We wanted a family holiday. One where we didn't have to put the kids into crêche/daycare for us to ski and one where we could all get out and about together. (The mister has been spending considerable time away from home with work during the week, so we were all keen to do a lot of 'together'.)
I find the downhill ski scene rather hectic, honestly. Plus I have a dodgy knee so cross-county skiing sounded much better to me.
We stayed in Valnontey - a quiet little village (maybe a dozen buildings, all hotels/cafes) in the gorgeous Gran Paradiso National Park.
It is a fantastic location for cross-country skiing - plenty of amazing scenery and nicely groomed ski and walking tracks all around the area. It's also very popular for hiking/camping in the warmer weather.
This is the small, family-run hotel where we stayed (basically old farm buildings that have been converted):
The staff were lovely, especially with the kids. We also went for half board (breakfast and dinner) which made it super relaxing for me. A well priced three course meal every night? Yes please!
The cross country skiing was good fun - the kids would do a small loop with me in the mornings (while the mister and the littles followed on the walking track).
Then in the afternoons the grown-ups would take turns doing a longer trip (to burn off those three course meals). Just before dinner the kids would go out for tobogganing and general snowy shenanigans.
Speaking of snowy shenanigans, there were alot of ice climbers in our hotel.
Pray-tell, you ask, what is an ice climber? Someone who climbs frozen waterfalls.
Have you ever heard of anything so scary/dangerous/crazy? One German fellow told me you have to watch out for the white waterfalls - this means lots of air bubbles frozen in the water that shatter when you embed your ice pick in it. Insane.
Wee little ice climbers on the left there.
The Gran Paradiso Park was originally created as a protected zone for the almost-hunted-into-oblivion Alpine Ibex in the 1850s. This ibex population is now flourishing as are many other alpine species who live within the Park's 700 square kms.
The Alpine Ibex. Nice rack.
I looked everywhere for that darn ibex. I scoured the hills whenever we went out. I knew they were out there as we found tracks all over the place.
One French couple told us that one came right up to a walking track.
The closest I got was these mountain goats, who I couldn't even yodel at because they were so far away.
Can you see them?
I found this goat in the hotel dining room. He was kind enough to hold very still for my photo.
Nearly every Italian in this region speaks French (and many speak English too). I took a skiing refresher on our first day (with the kids) and we all had our lessons in French. Two non-native speakers makes for a nice conversation - both parties speak slowly and don't use any high-fallootin' vocab. I also felt like an international woman of mystery, speaking French with Italians.
So, if you're a fruit-loop ice climber or a family in search of some snowy goodness, I would heartily recommend the cute little village of Valnontey (or any of the other little towns in the Aosta Valley).
We had a relaxing stay with just the right amount of physical activity, food and ibex seeking.
The next travel post will give you a quick tour around the neighbouring village of Cogne.