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Long weekends in Italy: Gran Paradiso

Castles in Italy: Fénis, Val d'Aosta

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

The Castle of Fénis shimmers in the heat just 15 minutes by auto downstream from the old Roman city now called Aosta in northwestern Italy. Here we are in July 2003.

Begun in 1242 and built up properly in the 1340s by the Challant family, to help control the iron trade in the region, Fénis is just one of many astonishing castles that dominate the historically French Savoyard and Italian valley of Aosta, between France and Switzerland near Mont Blanc and the Grand St Bernard, on the one hand, and Italy between Turin and Milan on the other. (Fort Bard farther down the valley was another Challant stronghold.)

Storybook towers -- a castle never captured by direct assault! In fact, never assaulted.

Many of those daunting towers must have been filled with short muscular guardsmen running up and down the steps with armor on, dashing along the parapets in times of trouble -- the small circular tower on the left, however, just in front of the square one behind it, was for doves.

Here's a sight likely to give any medieval invading brigade commander a long pause, a big gulp, and a review of his or her pension options.

That's the dovecote tower there, the round one with the whitish belt round the middle. The doves were allowed to govern themselves, with their own Parliament and everything, as long as they gave up one or two of their number every week for the châtelaine's dinner.

That's the front gate, but wasn't. It was added in the 1920s but seems to work remarkably well, as a gate. In summer, at least, you get a guided tour of the whole array every half hour (in Italian, of course), for a minimal fee, but you're not to take photographs of the interiors. So none here, alas. Great paintings of demented saints on all the walls, great bedrooms!

Kristin peeking out of the great hall

Long weekends in Italy: Gran Paradiso


Fénis Castle


Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele II (2732m)

Grand Collet (2832m)

Lago di S. Grato (2466m)

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 8 September 2003, revised 31 July 2007, 10 December 2013.

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