The Aosta Valley is an Alpine valley located on the northwestern part of Italy. With its tributary valleys, includes the Italian slopes of Mont Blanc, Monte Rosa, Gran Paradiso, and the Matterhorn; its highest peak is Mont Blanc (4,810 m). This makes it the highest region in Italy.
Early inhabitants of the Aosta Valley were Celts and Ligures, whose language heritage remains in some local placenames. Rome conquered the region from the local Salassi around 25 BC and founded Augusta Prætoria Salassorum (modern-day Aosta) to secure the strategic mountain passes, and they went on to build bridges and roads through the mountains. Thus, the name Valle d'Aosta literally means "Valley of Augustus".
In 1031–1032, Humbert I of Savoy, the founder of the House of Savoy, received the title Count of Aosta from Emperor Conrad II of the Franconian line and built himself a commanding fortification at Bard. Saint Anselm of Canterbury was born in Aosta in 1033 or 1034. The region was divided among strongly fortified castles, and in 1191, Thomas I of Savoy found it necessary to grant to the communes a Charte des franchises ("Charter of Liberties") which preserved autonomy—rights that were fiercely defended until 1770, when they were revoked to tie Aosta more closely to Piedmont, but which were again demanded during post-Napoleonic times.
In the mid-13th century, Emperor Frederick II made the County of Aosta a duchy, and its arms charged with a lion rampant were carried in the Savoy arms until the reunification of Italy in 1870.
The region remained part of Savoy lands, with the exceptions of French occupations from 1539 to 1563, later in 1691, and then between 1704 and 1706. It was also ruled by the First French Empire between 1800 and 1814. During French rule, it was part of Aoste arrondissement in Doire department. As part of the Kingdom of Sardinia, it joined the new Kingdom of Italy in 1861.
French forces briefly controlled the area at the end of World War II but withdrew under British and American pressure. The region gained special autonomous status after the end of World War II; the province of Aosta ceased to exist in 1945.
The Aosta Valley was the first government authority to adopt Modern French as the official language in 1536, three years before France itself.
Since 1946, Italian and French are the region's official languages and are used for the regional government's acts and laws, though Italian is much more widely spoken in everyday life, and French is mostly spoken in cultural life. Education is conducted evenly in French and Italian, so that anyone who has gone to school in the Aosta Valley can speak both languages to at least a medium-high level.
The regional language, known as patoué valdotèn or simply patoué, is a dialectal variety of Franco-Provençal. It is spoken as a native and second language by 58% of the population.
The cuisine of Aosta Valley is characterized by simplicity and revolves around "robust" ingredients such as potatoes, polenta; cheese and meat; and rye bread. Many of the dishes involve Fontina, a cheese with PDO status, made from cow's milk that originates from the valley. It is found in dishes such as the soup à la vâpeuleunèntse (Valpelline Soup). Other cheeses made in the region are Tomme de Gressoney and Seras. Fromadzo (Valdôtain for cheese) has been produced locally since the 15th century and has PDO status.
Regional specialities, besides Fontina, are Motzetta (dried chamois meat), Vallée d'Aoste Lard d'Arnad (a cured and brined fatback product with PDO designation), Vallée d'Aoste Jambon de Bosses (a kind of ham, likewise with PDO designation), a dark bread made with rye, and honey. Notable dishes include Carbonnade, like the Belgian dish of the same name consisting of salt-cured beef cooked with onions and red wine served with polenta; breaded veal cutlets called costolette; teuteuns, salt-cured cow's udder that is cooked and sliced; and steak à la valdôtaine, a steak with croûtons, ham and melted cheese.
There are numerous medieval castles and fortified houses in the Aosta Valley, including Châtel-Argent, Saint-Pierre Castle, Fénis Castle, Issogne Castle, Bard Fort, Ussel Castle, Sarre Castle, Cly Castle, Verrès Castle, and Châtelard Castle.