Every visit to the 🇮🇹 Aosta Valley unveils another wonder to the MBFF family . . .
On one of our visits, we stumbled – quite by chance – upon 🖼 a modern & contemporary art museum IN a 🏰 20th century castle overlooking the valley!
I did know that one of the 🏰 Aosta Valley castles (the valley is know as The Valley of 100 Castles!) housed a contemporary art museum, but it had been a while since I had looked through my own castle of Aosta Valley leaflets . . . and on this visit, we decided somewhat last minute to escape the rain and cold of the 🏔 Pays du Mont-Blanc (it actually SNOWED during our absence) in search of a little May warmth in neighbouring 🇮🇹 Italy! And so I hadn’t had time to plan the weekend . . . and we decided to go with the flow (which we are just as fond of!), leaving us open to discovery.
Upon arrival in Châtillon, where we had found an excellent deal at a hotel, I suggested that we follow the first brown sign that we spotted (a favourite game of a friend of mine!); and that was a brown sign leading to the 🏰 Castello Gamba . . . and there began our adventure!
A little history
🏰 Castello Gamba is set on a rocky promontory, with views up and down the Aosta Valley, and it is set within a lovely 🌳park. It is not one of the medieval castles adorning the Aosta Valley; it was built in the 20th century (in a short period between 1903 and 1905), as an elegant home for Baron Carlo Maurizio Gamba from Turin and his young bride Angélique Passering d’Entrèves, in order for them to spend long periods of the year close to her family, who lived in the Châtillon Castle. The palace was built with all of the modern comforts of the era, including the first ever automatic lift to be fitted in the region! Sadly, the young couple never lived long in this castle, as Angélique died at 37 years of age in 1909 and Carlo died in 1928, leaving no heirs. The castle was eventually sold in 1982 to the Autonomous Region of the Aosta Valley and it was then carefully restored, in order to house the regions’s contemporary art collection (1200 works).
Castello Gambo – modern & contemporary art museum
When the Autonomous Region of the Aosta Valley acquired 🏰 Castello Gamba in 1982, a difficult and intricate restoration programme began, to see it fit to house 🖼 the region’s modern and contemporary art collection (the Aosta Valley had been archiving and consolidating their modern and contemporary art collection since 1948 – paintings, sculptures, graphics and photography – and so there was quite a collection to house!).
The architect Aldo Piccato, from the Studio Piccato e Saltarelli in Aosta, was put in charge of the regeneration project, which lasted from 2002 until 2005.
The 🖼 contemporary art museum is set across 3 floors, and showcases 150 of the most significant works in its collection, dating from the 19th century until this century. The parcours through the museum takes you on a chronological and thematic tour, showcasing Aosta Valley scenes as seen by many great painters (JM William Turner, Ashton, Delleani, Maggi, Calderini, Bazzaro et Lupo) . . . and sculptures from Martini, Mastroianni, Manzù, Arnaldo and Giò Pomodoro . . . and then on to pop art and visual poetry, abstract and geometric art and more . . .
🖼 temporary exhibitions: the museum showcases temporary exhibitions;
⛰ good to know – don’t miss the TOP FLOOR of the museum for panoramic views of the Aosta Valley and Dora Baltea river . . .
Castello Gamba‘s park
🏰 Castello Gamba is more than a castle and modern art space; it is also 🌳 the verdant gardens and park surrounding the building! These typical English gardens, conceived to be harmonious with the surrounding nature, were developed at the end of the 19th century by Giuseppe Roda of Turin, and are a landscape of green lawns, rocky terrain smoothed by glaciers, pathways and trees . . . and with some spectacular views of the Aosta Valley!
The park extends across 50,400 m2, and showcases 150 trees, many rare species from around the world! There are some truly monumental tree specimens present: like the 🌲 majestic giant redwood Sequoia of California (Sequoiadendron giganteum), which at 37 meters in height dominates the entire park. Planted way back in 1888, this specific Sequoia developed very well, finding a favorable location in the windy and mountainous climate of Châtillon . . . eventually the diametre of its trunk reached 217cm! Also present are: beeches, Austrain pines (among oldest in the Aosta Valley!), spruces, Douglas Firs, Himalyan cedars, oaks horse chestnuts, maples, cherry trees . . .
You’ll also find 🍏 picnic tables at your disposal, so take your time to enjoy this fabulous green space!
[ ⇒ for more photos of the park and gardens, see here ]
Visiting with children
When I arrived at the museum’s reception (I’d been taking some photos out in the gardens, enjoying a moment of peace), our boys were already equipped with an electronic tablet, to help them get the most of their visit at the museum – they found interractive explanations throughout the collections, and they loved the focus.
As a family, we were also very warmy received at the museum; the staff were happy to share their knowledge with us and were delighted to see children enjoying the visit!
Events at the castle
Throughout the year, there are 🗓 plentiful events for families organised at 🏰 Castello Gamba and in its stunning grounds . . . here are a couple . . .
[ ⇒ for more information about events at Castello Gamba, see here ]
✨ Gamba Fest – two days of culture and nature, at the end of August (2020: in September);
🎄 Château Noël – a Christmas village is set up in the gardens and park, in December; it looks magical!
There are lots of wonderful places to visit nearby . . .
- Châtillon town – we stayed the night in Châtillon and really enjoyed wandering around the town, over the bridge across the Marmore river . . . with a view of the Roman bridge ruins and pretty churches . . .
- Saint-Vincent spa town – know as the Riviera of the Alps, due to its clement weather, Saint-Vincent is a spa town (Terme di Saint-Vincent), with a pretty town centre and casino;
- 🏰 Castello di Ussel – located – like many of the Aosta Valley castles – on a promontory, this medieval castle (one of the largest of the Aosta Valley) was built in the mid-14th century; today it is used for temporary summer exhibitions and opens accordingly / interesting fact: the restoration of this castle, finished in 1999, was largely financed by businessman Marcel Bich, the Châtillon native famous in the world for having invented Bic pens! / ⇒ see here for more information;
- Aosta and Roman ruins – here at MBFF we love Aosta and all that it has to offer: the Roman ruins (Teatro Romano, Porta Pretoria, Criptoportico Forense), the Piazza Emile Chanoux and Old Town . . . the lovely restaurants . . .
- 🏰 Forte di Bard – a 15 minute drive further down the valley towards Ivrea, and you’ll come to the majestic Forte di Bard, a fortress and cultural centre! / ⇒ see here for MBFF article about a visit here en famille (highly, highly recommended!) / and to read more about 📷 the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, which is shown here every year between February and June, see here;
- 🏰 Castello di Fénis – one of the most well-known and visited of the Aosta Valley castles, this medieval castle has impressive frescos . . . we had a memorable visit with a baby in a maxi-cosy (parts of the castle were not suitable to visit with a buggy!) / ⇒ more information here;
Where we stayed and where we ate
There are plenty of lovely places to stay and eat in Châtillon, but we particularly enjoyed our hotel – Hotel Rendez Vous (Loc. Soleil 3, 11024, Châtillon, Italy), which was cosy and located right above a restaurant – La Cave des Amis Ristorante Pizzeria – this proved incredibly handy when our littlest one fell asleep during the meal and had to be carried back to bed! There is free parking on-site and a little spa too (sauna and jacuzzi) . . .
🗓 opening hours: every day 9h until 19h (check);
🅿️ parking: there is free parking on-site;
🚗 getting there: see this map . . .
address: Località Crêt-de-Breil, Châtillon, Italy;