Terra Alpina is a former farmhouse that was completely rebuilt and converted to six luxurious holiday apartments in 2007/2008. Whether you are looking for a ski apartment or a base for a summer holiday in the Aosta Valley, Terra Alpina offers a uniquely stylish and comfortable home-from-home.
It sits 200 metres above the road to the St. Bernard tunnel, close to the village of Gignod and is equidistant between the centre of Aosta and the Swiss border (under 20 minutes in either direction). It is very convenient for the ski resorts of Pila and Crevacol and is in easy driving distance of Courmayeur, La Thuile, Verbier and Cervinia - see winter sports for more information.
Even by the standards of the Alps, the views are spectacular. From north to south there is a 30 km panorama across the Aosta Valley surrounded by dramatic Alpine peaks and, with 1.5 acres of garden, there are plenty of vantage points from which to enjoy the views. It sits at an altitude of 1,300 metres, so the environment is extremely lush in summer and relatively mild in winter. While moderate winter snow is normal, heavy blizzards are not common at this altitude.
The holiday apartments at Terra Alpina are equally suitable for winter or summer use. In winter, there are a number of ski resorts nearby and in summer, there is a huge variety of activities, from golf to white water rafting. The one thing that almost all our summer guests talk about is the fantastic selection of walking and hiking paths in this part of the Aosta Valley - see summer.
If you are planning a family ski holiday with friends, Terra Alpina is ideal. Up to five families can stay at once and the prices are far lower than taking a catered chalet. One group who stayed recently reckoned they collectively saved £2,500 by taking all five apartments. For friends who do not ski, Aosta has more facilities for non-skiers than probably any other resort - see the city of Aosta.
Prices from €300 per week
P.S. All images on this page really are of Terra-Alpina
Finally, there is the original feature on Terra Alpina in the Sunday Times, December 10, 2008
Download the feature here
Easter turned out to be Christmas this year. In the days leading up to the holiday, we had another half a metre of snow. Given the unseasonably cold weather, the snow stayed in perfect condition for a week, with knee-deep powder across the whole valley. Some Russians we met reckoned it was the driest, lightest powder they had found outside Siberia - and we are in no position to argue about Siberian powder. The sad thing is that many of the resorts close soon, and there is enough snow to keep the lifts open for another month.
With the cold weather across Europe, it has been a good Christmas in Aosta. One of things we have discovered is that the more time we spend here, the more we ski in Pila. It is not nearlyas well known as Cervinia or Courmayeur, but it has lots of advantages. It is in a north-facing bowl, so the snow keeps remarkably well and it is protected from the prevailing winds. When other resorts are getting a bit wind-blown Pila tends to stay in better condition. It is hardly famous for off-piste, but there are some very good runs to the sides of the piste and, for the more adventurous, through the woods. Being a bowl, you cannot get lost and there are no cliffs, so you can try an unknown route with little danger.
It's been a bumper season for wild strawberries and raspberries. We must have picked a kilo of each as we hiked around the mountains, and we even found a meadow of blueberries at around 2500 metres on the slopes of Beca di Viou. At the time we were with some Canadian guests, and they said picking blueberries is a hazardous sport in Canada: they are one of the favourite fruits of bears, who don't take kindly to sharing their food with humans, apparently. We found another great hike up to Mount Saron at 2,700 metres, our nw hiking companion, Zippo, our neighbour's dog. She is inexhaustible and has the best nature of any dog we have ever met. Our neighbour found her abandoned as a puppy in the mountains, and she now seems to be the happiest dog in the world. See walking and hiking
We have negotiated a deal with the spa at Pre St Didier, on the way to Courmayeur, for a special rate for Terra Alpina guests. The spa is in a spectacular building with every conceivable facility - we counted over 20 pools, saunas, relaxation rooms and massage areas. It has additional pools in the beautiful gardens: the views from these, with the Alpine peaks towering above, are incredible. We haven't found a better spa anywhere. Just tell Terme di Pre that you are from Terra Alpina for a 10% discount. See
Terme di Pre
We have made major improvements at Terra Alpina for this season. To make access much easier, we have put tarmac on the uphill track from the house to the road - it now provides much more grip for cars in the snow. We have also doubled the size of the parking area, so there is space for six cars to park, plus an area to allow cars to turn around easily. Finally, we have a completely new Internet system, which has replaced the previous satellite connection. This is the latest point-to-point radio wireless Internet. Since installing it in November 2011, it has been available 99% of the time and provides speeds of 3.5 MB.
