Aosta

Our drive to Aosta was one of the longest of our trip, but not long enough to really warrant splitting it, and either way there didn’t appear to be any campsites near the mid point.

We left early and made good time, until for some reason we were diverted off the autostrada at Genoa, in to the centre of Genoa! Not ideal towing a caravan. Satnav wasn’t much help as it just directed us back to the closed junction, so we had a fraught 20 minutes circling the harbour trying to escape.

After a very long drive, watching the scenery change from coast to farmland to mountains, we finally arrived at our campsite in Aosta. Despite it still being August, we were away from the crowds now and had our pick of pitches. Compared to the last place this site was tiny, with only a handful of other pitches taken. It did however have a playground, and plenty of safe space for Evelyn to bomb about on her bike. It didn’t however have a restaurant, or a shop, and was on a busy main road with no shops in walking distance. And besides it was Sunday. Tripadvisor found us a pizza place a 5 min walk along the main road which was apparently open, but when I got there, they said not for another hour. A further skirt along the dual carriageway found a restaurant who were just lighting their pizza oven, so I managed to finally slink back to the caravan a lot later than planned but at least with dinner.

The next day we headed in to Aosta town. Aosta was an important trade route town for the Romans, and there’s an impressive amount of evidence. Town walls and gates, bridges, a Roman theatre, an arch and old roads gave us lots to explore. They also had the best playground we’ve seen on the whole trip. Plus, although the sun was still blazing, the air was fresh and cool which made such a difference!

The eastern end of the Aosta Valley leads to Mont Blanc, and whilst there obviously wasn’t any skiing to be done in August, we headed to Courmayeur to explore one of the resorts. Neither of us has ever been on a skiing holiday, so it was interesting to see the alpine town and how it all worked even in the sun, and the place was full of walkers heading off in to the mountains.

The cable car up Mont Blanc sounded amazing, but was far too pricey, and the other smaller one we stumbled across was unfortunately closed. We did however discover that there was a public swimming pool up another of the mountains and resolved to come back later in the week to get a different cable car up to spend the day there.

Aosta Valley is the home of Fontina cheese, and we’d read in our guidebook there was a cheese museum and visitor centre at one of the co-operatives that made the cheese. We had a stunning drive up in to the mountains to reach it, and of course got there for siesta time.

After waiting for it to finally open, we asked about the cheese tour and were looked up and down by the lady. While she didn’t speak English and we don’t know Italian, mime and hand signals established that we’d need coats as the cheese caves are only 10 degrees. But it was glorious outside and we haven’t needed coats for weeks, so of course we had nothing helpful with us. We abandoned thoughts of the cheese tour and settled for the museum instead. Except that was being a bit generous. With the exception of an old wooden churning wheel, the only exhibits were faded dating photos on the wall of the local cattle and the various stages of production. Hardly riveting. Having dragged it out for 10 minutes, we did at least get to do some cheese tasting, and came away with 2 big wedges of the local cheeses, and a couple of bottles of local wine for good measure. We had a very enjoyable supper that evening!

On our original route plan, we’d intended to stop at the big wine warehouses in Calais to stock up on our way home. Now we were sailing back from Bilbao, and google told us they don’t have wine warehouses there, bugger. So instead we thought we’d stock up on local wines along the remainder of the route. Our wine consultant (Hi Fordy!) told us that some excellent wine us made in the Aosta Valley, but it rarely makes it to the UK market, so it sounded like a good opportunity to stock up.

We made an appointment for a tasting at a local co-operative on an otherwise grey and miserable day (who says we wouldn’t need coats here?!). We’d established that the toll road through the valley was quite really expensive, so opted for the local roads to see some of the villages along the way, with the plan that Stan would nap en route and be in a good mood when we got there. Except he didn’t, and instead I spent the what turned out to be very winding journey trying to placate him in the back of the car. I’m not good with winding roads anyway, and especially not in the back of the car, so was feeling really quite ill by the time we got there. Not the best for drinking plenty of booze, especially when I get the lions share as Simon is designated driver! Stan was overtired and hadn’t napped, and Evelyn was grouchy and wanting attention. This event was doomed.

But the wine was good, and we got an excellent plate of cheese and meats to complement to wines. We came away with a couple of boxes for the wine rack so mission accomplished.

The next day we headed to Gran Paradiso national park. While there was loads of information about the walks on the website, there wasn’t actually a route map, but it promised information points at each village.

We drove to a local village that had a number of routes leading from it, but couldn’t find anywhere to get a map, and the information boards were rubbish. We started off to follow an out and back route, but had no idea if the time was for there, or there and back. The distances and times between the route markers also didn’t seem to make sense, or tie up to our GPS. In the end we abandoned the route we’d planned and followed a diversion to an excellent waterfall, which turned out to have a circular route back in to the village. We found a very scenic playground for our picnic and then decided to follow another out and back route through a valley, rather than attempting more hills.

We followed the path along a river through the valley for a mile or so before seeing a diversion sign directly up the valley side. With no obvious path up the steep hill, we ignored it and carried on, only to come to a landslide blocking the valley. We still couldn’t work out where the diversion headed up the sheer mountainside, so admitted defeat and headed back to the village for an ice cream. The Gran Paradiso national park is stunning, but we’d definitely recommend buying a proper guide if you’re going to attempt to explore it!

We had planned to go back to the mountains swimming pool on the Friday, but a bit of research told us a) it didn’t have a toddler pool and b) it was going to cost us 50e with cable car and entrance. Instead we found that Aosta had a municipal pool, and it turned out to be a brilliant one. Simon got to do some lengths in a 50m pool, a decent toddler pool, an excellent playground, and an awesome view.

And then that was it for Italy. We were supposed be there for 8 weeks and only managed 4 in the heat. We’ll definitely be back though, both to visit the south in more forgiving weather, and to spend more time in the beautiful mountains of the north.

Our route out to France took us through the Mont Blanc tunnel- all 11km and e46 of it! Onwards, to Annecy…

Where we stayed:

Camping Monte Bianco

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