La Thuile and its history
La Thuile is shrouded in myths and mysteries that pique the curiosity of scholars and history buffs alike. These lands, whipped by the winds, have a singular microclimate that has attracted various civilisations over the course of history, with Celti, Salassi and Romans all leaving traces of their passage that are still visible today in and around Colle del Piccolo San Bernardo. The Romans in particular sought to dominate these impervious mountains by creating a roadway that was unequalled in the entire Alpine chain. The ruins of the Roman Mansiones and the almshouse erected by the 10th-century monks are testament to the importance of this roadway. Later on, instead of an important centre of exchange, this area became a theatre of war, as is evident from the trenches and fortifications built by Prince Thomas of Savoy in the early 1600s, and the Second World War bunkers that you can still come across on your walks.
Near to the centre of the town, in the Villaret and Pera Cara quarters, you will see tenements and machines that remain from the La Thuile mining era, a precious source of income for the community from the end of the 19th century until the beginning of the 1950s. This industry had its highs and lows, but when La Thuile became a mining city, the agricultural life of the area—which, thanks to the altitude and climate had never been an easy one—changed for good. Indeed, at the height of its mining activity, just after the War, the resident population swelled to a record 1400 inhabitants.
From “black gold” to “white gold”
La Thuile took its first steps toward cementing its reputation as a world class winter sports park in 1948, when the mining activity in the area began to become less profitable. Local stakeholders looked to skiing as an alternative source of income, capable of guaranteeing a future for their children and grandchildren. They started this journey by constructing their first chair-lift, which soon blossomed into the great international ski park, Espace San Bernardo, which now joins La Thuile with its French counterpart, La Rosière. This union made a significant contribution to the major growth in the area’s sports tourism sector, and eventually granted it Olympic fame, its legendary slope 3 “Franco Berthod” playing host to three Women’s Alpine Skiing World Cup races in 2016, and in 2017 two competitions in the Telemark World Cup. In the summer season, this extraordinary expanse of land transforms into a paradise for MTB lovers, an enormous bike park featuring tourist facilities designed to perfectly meet the needs of visiting mountain-bikers. As confirmation of the growing importance of La Thuile in the world of mountain-biking, it has played host to major national and international MTB events such as the Enduro World Series and Superenduro.
Vast natural heritage
Besides its unique ancient history La Thuile can boast an incomparable natural and geological heritage, which visitors can discover by bike or on foot as part of numerous different itineraries. Words cannot fully express the staggering views of the mountains with year-round snow like the Rutor glacier (altitude 3,846 m)—the third highest peak in the Aosta valley—which extends for 8.5 Km; the towering majesty of Mont Blanc (4,810 m) and the chain of breathtaking mountains that extend from the delightful village of Petosan; the intense blue of the alpine lakes, including the Verney—one of the largest in the Aosta valley; the three magnificent steps in the powerful Rutor waterfall, which washes down to join the Verney, forming the impetuous Dora Baltea river in the centre of the village at Pré-Saint Didier (8 km from La Thuile)—a town known for its luxurious spas. Immense pastures where the flora explodes in a riot of colours in the summer months, and you may catch a glimpse of the resident deer, foxes, goats, squirrels and marmots, silently watched over by the majestic eagle and bearded vultures, which together rule the skies. Rocky outcrops are indelibly marked by the passage of time, and bear witness to the history of the place, and the captivating Terres Noires, which conceal the remains of important carbon fossil deposits.
La Thuile: the origins of the name
The origins of La Thuile as a town date back to the time of the Roman conquest, when the Gallic highways cut right through the Aosta Valley, scaling the western part of the Alps via the Alpis Graia (the pass at Piccolo San Bernardo). In those times, the village was called Ariolica, perhaps from the Celtic “ar”, meaning “height”, and ”lica”, meaning “light”. After the fall of the Roman Empire, however, the area was annexed by the Franks (575 AD), and Ariolica, “light of the mountains” became part of the Kingdom of Burgundy during the 10th century and gained a new name—Thuilia. It then fell under the direct dominion of the House of Savoy—a dynasty founded in the 11th century by Humbert I, aka Whitehand, Comte de Vallais, until it was annexed by the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. The current name in patois—a Provençal French language spoken in the communities around Mont Blanc—is La Tchoueuille, which dates back to 1760 (although it was temporarily replaced by “Porta Littoria” during the Fascist dictatorship). The etymology of the name of the village derives from the Latin tegula (tile). Indeed, in the Aosta Valle dialect, “thuile” indicates the stone slates used to cover the houses which, at La Thuile, used to be quarried at Pont Serrand and on the Mont du Parc. The inhabitants of La Thuile are called Tchouillen, and there are currently 791 year-round residents. Its annual festival is held on the 9th May, in honour of Saint Nicholas.