Europe in My Region

A few days ago, I found the DG Regio Newsletter in my work emails, and learned that the European Commission wants bloggers to tell their stories about local projects implemented with EU financial support. The authors of the three most interesting posts will be invited to attend The European Week of Regions and Cities — Open Days, taking place in October in Brussels.

This is a repost of Vignes et terroirs – szlaki winne i Rajski koszyk, originally published in Polish by Agnieszka Stokowiecka (@ciekawaosta, Facebook, Google+, Instagram), and submitted to the Europe in My Region 2016 blogging competition.

EU projects are my bread and butter — as some of you may know, I work for the Valle d’Aosta regional administration. My work includes implementing European Territorial Cooperation programmes (ETCs), in particular the Italy-Switzerland cross-border programme and the Central Europe transnational programme (which also includes Poland in its scope). I often blog about places in the Aosta Valley that were created or reinvigorated with EU funding, so after reading the newsletter I immediately decided to take up the challenge.

After considering various projects to write about, I settled on Vignes et Terroirs, financed under the ALCOTRA programme for Italian and French cross-border cooperation.

View of the vineyards and Sarre castle from the Aymavilles wine trail
View of the vineyards and Sarre castle from the Aymavilles wine trail

The Vignes et Terroirs project aimed to improve and promote local products and tourist mountain trails, allowing more people to experience the local culture, heritage and produce. I settled on this particular project last Sunday, during the annual Cantina Aperte day celebrated all over Italy. As I admired some spectacular vineyards owned by Cave des Onze Communes and discovered they are open for tourists, I decided to share this particular initiative with you as my competition entry.

Vignes et Terroirs cross-border project in brief

Valle d’Aosta region and the neighbouring French department of Savoie are involved in this cross-border project. Both have rich cultural traditions of food and winemaking, and both are struggling to make their agriculture profitable and sustainable.

Work on vineyards near Aymavilles castle, with the Cave des Onze Communes building in the background
Work on vineyards near Aymavilles castle, with the Cave des Onze Communes building in the background

Both regions are renowned for their wines, cheeses, cold meats and fruit products. Well-preserved historical monuments attest to the rich history of the area, and tourism is the foundation of both regions’ economies. The project proved to be an excellent way of combining local cultures and flavours through joint promotion.

On the Italian side of the border, the project promoted several tourist trails presenting the essence of Valle d’Aosta culture, winemaking and food. To create a local symbol, a hamper of typical local produce was put together — La Corbeille du Paradis, or the Basket of Paradise, named after the Gran Paradiso mountain towering over the collaborating areas.

Vignes et Terroirs project board presenting the local trail at Sarre
Vignes et Terroirs project board presenting the local trail at Sarre

Let’s start with a tour of the Basket of Paradise for a quick journey through the foods and wines produced around Gran Paradiso. I will also show you two trails in the Valle d’Aosta that the project helped to improve and promote.

Local produce from the Valle d’Aosta in the Basket of Paradise

La Corbeille du Paradis contains Genepy (a type of liqueur), a bottle of Torrette red wine from the Cave des Onze Communes, honey, fontina cheese, torcetti biscuits, boudeun cold meat, which owes its intense red colour to beetroot, and goat’s cheese. All products are made locally. The basket is commonly used during events, food tastings and local produce presentations. Having sampled most of these products, I can honestly say that the Basket of Paradise lives up to its name.

The Vallée d’Aoste D.O.C. wine Torrette is made here. The Aymavilles wine trail at the foot of the castle
The Vallée d’Aoste D.O.C. wine Torrette is made here. The Aymavilles wine trail at the foot of the castle
Inside the Cave des Onze Communes cellars: Torrette wine and local cold meats
Inside the Cave des Onze Communes cellars: Torrette wine and local cold meats

Tourist trails: Saint-Pierre and Aymavilles

The Vignes et Terroirs project website (available in French and Italian only) has a section on tourist trails that combine culture, wine and food. I can particularly recommend two of these — if you’re ever in the Valle d’Aosta, save a morning or an afternoon to discover these picturesque locations.

