Courmayeur, Italy

Photo: Auberge de la Maison Srl

It feels like you’ve stepped into a storybook. You’re surrounded by the jagged Alps. There are still patches of snow clinging to their higher rocks; the freshly melted snow is rushing down the Dora Baltea river. A charming town has pedestrian-only roads, chalet-stye houses, and an 18th-century church. This time of year, cafés spill onto the cobbled streets. Thermal baths and cable cars are just outside of town. So is a picturesque hotel, whose wooden balconies are overflowing with bright pink flowers. They all look out at Mont Blanc, the highest point in Europe.

So what is this place that’s enchanted you so quickly? Courmayeur, of course. Courmayeur is in the northwestern corner of Italy. The highest town in the country sits on the south side of Mont Blanc. It’s in the Valle d’Aosta, the country’s smallest and least populated region. Piedmont is to the south and the east. Valais, Switzerland is to the north. Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France—home to the famous ski resort Chamonix—is to the west. While the breathtaking Alps are everywhere you look.

You’re staying in Entrèves, which is just north of the center of Courmayeur. The quiet neighborhood is home to stone buildings, old farms, and sloping pastures. Auberge de la Maison, that picturesque hotel, is made of stone and wood. The entrance smells like aged wood. It feels homey with comfortable sofas, wood tables, and a majolica stove. There’s a terrace overlooking a vast lawn. You have the same view from your wooden-beamed suite. Church bells are chiming in the distance. While the staff has already gone out of their way to offer you herbal tea, a spa appointment, or directions for your first adventure.

Photo: Auberge de la Maison Srl

You take their advice to ride the area’s famous new cable car first. When Skyway Monte Bianco opened in 2015, it became the most expensive cable car in the world. In just six minutes, it climbs to Pavillon du Mont Fréty, the midway point. Europe’s highest botanical gardens, two restaurants, and even a winery are up here. You can see down two gorgeous valleys, Veny and Ferret. Plus there are links to both the French side and Pointe Helbronner higher up the mountain. The 10-minute ride up the latter cable car revolves as it approaches the peak. From the top, the panoramic view extends all the way to other grand peaks, including the Matterhorn, the Monte Rosa, and the Gran Paradiso.

Hiking trails veer off from both cable car stations. But, since it’s already midafternoon, you decide to wait until the morning to head off on the winding paths. Beside, the cliffs are pretty steep up here, and you certainly don’t consider yourself a seasoned rock climber. Perhaps the trails originating in Courmayeur, like the one to the Rifugio Bertone, are more your speed. You’ll follow the trail, marked with yellow diamonds, through the forest, across small bridges, and up to one of the best views of Mont Blanc. Hearty polenta and a glass of local red wine will be ready when you reach the family-run hut.

Since you aren’t hiking this afternoon, you return to the hotel to take advantage of its Maison d’Eau spa. It features a hay bio-sauna and a steam room, soft music and the scent of mountain flowers. There’s an indoor/outdoor pool, whose temperature is consistently 95 degrees, with a soothing waterfall. While sun loungers and Adirondack chairs sit on the wooden deck facing the mountains. If this is a dream, no one should wake you up.

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