We were on a quest to find new things to do in the Aosta Valley. La Thuile was a good start but it was time to move on.
The Orrido at Pre-Saint-Didier
We descended the zig zags from La Thuile and settled ourselves into the sosta at Pre-Saint-Didier. It’s somewhere we’ve driven past multiple times but we’ve never stayed or explored the town. At €14.50 for 24 hours (priced on a per hour basis) it’s not cheap but there is electricity as well as water and waste disposal.
We started our stay with a walk up the ‘Orrido’ (gorge). The walk is signposted straight from the sosta and is not very long, but is very uphill.
The first point of interest is a bridge across the river. It leads to a derelict building where a spa was once located. From the top of the bridge there is a waterspout with a sign saying it is not acqua potable (drinking water). Run your hand under this spout and you can feel the warm waters of the spring, pumped up under its own pressure. The old building from the 1700s was the ‘original’ spa but probably the use of this hot spring dates back to before the Romans.
The modern thermal spa is now sited in a building across the other side of the river and as we climbed up the path we could catch sight of people wandering around the grounds in their dressing gowns. Tempting though it was to soak in the hot water, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to part with the cash. A trip to the swimming pool would have been a nice alternative but it looks as though the pool is being rebuilt.
The path climbed up the side of the gorge under trees. Occasionally it intersected with the zig zags of the road we had just descended. We weren’t the only people on the path and the showery weather had bought out the Italian love of the umbrella. We felt a little left out with only our waterproofs for protection.
Eventually we reached the passarella; a metal walkway that juts out over the gorge with vertiginous views down to the river and views across the mountains. Sadly the mountains were mostly obscured by cloud but it was still worth it for the view into the abyss.
The passarella is sited next to an ‘adventure park’ of the go-ape variety which was closed for winter. It includes a zip line across the gorge and then ladder climbing to another zip line back again. Something for a summers day?
We continued along the pathway up the gorge, past a (closed) restaurant that was built on stilts above the ruins of a Roman outpost. The clouds thickened around us until eventually we were mired in grey dampness. We decided that was the right time to turn back and once we dropped out of the clouds we sat and watched them swirl through the gorge seemingly to no particular pattern, rising and falling in random Brownian motion.
On our return we wandered through the town, picking up some yummy treats from the pasticceria and poking our noses down the pretty cobbled streets. There was obviously money in the town but also some buildings in need of a lot of maintenance and an agriturismo with a pair of donkeys and a dairy (it looked like a lovely pace to stay and presumably doesn’t use the donkeys for cheese making).
Courmayeur is not somewhere that has ever appealed to me for skiing, but as it is in the Aosta valley we felt we should give it a go. I think the reason it didn’t appeal was it’s reputation for being a bit up market. Not really our thing.
We spent a day holed up in the van while we were parked at Pre-Saint-Didier, hiding from persistent heavy rain, but we consoled ourselves that it would be (hopefully) snowing in the ski resorts.
The following day we paid up at the sosta and drove the very short distance to Courmayeur. We parked in the sports centre car park where a young man was sitting in his car at the entrance and charged us 3 euros for the day. Quite a bargain, we thought, although it did conjure up memories of the chap who ‘unofficially’ charged for parking at Bristol Zoo.
Courmayeur was covered in lovely soft powder from the previous day’s precipitation. It’s not a huge area for skiing and the off piste was out of bounds (for us anyway) due to the high avalanche risk.
All in all it was a good day and the close up views of Mont Blanc and surrounding mountains were stupendous. But we decided that we weren’t keen enough for a second day so we scooted off back down to Pre Saint Didier for the night. And just possibly another trip to the Pasticceria for some treats.