Aosta, a stunning Roman gateway city, is the capital of the Aosta Valley region. With a population of 35,000, a rich history and modern outlook with a mix of traditional values and a young population, it's no luck that it's found itself a mecca for outdoor sports. Some of the finest mountain bike trails and high alpine adventure in the world can be found here.
Located in the centre of the Valley, the town was founded by the Romans in 25 BC at a geographical point where the valley floor reaches its maximum width, and where the geography of the mountains heading to France and Switzerland converge. The presence of the Piccolo and Gran San Bernardo pass makes Aosta an important strategic junction from a transport point of view, with a bonus for us mountain bikers, giving amazing access by uplift vehicles to the epic terrain that is hidden away in these mountains.
The Aosta Valley begins on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc mountain range. Though it's only a short drive from the French Alps, the riding feels completely different. Is it the espresso? The gelato? The Italian hospitality? Or is it the vast, expansive peaks, long high alpine descents, ridge lines and hidden valleys that make it a treasure trove for mountain biking. Everything can be found here, exposure, virgin pine needle laden gullies, natural bike parks, exposed epic singletrack or forest loamers and everything in between.
It's all accessed from a network of shuttles, chairlifts, gondolas and sometimes good old fashioned pedal power and hike a bike. It's a truly memorable experience. All of this delivered around the bustling city of Aosta, steeped in a proud history and local culture that makes this one more than just a bike holiday.
The Aosta Valley - Bike Park to Back Country
Why come to the Aosta valley for a mountain bike holiday?
The Aosta Valley encompasses a vast mountain range covering 3260 square kilometers, centered around the city of Aosta, it's an autonomous region that defends it's culture and landscape with vigour and passion. Famous for it's snow-capped peaks of the Mont Blanc, Monte Rosa and Gran Paradiso, there are several major ski resorts here which include Courmayeur and Cervinia. But, what we are really interested in are the hills of the surrounding valley and the resorts of La Thuile and Pila!
La Thuile has played host to the Enduro World Series for three years now and although growing in popularity due to the event, you can still ride in this enduro mountain bike paradise without bumping into more than a few people per day. La Thuile is a stunning Alpine town that sits at 1441m above sea level and really does boast some of the best downhill orientated, lift-assisted mountain bike trails in the world.
Pila is located in the very heart of Aosta and only a very short pedal from the town centre itself. From here you catch the Gondola which provides access to a height of 2,705m and provides many of the best mountain bike descents we have ever ridden, one of which drops down to the Aosta valley floor from the very highest point of Pila, with several options of descent beyond the famous Rietro trail.
La Thuile, what you can expect
La Thuile hosted rounds of the Enduro World Series in 2014, 2016 and most recently in 2018. A rider favourite every year it's been on the calender, it is the epitomy of gravity enduro mountain biking.
A stunning village located just beyond the Mont Blanc range, it's picturesque views and quiet Italian alpine way of life put you at one with nature and the raw mountains surrounding you.
The riding is a reflection of this, advertising itself as a 'natural bike park' there is not a rock or root to be found that wasn't put there by nature, what is built is very minimal, two blue runs with minimal impact on the terrain, this is not Super Morzine! The trails are technical and challenging, fast and rewarding. Serviced by two chairlifts taking you up to a height of 2200m, it's all about epic singletrack, loamy forest, open foot out flat out turns, steep chutes, rocky descents and off camber roots.
Consisting of 1 green, 2 blues, 4 yellows, 3 reds and 6 blacks, there's plenty of variety on offer here. Though you'll quickly find yourself wanting more than the blues once you've ridden them, careful what you wish for! Trails like Lupin go from 0 - 100 almost immediately! This is what your enduro bike was made for. You'll have the opportunity to go beyond the bike park aswell, to access some of the lesser known terrain found on La Thuile's valley system, where the terrain smooths out and you see nobody but your friends, the guide and the odd marmotte.
You can check out the fun we have over in La Thuile on our tracks check videos here.
Pila, what you can expect
Pila is world renowned for flat out DH tracks, dusty corners and jumps. It hosted a UCI World Cup in 2005 aswell as holding several Italian Championships and IXS rounds in it's park. Insanely good fun on any kind of gravity oriented bike, it's certainly worth spinning a lap or two on these trails if you haven't before.
