For a small town, Chamonix casts a long shadow. This French commune of 10,000 is internationally renowned for hosting the very first Winter Olympic Games in 1924 and as the home of the north side of the summit of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe (the ownership of the mountain has been famously debated between France and Italy). One of the oldest and best-loved ski resorts in the world, Chamonix is a frosty, icy paradise for winter sports lovers. However, the natural beauty of this high-altitude town can be enjoyed all year round, so it might also be an option for next year’s summer holiday!
Aiguille du Midi
Literally translated as “the Needle of the South,” Aiguille du Midi is an imposing, sharply pointed 3,842-metre mountain within the Mont Blanc massif. The cable car to the summit holds the record for the highest vertical ascent for a cable car in the world, from 1,035 metres to 3,842 metres. If you’re brave enough to dangle from the cable over the yawning valley, at the summit you’ll find a viewing platform that offers a 360-degree view of the French, Swiss and Italian Alps, including Mont Blanc. In December 2013 the peak opened a new attraction called “Step into the Void”, a 2.5-metre glass cage that juts over a precipice of over 1,000 metres. Certainly an excellent photo opportunity for those with nerves of steel!
The summit of Aiguille du Midi is open all year round, so you can enjoy the spectacular view during any season.
Montenvers Mer de Glace
For another year-round attraction, hop on the Train du Montenvers-Mer de Glace, which will take you to the impressive Mer de Glace glacier (literally “sea of ice”). The largest glacier in France, the Mer de Glace is seven kilometres long and 200 metres deep. A small cable car takes visitors down to the surface of the glacier, where they can enter the Grotte de Glace, or Ice Cave. This man-made grotto is re-dug every year, as the glacier shifts about 70 metres annually. Inside, illuminated tunnels and caves lead visitors on a 20 minute walk through the heart of this icy sea.
The Alps are home to countless clear and pristine mountain lakes, and Chamonix is an excellent base from which to explore them. Try Lac Cornu, a cobalt-blue lake about an hour and a half walk from Le Brevent. To get there from Chamonix, take the gondola lift to Plan Praz, and then the cable car to Le Brevent at 2,525 metres. From the lake you can gaze upon Alpine peaks wreathed in clouds, reflected in the pure, untouched lake. A perfect spot for a picnic!
How to Get to Chamonix
If you’re travelling with a load of skiing gear, you might be planning to drive to Chamonix.
To get there you will have to take the Eurotunnel from Dover to Calais. You must book ahead to make the crossing, with prices beginning at £23 per car each way. The 650-mile drive from London to Chamonix will take your through such lovely cities as Reims, Dijon and Geneva, all of which might tempt you to prolong your time on the road. Don’t forget snow chains for your tyres, especially if you’re travelling in winter. Alpine roads can be slippery and treacherous. Also remember that in France you are required to carry a breathalyser, high-visibility jacket and reflective warning triangle in your car. British vehicles are required to have headlamp beam deflectors.
Alternatively, you can take the Eurostar to Paris, where you can board a TGV train to Lausanne. Once at Lausanne, change for a train to Martigny, change again for a train to Chatelard-Frontiere and then you can catch a local bus to Chamonix. Though it may sound like a lot of changes, the journey is a beautiful one, as it skirts the coast of Lake Geneva.
If you’d rather get to Chamonix by air, the closest international airport is Geneva. From Geneva Airport, you can catch an SNCF train to Chamonix, which is a three-hour journey with prices starting from as little as £17. For a more direct route from Geneva airport, ski transfers by Shuttle Direct are a comfortable, easy and quick way to get to Chamonix. The approximately one-hour drive can be booked with a private vehicle or shared shuttle service.
Where to Stay
Hotel Le Chamonix – Ideally located in the centre of Chamonix, just fifty yards from the ski shuttle stop, Hotel Le Chamonix offers traditionally furnished rooms at a reasonable price. Select rooms have private balconies from which guests can enjoy the mountain views. An excellent combination of convenience and value, this hotel is a good choice for travellers looking to experience Chamonix on a budget.
Petite Maison Chamonix – If you’d like to try living the mountain life proper, Petite Maison Chamonix is a charming place to make the attempt! This “petite maison” (little house) is a two-storey wood chalet complete with its own sun terrace. Cosy but modernised (think WiFi), this little house features a fully equipped kitchenette and offers easy access to the ski slopes.
Hotel Mont Blanc-Chamonix – The cheery blue-shuttered exterior of this chalet may look picturesque and traditional, but inside you’ll experience world-class luxury. With stunning mountain views, elegant decor and French-Italian restaurant, the Hotel Mont-Blanc Chamonix is a plush and magnificent choice for visitors to Chamonix. Slip into the complimentary bathrobe and slippers after a dip in the hot tub and enjoy this luxurious paradise.