The fair of Sant Orso – The living heritage of Aosta Valley

Piazza Chanoux, the main trade place for “atelier des métiers”: no heavy snowfall will scare the visitors away.
Piazza Chanoux, the main trade place for “atelier des métiers”: no heavy snowfall will scare the visitors away.

The first time I have heard about the Sant’Orso fair was about one month ago, from our landlady. With my rudimentary Italian, I could only understand that it was one of the most important celebrations in the Valley of Aosta.

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Piazza Chanoux, the main trade fair for “atelier des métiers”. No heavy snowfall will scare the visitors away.

The fair takes place every year on the 30th and 31st of January and brings together over one thousand wood artists from all around the Valley. It is widely appreciated by everybody, from the smallest ones to grown-ups, inhabitants and tourists. Although our landlady witnessed quite a few fairs in her life (not going to unveil her age, which I actually don’t know, just lets say she is a beautiful grandmother), her enthusiasm was something contagious and truly fueled my curiosity!

The roots of Sant’Orso Fair go back really deep into the Middle Ages. The ancient legend tells a story of Orso di Aosta, a humble Irish priest, who lived in Aosta sometime between the V-th and the VIII-th century serving in the San Pietro church, known today as the Collegiata di San Pietro e Sant’Orso. Saint Orso became known for his wood carving skills, and a true generosity, giving away to poor vast quantities of sabots, the local wooden shoes.

The fair grew over the years, and nowadays one can find a wide variety of products, obtained through all type of traditional activities: wood carving and sculpting, processing of soapstone, wrought iron and leather, wool cloth woven on ancient wooden looms, lace, wicker, etc. The festivity  includes also local folklore music, and of course, the possibility to taste local foods and beverages.

The night between the 30th and 31st, known as Veillà, is a time for the traditional singing and dancing! If the snow and the cold are overpowering the illuminated streets of the old town center, there is plenty of delicious vin brulé  (mulled wine) to warm you up! And speaking about drinks and food, if you want to spoil all your senses, you shouldn’t miss the pavilion in Piazza Plouves, a display of colours, appetizing smells and a large variety of samples to taste and touch, all magically accompanied by the traditional music.

But going back to the craft products, I guarantee you will be blown away! First of all, the variety of handcrafted products it is overwhelming; the care, attention to details, originality  that each product reflects is something I haven’t seen before!

I have been wandering through the streets, and every time I was finding something new… How could have I missed it? If you want to buy something, even a tiny souvenir ( I am thinking here not just about the ladies, but also for you, gentlemen), get ready, because it is going to be taught!

There are gorgeous and unique things everywhere, from the good-ol’ sabots to cutlery and other objects used in the kitchen, an amazing variety of house decoration objects, including handmade furniture (personal note: you really need to see this in person!),  objects for animals or for the garden, sculptures, and other really fancy hand-made things…so I will just leave the photos, and the short video to speak for themselves!

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One of my favorite exposé: the wooden flowers, a rhapsody of colours, warming up your soul with its delicate beauty.

One of my favorite exposé: the wooden flowers, a rhapsody of colours, warming up your soul with its delicate beauty.

Defying the snow and the cold with traditional songs.

Defying the snow and the cold with traditional songs.

A touch of magic.

A touch of magic.

Glittering city night lights announcing the end of the first day of the fair.

Glittering city night lights announcing the end of the first day of the fair.

A glorious second day of fair and more and more people gathering around the city’s old Roman walls.

A glorious second day of fair and more and more people gathering around the city’s old Roman walls.

Local artisan organizing her stall.

Local artisan organizing her stall.

Talent, creativity, originality, attention to details, patience.

Talent, creativity, originality, attention to details, patience.

“I collari delle capre”.  Goats’ collars. What can I say? a bunch of very lucky goats those that will get such handmade jewelry around their neck. In the back, the amazingly well preserved Porta Pretoria, part of the ancient Roman town’s walls.

“I collari delle capre”. Goats’ collars. What can I say? a bunch of very lucky goats those that will get such handmade jewelry around their neck. In the back, the amazingly well preserved Porta Pretoria, part of the ancient Roman town’s walls.

Willow baskets, one of the stars of the fair.

Willow baskets, one of the stars of the fair.

Beautiful flowers, willow baskets, sabots, furniture, sculptures, cutlery, engraving, etc, all handcrafted with passion.

Beautiful flowers, willow baskets, sabots, furniture, sculptures, cutlery, engraving, etc, all handcrafted with passion.

These ladies were amazing! They were giving away, for free, all type of delicious cakes together with “vin brulé”.

These ladies were amazing! They were giving away, for free, all type of delicious cakes together with “vin brulé”.

The enogastronomico pavilion in Plazza  Plouves. In the background, Monte Emilius, 3559 m.

The enogastronomico pavilion in Plazza Plouves. In the background, Monte Emilius, 3559 m.

A glimpse through the typical delicacies of the valley: a complete palette of flavours for all the tastes and exigences.

A glimpse through the typical delicacies of the valley: a complete palette of flavours for all the tastes and exigences.