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Don't forget about the art
There is much more to Val d'Aosta than skiing. It is Italy after all, and although the Renaissance almost completely bypassed the region, it has plenty of wonderful examples of Baroque and Gothic art and architecture. Unlike most of Italy, there are a lot of forests in the valley, and it might be for this reason that Valdostan artisans create such vibrant wooden sculptures. Excellent examples are on display in the Treasury Museum of the cathedral in Aosta, the region's capital. One of Val d'Aosta's most remarkable wooden sculptures is the figure of Saint Bernard, in the museum of Antagnod. Because Val d'Aosta was a migratory route, Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, is particularly important to its people. There are representations of him at the Treasury Museum and throughout the region, including a 15th-century statue carved from a tree trunk in the church of Saint Etienne. There are other good
examples of Gothic art in churches throughout the valley, especially in the towns of Saint-Vincent, Valtournenche, Gressoney-Saint-Jean, Issime, Arnad and Antagnod.
Val d'Aosta is also well-known for its castles, many of which are within view of each other. Fénis, built in the 12th century, was one of the largest late feudal residences in the area. It was extensively renovated during the 14th and 15th centuries by the Challant family, who rebuilt the magnificent courtyard and well-appointed kitchen and commissioned the frescoes. The same family was responsible for decorating and remodeling the castle at Verrès. This imposing structure offsets its size with charming decorations and is considered to be one of the greatest examples of late Gothic military architecture in Europe. Still other members of the family had a role in Castello d'Issogne. It took two centuries to sumptuously furnish and decorate the castle, which is a good example of both Gothic and Renaissance styles.

The Rome of the Alps
Aosta, the capital of Val d'Aosta, was founded by the Roman emperor Augustus in 25 B.C.. The small, picturesque town is laid out in a grid and no cars are allowed into the city center, making it the perfect place for a relaxing walk. As you stroll along the streets, you may see some remains of public baths and municipal structures, but most of the Roman ruins are in the northeastern section of town. The Arco d'Augusto (Arch of Augustus) is between the Porta Pretoria, which was the main entrance to the city in Roman times, and the bridge over the Buthier River. Further on is the well-preserved theater, an example of late Roman provincial architecture, where performances are still held. Nearby is the main cathedral, which has a neoclassical exterior and a Gothic interior with beautiful wooden choir stalls. The Foro Romano is almost completely in ruins but there is a colonnaded walkway (called the criptoportico) and a tower (Torre dei Balivi). Unfortunately, since Aosta has always been a crossroads for travelers, many of the ancient artifacts were looted during the Middle Ages. Aosta hosts two major festivals every year: The Foire de Sant'Orso and the Bataille de Reines. The Foire de Sant'Orso, the biggest street market in the region, opens at the end of January. For two days, thousands of vendors sell objects made from wood, lace, wrought iron and straw. While they browse for a unique souvenir or gift, visitors to the market drink the coppa dell'amicizia (cup of friendship), a spicy coffee drink that is passed between friends. On the third Sunday in October, the Bataille de Reines (Battle of the Queens) is held. This battle originates from the tussles that cows used to have on their
way down from the mountains. Beginning in March, Valdostans from around the region enter their strongest cows and they battle against one another in local competitions. At the finals in October, a queen is crowned. It is a very coveted prize: The winning cow is usually sold for thousands of euros!

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