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Set off and discover some of the most beautiful mountain ranges of the peninsula. Let yourself be mesmerised by awesome landscapes and unmissable mountain treks. From the Alps to the heights of the Apennines, connect to nature discovering valleys, waterfalls and other many other experiences to enjoy on your mountain trips during both summer and winter holidays.

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Art & Culture
Verrès castle

Castello di Verrès

Verrès Castle: home of a noble leader An imposing monolith in a dominant position on a rock overlooking the ancient village and valley. This is Verrès Castle, a majestic monobloc manor built in the late 14th century by the Challant family, one of the most prestigious in the entire Aosta Valley. All around, the picturesque landscape and unspoilt nature of the lower Aosta Valley bathed by the Dora Baltea. The mule track leading to the manor house As soon as you arrive, you’ll feel projected into a dimension of yesteryear. This is because you must follow a steep mule track to reach Verrès Castle, perched on a rocky spur overlooking the Évançon stream: a ten-minute walk to forget civilisation and immerse yourself in another world. Even from the village of Verrès it’s a 20-minute walk, a recommendable alternative to driving, for intense contact with the landscape. Another famous Aosta Valley castle stands on the other side of the Dora Baltea River, that of Issogne with a very different structure, in an interesting architectural contrast. A revolutionary castle The nobleman Ibleto di Challant started from a pre-existing complex and gave the manor its current appearance, choosing an innovative path compared to the region’s other castles, characterised by several buildings enclosed in a defensive wall. Instead here it is a single compact block, which emphasises the military function and attracts for its power. The refined style of the interiors The interiors are less austere: admire the grand staircase in the courtyard that connects the three floors, the ornamental work on the windows, doors and fireplaces, and the ornate white and green stone details created by the skilled craftsmen of the time. Don’t miss the Hall of Arms and the Dining Room, where you can see the detail of the serving hatch to the master kitchen. The Middle Ages return here in May Verrès Castle hosts the Historical Carnival, a re-enactment of the epic deeds of Countess Catherine of Challant, in a combination of historical events and fascinating legends. Between May and June each year, you can enjoy medieval costume parades, knights' tournaments and dances; a sumptuous banquet is also organised at the castle. Strolling through the centre From the castle, return to the village of Verrès, a small stone jewel whose origins date back to Roman times. Wander through the narrow streets and stairways, reach the small Place René de Challand, then walk along the cobbled street to the Collegiate Church and the Parish Church of Saint-Gilles. Climbing enthusiasts can stop at the climbing gym near the village in Chopine, with diversified walls suitable for everyone, including children. Plunge into nature The Arboretum trail starts from Verrès and goes up towards the entrance of Ayas Valley. The easy nature hike also offers a view of Verrès Castle from afar, so you can fully grasp its strategic and panoramic position on the plain. The route is also called Borna di Laou in patois, meaning Den of the Wolf, because legend has it that the animals built their den here in the 19th century. You won’t encounter any ferocious beasts here today, only beautiful and varied vegetation that the educational signs will help you decipher. The native species include dogwood and hawthorn, followed by ash, chestnut and linden trees and a few rarities considering the area: medlar and laurel. Cycling along the Dora Baltea Verrès is one of the stops of the Via Francigena: a long bike route. Here you pedal between continuous ups and downs mainly on the left bank of the Dorea Baltea, even on short mule tracks, on a route that touches on some of the most beautiful castles in Aosta Valley, including the Fortress of Bard, as well as scenic spots with peaks outlining the mountain skyline. Find out more www.lovevda.it www.carnevaleverres.it
Art & Culture
Ussel castle

Castello di Ussel

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. Find out more www.lovevda.it www.beniculturali.it/evento/visite-guidate-al-castello-di-ussel. www.cavalloenatura.com
Relax & Wellness

