Despite the peaceful appearance it has today, with its charming villages, quiet hamlets and silent forests, the Aosta Valley has not always been this way.
Its strategic position on the Alps has made it a land of passage for pilgrims and merchants, but also a land of conflicting powers and decisive battles.
For these reasons, the Aosta Valley landscape is dotted with fortresses, strongholds and castles that dominate the key passages of the valley. Sometimes built to serve as royal residence, sometimes to control the territory, the castles had very different characteristics. Compact and efficient if built to resist attacks, or elegant and finely decorated if used as stately homes, they were always a symbol of power, strength and good governance.
The castles of the Aosta Valley, built mainly by the will of the Savoy family or by whose of their trusted vassals, the Challands, were strategically positioned along the valley in order to communicate with each other with fires, mirrors or pigeons. Each castle was visible from the nearest one, so that important news took no more than two hours to reach the heart of the Aosta Valley from Piedmont.
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Some castles of the Aosta Valley are now little more than ruins, but many are in excellent conditions and still dot the valley with all their magnificence. Here are the ones we recommend:
THE CASTLE OF SARRE AND THE SAVOY CASTLE
The Castle of Sarre built in 1710, was the favorite of King Umberto I of Savoy, where he loved to spend his hunting holidays. As a tribute to his passion, the rooms of this castle are full of ibex and chamois trophies. On the other side, the Savoy Castle was built in Gressoney by the will of his wife Margherita. She did not particularly like the Sarre Castle and preferred to have a more elegant and refined residence, full of contemplative spaces and large windows, from which she could admire the massive chain of the Monte Rosa.
THE BARD FORTRESS AND THE CASTLE OF VERRÈS
Two fortresses erected for defensive purposes: the Bard fortress, immense and imposing, won only by Napoleon, and the Castle of Verrès, small and sturdy, never conquered. Two great examples of medieval architecture, efficient but also of great scenic impact. The Bard Fortress is now home to the Mountain Museum.
THE CASTLE OF FENIS AND THE CASTLE OF ISSOGNE
Two castles of the Challand family: beautifully decorated and finely furnished, built for residential and administrative purposes. Although the castle of Issogne is less scenic seen from the outside, in its interior it houses original pieces of furniture and colorful frescos very well preserved.
Please be aware that many castles can be visited only with guided tours at fixed times (in principle every half an hour). The guided tours provided by the castle are in Italian only. You will be given a leaflet in English (or in other foreign languages), but if you are in groups you may want to consider hiring a private English-speaking guide.
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