Have you ever dreamed of visiting a fairy-tale castle surrounded by majestic mountains, enchanting forests and blooming gardens? If so, you might want to add Castel Savoia to your bucket list.
Castel Savoia is a 19th-century villa that was once the summer residence of Queen Margherita of Savoy, the first queen of Italy. It is located in Gressoney-Saint-Jean, a charming village in the Aosta Valley, a region in the north-west of Italy that borders France and Switzerland. Castel Savoia is one of the few castles in Italy that is set in an alpine landscape, offering breathtaking views of the Monte Rosa Massif, the second highest mountain range in Europe after the Mont Blanc.
In this article, we will explore Castel Savoia and its surroundings, and discover why it is a perfect place to enjoy a fairy-tale experience in a unique alpine setting.
The history of Castel Savoia
Castel Savoia was built between 1899 and 1904 by Queen Margherita of Savoy, who was fascinated by the beauty of the Lys Valley and the Monte Rosa Massif.
The queen had previously stayed at the Villa Margherita, the residence of Baron Beck Peccoz, a local nobleman and her friend, but she wanted to have her own place where she could relax and enjoy the mountain views. She commissioned the architect Emilio Stramucci, who had already worked on some renovations of the Royal Palace in Turin and other Savoy residences, to design a villa that would reflect her eclectic taste and her love for nature.
The result was a three-storey building with five neo-Gothic towers, made of local stone and wood, that blended harmoniously with the landscape. The villa was equipped with all the modern comforts of that time, such as electricity, heating, running water and telephones. The queen also wanted to have a large park with an alpine garden where she could grow various plants and flowers.
Unfortunately, King Umberto I never saw the completion of Castel Savoia, as he was assassinated in Monza in 1900 by an anarchist named Gaetano Bresci. Queen Margherita, who became the queen mother after her son Victor Emmanuel III ascended to the throne, spent long periods of time at Castel Savoia until 1925. She hosted many illustrious guests there, such as the poet Giosuè Carducci and her nephew Umberto II, who would become the last king of Italy. She also enjoyed hiking, climbing and skiing in the surrounding mountains, being one of the first women to reach the summit of Monte Rosa.
After the death of Queen Margherita in 1926, Castel Savoia remained closed for several years and was sold in 1936 to Ettore Moretti, an industrialist from Milan who kept it almost intact. His heirs sold it to the Aosta Valley region in 1981. Since then, Castel Savoia has been open to the public as a museum and a cultural center.
The interior of Castel Savoia reflects the personality and preferences of Queen Margherita, who personally supervised the construction and decoration of the villa. The rooms are furnished with paintings, stained glass windows, wood paneling, coffered ceilings and furniture made according to her taste. The dominant motif is the daisy (margherita in Italian), which is the queen’s namesake flower and symbol. The daisy can be seen on carpets, curtains, wallpapers, ceramics and even on door handles.
The tour of Castel Savoia includes the ground floor and the first floor, connected by a spectacular wooden staircase with griffins and eagles. On the ground floor there are the living rooms, such as the dining room, the music room, the billiard room and the library. The dining room has a large fireplace with a coat of arms of Savoy and a painting depicting King Umberto I on horseback. The music room has a grand piano and portraits of famous composers. The billiard room has a wooden ceiling with floral motifs and an impressive collection of weapons. The library has over 3,000 books on various subjects.
On the first floor there are the royal apartments and some guest rooms. The most remarkable room is the queen’s bedroom, which has a veranda overlooking Monte Rosa and its original furnishings. The bed is covered with silk embroidered with daisies and bees (another symbol of Savoy). The walls are decorated with paintings by Vittorio Avondo (the painter who bought Issogne Castle) depicting scenes from fairy tales. The bathroom has a marble bathtub with lion-shaped feet and a shower with 12 jets. The queen’s dressing room has a large mirror and a collection of hats and gloves. The king’s bedroom, which was never used by Umberto I, has a simpler style and a portrait of the king by Giuseppe Bertini.