The 'Bike Stadium' in Pila is made up of 10 downhill tracks, some splitting off one another to create a great mix of trails. 2 blues, 4 reds and 4 blacks are found under the Chamole chairlift topping out at 2300m. The Desarpa zone, accessed from the Couis 1 chair takes you high up onto one of Pila's famous ridge line trails and climbs to inspiring views at 2700m. Though the Couis 1 chairlift is only open from the end of July through August, there's still plenty to explore in the Pila back country.
What many who ride here don't realise is the array of epic singletrack that can be ridden with a little bit of work, directly from the chairlift network. Exposed ridge lines, insanely long descents that cross an incredible variety of terrain all found on Pila's famous moon dust dirt, that runs just as well in the wet as in the dry!
Pila Ridgeline with a GoPro Max
A purpose built ski resort in the winter, Pila is a small village found at the top of the Aosta-Pila cable car. Offering epic views over the bustling city below and the incredible mountain range beyond, the riding here is challenging, fast and has flow and variety that's hard to beat anywhere else in Europe.
It's also an excellent way to introduce yourself to what the greater Aosta Valley has to offer. Somewhat less 'traditionally alpine' than La Thuile, some of the trails here still show off Aosta's high alpine character, you'll start to see less trees and more rock as the altitude pushes toward 3000m at the top.
Have a look at a fun day we had in summer 2018 here.
The Aosta Valley Back Country, what you can expect
The Aosta Valley, a vast area of natural beauty, vast mountain ranges and stunning scenery. Centered around the city of Aosta, it's about as epic as you can get and stay within the boundaries of civilisation.
Throughout the centuries, long even before the Romans used Aosta as a gateway to the alps, man and beast have used the these ranges to navigate and farm. These pathways have in some cases remained as they were, in others evolved. However they were created, mountain bikers have been left with a treasure trove of opportunity to have fun and explore in one of the most beautiful locations you could ever wish to ride a bike.
We will be using a shuttle van to do the majority of the hard work for you, though our guides will ask you to put some effort in to access the good stuff! This is the very opposite of bike park. Out here you are sharing the mountains with everyone and everything. A feeling of calmness and respect of nature becomes very apparent when riding here, it's a different kind of fun, it's a feeling that stays with you forever seeing and riding terrain you will never forget.
Some of the descents here a laughably long, imagine descending more than an entire weekends worth of a UK bike park in one run!
Beyond the bike
Aosta is the capital of the Aosta Valley region, it's a town full of life and culture. The Roman ruins in the centre and dotted around the town are a massive tourist draw card, but it's a vibrant hub of bars, restaurants and shops keep the locals and tourists busy.
It's too big a city to be considered a tourist resort, it's still Italy and it still feels like it! The pizza is incredible, the pasta is fresh and the beer is local and cold. Infact the valley is strongly independent and much of the produce you eat and drink is locally sourced from small growers.
From tiny hole in the aperitivo spots, buzzing gin bars and pizzerias that have been in the same hands for generations, Aosta will show you a great time full of experiences on and off the bike.
Aosta boasts an array of bars, restaurants and high street retail, all found sprawling along the cobbled streets from the central piazza. Though the city is extremely popular with all kinds of tourists throughout the year, it's far from a tourist trap. This is still Italy and it feels that way from the first espresso to the last grappa.
After a days riding you can end up at Cafe de Velo, with aperitivo while sipping on a locally brewed ale, with a pit stop on the way back to your accommodation for some retail therapy with our friends at Swit Shop. Aperitivo is exactly that, working up an appetite before some local produce for dinner. Maybe you'll find yourself at the hip hole in the wall eatery Ocio or traditional Italian in the garden restaurant at Bataclan.
Drinks? Find the busiest bar! Aosta has a vibrant, youthful culture but, this ain't Morzine and you're more likely to lose track of time and end up with a G&T at 3am talking to an Italian art collector rather than face down in the gutter covered in Jagermeister!
If once in a lifetime singletrack, epic scenery, amazing food and culture, all serviced by great people sounds like your bag, then hop in below and get a holiday booked to the Aosta Valley!