Saint-Pierre castle trail

Saint-Pierre trail. Image from the Vignes et Terroirs website
Saint-Pierre trail. Image from the Vignes et Terroirs website

This trail crosses vineyards where the Torrette wine known from the Basket of Paradise is made, and affords some spectacular views. The terrain is not demanding, and 1.5 hours are enough to complete the 3.6 km trail. Views include Monte Grivola and Saint-Pierre castle, which houses the regional Natural Science Museum. Sections of the trail cross picturesque hills with sprawling grapevines. The trail also boasts great vistas of the Sarriod de la Tour, Châtel Argent and Sarre castles.

Sarriod de la Tour castle
Sarriod de la Tour castle

All these locations are well worth a visit, and the panoramas overlooking historical buildings are truly impressive. The ruins of Châtel Argent castle in Villeneuve are accessible by an easy trail (not suitable for baby prams) and afford a charming view of the valley. I’ve blogged about this location before: The ruins of Châtel-Argent castle in Villeneuve.

The ruins of Châtel Argent castle, accessible by an easy trail (about 20 minutes’ walk from the centre of Villeneuve)
The ruins of Châtel Argent castle, accessible by an easy trail (about 20 minutes’ walk from the centre of Villeneuve)

The ruins of Châtel Argent castle, accessible by an easy trail (about 20 minutes’ walk from the centre of Villeneuve)

The Aymavilles vineyard trail

The Aymavilles vineyard trail
The Aymavilles vineyard trail

This trail leads you through the vineyards of one of Valle d’Aosta’s most interesting winemaking areas. Picture-perfect views, beautiful natural features and a chance to visit winemakers’ cellars are sure to create unforgettable memories.

Les Crêtes hill seen from the Cave des Onze Communes winery in Aymavilles
Les Crêtes hill seen from the Cave des Onze Communes winery in Aymavilles

I only discovered this location recently, and I’m sure I will return there. The entire trail is 4.5 km long — a walk of some 2 hours. The vineyard trail begins at the foot of Aymavilles castle, currently designated a nature reserve due to its sizeable population of bats. (I’ve blogged about it before: Bat sanctuary in Aymavilles castle).

View across the vineyards towards Aymavilles castle, currently a bat sanctuary
View across the vineyards towards Aymavilles castle, currently a bat sanctuary

The trail leads you through vineyards, the Cave des Onze Communes winery buildings and Les Crêtes hill. With lovely views throughout, the trail eventually returns to the castle.

Cave des Onze Communes winery
Cave des Onze Communes winery

Let me know which of these two trails fired your imagination!

It’s also worth noting that Cave des Onze Communes offers free electric bicycle hire in the summer, so you can tour the area in comfort. Details are provided on their website. The site is available only in Italian, but I’m planning to go there soon and I will blog about the ins and outs of it.

Avise castle

Finally, I need to mention that my latest discovery, the Signori di Avise restaurant and winery in Avise, has also received funding from the Vignes et Terroirs project. I genuinely had no idea about this, probably because looking for the EU logo wasn’t the first thing on my mind for an evening aperitivo.

It’s good to know that European funding has supported this place, too. If you haven’t yet read my post about Avise castle and its winery, you should definitely take a look: Signori di Avise castle: stylish winery and restaurant.

Avise castle, with its winery and restaurant built using project funds
Avise castle, with its winery and restaurant built using project funds

So many new places, flavours, memories, and so many more firsts for me — and that’s after nearly 10 years living in the Valle d’Aosta. This region never ceases to surprise me 🙂

View over Valle d’Aosta from a vineyard trail developed under the Vignes et Terroirs project within the ALCOTRA programme of Italian and French cooperation
View over Valle d’Aosta from a vineyard trail developed under the Vignes et Terroirs project within the ALCOTRA programme of Italian and French cooperation

To end this post, a handful of useful links:

  • To learn more about the European Week of Regions and Cities, visit the event website
  • For more details of the project, including trail maps and recipes for local dishes, visit the project website: Vignes et Terroirs.
  • If you know of an interesting project in your region developed with EU funding, maybe you too can enter the competition? See the website for competition details: Europe in my Region for bloggers.

A presto!

P.S. I’m already planning another post about an EU-financed project. The Area Megalitica Pont-Saint-Martin archaeological park will open soon in Aosta — it will be the largest European park of its kind, and I will blog about it extensively.

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