The town of Aoste (Aosta), nestled in the Italian valley of the Mont-Blanc, is arguably the most beautiful in the Alps. The old centre is a superbly preserved picture of the Roman times in the Alps. Also, several Middle-Age rounded towers are scattered around the town. Over the millenniums, and partly still today, Aoste has been playing a landmark role for the historical roads crossing the Alps between France, the north of Europe and the Italian peninsula. It gathers a great blend of Alpine, Italian and French cultures. The surrounding breath-taking mountains, from above 3,000 metres, seemingly touch the blue sky. Mont-Blanc, hidden behind a few mountains, overlooks the entire valley majestically.
Not only Aoste but the entire region called Vallée d’Aoste (or Valle d’Aosta in Italian) is fascinating: You can find several well-preserved castles to visit, endless skiing in Pila, Courmayeur or hiking trails in Val Vény and the Great Paradise Park, and much more.
The Saint-Ours fair in Aoste is probably the oldest and the largest popular event in the Alps. Over the centuries, locals have developed great skills to use the locally available materials to handmake tools for housing, farming, dressing and decorating. In the Middle-Age these handmade products were typically sold or exchanged at annual fairs all across Europe, mostly in winter when farmers had less work to do. The Saint-Ours fair in Aoste is rooted in this tradition: It dates back to 1000 CE. Since then, locals and thousands of visitors have joined this annual fair.
The Saint-Ours fair in Aoste is held in the middle of the freezing winter, each 30th and 31st January. Craftsmen from the neighboring valleys proudly exhibit their creations on the stalls scattered along the narrow lanes of the old town. Wood and soapstone handmade sculptures are the flagship creations of the Saint-Ours fair. These pieces, mostly decorative today, depict the colourful and majestic Alps of Vallée d’Aoste and its inhabitants. The wood-carved shoes and flowers are the iconic souvenirs; these nice handmade products are on sale seemingly everywhere during the fair. You can purchase these lovely wood-carved souvenirs entirely handmade for only a few euros. More captivating, craftsmen inspired by the beautiful Alps portrait ancestral life in snapshots, nature and traditional designs. In addition to wood and soapstone, wrought iron, leather-working, “drap”, i.e. specially decorated wool-made sheets, lace and wicker add to a great variety of products and hand-making. Every year, an official committee grants special prizes to the best art pieces.
During the night of 30th January, the narrow lanes of the old town of Aoste host “La Veillà”, a popular open-air party with traditional songs and dances all night. As the night can be freezing, dropping various degrees below zero degrees, basements and cellars are often open to the public. People can warm up, drink mulled wine, keep singing and dancing all night together.
Cover photo © credits to Marie-Madeleine & Giuseppe
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