Located half-way around the Tour du Mont Blanc, hikers often stay in Courmayeur, or one of the surrounding villages, for two days. Normally this is built in to itineraries as a well-earned rest day.
The town itself is up-market and regarded as one of Italy’s premier ski resorts. In winter it is full of well-healed skiers who head up to the extensive piste system above the town. In summer, it is quieter and less frenetic and so is a great place to relax and rest your feet.
Courmayeur is situated under the massive and steep South Face of Mont Blanc and is a complete contrast to the gentler snow-covered slopes seen on the Chamonix side of the mountain. The rocky ridges and steep couloirs on the Courmayeur side have long been major challenges to the world’s top mountaineers. In addition, there are views of the Dent du Géant – another great Alpine peak over 4000m high – and the knife-edge ridge that forms the national boundary between Italy and France. Trekkers can access the high mountains via the newly-built Skyway cable car that takes you to 3466m at Pointe Helbronner. As you ride up the cable car it rotates slowly so that you get a complete panoramic view as you ascend. From the top you have incredible views of glaciers and much of the Alps – including the Matterhorn 50km away.
Courmayeur is made up of a single pedestrian high street which is lined with small shops, cafés, bars and restaurants. It is great place for a cake and some wonderful Italian coffee or to sit in the sunshine and have a long lunch. The town has a mix of old and new buildings, but many have the beautiful granite roof tiles that are characteristic of this region. There are quite a few top end hotels, lots of middle-range, but very few economy hotels or bed and breakfasts.
There are plenty of day-hikes from Courmayeur – either on the Tour du Mont Blanc – or slightly further south. In addition, a few of the ski lifts are open in summer so that hikers can gain altitude quickly. One favourite walk is to take the public bus to Arnuva, which is on the TMB, and then walk for an hour or so to the Walter Bonatti refuge: named after Italy’s most famous Alpinist, it is arguably the best refuge in the whole of the Alps and serves up some very good meals. You can then return to Courmayeur on the TMB trail or just take the bus back.
Near to Courmayeur is the spa at Pre St Diddier. For just under €40 you can spend the whole day at the spa and this includes all the pools, steam rooms, saunas and an all-day healthy buffet. There are also treatments available at extra cost. Much of it is outdoors and so you can sit in one of the pools in the sunshine and relax those aching muscles!
Easily reached in just one hour by public bus is the beautiful Ancient town of Aosta. It is a classic Italian town with cobbled streets, small shops and a wonderful piazza where you can watch the world go by from one of the many cafés. Its history can be traced for well over 2000 years and there are remnants of a Roman city: you can see parts of the Roman theatre, the prison and some of the ancient city walls are still standing. The walls have arches: the larger ones for chariots, the smaller ones for people. In summer there are open-air concerts at the Roman theatre and, throughout the year, there are festivals and trade shows where local artisans and farmers sell their produce. The restaurants are generally good and offer classic Italian dishes as well as local specialities focused around dairy, game and some great wines.