On the Italian side of Mont Blanc
Skiing in winter, wine tasting in summer, castle tours, local cuisine and shopping are only some of the few ingredients of a super luxury holiday in Courmayeur in Italy.
Words by Aruna Rathod
The fastest way to reach Courmayeur is from Torino airport in Italy, which is quiet and peaceful; and it sets the tone for a laid back holiday in Aosta. The two-and-a-half hour drive to Courmayeur is through the scenic hills and valleys and not many are aware that Courmayeur is the closest you can get to Monte Bianco (Mont Blanc) on the Italian side. Once our car is done with the highways, the hilly region begins with its share of charming spots that disappear once we enter tunnels, only to reappear again. The spires of Roman Catholic churches loom up at intervals and wine regions dot the valleys and it’s an enjoyable drive to Courmayeur.
As we near the town, the landscape changes to one of a picture-perfect village. In summer, both sides of the road have spacious green areas, dotted by beautiful cottages with slate roofs. Balconies with bright red geraniums dot each home. Our car stops at one such beautiful alpine house converted into an inn, and to my delight it’s our hotel – Auberge de la Maison is a four-star boutique hotel with a wood and stone charming facade; what is eye-catching is the backdrop of the towering mountain range that houses the Mont Blanc.
Auberge de la Maison is very homely, yet with luxe amenities. The reception is like a country home, cosy with a fireplace, various seating arrangements with sofas around a table, placed like a living room would have and the staff is friendly and welcoming. The rooms are tastefully done up, each room a surprise. While one has a Jacuzzi in the centre of the room, a sloping roof, another has a mezzanine floor that serves as a bedroom for children; some rooms have a fireplace and each one has an alpine design element in the form of either a painting, artefact or furnishing. What every room ensures is a fantastic view of the Mont Blanc mountain range.
The refreshing restaurant with plenty of family heirlooms is located on the lower level and opens out into a beautiful garden and view of the mountains. During summer, enjoy breakfast on the deck outside in the lap of the mountain range. Breakfast is sumptuous with a range of breads – the walnut and fig bread is a local speciality – accompanied by bacon, ham, eggs to order, yoghurt and a range of baked goodies. For dinner, the restaurant with it’s grand candlestands and table decor, transforms into a sophisticated space with the lit chandeliers, a lit fire in the fireplace and it’s a gourmet menu.
Up at Mont Blanc!
After breakfast, we step out into the bright crisp morning to head out to experience the mighty Mont Blanc. Just about a kilometre from the hotel is the Skyway Monte Bianco Cable Car. It is exciting to look high up at the formidable mountains, but once we are whisked up in the car with glass walls that begins revolving once it goes up, allowing for a 360 degree view of the valleys and snow; it seems easy. In order to get acclimatised to the height, the cable car has one stop at Pavillon du Mont Fréty snowshoeing area at 2,173 m. before it proceeds to the 3466 m height (11, 371 feet). The rough, craggy mountains come into view within seconds at the first level. We get off and enjoy the views, check out the restaurant Ristorante Pavillon di Mont Frety.
It’s time for the second ride. The car moves smoothly and the snow is visible forming a smooth blanket in parts, a stark contrast to the rough grey mountains. As we get off the car, we are awestruck at the panoramic views – the mighty Mont Blanc swathed in snow. We move towards the viewing galleries, which are at two levels. Panoramic and awesome! An all-round vista of the 4,000 meter peaks of the Western Alps: Mont Blanc, Monte Rose, the Matterhorn, Gran Paradiso and Grand Combin.
Since it can get cold if it’s windy, one cannot remain at the top for a long time. On a clear day, like we had, it can also get hot as the sun is a bit harsh! We visited the Refugio Torino – a high mountain refuge area for serious climbers, mountaineers and skiers. To reach the Refugio one has to go down into a vertical tunnel through a lift that is undoubtedly an engineering marvel! Then walk through a short tunnel, carved into the hill to reach the Refugio. The Refugio is very pleasant, has a restaurant and staying arrangements overnight. From here as I look up at the peak, the viewing galleries seem perched at the tip of the mountain!
Wine at 2,200 metres!
Next, we move down and to the first level for lunch. One of the main attractions in Courmayeur is visiting the cellar of the Cave Mont Blanc wine. You can raise a toast at the highest altitude in Europe. The Skyway Monte Bianco cable car station hosts a storage place and a cellar for the production of the sparkling wines of Cave Mont Blanc de Morgex et La Salle, one of most renowned local labels. Wine is stored, like a treasure, at 2,200 meters of altitude, at the intermediate station of Pavillon du Mont Fréty. The winemaking cooperative produces a selection of record-breaking wines, made from the grapes grown in the highest vineyards of Europe, just a few kilometres away from Courmayeur.
Add more to your trip
Besides a visit to Mont Blanc, you can add to your itinerary a Helicopter ride over the Mont Blanc offered by GMH Helicopter services that can be used for heli-skiing too, a visit to the wineries and a day trip to Aosta to explore the Roman ruins that add a touch of glory to the city.