There has been no need to go down to the shops to buy any fruit. All the paths around Terra Alpina are full of cherry trees heaving with ripe fruit. We have also found wild rasberries and wild strawberries. In our own garden we have apples, pears and plums, so we are enjoying a very healthy diet - technically organic as we don't use any fertiliser on the trees.
Walking in the woods, we have seen lots of locals hunting for mushrooms. They only want Porcini and Chanterelles, so we have been taking dozens of prataioli (field mushrooms) to make risotto. On the path immediately below our house, we also came across a very impressive rockface that has been turned into a climbing wall.
A third great Christmas for snow in the Aosta Valley - how lucky is that? We met some ski guides from Verbier who were spending their days off in Crevacol. They reckon Crevacol has as good powder as Verbier with none of the crowds - so it is much easier to make fresh tracks.
We had three separate groups come to stay over Christmas who were all repeat guests from last season - we are getting to know many of visitors quite well.
What a season! We skied on Easter Sunday as fresh snow was falling to top up the metre-plus of snow that was already there. We were making fresh tracks in Pila to the side of the Couis 1 lift and each time we did a circuit, we could inspect our tracks from the lift - a rare treat.
We also did our first trip using skins. Despite the name, they are Velcro-like strips that glue to the bottom of your skis, enabling you to walk uphill on skis. The first trip is certainly hard work - if you get your weight too far forward, they just slide backwards. What you can ski down in less than 10 minutes takes over an hour to skin up, which is slightly depressing. However, if we want to ski miles from the lifts, it's a technique we need to know.
Another very white Christmas! Italy had the best snow in the Alps, so we had guides from France skiing in Courmayeur and ones from Switzerland coming to Crevacol. We also had our first honeymooning couple, which went very well. We gave quite a few guests skiing lessons (we are both Canadian qualified instructors) as people appreciate private lessons from English-speakers.
We hiked in the direction of the St Bernard Pass after the first snow of the autumn. The sky was brilliant blue, the leaves were turning yellow and gold and there was a light coating of snow above 2000 metres. Out of season, there were no other walkers to be seen and we had the paths to ourselves.
On Saturday evening, we drove out of Terra Alpina to go to a local restaurant and coming up the road towards us was full rally specification 1960s Lancia Fulvia. This was followed by a dozen other classic rally cars - Lancias, Fiats, BMWs and surely Italy's only Sunbeam Lotus. Apparently we are on a route for a classic rally club - we must find out more.
Our first summer hiking in the area. We climbed the mountainside behind Terra Alpina: Punta Challigne which is 2600 metres. From the top you can see a dozen peaks in Italy, France and Switzerland and on the way down there is an excellent restaurant. We also walked from the top of the old St. Bernard pass right to the house - the main path is just a few hundred metres from the house. We saw ibex and marmots (not impressed with our offering of Brazil nuts) and found some wild strawberries and raspberries.
Over Easter we had a group of 17 friends who took over the whole of Terra Alpina for a week's ski holiday. They absolutely loved having a giant house party: Flat 3 has a lounge/conservatory that can seat 20 for dinner, so they had all their meals together and then went off trying different resorts each day. After years of staying in one resort for a week, they are converted and will be returning next year.
It turns out the hiking path that passes Terra Alpina is a lot more significant than we thought. It is part of something called the Via Francigena, the most important pilgrimage route between Rome and northern Europe. First mentioned in 876, it became known as the path that linked Canterbury with Rome, and was in fact used by a tenth Century Archbishop of Canterbury called Sigeric who went to Rome to be consecrated. In 2005 it was recognised as a European Cultural Route