The ski resort of Courmayeur at the northern end of the historic Aosta Valley sits beside the sunny, Italian slopes of the Mont Blanc massif (or Monte Bianco to the locals). Once part of the Savoy region, disputed for centuries by France and Italy, today's Courmayeur is resolutely Italian. A charming town, with narrow cobbled streets, it is popular with weekenders from Milan (2 hours) and Turin (1½ hours) and is also 1½ hours from Geneva via the Mont Blanc tunnel. Its pistes are generally uncrowded, there are more mountain restaurants than runs - and nearly all of them can claim excellence - and at only 30 minutes by car to Chamonix in France, both sides of Mont Blanc offer exciting off-piste.
With two Italian cities - Milan and Turin - and their international airports in easy reach Courmayeur is doable for a weekend.
Courmayeur as a ski resort suits mixed ability groups, with a wealth of intermediate runs in a compact layout that makes it easy to meet up for a long, sunny lunch. Plenty of off-piste skiing can be enjoyed nearby, from the top of the new Helbronner cable car while the Val Ferret is a destination for cross-country and backcountry skiers.
A stop on the famous walking trail, the Tour du Mont Blanc, Courmayeur is a destination for summer hiking. To recover from exertions, head to the popular thermal spa at Pre St Didier. U2's The Edge is rumoured to own a property in the Val Ferret known for its excellent fishing.
Courmayeur's traditional architecture compares favourably to more modern European ski resorts. Many second home owners here are from the wealthy suburbs of Milan and Turin, investing in a chalet or apartment for weekend living to enjoy the sunny skiing, spectacular views and delicious cuisine. Such popularity comes with a price tag and Courmayeur is the most expensive ski resort on this side of the Italian Alps (only Cortina and Madonna di Campiglio in the Dolomites can top it). Part of the attraction is Courmayeur's traditional feel and doorstep access to the town's cobbled streets from many of the galleried townhouses or more modern apartment residences. There are more slate-roofed chalets, with lower price tags, in nearby Entrèves or Dolonne, closer to the Mont Blanc tunnel - for a quieter location with good ski access.
Chamonix, La Thuile, Pila
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