Arta Terme

Arta Terme, the pearl of Carnia, combining wellness, alpine itineraries and archaic cults A small Friulian town in the province of Udine, 442 metres above sea level, 10 kilometres from the Austrian border and 20 from the Slovenian border: there are many reasons to visit Arta Terme. The town, nestled in the Valle del But that connects Tolmezzo to Austria via the Passo di Monte Croce Carnico pass, has been renowned for its waters since Roman times. The sulphurous water gushes from the Fonte Pudia spring, which has been providing cures and wellbeing for centuries, and has also made Arta a popular spa resort, the perfect place to rejuvenate the body and spirit, and the ideal starting point for walks and hikes among the malghe (shepherd's huts) and mountain huts. The Arta Thermal Baths and its portentous waters, loved by Carducci Enclosed in a green basin, the Arta Thermal Baths are located within a complex, the Water Palace, formed by two connected buildings. The first, dating back to the 1960s and designed by architect Gino Valle, features an oriental-style roof; the second is more recently built. Its rooms invite you to relax among the saunas and Turkish baths or to recharge your batteries under the sensory showers and along the Kneipp path. Surrounding it is a beautiful park where you can enjoy mini-golf, tennis, or freshen up in the swimming pool with hydromassage. A word of advice: don't be put off by the intense sulphurous odour of the waters flowing from Fonte Pudia, whose name originates from the Latin participle putens and alludes to its not particularly pleasant odour, because it is precisely because of the wealth of minerals in its waters that the Arta Thermal Baths are able to offer highly specialised treatment and rehabilitation courses for various ailments, especially those of the airways. In fact, for centuries their medicinal properties have attracted tourists and patients to the Carnic locality: among the most famous personalities is Giosuè Carducci, who dedicated one of his poems, Il comune rustico (The Rustic Municipality), to Arta. Excursions amid history and spectacular views Piano d'Arta, a few kilometres from Arta Terme, is an excellent starting point for a series of walks that will allow you to better discover the area. If you enjoy trekking, the first destination you should tackle is without a doubt Mount Zoncolan, one of Friuli Venezia Giulia's best-known mountain settings, home to a well-known ski resort in winter and criss-crossed in summer by panoramic itineraries, amidst flower-filled pastures, woods and malghe (shepherd's huts). You should not miss, in the vicinity of Arta Terme, the town of Zuglio, the ancient Iulium Carnicum, a flourishing economic and trade centre in Roman times, founded between 58 and 40 B.C., which became a colony in the 1st century A.D.. Close to its Archaeological Museum, you will be able to admire the remains of the Roman forum and artefacts found during archaeological excavations. On the road back to Arta, also worth a visit for its architectural merit is the parish church of San Pietro near Zuglio, a Gothic church built on the site of an earlier Romanesque parish church, the windows of which still survive. Inside, the church preserves a wooden altar by Domenico da Tolmezzo, a masterpiece of Renaissance art, as well as a Baroque organ, and two canvases painted between the 16th and 18th centuries, portraying the conversion of St. Peter and the handing over of the keys to the Saint. Discovering ancient Carnic traditions It is precisely in this parish church that every year, to mark the feast of the Ascension, the so-called Kissing of the Crosses takes place. This is one of the most cherished sacred festivities, dating back to a very ancient cult, probably of mediaeval origin: following a series of paths through the woods, the faithful carry in procession to the parish church of San Pietro the precious astylar crosses, crucifixes for procession placed on a pole, which are stored throughout the year in the churches of the nearby valleys. And if you pass through Arta Terme during the Christmas festivities, as well as visiting the Christmas market, you will be able to experience an ancient Carnic tradition that is celebrated every year, from 26 December until the Epiphany: that of the Stele di Nadal, a procession of believers led by the Three Wise Men who, singing songs and holding a wooden star decorated with coloured paper bows and a lamp in the centre, go from house to house to herald the birth of the Saviour. And at the table, cjarsòns, a dish that is a symbol of Carnic tradition You cannot leave without being enticed by the delights of Friuli's gastronomic tradition. In the local shops you can buy honey, plum and pear distillates, cheeses and, above all, the typical cjarsòns, one of Carnia's signature dishes: handmade agnolotti stuffed with officinal herbs and spices, usually topped with melted butter and smoked ricotta. There is a festival is dedicated to cjarsòns, which is held every year on the first Sunday in August in Arta Terme, in the locality of Val Rivalpo.