Nestled between Europe's highest mountains, Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa, veined with valleys and studded with castles, Valle d'Aosta is undeniably picturesque.
Along the river Dora on the French border are most of the feudal castles for which Valle d'Aosta is famed. The Aosta Valley also shares a border with Switzerland, and the valley is the least Italian of all regions.
Its landscape and architecture are Swiss, the official language French – although Italian is more widely spoken – and in some valleys the locals, whose ancestors emigrated from Switzerland, still speak a dialect based on German. The unofficial regional language is a Franco-Provençal patois called Valdoten.
Aosta, the regional capital, is the only town of any size and, with its attractive cobbled streets and good shopping, it makes an excellent stop on the way to mountain resorts. In the countryside, the tributary valleys are more scenic. The eastern valleys have ski resorts and narrow, winding roads.
The valleys in the west, inside Italy's largest national park, the Gran Paradiso, are the place for hiking. All of them can be busy during the summer, but development is restrained.
The winter climate is severe compared with other places in the Western Alps, probably due to mountains blocking mild winds from the Atlantic Ocean.