While its Dolomite cousins tend to the Tyrolean, Aosta's nuances are French. The result is a hybrid culture known as Valdostan, a long-ago mingling of the French Provençal and northern Italian that is notable in the local architecture, the dining table and in the survival of an esoteric local language, Franco-Provençal or Valdôtain.
Comprising one large glacial valley running east–west, bisected by several smaller valleys, the semi-autonomous Valle d'Aosta is overlooked by some of Europe's highest peaks, including Mont Blanc (4810m), the Matterhorn (Monte Cervino; 4478m), Monte Rosa (4633m) and Gran Paradiso (4061m). Not surprisingly, the region offers some of the best snow facilities on the continent: descend hair-raisingly into France and Switzerland over glaciers or via cable cars.
The hiking is just as extraordinary, with access to the 165km Tour du Mont Blanc, Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso, and Aosta's two blue-riband, high-altitude trails: the Alte Vie 1 and 2.