A table is set for lunch: wine glasses, pewter plates, a bottle of Valle d’Aosta Prié Blanc on a pink tablecloth. A window above the wooden banquette with zabaione-cream cushions embroidered in Alpine flora overlooks the Sant’ Orso meadow, the largest mountain meadow in Europe. Behind it looms the Gran Paradiso mountain, the only one of four “giants” over 13,000 feet that is completely in Italy. The sun streaming in from the window gives the scene a vintage-postcard feel, as if it was taken a world away, a century ago.
But this scene is not of a traditional hut or some old rifugio, it’s at the Bellevue Hotel in Cogne, Aosta. The image on the back of my book, Alpine Cooking, prompts at least one reader a week to ask where it was taken. It’s one of my favorite hotels in the Alps, in the smallest region of Italy, wedged between France and Switzerland. The mountains are less dramatic than the pillared, shimmering giants of the eastern Dolomites, but with both Cervinia and Courmayeur in its pocket, Aosta is a downhill mecca. Still, Cogne is the opposite of the Milanese-filled streets of Courmayeur—at its core, it’s a low-key authentic Alpine village with only a half a dozen shops (no Moncler), cable car or après-Alpine crowds—just the place for anyone looking for quiet, safety…and a lot of space.
The maître d’hôtel is Laura Roullet, a true Valdostana who cares for her two teen sons, her husband and the hotel that has been in her family since 1925. On my recent visit Laura—always wearing the traditional Valdostana dirndl—welcomed guests in the wine cellar over venison charcuterie, fontina, and local sparkling wine, with folk songs sung in her patois dialect, the official language of the Savoy Kingdom, when France and Italy were combined. Upstairs, her two restaurants focus on the hearty, regional food of the Aosta Valley, like carbonada (stewed meat with wine, onions and spices) and mocetta (dried beef or ibex seasoned with mountain herbs). Laura is a proud, fierce protector of the region, the ultimate hospitalitarian.
The Alpine-pink hotel (yes, it’s a thing: Wedgewood has a line of bone china with that name) lies on a plateau crisscrossed by Nordic skiing trails that fan out every which way from Cogne. I have skied many of these over the years, but often I just watch skiers glide across the loop of tracks from my favorite fourth-floor corner room, which has its own sauna—taking nothing away from the hotel spa below, with its citrus bio-sauna, hay bio-sauna, infrared sauna, Finnish sauna and mountain-pine bio-sauna. I’m told in summertime the meadow, the village and even the spa shimmer with the scents and smells of the mountains. Talk about Alpine Everything!
Deep within the entrails of the hotel lies another surprise and one of the best-kept secrets of the Alps: the hotel’s wine cave. The mastermind behind this labor of love is sommelier Rino Billia. The first time I read his list I couldn’t quite believe it, considering the closest large town is almost one hour away through winding mountain roads. From a 1980s Mouton Rothschild to odd bottles of Emidio Pepe and Pergole Torte to Jacques Selosse Champagne, there is something for both hardcore naturalists and traditionalists. Rino doesn’t judge; he simply supplies (though, personally, he loves Piedmont and the wines of Gaja, Clerico, Altare, Federico Graziani, Ottin, and Cuom). I can’t think of a better wine cave to be snowed into, except maybe that of La Perla Hotel in Corvara, or Ciasa Salares in Badia. And because it’s in Aosta, which is humbler than, say, the Dolomites, you’re drinking at incredible prices. I always text my wine nerd friends pictures from the cave and the menu, where the usual response is an all-caps WTF.
Though the Bellevue has all I really need, I always venture the five minutes into town for the charming épiceries selling local charcuterie and cheeses along with a tabac and caffé. You’ll also find Lou Ressignon, a fantastic roadside inn for hikers and climbers, which has a tasty little restaurant. It was here that I had my first Vapelenentse soup, a rustic gem made of fontina, cabbage and brown bread. You’ve got to love a soup that’s so cheesy you have to eat it with a fork! The origin of this soup? Coping! Coping with snow. Coping with a lack of bright, fresh produce during winter months. Coping with elemental Alpine life—which itself has become the coping tool we could all use more of.
Where to sleep: The Bellevue Hotel reopens February 5, 2021. It remains open for both winter and summer seasons.
How to get there: Closest airport: Turin, two hours by car.
Closest Rail station: Aosta
Where to eat: The hotel’s own Michelin-starred Le Petit Bellevue and the main Bellevue Restaurant, where that dreamy photo was taken. There’s the aforementioned carbonada and mocetta, plus charcuterie like wild Arnad lard—a type of local sausage cooked with boiled potatoes, lard, seasoning, and the very fragrant Bosses ham—and a simple fresh ditalini pasta with fava beans, brown bread, tomato and warm, stringy fontina that I loved so much I included it in my book. Beyond the hotel, there’s La Brasserie du Bon Bec, a French/Italian wine bar/brasserie also owned by Laura about two minutes away, and Lou Ressignon in Cogne, with a traditional menu overseen by siblings David and Elisabeth as their parents did before them.
Closest ski: In the backyard of the Bellevue, Cogne offers hundreds of kilometers of Nordic ski trails. I suggest renting cross country gear from Le Foyer De Fond, right on the meadow track. There are only four to five pistes for downhill enthusiasts, almost all intermediate level. The Sylvanoire chairlift is a five-minute drive from the center of Cogne—it’s a beautiful and fun two to three hours of skiing. If that’s not enough, the resort of Courmayeur is 50 minutes away.
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Meredith Erickson is the author of Alpine Cooking. She has co-authored The Art of Living According to Joe Beef, the Le Pigeon Cookbook, Olympia Provisions, Kristen Kish Cooking, the Claridge’s Cookbook, Joe Beef: Surviving the Apocalypse, and The Frasca Cookbook, among others. She is the host of the upcoming Audible podcast, Field Guide to Canada. A contributor to publications including Monocle, The New York Times, Saveur and Food & Wine, Meredith splits her time between Montreal and Milan.