The Italian cousin of Chamonix, on the sunny side of the Monte Bianco, Courmayeur has long been a favorite of Milanese and Piemontese weekenders, but somehow stayed off the radar of the rest of Europe’s ski tourists, and very few ski bums or powder-hounds. While the secret has gotten out in the past few years, there are nowhere near the crowds of her French neighbor, and a relaxed dolce vita that pervades. The center of the village is authentic and cosmopolitan at the same time, far from the contrived atmosphere of many ski resorts, this is a real town. Streets are lined with Italian boutiques, Nonnas go about their shopping, and aperitivo hour is alive and well, regardless of “apres ski”. Along the Via Roma, the pedestrian-only street, you’re as likely to sit beside a farmer as a fashion model.
From the vintage cablecars up to Youla and Cresta d’Arp, you can access big backcountry off-piste runs down to the Val Veny or back to Courmayeur. On the mountain, several of the best low-key restaurants in the Alps offer hearty meals, an outrageous winelist, and inimitable warmth and hospitality.
But the brand-new Monte Bianco cablecar up to Punta Helbronner, delivers you to the top of the Vallée Blanche, where you can choose to ski the south-facing Toula Glacier back direction Courmayeur, or drop down towards France and enjoy a 17km run down the Alps’ most famous panoramic descent. And dozens of other variants range from death-defying to docile. But a mountain guide is imperative to navigate the glacial terrain. For nordic skiing the Val Ferret just might be the most spectacular venue in the world, the mellow terrain of the summertime golf course can still instill vertigo from the surrounding towering peaks.
Summertime is no compromise in Courmayeur, with exceptional hiking, climbing, and even cycling throughout the region. Many of the mountain huts and restaurants are open all summer and fall, offering a seasonal take on the rustic Aostan cuisine, perfect for a post-hike repast. Our favorite area is the Italian Val Ferret (sharing a border col with Switzerland), a majestic valley just below the Grande Jorasses Massif, a gorgeous stream running through, and the constant ringing of Fontina cows’ bells.