Bike from La Rosière
An energised ride through nature that also stimulates the mind: there are many stops along the way worth taking to fill your eyes with culture and beauty.
The entire route is challenging due to the presence of both uphill and downhill sections with high gradients.
Combe des Moulins biotope protection area
The protection zone called 'Combe des Moulins' (FR3800916) was established in 2017 by the Prefecture of Savoie and included in the French National Inventory of Natural Heritage (INPN), which brings together sites that are important from the point of view of biodiversity, with the aim of disseminating knowledge of flora, fauna, habitats, and geological heritage.
The area is characterised by high altitude rocky environments where specific vegetation grows that has evolved specific adaptations to the environment and its pedoclimatic conditions. Up here, plants grow with such bearing and stature that they adhere as closely as possible to the ground and draw warmth and protection from it. Many parts of the plant are also covered with hairs that limit their transpiration and protect them from the cold and wind.
Among the reported species is Androsace alpina (L.) Lam., or Glacier Androsace, which grows from 2200 m up to over 4000 m on fine detritus, preferably siliceous in nature.
It forms pads with leaves clustered in rosettes covered with hairs only at the ends of the upper page. The flowering stems bear single flowers with five-petalled corollas that may vary from white to more or less intense pink, rarely dark red.
Diphasiastrum alpinum (L.) Holub or Lycopodium alpinum L. can also be found, a fern that grows with a creeping habit in alpine pastures and dwarf shrub formations, on predominantly siliceous substrates, from the subalpine to alpine belt. In autumn, its reproductive stalks turn light green, making it more visible; during the rest of the year it camouflages itself in the environment, becoming barely visible and recognisable.
To safeguard this biotope, it is necessary not to leave the marked trails in summer and not to enter the area during off-piste skiing.
The Traversette Fort
On the ruins of the old fort destroyed during the French Revolution, the present fort was built in 1891, taking advantage of its strategic location for the military surveillance of the national borders. Initially, it was only occupied in the summer and later throughout the year to train the troops in the difficult mountain conditions.
In the 1930s, the fort was equipped with gun emplacements, radio equipment, fittings for the troops and their supply in response to the great defence project, the Vallo Alpino, desired by Mussolini.
On 10 June 1940, Italy declared war on France and began a massive mobilisation on the borders. On 21 June, an air and ground attack saw the soldiers stationed at the fort led by Lieutenant Desserteaux fighting for four days. The fort was occupied by Italian troops, then German troops, and finally liberated after bitter fighting in April 1945.
Today in ruins, it is located directly on the slopes of the Espace San Bernardo international ski area, which unites the resorts of La Thuile in Valle d'Aosta and La Rosière in Haute-Savoie.
An overview of the Petit St Bernard Pass
A little further on you can see the Cromlech, a circle of 46 stones precisely aligned by the Celts who studied celestial phenomena and practised rituals here. At the summer solstice there is a unique phenomenon: at sunset the shadows of the two peaks behind the Sacred Circle are reflected on the ground and embrace its perimeter, leaving only the centre of the circle to the sun.
To more recent times dates the La Chanousia Alpine Botanical Garden, founded in 1897 by Abbot Chanoux, rector of the Petit St Bernard Hospice for almost half a century. A lover of mountains and science, he wanted to cultivate specimens of Alpine flora here to make them known and protect them. The garden covers an area of 10,000 square metres and today houses around 1,200 species.
From up here, it is impossible not to notice the massive, slender silhouette of the Hospice, a home for travellers, linked to the figure of Saint Bernard archdeacon of Aosta. The first hospice dates back to the year 1050, since 1752 the crusader emblem of the Mauritian Order has appeared and still represents the soul of the Colle that welcomes and unites.
The most recent testimonies date back to the Second World War: bunkers, bivouacs, artillery observation posts, anti-tank barriers were part of the Western Alpine Wall to defend the Italian borders in the great defence project that crossed the entire Alpine arc. In mid-August 1939, a contingent of soldiers was sent to guard the borders and the declaration of war was not long in coming...
The Chavanne Valley
The gentle ascent of the valley is accompanied by wide slopes where herds of cows graze in summer.
Transhumance is still practised in Valle d'Aosta in summer, with cows grazing at high altitudes typically from San Giovanni (24 June) to San Michele (29 September). The typical cattle breeds of the region - Pezzata Rossa, Pezzata Nera and Castana - are rustic, agile, with a petite build, suited to life in the mountains. Milking is carried out in the high-altitude stables, mostly manually, and the milk is processed daily in small cheese dairies to obtain dairy products that offer special organoleptic sensations due to the quality and variety of the mountain fodder.
At the pass, there are the remains of ancient fortifications that testify to the strategic importance of the valley, which was considered an alternative and doubling route of the Little St. Bernard Pass as well as an access point to the Val Veny, an important connection route between the Tarantaise and Courmayeur via the col de la Seigne.
Historical documents attest to military use from the mid-1700s until the 20th century with the presence of a concrete shelter structure close to the back of the pass, but a little
further upstream to the north-east on the so-called Mont Fortin, there are the remains of a rectangular masonry barrack. All around are the faint remains of dry-stone entrenchments and earth ditches that form a true highland field fortification, a settlement area for the troops, eventually sent to garrison the fortifications, and certainly frequented and remodelled in later periods as a rural and pastoral station.
Their presence is invaluable: they have the ability to modify the soil on which they grow, making it more suitable for other, more demanding species that will later settle there.
Among the trees, the Larch (Larix decidua Mill.) is certainly the easiest to spot at high altitudes, as an isolated, twisted specimen, or in small groups called micro-collectives capable of supporting each other in the struggle for survival. The caducity of its leaves makes it even more resistant to low winter temperatures.
The larch has been observed up to 2570 m in Val d'Ayas (Valle d'Aosta), but historical reports by Abbot J. Henry place it in Valpelline in a small group of dwarf specimens at around 2800-2950 m.
Among the shrubs, the common juniper (Juniperus communis L.) is capable of going even higher than 3500 m, although it prefers to stay in the subalpine plane, stopping at around 2800 m. Its bushy habit, often prostrate on the ground, with the leaves very close to the branches, helps it to vegetate in very selective environments where few other plants can survive.
The faces of La Thuile from the past to today
The houses are traditionally gathered in small nuclei, surrounded by meadows that are still mowed or left to graze. This arrangement tells well how mountain people once lived a strong sense of closeness, sharing and mutual aid necessary to compensate for daily difficulties.
Over the years, La Thuile has undergone different forms of economic development that have left their mark, which are still visible today: from a mountain village dedicated to livestock breeding and agriculture, it became a mining village thanks to the presence of important anthracite deposits, cultivated in a modest manner since the second half of the 18th century and throughout the 19th century. It was from the beginning of the 20th century that mining development in La Thuile became industrial, with various exploitation points with various levels of extraction, cableways, internal and external handling systems, administrative buildings, accommodation, technical infrastructure. After the Second World War, mining became increasingly uneconomic and was abandoned altogether in 1965.
The transition from black gold (coal) to white gold (winter tourism) began as early as 1948 with the first steps towards becoming a well-equipped winter resort, when mining began to decline and a popular shareholding thought of skiing as an alternative to guarantee a future for the new generations, building the first chairlift. From then on, a new face began to take shape for the resort linked to tourism: ski slopes, ski lifts, hotels and second homes began to change the face of the village, bringing it to its present status as a major resort with an international ski area - the Espace San Bernardo - linking La Thuile with the French resort of La Rosière.
Access and parking
Arriving from France: D1090 as far as La Rosière.
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