“Why don’t we just spend a night in Valle d’Aosta?” It has medieval castles, villages, roman ruins, fontina, jambon de Bosses and melt-in-your-mouth lardo. It also has the purest tasting tap water (direct from underground springs) that I’ve ever quenched my thirst with.
Weatherwise it has been a washout in the chestnut forest, so in a quest for sun, we took off on a last-minute getaway to the smallest of the italian regions. Valle d’Aosta is just under 2½ hours drive from ours so after securing last-minute b&b reservations, we piled into the car, doggies included, and headed west.
The most obvious point of interest is Fort Bard (first photo) and the village that sits below it. Bard village, along with Etroubles, are the only 2 listed among Borghi più belli d’Italia in Valle d’Aosta. Informational placards along Bard’s main street describe the historical buildings that still stand today.
On Fat Tuesday he goes up in flames
The bridge at Pont-Saint-Martin – you can hardly miss this diabolic effigy dangling above the river Lys. Honestly, at first I thought it was supposed to be a rabbit. The b&b owner told us that il diavolo was part of the upcoming Carnevale activities in March, and that of course it all began with a legend.
Il Ponte del Diavolo, the Devil’s Bridge, came about when the townsfolk wanted to replace the old one that used to connect both sides of the village. The problem was not having enough money to do it. Along comes Martin the pilgrim and he decides to help out by cutting a deal with the devil. The catch – no surprise here – was that the first soul to cross the new bridge would belong to the devil. He built it lickety-split. Clever Martin threw some bread onto the finished bridge and a dog ran to get it. Totally pissed the devil off (could he not see that one coming?) and that is how Martin became a saint. On January 6th (Epiphany), the devil is strung up and awaits his doom on Fat Tuesday when he is set aflame. For more information: www.carnevalepsm.it (also in english, german, french and spanish)
Valle d’Aosta cuisine
Lardo (pork fatback), fonduta (melted fontina) and zuppa valpellinentze (a soup with fontina, butter, cabbage and bread), became reasons to hit the treadmill when we got back. Polenta, carbonade (beef cooked in red wine), camoscio (chamois), crespelle (crepes) with fontina and prosciutto, and thick-crusted dark breads also filled our stomachs. Best meal at Al Maniero in Issogne. Check the setup for the fonduta valdostana – a bain marie arrives with bubbling hot melted cheese and you ladle the gooey mass into a bowl and garnish it with croutons. I had to try the zuppa valpellinentze (to the right and below), which, for all its simplicity, was just the thing to scoop into. It was so thick you could stand a fork in it.
Masoun dou Caro sits at 850 mt/2800 feet above sea level, perched on the rugged face of a mountainside. Built of solid wood and stone, the b&b blends offers a view of Val Gressoney. Alfredo Vuillermoz gave us a warm welcome and a tour of the premises before handing over the keys…to the house. The 3-bedroom dwelling is for guests only (the owners live in another village and return to serve breakfast in the a.m.), and since we were the only ones there, had the place all to ourselves! A beautiful stone stufa (wood-burning stove) was ready to be lit but the icing on the cake was the invitation to try any of the several bottles of homemade grappa in the kitchen. This place is ideal for disconnecting from the outside world (no tv). Website: Masoun dou Caro
Goofing around at Fort Bard
I’m behind a massive wooden door and looking through a spioncino (spee-ohn-chee-noh), a peephole by nature of its purpose but is also known as something else. What is it?