Located below Mont Blanc on the Italian side of the mountain in the Aosta Valley, the atmospheric ski resort of Courmayeur is full of character with grand old buildings, narrow cobbled streets and plenty of traditional Italian village charm. The scenery is spectacular, with the resort surrounded by fourteen mountain peaks at the junction of Italy, France and Switzerland.
The village was once known as a spa town and base for climbing, but became recognised as a ski resort with the opening of the Mont Blanc Tunnel providing easy access from Chamonix and Geneva International Airport. The town's proximity to both Geneva and Turin airports makes it a popular destination for weekenders. A transfer from Geneva takes just over an hour and Turin is 1 hour 45 minutes away. Milan is a little over two hours drive away.
By European standards, the ski area in Courmayeur is small, with 63 miles (100km) of its own pistes and short but numerous runs that cater to mainly intermediate and beginner skiers and snowboarders.
Access is provided to the other resorts in the Aosta Valley, with a combined area of almost 497 miles (800km) of runs and 32 miles (51km) of cross-country trails available. Chamonix is just across the border and is lift-linked to one of the resort's ski areas, offering a wide range of skiing options and off-piste routes on both sides of the border.
Courmayeur offers skiing and boarding for all standards, but the groomed slopes are best suited for intermediates, while advanced skiers will find plenty of off-piste opportunities and high mountain ski areas.
There are two main ski areas at Courmayeur. Checrouit-Val Veny, directly above the resort, is mostly suited to intermediates and beginners, although the nursery slopes lower down are limited and can be crowded. Absolute beginners can also ski at Dolonne in the village. The most famous run is the 13-mile (20km) descent of the Vallée Blanche from Helbronner Point at 11,053ft (3,369m) down to Chamonix, which is daunting and demanding, but can be undertaken by intermediate skiers and snowboarders.
The skiing from Cresta Youla at 8,700ft (2,652m) is excellent, but higher up at Cresta Arp the terrain is for experts only and should be undertaken with a guide. The second ski area is Mont Blanc and is for advanced skiers and boarders; a guide should accompany skiers on the high mountain terrain and the glacier. Snow is reliable and there are widespread snowmaking facilities.
The shopping in Courmayeur is centred on the pedestrianised Via Roma, which is lined with stylish boutiques, cafes, restaurants and delicatessens, as well as many ski and mountain shops. The streets are alive with immaculately dressed Italians, many who come to Courmayeur to party and shop rather than ski.
Like most Italian ski resorts, evenings begin with the passeggiata, a stroll down the main street before a late dinner. The holiday destination of Courmayeur has numerous restaurants, cafes, pizzerias and trattorias to suit all tastes and budgets, and eating out is almost as popular as time spent on the slopes. Most establishments are fairly informal and relaxed, but there are upmarket fine-dining options for more romantic and exclusive dining.
Visitors on holiday will find that the après-ski in Courmayeur is a drawn out, rather laid back affair with fire-warmed bars spilling out onto the main street. The bars are numerous, including cozy traditional pubs, lively bars with dance floors and theme nights, as well as stylish venues for the more fashion-conscious.
There is plenty of winter and summer action to be had while on holiday in Courmayeur. Tourists can enjoy the beautiful surroundings and indulge in extensive lunches, cable car rides or simply soak up the sun at high altitude swimming pools. Besides skiing and snowboarding in winter, there is also cross-country skiing, heli-skiing and heli-boarding, snowshoeing, dog-sledding, snow biking, ice skating, paragliding and curling. A sports centre has tennis and squash courts, a fitness club and climbing wall. In summer, there is hiking, parachuting, mountain biking and trout fishing available.
On weekends, there can be a long wait at the main cable car in Courmayeur. To avoid the queues, head to the nearby Dolonne gondola or the cable-car up the valley at Entrèves. The weather in Courmayeur is sunnier than nearby Chamonix, but this means the slopes can get slushy in the afternoons.