Courmayeur is at the front of the Aosta valley, ten minutes away from the southern end of the Mont Blanc tunnel. As compared to Chamonix, at the other end, it is sunny and cheerful, a recommended destination for tourists who swarm up from Turin and Milan in the weekend. The medieval town is a labyrinth of tight alleys and flights of steps, all of which lead into the pedestrianised Via Roma. Looking up would have you confronted with Mont Blanc's tangled icefalls; look around you and you will see men and women in matching furs walking along cobbled streets. Fora winter sport with sophistication and a sense of history, this is the place.
Courmayeur's main ski area suffers a problem in the form of the river that separates it from the town. The mid-station at Plan Checrouit is accessed with the enormous Courmayeur cable-car, but most people take it back down once again at the end of the day rather than tackling the piste to the neighboring village of Dolonne, which often leads to a half-hour wait for the bus back to town.
The slopes that disperse above Plan Checrouit are fairly narrow and jammed during peak times. Improving intermediates would be satisfied by a network of predominantly red cruisers, but beginners will find out the going tough when they graduate from the only nursery slope in the area.
Another hardcore option is the three-stagecable-car from La Palud, on top of the village of Entreves, up to Punta Helbronner at 3,470m, which gives access to the famous Vallee Blanche run on the Chamonix side or the magnificently challenging serac run down the Toula glacier, which starts out with a rope swing down an ice drop-off. And that's only the start.
Courmayeur is proud of its mountain restaurants, which rank one of the best in the Alps. Best of all is Maison Vieille. Being in a basic mountain hut, they dish out home-made pasta, lamb shank and game to a clientele that comes back daily - and year after year. Selections include Zerotta, where the suntrap terrace faces Mont Blanc, and La Grolla, recommended for its mushroom risotto.
Read about the Snowboarding School in Courmayeur, Italy
© 2012 Athena Goodlight
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