Science on the Mountain: Explore Europe’s Highest Garden

Situated on the Italian side of the Alps, Courmayeur is not just a pretty ski destination. This picturesque town at the foot of Mont Blanc offers a wide variety of year-round activities for adventurous families. Hailed as ‘Italy’s best all-round ski resort’, it is also home to Europe’s highest botanical garden. The Saussurea Alpine Botanical Garden was opened in 1987; originally it was a tourist attraction but gradually it gained scientific interest due to the opening of the Pavillon du Mont Fréty protected area.
The garden owes its name to the Alpine Saw-wort flower (Saussurea alpina). This flower was named after the Swiss scientist Horace Bénédict de Saussurea, who encouraged the first ascent of Mont Blanc in 1786.

More About The Botanical Garden

Perched at 2,173 metres above sea level, the Saussurea is the highest Botanical Garden in Europe. Covering an area of 7,000m², it is divided into two distinctive zones: the first is home to a number of species cultivated in a rockery which is divided according to their region of origin. The second is a more natural environment consisting of a typical alpine pasture, talus slopes and wetlands. Species in this section have been left to grow spontaneously.

Exploring these zones is like going on a mini-tour of all the mountain ranges of the world. You don’t need to be a botanical buff to work out what each plant is and where it comes from – there are plenty of explicative placards and each plant is labelled. Plants with a yellow label are Italian in origin, red is for medicinal species, white for exotic plants and labels bearing a skull means the plant is poisonous or toxic.

At present, the Saussurea boasts 800 species which come from other botanical gardens in Europe and all over the world.

Perfect for the Active Family

This area of outstanding natural beauty is best explored on foot. There are many designated hiking trails which enable you to explore the Saussurea and beyond. If you are really active you could try to hike around the 7,000m² area of the entire garden. There are plenty of placards which give scientific information about the flora and fauna of the Valle d’Aosta and Mont Blanc, explaining in detail the environments which are typical of mountainous areas.

It’s easy to reach the gardens via the Mont Blanc cable car but for the more adventurous a two-hour hike is highly recommended. The trail departs from La Palud and goes through amazing woodlands and lush meadows until you arrive at the hamlet of Pavillon.

How to Get to Courmayeur

Take the hassle out of getting from Geneva to Courmayeur and book an airport transfer with Shuttle Direct. Hang up your hiking boots while our local drivers help you and your brood make a quick get-away to your accommodation. You can enjoy the unique alpine scenery on the 1 hour and 30 minute ride from Geneva to Courmayeur – our knowledgeable drivers may even throw in a few jokes and local information on the way.

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