Chamois: Italy's Alpine village without cars
(Image credit: ArtMassa/Getty Images)
Chamois cableway leading to the village of Corgnolaz
By Martin Errichiello
10th September 2021
On the steep slopes of the Aosta Valley, the hamlet of Chamois is the only Italian village that can't be accessed by car.
The isolated mountain hamlet of Chamois is proof that it's possible to get to another world in just five minutes.
The Italian village on the steep slopes of the Aosta Valley in north-west Italy is the country's only town not accessible by car. The cluster of seven hamlets that make up Chamois is connected via trails and streets trodden only by feet, bicycles and the occasional tractor.
Until the 1960s, cars weren't even on the radar here. At 1,815m in elevation, Chamois was protected from highways and traffic by its sheer inaccessibility. But with the growth of Italy's transportation infrastructure during the country's economic boom in the early 1960s, the villagers of this 18th-Century hamlet found themselves deciding if they wanted to embrace the age of the automobile.
In 1965, 95% of the town's residents voted against a road that would connect them with the valley below. But they weren't insisting on isolation. Instead, the people of Chamois requested the construction of a cableway to replace the vertiginous old mule track that had long been the primary way up and down the mountainside. With a link to the nearest village of Buisson in the valley, Chamois would have its first easy connection to the growing web of roads uniting Italy – all without a town full of cars.
The first cableway was small, but it allowed people to move quickly up and down the mountain. The cableway's 700m ascent took just a few minutes. In 2001, a more modern cableway that could carry more passengers in greater comfort made its debut.
Even with the short commute to the valley below, though, Chamois continues to shrink. The population, which once numbered approximately 350, now hovers at around 100 inhabitants. Its residents remain determined, though, and harness the town's small size and circumstances to experiment with sustainability projects like renewable energy systems.
Indeed, Chamois is one of 19 "Alpine Pearl" villages that dot the Alps of Austria, Germany, Italy, Slovenia and Switzerland. This group of popular resort towns and lesser-known villages is united by a commitment to environmental sustainability, including climate-friendly transportation options.
And though it's isolated, Chamois still draws visitors yearning for a slower speed, Matterhorn views and outdoor pursuits. In summer, cyclists and hikers explore the area at a relaxed pace; in winter, skiers glide down 16km of uncrowded slopes and off-piste routes at Chamois' modest ski resort.
The few minutes that separate Chamois from the valley below are enough to shelter it from the velocity of modern life. In Italy's town without cars, life is driven by a humane pace, and the Alpine views stretch for miles.