Words and images by Rosalind Milani Gallieni

A ski resort is usually a pretty predictable kind of place, in that you know that after a great run on the slopes on fresh or beaten snow, the lifts (ski, button and even egg lifts!) close their perpetual daily service at about 4.30 or 5 o’clock and the variety of après-ski activities begin. It can turn into an early night to catch the first chair lift up to the summit in the morning, or a late night that results in a comforting plate of lunch the next day, with a gentle ride down to Lo Riondet. We are of course in La Thuile, where Lo Riondet Restaurant has become something of a synonym of the atmosphere of this rather unbeaten ski resort in the Valle d’Aosta, nesting at the end of some pretty perfect hair-pin bends, and before the town of Courmayer, which is now very polished and Bond Street-ish.

Interestingly, the town of Pré Saint Didier, at the start of the hair-pin bends to La Thuile, is now also becoming a destination, to drop into the famous QC Terme, known for its natural hot spring baths and set in a beautifully restored old building. Very well appointed and supplied with the regulation swish fluffy towels, flip-flops, mountain views, and eucalyptus essence to envelop you all over, the hot springs can be enjoyed indoors as well as outdoors. If you are lucky, your hot steaming bath can be surrounded by fresh snow if the fall has held at this altitude or in summer, you are surrounded by daisies and dandelions. QC Terme of Pré Saint Didier also has an array of massage treatments, sports therapies and a ski sauna cable car to boot (albeit not heated!), so many also head to this spot for the après-ski to be in shape for the day after!

Another iconic stop on this winding road that runs through La Thuile and onwards, up, up and up to the San Bernardino pass with more great bends to enjoy in a sporty car with a fruity engine that laps up the clear fresh air, is Chocolat – a must-visit mountain chocolate store on the River Dora which roars through La Thuile from the melting glaciers at the top of the valley. Anyone who has driven this stretch from northern Italy through into France will know Chocolat. Founded in 1981 by Umberto Collomb, he still works his magic in the kitchen creating the thinnest and finest Tegole (which means “tile,” and Thuile as the town is famous for its slate-tiled roofs). The Tegole hazelnut biscuits are one of the specialities Chocolat makes, alongside the obvious: chocolate eggs, spoons, plumbers’ work-tools, choco lollipops, cameos flavoured with lavender and saffron, jasmine-flavoured mini chocolates, chocolate-dipped prunes from California, noisettes, milk-choc skis, chocolate lipsticks (don’t lick your lips!), Vuitton handbags, stiletto shoes, fruity pastries, cakes, deeply thick hot chocolate drinks, and a chocolate fondue to dip fresh fruit and marshmallows into. Enough said?!

Stefano, Umberto’s son, tells me more as I visit his kitchen and the chocolate production behind the shop. This is also a great après-ski to-do. He tells us about the Tometta they invented and trademarked in 2009, which won an award from the Città del Cioccolato. It is one of those devilish “slice and dice” rounds of chocolate with hazelnuts from Piemonte, for those with a sweet tooth to enjoy after dinner with a digestivo or a sobering espresso.

Chocolat is open daily, just not on Wednesdays. The roaring summer trade takes a grip of the patisserie from June through to the 20th of September, and Stefano reveals that they actually sell more chocolate in Summer than in Winter! The winter “window” for Chocolat, as we do not want anyone to miss this stop, usually runs from December 1st up to April 25th, so once he has made and designed all the Easter eggs (many of which have been created to order for those who commute this way to France, or live locally in La Thuile, Courmayeur, Torino or Milano), the production can rest.

The time of year which calls for chocolate eggs is definitely his favourite creative moment, and the artistic skill that goes into the minutiae of his pieces is truly one of a mâitre chocolatier. He tells us they even once, about 18 years ago, created in association with three other patissiers, a 4 metre-high chocolate egg which weighed in at 800kg! This outrageously crazy chocolate masterpiece was shown in the central piazza of Aosta, and auctioned off for charity. Enough said indeed, but sadly we cannot trace a photo of this feat. Stefano – chapeau to all your work, and actually why not try to make a hat out of chocolate next, as I think most other objects have been explored!

Stefano’s hand-made Easter eggs from Chocolat start at 45 Euros and go up to 280 Euros. They all come with a locally hand-crafted wooden gift inside. Another talent La Thuile is known for – but more on the woodwork next time!

For more information about Chocolat, call + 33 (0) 165 884783, e-mail  or visit www.chocolat-collomb.it.