The Castle of Ussel: the spectacle of an impregnable fortress
As you progress along the steep path, the solemn vision of the Castle of Ussel approaches. And, wow! It is not protected by defensive walls, because the manor already has in itself the absolute character of an impregnable fortress. The stone parallelepiped with its austere lines towers above a rocky promontory, its severe silhouette guarding the towns of Châtillon and Saint-Vincent as far as the valley floor crossed by the Dora Baltea. An amazing sight.
On the rock with a dramatic panorama
The last 50-metre stretch towards the Castle of Ussel from the plateau below can only be travelled on foot: a slow approach from the access side, while a dizzying precipice opens up on the other side. The manor is a landmark in the history of military architecture in Aosta Valley.
In fact, it was the first fort to be built from scratch as a single compact body, by Ebalo II of Challant around 1343. Today it is a perfectly preserved testimony to the last stylistic phase of the medieval castle.
Over the centuries, it passed several times from the feudal family of Challant to the Savoy family and was even turned into a prison after the death of the last lord in 1470, only to be completely abandoned a hundred years later.
Traces of the monumental floors and fireplaces can be seen inside, and one of the attractions is the ornate mullioned windows, which provide the perfect frame for photographs with the landscape framed by the arches. Don't miss what was once the patrol path, a footpath flanked by battlements only recently made accessible to visitors. From up there, the 360° view of the Châtillon plain is truly breathtaking.
The Baron and the Bic pen
A more recent, but no less fascinating, story is that of the Castle of Ussel when it was acquired in 1984 by Baron Marcel Bich, whose family was originally from Châtillon. The nobleman was a brilliant entrepreneur; it was he who bought the patent for ballpoint pens from the inventor László József Bíró, and then marketed it worldwide under the name BIC. And he continued his successful climb with the worldwide success of disposable razors and lighters, also of the BIC brand.
After purchasing the fortress, the baron donated it to the Aosta Valley region, with the stipulation that the institutions would undertake to restore and open the Castle of Ussel to the public. This happened right on time, with a grand opening in 1998. Since then, the fort has become an exhibition space for temporary exhibitions, the first of which was naturally dedicated to the donor and his BICs.
Horseback riding around the manor
Are you ready for an unusual experience? The Castle of Ussel and its surroundings can be visited while riding magnificent horses. It is a two-and-a-half hour group tour with an equestrian guide, suitable for everyone with the only restriction being age: those under 14 will have to wait a little longer.
Horseback riding is a slow and sustainable way of exploring the territory. Forget the car and test yourself with a few trots. The fort stands before you in all its magnificence, with its almost menacing stone, its two turrets, the living rock on which it literally stands anchored. The rest is landscape as you pass through a beautiful part of Aosta Valley, the nearby Saint-Vincent and the surrounding forests; cross ancient mule tracks and encounter tiny mountain villages where ancient ovens are still standing.