See the top sights in Aosta, an interesting city in a pretty setting below the mountains in Italy’s smallest region, Valle d’Aosta. Aosta was founded as a Roman military colony in 25 BC although there was a megalithic settlement long before then. Its strategic position made it a frequent target for invaders. Thus it became part of the Kingdom of Burgundy in the 10th century, then a duchy of the Kingdom of Savoy in 1032.
Aosta’s historic center is laid out in a grid pattern thanks to the Romans and it contains several well-preserved Roman structures. Since cars are restricted in the center, it’s an enjoyable place to stroll. If you’re arriving by car, park in one of the lots just outside the pedestrian zone. Aosta’s train station is near the pedestrian zone.
Start your visit at Caffe Nazionale, one of Italy’s historic cafes, in business since 1886. Long ago there was a church on this site, and there’s a chapel inside, built as a private sanctuary for the dukes of Aosta. The caffe is on the huge square in the center of town, Piazza Emile Chanoux. On the square are several cafes and shops and city hall. To get there from the train station on Piazza Manzetti, go through the public gardens and continue straight.
From the square it’s a short walk along Via Cesare Chabloz to the Roman Theater. Nearby, on Piazza Porta Pretoria, visit the Tourist office to pick up a city map or to get other information. From the tourist office walk along Via Sant’Anselmo to the Arco di Augusto, the Roman arch built in 35 BC, near the edge of the historic center. Continue a little farther to see the Roman Bridge.
Stroll back into town to the square, stopping at one of the restaurants along the way for lunch. From the square, head up Via Hotel des Etats to Via Monsignore de Sales toward the Cathedral. Originally built in the 4th century, the current Cathedral was built in the 11th century and has some good frescoes and floor mosaics. Be sure to visit the archaeological excavations under the floor.
Visit the Roman Forum, below ground level, with remains of the marketplace, a temple, and baths. Walk toward the western edge of the historic center to see the Roman walls and remains of the four original gates and 20 towers, some built in the middle ages. The Praetoria Gate is one of few monuments from Roman times that’s almost completely intact.
Watch for other bits of Roman ruins scattered throughout the center and enjoy the medieval buildings and fountains as you continue your walk. In the evening, Piazza Chanoux is a good place to enjoy a drink.
After you’ve seen the sights in Aosta, take an excursion into the mountains. The 20-minute cable way departs from near the train station and goes up the mountain to Pila. From the top there are fantastic views across the valley. In summer, Pila is the perfect place for walking, hiking, or mountain biking. In winter it’s a center for skiing and other winter sports. Pila also has several spas and good places to eat.
If you have more time to spend in Aosta, visit Sant’Orso Collegiate, once a monastery, to see frescoes, the wooden choir, the 11th century crypt and cloisters. Aosta also has a Cathedral Museum and an archaeological museum with Roman art and artifacts and ancient coins.
We stayed at the small 3-star Hotel Cecchin by the Roman bridge, just outside the historic center. The hotel’s cantina is actually part of the bridge.