The park and the alpine garden
Castel Savoia is surrounded by a vast park of about 15 hectares, where the queen liked to walk and admire the nature. The park has a variety of trees, such as larches, firs, pines, birches and chestnuts, as well as flowers, such as rhododendrons, azaleas, hydrangeas and roses. There are also some sculptures, fountains and benches where visitors can relax and enjoy the views.
One of the main attractions of the park is the alpine garden, which was created in 1990 and covers an area of about 1,000 square meters. The alpine garden hosts more than 500 species of plants from different regions of the world, such as Europe, Asia, America and Africa. Some of the plants are native to the Monte Rosa Massif, which was explored by botanists since the construction of Castel Savoia. Others are exotic or hybrid species that were chosen for their ornamental value. The alpine garden is divided into different sections according to the habitat and the flowering period of the plants. Some of the most beautiful and rare plants that can be seen in the alpine garden are the martagon lily (Lilium martagon), the edelweiss (Leontopodium alpinum), the globeflower (Trollius europaeus), the alpine columbine (Aquilegia alpina) and the fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium).
Castel Savoia is not only a fascinating historical and cultural site, but also a great starting point to explore the natural beauty and the traditions of the Aosta Valley. The village of Gressoney-Saint-Jean, where Castel Savoia is located, is one of the main centers of the Walser culture, a German-speaking minority that settled in the Alps in the Middle Ages. The village has a charming architecture with wooden houses decorated with flowers and frescoes. There are also some interesting monuments, such as the parish church of San Giovanni Battista, which dates back to the 16th century and has a Gothic bell tower and a Baroque interior; the Beck Peccoz Regional Museum, which displays objects related to the Walser culture and history; and the Giardino Botanico di Castel Savoia (not to be confused with the alpine garden), which is another botanical garden that showcases plants from different continents.
The Lys Valley, where Gressoney-Saint-Jean is situated, offers many opportunities for outdoor activities in all seasons. In summer, visitors can enjoy hiking, biking, climbing and golfing in a stunning scenery. There are many trails that lead to panoramic viewpoints or to mountain huts where it is possible to taste local products. One of the most popular trails is the one that goes from Castel Savoia to Lake Gover (about 3 km), a small lake that reflects Monte Rosa and is surrounded by larches and rhododendrons. Another trail is the one that goes from Gressoney-Saint-Jean to Colle Ranzola (about 5 km), where there is a monument dedicated to Queen Margherita and her passion for mountaineering. In winter, visitors can enjoy skiing, snowshoeing and ice skating in a snowy wonderland. There are many ski slopes for all levels of difficulty and some cross-country ski tracks that run along the Lys river. There are also some ice rinks where it is possible to skate or play curling.
The Aosta Valley is also rich in cultural attractions that are worth visiting. Some of them are: Forte di Bard (about 30 km from Gressoney-Saint-Jean), a fortress that dates back to the 19th century and hosts several museums and exhibitions; Château d’Issogne (about 35 km from Gressoney-Saint-Jean), a castle that belonged to the Challant family and has remarkable frescoes depicting scenes of daily life; Château de Verrès (about 40 km from Gressoney-Saint-Jean), another castle that belonged to the Challant family and has an impressive quadrangular structure; Aosta (about 70 km from Gressoney-Saint-Jean), the capital of the region that has many Roman ruins, such as an amphitheater, an arch and a bridge; Château de Fénis (about 75 km from Gressoney-Saint-Jean), one of the most famous castles in Italy that has a fairy-tale appearance with its crenellated walls and towers. These are just some examples of the many treasures that the Aosta Valley has to offer to its visitors. Castel Savoia and its surroundings are a destination that will surprise you with its history, culture, nature and charm. Don’t miss this opportunity to experience a fairy-tale adventure in the heart of the Alps.
Castel Savoia is a unique attraction that offers a glimpse into the life and personality of Queen Margherita of Savoy, one of the most influential and beloved figures in Italian history. The villa is a masterpiece of architecture and art that combines different styles and influences, creating a fairy-tale atmosphere.
Whether you are interested in history, culture, nature or sports, you will find something to suit your taste and curiosity in this amazing destination. Castel Savoia and the Aosta Valley are waiting for you to discover their secrets and charm. Don’t miss this opportunity to experience a fairy-tale adventure in the heart of the Alps.