There are many great spots across the world to gaze at the stars. The International Dark Sky Association (IDSA) lists 130 locations, including three that were added in the USA last year (in Colorado, Arizona, and Utah). One notable omission, if you browse the sites on the IDSA’s map, is Italy.
Now, though, the country has an officially recognized stargazing site of its own. The valley of Saint-Barthélemy, in northern Italy’s Valle d’Aosta region close to the border with Switzerland, has been designated a Starlight Stellar Park from the UNESCO-affiliated Starlight Foundation.
It’s the first place in the country to receive the designation (which is separate from IDSA’s system) and it will be formally presented at the Astronomical Observatory of the Autonomous Region of the Aosta Valley, in the village of Lignan, on Saturday. As Euronews reports, a new planetarium will also be opened. The observatory is open to the public Monday to Friday.
Starlight Stellar Parks, the organization says, are “rural areas . . . generally belonging to municipalities that protect its night sky enough to allow observational, education, cultural or recreational activities linked to astronomical events.” The designation celebrates places that facilitate amateur stargazing, where stars can be clearly seen with the naked eye, and where steps are taken to prevent light pollution.
Local physicist and researcher Andrea Bernagozzi told Euronews that the area’s stargazing potential is due to several factors. “The Saint-Barthélemy Valley is surrounded by a natural ring of mountains that are high enough to shield the place from the light pollution of the large cities near it [such as Turin in Piedmont and Milan in Lombardy],” she said. “There are also very few people living in the Saint-Barthélemy Valley, so few public lampposts.”
The lampposts that do exist have been replaced with LED versions, and visitors are encouraged to bring torches with red bulbs and point them down toward the road.
Valle d’Aosta is accessible by car or train from Piedmont and fairly close to airports in Turin, Milan, and Geneva. The tourist board has some comprehensive coronavirus information on its site.
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