Chamonix, France, near the Italian border, lies at the base of Mt. Blanc, the highest peak in western Europe (more than 4700 meters). The River Arve winds through the valley, and rugged mountain chains surround it and the small resort town where the first Winter Olympics was held, in 1924. Winter sports rule in snow season, which can extend through mid-May, while summer crowds come for great biking and hiking. My favorite day in Chamonix-Mont Blanc has to include a hike through mountain meadows filled with wildflowers and unbelievably spectacular alpine views.
Smooth chairlifts, gondolas and cable cars rise steeply from the valley floor to dramatic ski runs. The best known, and one of the longest (20 kilometers) in Europe, is Vallée Blanche. Le Brivent is closest to the town center. Grands Montets is extremely challenging, and for intermediate terrain La Fligère is the best. Several ski and lift passes are available. ChamSki Pass is valid on all lifts and buses in the valley.
When you’re ready for indoor recreation, Chamonix has a sports complex that includes two indoor pools, a fitness center, an Olympic-size ice rink, tennis courts, and climbing walls.
After the snow melts, you can walk marked hiking trails – 350 kilometers of them – and wheel on mountain bike tracks. There’s also rock climbing, rafting, mountaineering, hang-gliding, paragliding, and golfing on an 18-hole course. Kids love the summer toboggan rides, pony trekking and the thrill of riding up the Aiguille du Midi cable car.
The cable car, or téléphérique, is equally exciting for adults. The car swings high above the valley and over icy glaciers to magnificent views of the French, Swiss and Italian Alps. (Two important tips: take warm jackets – it’s icy cold at the top. And get your ticket as early as possible or you may have a long wait in line. The office opens at 7:30 a.m.)
It’s a two-car ride, the first one rising to Plan de l’Aiguille, where you board another car that ascends the main peak, “the Needle,” and finally an elevator to the top. For more thrills and beauty you can ride in yet another car over the snow and ice from France into Italy. If the day is clear this is a lifetime experience; you will never see a more sensational mountain panorama.
Another, smaller adventure is to take the Montenvers Train, which winds through larch forests up to the Montenvers station, at 1,913 meters. Here you’re overlooking mountain peaks and the Mer de Glace, Europe’s largest glacier. You can even go into the heart of the glacier in the Ice Grotto and see huge ice sculptures.
All this activity makes for hearty appetites, which can be satisfied at dozens of restaurants, many serving the regional specialty, raclette – warm cheese scraped over ham and potatoes. One popular spot is Boccalatte*, a restaurant offering several Savoyard dishes, such as fondues, at reasonable prices. For crèpes, pastries, and good low-priced meals, try Brasserie L’M, especially nice in spring and summer when the terrace is open. Le Panier des 4 Saisons is more expensive and has a fine seasonal menu and wine list.
In this international resort area, you can find menus from many cultures – Italian, Japanese, Indian, Mexican, and more. The place for sophisticated high cuisine is the Michelin-starred Albert Premier, where meals are served in a rustic farmhouse atmosphere with views of Mt. Blanc. Another restaurant on the property is Maison Carrier, offering a regional Savoyard menu. Albert Premier is also a complex of lodgings, with rooms from contemporary to traditional decor, all tastefully done and offering every comfort you’d expect from a member of the Relais & Chateaux group.
Chamonix and the villages nearby have a wide variety of lodgings, from bed-and-breakfast chalets to spa resorts. Hotel L’Oustalet is a fine choice for a small hotel. Its rooms have balconies or terraces with great mountain views, there’s a pool, and a full breakfast is served.
One of the interesting and heartening features of Chamonix is the attention being paid to sustainability. The commune has pledged to preserve open spaces, promote careful resource management, favor efficient transportation, and to encourage environmentally friendly tourism
59, avenue de l’aiguille du Midi
Tel : +33(0)450535214
Brasserie de L’M
87 Rue Joseph Vallot
Chamonix Mont Blanc
Tel:+33 (4) 50535830