and La Padella. Also consider a walk-in meal at one of the hotels, Cresta et Duc is particularly good. Places up the mountain include Christiana and La Chaumiere.

Drink[edit]

Try the local white wine – Blanc de Morgex et de La Salle is DOC Valle d’Aosta. An exceptional local product is the “ice-wine” Chaudelune from ice-charred grapes.

Many of the bars serve aperitivos, free snacks from about 4 pm, though of course that’s reflected in the price of drinks. Popular spots along the main drag of Via Roma include Bar Roma, American Bar and Le Privé cocktail bar. Places up the mountain at Plan Checrouit include Christiana and Super G.

Sleep[edit]

In peak ski season, hotels may be entirely booked out to package tours. It’s particularly busy at Italian half-term in late February, usually a week or two later than the English half-term.

Budget[edit]

  • La TanaStrada Margherita. One-room apartment in a basement (no windows to outdoors) with bathroom and kitchen.

Mid-range[edit]

  • Hotel Bouton d'Or (Central, 500 m from main cable-car). 35 bedrooms decorated in alpine style, most with balconies. Buffet breakfast with home-made and local food. Sauna, gym, garage and parking.
  • Hotel Berthod (Central, 450 m from main cable-car), e-mail: . Buffet breakfast with home-made and local food. Bar, sauna and jacuzzi.
  • 1 Hotel Les JumeauxStrada Regionale, 35 +39 0165 846796.

Splurge[edit]

  • Villa Novecento (Central), e-mail: . 4-storey chalet in traditional style. Restaurant, bar, fitness centre and meeting hall. The same management run Cresta & Duc (listed below) and Miramonte in La Thuile.
  • Cresta et Duc (Central, just off pedestrianised centre, 400 m from cable car.),  +39 0165 84 2585, e-mail: . Four-storey building, contemporary but charming, many rooms with balcony. The restaurant is of a high standard, go half / full board if you can, else reckon 50-60 euros for a walk-in dinner. Bar, sauna, jacuzzi and parking. The same management run Villa Novecentro (listed above) and Miramonte in La Thuile.



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