Aosta is the principal city in Valle d’Aosta, Italy’s smallest region. It’s a beautiful, mountainous region dotted with tiny towns and castles. Aosta was originally a megalithic settlement and it became a Roman colony in 25 BC. The town retains its original Roman grid pattern and Roman remains are still visible. Aosta’s huge main square has several attractive buildings including the city hall and the historic Caffe Nazionale and the historic center has interesting medieval sights.
Plan Your Visit to Aosta
Aosta can be reached by train from Turin, taking about 2 hours and changing trains in Ivrea. From the train station it’s a short walk into the historic center. Buses to other towns are in front of the station. By car, Aosta is off the A5 autostrada that runs between Turin and the Mont Blanc tunnel, a beautiful route with views of the mountains. Traffic is restricted in the center but there are convenient parking lots.
We stayed at the small 3-star Hotel Cecchin by the Roman bridge, just outside the historic center. The hotel’s cantina is actually part of the bridge.
Top Things to See and Do
- Aosta’s Roman sites include a Roman Bridge, Arco d’Augusta (a Roman arch honoring Augustus), a first century Roman theater where concerts are held in summer, and Porta Pretoria, the town gate. The first century Tour Fromage, the Cheese Tower, is next to the theater. Other Roman and medieval towers and parts of the old city walls can be seen at the edges of the historic center. The Roman Forum, including a marketplace and baths, has been excavated and is open to the public (admission charge). Artifacts and ancient coins can be seen in the archaeological museum.
- Originally built in the fourth century, the current cathedral dates from the eleventh century but you can see remains of the older church and Roman ruins in the crypt. Inside the cathedral are frescoes and a mosaic floor.
- The medieval Monumental Complex of Sant’Orso, Collegiata di Sant’Orso, was originally a monastery. It includes the Church of San Lorenzo, founded in the fifth century, a Romanesque cloister and a chapel with frescoes.
- One the Italy’s top historic caffes, the Caffe Nazionale (closed Monday), in operation since 1886, is on the main square, Piazza Emile Chanoux. Long ago there was a church on this site, and there is actually a chapel inside the caffe, built as a private sanctuary for the dukes of Aosta.
- Along the main road leading from Porta Pretoria to the main square you’ll find a variety of shops, restaurants, and bars. Next to Porta Pretoria is the tourist office where you can pick up a map of the city and other useful information.
- The megalithic area of Saint-Martin de Corleans is out of town to the west.
- Fiera de Sant’Orso is a large crafts fair featuring music, plays, and dances held in Aosta on the last two days of January since the year 1000. From mid-December through January 6 there’s a good Christmas market in the town center.
Places to Go Near Aosta
Monte Bianco (Mont Blanc), the Matterhorn, Great Saint Bernard, and Gran Paradiso are the top places to ski near Aosta, but there are many other ski resorts nearby. The easiest to get to is Pila, reached by cable car from near Aosta’s train station. It’s also a nice place to go in summer for hiking and views.
Many castles are near Aosta. One of the best is Fenis, about 10 miles to the east along the autostrada.
- See more small towns to visit in Italy.
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