The Alta Via 1 in the Aosta Valley – hiking from Paquier to Courmayeur

On the Alta Via 1 in the Aosta Valley near Alpe Devi

The Alta Via 1 in the Aosta Valley is a 6 to 10-day high-altitude long-distance hike on the sunny southern slopes of the Alps. It is also called the Via dei Giganti (path of the Giants). That is because it leads across the foothills of the highest peaks in Europe, like the Matterhorn, Monte Rosa and Mont Blanc (similar to the Haute Route on the Northern side). We spent a wonderful week hiking the part from Paquier to Courmayeur. The Alta Via 1 in the Aosta Valley requires a certain level of fitness as the ascents quite often exceed 1000 m of altitude.

Read our day-by-day account of hiking the Alta Via 1 in the Aosta Valley!

But even when you are not hiker, the Aosta Valley is a wonderful part of Italy for nature and food lovers.

Alta Via Day 1 – Paquier in the Valtournenche to Rifugio Barmasse

5 km, 730 m up, 200 m down

Travel blogger Natascha at the Rifugio Barmasse, our first stop on the Alta Via 1

The train from Turin drops us in the steepest part of the Aosta Valley, from where we transfer to a local bus. In serpentines, the bus heads up the Valtournenche until we reach the small village of Paquier. Paquier is just south of Mt Cervino, the Italian side of the Matterhorn, which we have visited only last year from its Northern side in Zermatt.

Sweating heavily, we trudge up the side of the valley, pass an old power station and hike into a side valley. On the first day of our Alta Via Hiking, we have to gain some height. Near the reservoir feeding the power stations, we meet more day hikers, returning from the mountain. Only a few people are still walking up with us. Among them an Italian family of four. The father is sweating under an enormous backpack. “Oh, it’s for the faaamily!” He sighs when we sympathize with him. It turns out he is carrying all kinds of supplies, including a hair dryer, certainly not for his own sparse hair.

Alta Via Day 2 – Rifugio Barmasse to Rifugio Cuney

17 km, 1450 m up, 960 m down

Near Grand Drayere on the Alta Via 1 (Aosta Valley)

Most hikers have arrived at the mountain hut by around 4 pm, but then it takes a while until everyone got his/her turn at the one shower. “It’s cold!”, a middle-aged man warns. And indeed, the water isn’t ice cold but quite cold. Definitely, it pays to arrive early to get a shower slot in the afternoon heat and while still warm from hiking.

View from Rifugio Cuney

By 7 pm, the two tables in the Refugio Cuney start filling with Alta Via hikers in joyful anticipation of dinner. The hut is very small and so is the kitchen: We are hungrily waiting for one hour until a vegetable soup is served around 8 pm. Unfortunately, the pasta, which look more filling, are made with bacon and are not vegetarian. “Don’t you know Pasta Pipipi?”, we hear the couple next to us debate the recipe. “Panna, Prosciuto, Piselli – Pasta P.P.P.!” But instead of cream, bacon, and peas, today’s pasta only contain cream and bacon, so it’s more like Pasta Pipi, we learn.

With the polenta serving as Secondo, the vegetarians get only two slices of cheese (meat for the others). In the more remote mountain huts in the Aosta Valley, the menu is far less luxurious than what we are used to in the Austrian or Swiss Alps. And certainly less elaborate than we have experienced on several cultural and gourmet trips elsewhere in Italy this year.

The reason for this is that the Italian mountain refuges don’t get regular deliveries of fresh food by helicopter, as it is practice in other parts of the Alps. In return, hiking in the Italian Alps is much more quiet and tranquil. So we do not complain.

Alta Via Day 3 – Rifugio Cuney to Lac Lexert

17 km, 670 m up, 1760 m down

On the Col de Vessonaz in the Aosta Valley

On the hike up to the Col de Vessonaz (2783 m) we meet a few hikers packing up their tents on a high meadow, and two fellow Alta Via hikers whom we already met at the hut. Otherwise there is nobody around in the mountains. Walking up to Col de Vessonaz is exhausting enough, but then we have to walk down for hours. Over the course of 1700 m in altitude we pass fields of gravel, then alpine meadows and blueberries. When we see the first raspberries, we rejoice because they grow at a much lower altitude. And by the time we have reached the river gorge down in the valley our knees are pining for a rest at the campsite next to a scenic lake.

Alta Via Day 4 – Lac Lexert to Ollomont

12 km, 640 m up, 790 m down

hiking towards Ollomont on the Alta Via

The next day we have to take a lower-altitude detour because a recent landslide has made the high-altitude pass inaccessible. Unfortunately the signage on this route is very poor and the trails are overgrown and quite steep. So in spite of the lower altitude it takes us almost as long as the original route to reach the village of Ollomont.

Zuppa Valpellinese, a speciality of the Valle d'Aosta, atOllomont Camping Paina

„But you will eat here, won’t you?“ The Alpine Club members look at us expectantly. Normally we would cook our own meal, but today, the chef is preparing a regional speciality for dinner. At 7.30 pm we are sharing a long table with cheerful Italian Alpinists from Monza and tugging into Zuppa Valpellinese. That’s a kind of bread-and-cabbage stew with lots of local cheese thrown in: Yummy, rich, and just right after a day of hiking. Only during dinner do we learn that the campsite we had „checked into“ is not a public campsite at all. It is a kind of summer retreat for the small Alpine Club section of Paina near Monza. But the people running the site are generously welcoming us.

