The natural reserve Côte de Gargantua, Aosta Valley, Italy
If you follow the Dora Baltea river bed you will notice, on the right hand side, opposite to the city of Aosta, and just next to the commune of Gressan, an elongated hill with steep mountainsides and characteristic pointed summit. I have to admit that since I’ve noticed it, i immediately wondered what was there, to find out, only some time ago, that was actually a natural reserve, called Côte de Gargantua. So, my curiosity got challenged again…way Gargantua? What was the connection between a natural reserve in the middle of the Aosta Valley, north of Italy and a fictional giant created in the XVIth century by the french writer François Rabelais? Actually the connection it’s simpler then you might think, and it is something characteristic to us, humans: our infinite imagination.
Côte de Gargantua it is a very well preserved moraine created from glacial deposits during the Wurm Quaternary period, which is the last alpine ice age. But according to the popular legend, you are facing the little toe of the giant Gargantua, killed by Saracen invaders and buried under a layer of debris. I guess the common point here it’s the giant force needed to form this peculiar landmark.
This area is now a natural reserve not only because of its geomorphological importance, but also for the particular flora and fauna found around these arid deposits.
Visiting the Côte de Gargantua it is a true pleasure. You are guided all around the way by funny arrows pointing directions and the main attraction points. If you don’t mind walking a little bit you can choose a complete tour that will lead you throughout the whole urban zone of the commune, the Côte itself and the surrounding wine and orchard fields. A beautiful, educational and easy walk throughout nature and history. A nice way to spend a day out with friends or family, enjoying the nature and learning about the formation of the place, and how this has influenced the life and customs of people living there.
One thing that i loved the most during the tour was the fact that almost the entire way you are accompanied by the relaxing sound of running water. All the tiny villages and the fields are crossed by a dense net of narrow water channels used for domestic and irrigation purposes and a constant source of freshness during the hot summer afternoons.
I love the Aosta Valley in summer! Everything looks so alive. The different shades of green on the hills, the murmur of the water, the happy songs of the birds, butterflies flying everywhere, tiny lizards warming up in the sun and… the flowers. People here really love them. Their houses and gardens are decorated with all kind of flowers and plants, some that I never seen before. It looks so colourful and happy, that I could spend the whole day just smelling and photographing them.
One of my favourite points of interest of the tour, is the XII century church of Sainte-Marie-Magdeleine. The church was rebuilt and endowed with new frescos in between the XIV and the XVI century by the nobel family La Tour de Villa, whose castle, still a private property, can be seen not far away from the church.
Originally, the La Tour de Villa castle was comprised by a center tower dating the XII century and an inhabited part with a circular structure dating from the XV century.
Just in between the Sainte-Marie-Magdaleine church and the La Tour de la Villa castle, one can see the ruins of a tower, Torre de la Platà. Its origin is not completely known, with some sources claiming, due to the resemblance with the Roman Wall of Augusta Praetoria (Aosta) that it was built by Romans during the I century B.C.. The first documents are attesting though the appurtenance of the tower to the family De Plantata who lived there in between the XIV and the XV century.
Besides the medieval ruins, churches and residences of feudal lords, vineyards are present everywhere, on bigger or smaller parcels in between the alpine rocks. Since the time of the Romans, the wine growing has become a tradition and a way of living here in Aosta Valley. But if you want to find out more about the wine tradition in Aosta Valley, there is also a wine tour that will guide through the whole region.
With this being said, i will put an end to my little story. I’ve tried here to give you just a flavour of a tiny part of Aosta Valley. A natural reserve, small beautiful villages, medieval ruins, vineyards. And all at your reach, if you only want to spend a few hours walk outside. I kinda love getting lost, so I have spent way more time wandering around, enjoying the views, and listening to the relaxing but stimulating sound of the ice-cold mountain water. An enriching multi-sensory experience that I wish you could also have one day.