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Valle d'Aosta - The Natural Environment

Entirely mountainous, Valle d'Aosta extends across the mountains and crests of the Graian and Pennine Alps. The head of the valley is closed to the west by the great Mont Blanc massif, with the highest peak (4,810 m.) in Europe and glaciers feeding the Dora di Veny and the Dora di Ferret, two sources of the DoraBaltea. To the south soars the Gran Paradiso massif (4,061 m.) while to the north, the Mount Rosa group (4,633 m. at the Dufourspitze) is the north-east boundary of Valle d'Aosta territory.

The Dora Baltea runs along the main valley which has many smaller side valleys, such as: to the left, Valpelline, Valtournenche, Val d'Ayas, Valle del Lys; to the right, Valgrisenche, Val di Rhmes, Valsavarenche and Valle di Cogne. Glaciers (220 in all) cover approximately 20,000 hectares of surface, due to the great height of the largest mountains and the wet Atlantic winds that bring snow. Only Mount Rosa, on the south Italian side, is less prone to glaciation, due to strong irradiation. The principal glaciers include Miage (1,100 hectares), Lys (1,070 hectares) and Brenva (750 hectares).

There are many small alpine lakes. The climate of this region is affected by the high average altitude; only the most southern part of the Dora valley floor has the temperatures of the adjacent Canavese (Piedmont). On the whole, the climate is temperate-cold with annual mean temperatures of 12 C at Saint-Vincent (mid-low valley), 10 C at Aosta (mid-valley), 8 C at Courmayeur (below Mont Blanc). Precipitations are abundant in autumn and winter, providing good snow for the ski resorts.

The vegetation is typical of mountainous areas. The lower ground (up to c. 1,100 m.) has crops, vines, fruit trees mixed broadleaf woodland (sycamore, birch, hazel, elm and alder), the low mountain level (up to c. 2,200 m.) beechwoods, which give way to conifer woods (larch, fir, stone pine) towards the end of the tree line. Towards the summit, there is sparse growth of hardier trees (larch) and shrubs such as rhododendron, juniper and alpine alder. The alpine flora consists of gentians, buttercups, alpine bellflower, mountain vanilla, anemones and edelweiss.

The fauna is also typical of mountain areas. At high altitudes it is not unusual to see marmot, chamois, squirrel, ibex, fox and rock partridge; rarer are the ermine, ptarmigan, golden eagle and raven. Approximately one sixth of the regional territory is the Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso, the first Italian national park, established in 1922 with a personal donation by king Vittorio Emanuele III, who gave his own hunting reserve to the State. There are numerous protected species of wildlife (ibex, chamois and marmot) and of plants (c. 1,000 alone in the Giardino Botanico Paradisia - the Paradisia Botanical Garden - at Cogne).

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