Alta Via Day 5 – Ollomont to Étroubles

19 km, 1490 m up, 1570 m down

hiking the Alta Via 1 near Champillon in the Aosta Valley

Knowing that today will be the hardest hiking day on the Alta Via 1 in the Aosta Valley, we have an early start.

After three hours of uphill hiking we reward ourselves with a slice of fantastic cake at the Rifugio Champillon. Soon after, we cross the Col de Champillon at 2709 m, with great views over Montblanc and the Gran Paradiso mountains. Now, however, a long descent awaits us. Hours later, Natascha’s feet are hurting from going down but we are still hopeful to reach the campsite early. And then we take a wrong path and end up in a thicket on the hillside. Two hours later we finally check into the campsite completely exhausted.

traditional carnival persona at the La Veilla festival in Etroubles

Later in the evening we head to the village for some food. In the queue for the local cheese platter, a resolute “old woman” appears next to Isa, demanding attention and some water. It is a carnival persona taking part in La Veillà, a festival of traditional life in Étroubles. By chance, we are staying in Étroubles just on the day of La Veillà. So of course, in spite of our demanding hiking day, we explore the village and enjoy the festival.

Alta Via Day 6 – Étroubles – Rifugio Frassati

16 km, 1430 m up, 120 m down

deserted Alpage on the Alta Via 1 in the Aosta Valley

The next day our path drags for a while through admittedly picturesque villages. The main road winds up towards the Saint-Bernhard Pass and the Swiss Canton of Valais, which we know well from previous visits. Eventually we leave the road and the villages and hike on into a lonely side valley. Suddenly, we are alone again in a luxurious green landscape of Alpine meadows and deserted shepherds’ huts. A few trail runners pass us when we are nearing the Rifugio Frassati, our next overnight stay. It is run by the Operazione Mato Grosso, a catholic volunteer organization mainly operating in South America. It is the first Italian mountain hut on this trail where we like the food, with soup and polenta and cheese platter.

Alta Via Day 7 – Rifugio Frassati to Planpincieux near Courmayeur

14,5 km, 550 m up, 1440 m down

travel blogger Natascha hiking up the Col de Malatra in the Aosta Valley

After a very tasty breakfast we walk a few more bends on green meadows. Finally, the steep rocks of the Col de Malatrà loom above us. Over gravel and rocks we reach the highest point of the Alta Via 1 at 2925 m. Montblanc is glittering above the horizon behind some other rocky mountains, a truly white mountain. Walking down towards Rifugio Bonatti we suddenly meet dozens of day hikers coming up from the valley.

The Rifugio Bonatti is not only a well-equipped mountain hut near Courmayeur, but also an important stop on the famous Tour de Montblanc, another long-distance hike in the area. Thus, on our final kilometres on the Alta Via 1 in the Aosta Valley we trod along with throngs of international tourists. In contrast to the Alta Via 1, the Tour de Montblanc hikers are mostly English-speaking. Many have booked luggage transfers and walk with day packs only, but others are lugging around huge backpacks which they have perhaps rented along with all their equipment. Our 15 kg backpacks were heavy enough for us, even though by now we have gotten used to the weight.

Col de Malatra with Montblanc and Grandes Jorasses

After seven days of hiking the Alta Via 1, we reach Camping Grand Jorasses near touristy Courmayeur. We have hiked 100 km and nearly 7000 m up and down. Time for a drink and a pizza. And then it’s time to do the laundry and wax the hiking boots.

On our way back to Germany from the Aosta Valley we made a stop in Bellinzona to visit three UNESCO-listed castles. And we did a small detour for a few days of wonderful hiking in the small country of Liechtenstein.

How to hike the Alta Via 1 in the Aosta Valley

The Aosta Valley Tourism site gives an overview on the Alta Via 1 in the Aosta Valley. We used the German Rother Wanderführer Aosta Valley (guidebook) that divided the tour in just four stages. All of them were far too strenuous for us, so we broke them down further. We carried a tent and camped on camp sites in the valleys when possible. Otherwise we stayed in the mountain huts, where we also ordered breakfast and dinner (around 50 Euro for half-board). Above 2500 m it is also possible to camp near the hut and order only the food there. You should be in a reasonably good shape to attempt the hike.

A rest on the Alta Via 1 at Col Champillon

Would you like to hike the Alta Via 1 in the Aosta Valley or have you done it? How was your hiking experience? Let us know in the comments.

NB: We were not sponsored in any way for hiking the Alta Via 1 in the Aosta Valley. We paid and organised everything ourselves.

