Cross the Mont Blanc tunnel and visit the Aosta Valley resort of La Thuile. With world-class mountain biking, raging white-water rivers and majestic alpine hikes, it’s just as thrill-packed as neighbouring Chamonix, but with far fewer crowds (and better food)
The Aosta Valley is Italy’s smallest region, but it’s a spectacular, mountainous centre for action sports, winter and summer.
At its western edge lies the resort village of La Thuile, a short drive from Chamonix through the Mont Blanc tunnel (Monte Bianco, as it’s called in Italian), and up the valley from the posh ski resort of Courmayeur.
The La Thuile ski area is well-established and connects with La Rosiere over in France. But in summer, this end of the Aosta Valley region has even more to offer the outdoor enthusiast – from gentle to extreme, it’s all here.
Yes, Chamonix has the profile, but one of the best kept secrets in the bars of Cham is that many mountain guides and adrenalin junkies slip through to this side of the border to find less busy, but just as challenging climbs, hikes, rides and white water, in the west of Aosta Valley.
Combine that with reasonable prices and excellent food, and we can only say: you heard it here first.
What to do
RAFTING: Below La Thuile, in the valley floor at Morgex, there’s a white-water rafting operation that’s been throwing adventurous visitors down the icy Dora-Baltea River in rubber rafts since 1978. Fed by the glaciers of Monte Bianco and above La Thuile, the river runs fast and bouncy in early summer.
Morgex’s team of guides give you all the safety gear, wetsuits and training you need to safely make the thrilling ride over a couple of miles downstream – leaping in to the calm waters at the end is optional but if you aren’t soaked by then anyway, you haven’t been doing it right.
MOUNTAIN BIKING: Like many ski resorts, La Thuile has spruced up its summer time mountain biking options. From the base station at La Thuile (1,441m) you can take the Bosco and Chalet Express chairlifts, bikes hooked on, to just below the Chaz Dura peak at 2,579m.
That 1,000m of vertical gives you access to 16 cross-country bike trails between Italy and France,
and 15 downhill and freeriding routes. They range from black ‘molto difficile’ routes – one menacingly called K2 – to more benign blue trails on fire access roads.
If the weather’s too miserable for taking on La Thuile’s 220km of MTB trails, use the bike park alongside the base station to hone your handling and jumping skills.
HIKING: Being so close to Monte Bianco, it’s no surprise that La Thuile is surrounded by peaks of 3,000m or more, with hiking trails in abundance. To the south east lies the famous Rutor Glacier and a three hour hike from La Joux (1,594m) at the head of the La Thuile valley takes you up to the delightful Rifugio Deffeyes (2,494m).
Staffed by cheery mountain types who serve solid hiker fare of local cheeses and pasta – to say nothing of a homemade herby spirit brew called genepi, made from the high alpine flower Artemisia. It’s an acquired taste. Maps and hiking information at the tourist office.
CLIMBING: Climbs up and around La Thuile attract guides and clients from the Chamonix side of Mont Blanc. It’s less crowded and weather conditions can mean it’s often ideal for rock climbing.
So try your hand at some safe but relaxed climbing, Italian style. From beginner to elite alpine rock climbers, companies such as La Thuile’s Rutour Alpine Guide Company will provide proper guides and equipment.
From learning the basics on the indoor rock wall at Konver Gym in La Thuile, you can soon progress to single top-rope and multi-pitch climbs above the Lac del Rutour, behind the Rifugio Deffeyes, 1,000 metres above the village.
For climbing info and guide hire, email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Aosta Valley is the closest part of Italy to the UK, just a 10-hour slog from Calais by car. However, Geneva airport is the most convenient way to get to the La Thuile end of the Aosta Valley, with flights from London or Manchester – then catch a bus or taxi through the Mont Blanc tunnel.
Luxury: The elegant Hotel Miramonti in the centre of la Thuile, is almost an island, with two raging rivers converging outside its door. It has great food and a luxury spa to ease your tired muscles. €120 per night half board.
Eco: 8km down the valley from La Thuile, but offering great value in unspoilt surroundings, is the Valdigne hostel with room for 2-8, with ensuite bathrooms. €30-40 per night half board.
Camping: 600m outside La Thuile is the Rutor campground, set amidst a pine forest with fine level pitches. €11 per night for a large tent.