Thanks to our jobs, this year me and my husband spent the summer in Valle d’Aosta, a small but wonderful region in the north of Italy.
The months passed by, but we never had time to get on the top of the Monte Bianco as there always were a lot of alternatives: a walk in the woods in the National Park of the Gran Paradiso, some breathtaking views on magnificent lakes and countless other outdoors activities like rafting, horseback riding and, obviously, hiking!
We are about to come home, in Lombardy, still in the north of Italy but without all the mountains, the amazing views and the constant feeling to be on a never-ending holiday, so we decided to use one of our last days here to explore the top of the Monte Bianco and the surrounding places.
What to do?
In the Monte Bianco area there’s A LOT to do!
Here you can discover many of the most beautiful villages of the region (Morgex, Pre St. Didier, La Thuile, Courmayeur…), and also many of the most rewarding hiking trails (Lac du Miage, Lac d’Arpy, Rutor’s Waterfalls) or ski slopes.
This area also houses some of the most exciting rafting itinerary in Italy, a great Adventure Park, a 3466m Cable Car that takes you on top of the highest European mountain and a Thermal Complex with amazing views on the surrounding landscapes.
The SkyWay Monte Bianco
First opened to the public in the 1948, it went under a major renewal between 2012 and 2015, when all the actual complex on the Monte Bianco became operative.
The first level, the Pavillon du Mont Fréty, is at the “little” height of 2173m, with an alpine botanical garden, a kid playground, a restaurant and a bar plus two panoramic terraces with of course amazing views.
There’s a reason if the second level, Punta Helbronner, is called “the Eight Wonder in the World”: you can admire a 360° panorama on the glacier and the peaks of the Monte Bianco at the extraordinary height of 3466m, learn something about mineralogy in the Crystal Room, be astounded by the magnificence of the landscape in the Mont Blanc Room, relax yourself in the Café with glass walls or take the tunnel to reach the underlying Rifugio Torino for a rewarding meal.
From the Rifugio Torino start the paths on the glacier, for which are required adequate equipment and skills: when you are there the glacier seems a soft sheet of snow, but after the first steps it reveals his truly, icy and slippery nature (and from the Rifugio you can also see the not so distant end of the glacier with its endless jump in void).
The ascent takes nearly 15 minutes (for both steps) and the cabins have room for 75-80 people: try to get yourself a spot near the window (no matter which side, the cabins are revolving!) for some great views and pictures, and if the crowd is too much, you can always wait for the next departure in about 15 minutes.
Remember that on the top the temperature is really cold and the sun is burning, so be prepared!
We spent there the warmest hours of the day, between 11:00 and 15:00.
First we explored Punta Helbronner with all the panoramic terraces and rooms, then we enjoy a delicious meal at the Rifugio Torino.
TIP! in this way we avoid the crowd first on the terraces and then at the Rifugio, since at lunch time most of the people headed direct to the café and the Rifugio and only then to the panoramic spots.
The Rifugio kitchen is truly recommended, we had the Polenta Valdostana with Carbonada, a typical chopped meat with gravy, the Valpellinentze, a dense soup with bread, cabbage and cheese, and a big slice of blueberry pie, really mouthwatering.
After that, we went down to the Pavillon du Mont Fréty where we sunbathed a bit on the belvedere and we took a lot of picture of the colorful autumn landscapes of the Alps (for more images, take a look also at my Instagram feed and my Facebook page!).
It’s better a clear sky or a not-so-cloudy one?
I don’t have a straight answer to this question, because talking with people here that have enjoyed both views, a clear sky is perfect to spot every peak near or far (Mount Rosa and Mount Cervino included!) and to admire the vastness of the panorama, but a sky with few clouds (below you, of course!) allows greats views on the peaks submerged by the clouds and their changing shapes. I think it’s all about your tastes!
Personally, I am happy with my choice of a limpid day for the temperature and the endless views, keeping the cloudy day for a second visit.
The Thermal Baths of Pre Saint Didier
Open since the late 1800, also the Thermal Baths went under a recent renewal and reopened in the 2005, with the actual two main buildings and the great garden with the pools, for over 40 SPA activities and a wide choice of high level massages or beauty treatments.
Everything here is shaped for your comfort, wellness and relax, and once inside the feeling is to have left the real world and to be entered a new dimension.
The buildings contain some saunas, pools, the steam bath, the Kneipp circuit, the relaxation rooms with different themes and comfort (amazing the waterbeds in the Air Relaxation Room!) and the treatments rooms, plus the restaurant and the buffet; the garden houses the main hot pool, the whirlpools, the panoramic saunas (try the Roses’ Sauna!) and my favorite, the pool with music and chromatic therapy.
The facility has all the comfort you need: in the price is included a towel, a bathrobe and a pair of flip-flops, near the pools there are warm coat hangers, the buffet is supreme with all kind of local healthy products (the apple yogurt was outstanding), the staff is super helpful, there’s a lot of treatments available for every need (and wallet!) and the changing rooms are provided with all sort of bath products from the milk and mint shampoo in the showers to the body lotion or air conditioner near the hair driers.
We spent there 5 hours starting at 16:00, and we chose the end of the day both to enjoy the cold of the evening compared to the warmth of the pools and the saunas and to avoid the crowd that a public holiday can bring.
I understand that if you have a long trip back home this solution is not that viable, but if you are planning to spend in this area at least two days, program the entrance at the SPA late in the afternoon, best in a week day: probably you’ll be able to enjoy many of the treatments all by yourself.
A last tip for a budget trip
Well, unfortunately both the SkyWay (48€ A/R) and the Thermal Baths (from 42€ to 52€) are not cheap.
But if you, like us, want to draw a line on these experiences from your bucket-list, you can buy the combined ticket for both the attraction for “only” 78€, saving from 12€ in a week-day evening to 22€ in a weekend day.