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28 Comments

  1. Hallo Ihr 2,

    was für ein Wahnsinnserlebnis. Und was für schöne Bilder! Fraglich, ob wir das schaffen würden. Wie lange im Voraus muss man denn eigentlich die Hütten buchen?
    Herzliche Grüße, Gabi und Michael

    1. Ja, es war wirklich sehr, sehr schön! Mit den Hütten ist das so eine Sache. Unter der Woche ließen sich manche relativ kurzfristig buchen (2-6 Tage im voraus). Vor allem die kleineren, abseits gelegenen. Die großen, bekannten Hütten dagegen sind oft über Monate ausgebucht. Daher war es gut, das Zelt dabeizuhaben.

        1. No, it was in August – high season! The hike leads you quite high up through the mountains. That is why even in summer there are a lot of flowers. There might be still snow in spring.

  2. This is such an incredible experience! I am not physically up to the task of hiking the Alta Via 1 in the Aosta Valley, so I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your stops, food, and lodging along the way. While all of the dishes looked good to me, I imagine you had to eat whatever was available to keep your stamina up! (Pity they didn’t have good vegetarian options at the start.) The picturesque villages, wildflowers along the way, and the stunning photos of the alps look worth the effort. I’ve seen them from the train in Northern Italy, but this was so much more personal. What a great hike!

    1. Dear Jackie, yes it was very strenuous sometimes. But we carried camping equipment because we wanted to save money and some of the huts were already fully booked. If you manage to stay in huts and hotels the whole time you would have less luggage than we did.

  3. What an incredible hike! I would love to do it but I don’t think I have enough stamina in my body for such a challenging trail, for 7 days. The views are well worth it though! It’s interesting to know that the refuges are getting their food delivery by helicopter – and that they are not regular. So bringing food with you it’s a smart idea. How amazing that you stumbled upon a festival too!

    1. Dear Joanna, the huts in Italy do NOT get the food by helicopter. Although this is common in many parts of the European Alps. But this means it is much more quiet there.

  4. Wow, I’ve never heard of this stunning landscape and hiking areas, it really is striking and dramatic and those wildflower groves really makes it even more special. I would love to experience this area and hiking the trails here at Alta Via one day soon

  5. I was not familiar with this area and the fact that its foothills are of the highest peaks in Europe. I can see the draw to hiking these trails that offer beautiful vista views. To come across the wildflowers would certainly be such inspiring motivation to keep you going throughout your 7-day journey.

  6. This is on my bucket list. I’ve watched several Rick Steves specials about hiking in the alps. It seems like the trip of a lifetime.

    1. Dear Donna, I think Rick Steves did one about the Mont Blanc trail which is actually very, very touristy. The Via Alta is not so well known, even in Europe and among hikers.

  7. The views are absolutely beautiful. I would like to hike it, but I don’t think I am fit for it. I have to train myself for sure. It’s interesting to learn that the helicopter dropped the food for the remote huts. I thought they sourced the food from the area.

    1. Dear Umiko, it is quite common in the Alps that the helicopter provides food for the huts. Many of the huts are above the tree line as you see in the pictures – so there is no possibility to grow vegetables and such.

      1. Coming from a tropical country and now living in a flat Texas, this is something new to me. I thought they would bring the food from the village at the bottom of the mountain by foot, carriage, or horse/donkey.

  8. That long of a hike every day for a week is beyond my comprehension. On the hiking trip, you had some beautiful landscapes, which is something I appreciate! You accomplished such a feat with your seven-day climb. Seriously, you are fantastic!

  9. Your Alta Via hiking experience looks fantastic and hats off to your stamina on how you pulled off that long trail and I must admit that each an every stop was incredibly beautiful to watch with jaw dropping views.And it was great that you had some unusual food experience and was dropped by helicopters and also came across new people along the way.

    1. Dear Puloma, the food in the Italian Alps is NOT dropped by helicopter. That is part of the charme of the area. Unlike other parts of the Alps where you constantly hear the helicopters.

  10. Interesting 7 days of hiking. I learned from your experience how important it is to bring your own food for a long day hike. It is a bummer that they do not have vegetarian food, and good that you came prepared.

  11. Hiking from Paquier to Courmayeur seems to be a perfect adventure. The mountain views of the Alps are stunning. It’s an impressive trip, as it takes 6 to 10 days to accomplish the hike. I love those food experiences in the villages on the way.

  12. This adventure sounds amazing and I’m impressed with your stamina. I guess you do have to put in some extra effort if you want to enjoy the best adventures. I think it’s wonderful that everyone is so supportive of the mountain hikers — it must be nice to know there is someone who can help if you need it. Guthrie photos, by the way!

  13. Thank you for sharing your travel notes! It looks like you had an epic adventure. I’m busy planning my own Alta Via 1 trip for this summer. I’m wondering if you could share who you used for luggage transfer?
    Best,
    Mary

    1. Dear Mary Motley, we did not use any luggage transfer and carried all our luggage (as you can see in the pictures). I am not sure if there are any companies offering luggage transfer on this route, but there are huts all along the way. So if you back lightly you should be fine.

  14. This blogpost is very usefull! There is little information on this trail. I see that you commented that for the mountain huts you will likely need a reservation in high season, but that you carried a tent. How was the availability of campings along the trail?

    1. Dear Kimberly, you can usually camp next to the huts in Italy. And you can order dinner and breakfast there. In some places it is also possible to stay at a regular campsite down in the valley.

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