For those who love both Italian and French, I recommend a trip to the Aosta Valley of Italy. It is an autonomous region in the northwestern corner of Italy, bordering France and Switzerland. Both Italian and French are official languages, though the majority of the inhabitants speak Italian as a first language. Valdôtain, a dialect of Franco-Provençal, and a dialect of Walser German are also spoken in certain areas. In main tourist towns, such as Courmayeur and Aosta, French and English are widely spoken as well as some German.
I went to Courmayeur this past weekend because I had never been to Val d’Aosta even though it is quite close to where I live. Courmayeur is located on the Italian side of Mont Blanc, opposite Chamonix on the French side. The easiest way to get there from France is to drive through the tunnel under Mont Blanc. It’s about 11 km / 7 miles long and costs 45.90€ for the roundtrip toll. The only other options would be to take a SAVDA bus from Chambéry/Annecy, or a train to Chamonix, then switch to a bus there. It is also possible to take a train from Chambéry to Turin and head north towards Aosta, but it is much longer and the train actually stops in Pré-Saint-Didier so you will still need to take a bus to Courmayeur.
The weather is actually colder in this part of the Alps and there is plenty of snow in winter for skiing – yet there is plenty of sunshine and hiking opportunities in summer. Courmayeur is touristy like Chamonix, but it also felt smaller and even a bit cheaper (at least for meals.) The food was similar to what you find in the French Alps: fromage (cheese) and charcuterie (meats). Their fonduta/fondue is made with fontina cheese and accompanies polenta and gnocchi. Mocetta, dried beef, is also common, and tegole, cookies shaped in the form of Alpine roof tiles, are a typical dessert. The architecture is also similar with lots of beautiful wood chalets.
Besides skiing and hiking, the region is known for its thermal baths and spas. I hope to return for longer than a weekend next time so I can take advantage of them, such as the Terme di Pré Saint Didier. Even if you can’t make it to the Aosta Valley, you can still go on a virtual roadtrip and check out the beautiful scenery thanks to Google Street View.