Chamonix-Mont Blanc

FRANCE RHONE-ALPES HAUTE SAVOIE Aiguilles du Midi in the Savoy Alps

Chamonix-Mont Blanc (pop 9,086), commonly known as Chamonix, has a reputation bigger than its size. The stunning mountain town is known for is for being the mecca of Alpine skiing and mountaineering. Sitting at an altitude of 1,027m, Chamonix is also one of the highest towns in France. The town is one of the oldest ski resort towns as well and was the site of the 1924 Winter Olympic Games. As such, it has been attracting a sizeable number of tourists for a long time- all coming to test out the slopes, lending the town a cosmopolitan air. It is most favoured by the British (who have been visiting Chamonix for centuries now) and Swedes. 

The town’s breathtaking backdrop- filled with snowfields, glaciers and shark-toothed aiguilles has also made it a popular destination for winter parties which has been somewhat tampering with Chamonix’s mountainous image. However, the town has adapted well to the changes and you will be able to see many flashy restaurants and boutiques amongst the usual ski resort sights and sounds, as well as other ‘touristy’ attractions. These destinations have managed to cloak the village that Chamonix-Mont Blanc truly was, making it a ski resort site that is welcoming to everyone (regardless of their bank balance).



Layout

FRANCE RHONE-ALPES HAUTE SAVOIE Chamonix
The town proper, is sprawled on the Arve Riverbanks, enclosed in a valley between Mont Blanc to the south, and Aiguilles Rouges to the north, peaking at 2,525m at Le Brévent. Chamonix is also flanked by smaller villages including Argentiére and Les Bossons- satellite villages within the area. The town’s main commercial street is the pedestrianised section at rue du Docteur Paccard and its continuation, rue Joseph Vallot. Another lively section of town, known for its parties is the Chamonix Sud quarter.

You can arrive at Chamonix via bus or train at the stations located adjacent to each other at Place de la Gare on the east side of town. Travel within Chamonix is also rather straightforward with the Chamonix bus [http://www.chamonix-bus.com/]. 

To view the valleys, peaks, cable cars and trains of the Chamonix-Mont Blanc area, zoom out using the map below. In winter te pistes are also service by numberous chair lifts (not shown on the map) that distribute skiiers from the top of cable cars to various ski runs.  In winter, sizeable queues develop at the cable car entries, although once at the top the chair lifts are generally fast and without significant wait-times.  One of the frustrations of the area is that the ski zones are not directly connected together, which means that you need to return to the base point and transfer to the next ski zone by bus or train.  Some forethought about how to strategically manage your time here is therefore worthwhile.


 


FRANCE RHONE-ALPES HAUTE SAVOIE  Chamonix Aiguille du Midi cable car
Aiguille du Midi
(see top photo) – a mountain in the Mont Blanc massif is perhaps the most iconic sight of Chamonix. The jagged granite pinnacle, lying 8km south-east of Mont Blanc, stands at 3,842m high, providing one of the most thrilling excursions in town- the Télépherique du l’Aiguille du Midi [100 Place de l’Aiguille du Midi +33 450532275 ad/ch €45.20/34 (round trip)]. This vertiginous cable car ride goes to a height of about 3,000m above the valley floor and is split into 2 steep stages. It links Chamonix to the top of the mountain, with a mid-point stop at Plan du Midi. Although alighting at this point is an option, it is recommended that you stick on till you reach the summit, as it is the most commanding spot of all- presenting the vast, snowy landscape at your feet, starting with the plateau of Col du Midi and glaciers of Vallée Blanche to the summit of the spectacular Mont Blanc itself! The presentation of a 360 degree panoramic view of the French Alps is truely aweinspiring. The ascent on the cable car can get on your nerves if you are stuck in the summer crowd as the cabins can get crammed and the waiting queues might be endless. Alternatively you can purchase tickets in advance, either via phone or internet booking, for which an additional €2 will be charged. It's worth it!  You can also try to fix the ride at an earlier time in an effort to avoid the crowds. Ensure that you bring warm clothes, even in summer, as the temperatures at the peak remain below zero. However, despite the hassles, most visitors say that the views were worth the wait.



FRANCE RHONE-ALPES HAUTE SAVOIE Chamonix Telepherique du brevent


Another peak that is worth ascending is the Le Brévent Mountain on the east of Aiguille du Midi. This peak is the highest in the western side of town and it also offers sweeping views of the Mont Blanc massif. It is home to a restaurant (Le Panoramic) at its summit and many hiking trails and paragliding ledges. You can reach the summit via the Télécabine du Brévent [+33 450532275 ad/ch €25/20 (round trip)] which also runs at two stages from rue de la Mollard to Planpraz (mid-station 2000m elevation), switching cars to reach the summit.

 

 

 


FRANCE RHONE-ALPES HAUTE SAVOIE Grotte de glace
The third peak within Chamonix is a different story. Named Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice), this glacier, standing west of town is the second largest glacier in the Alps. It stretches 7km, spans 200m and and has a depth of 200m. It was found by Englishman William Windham in 1741 and was described as a frozen, agitated sea. Like all glaciers, the Mer de Glace also moves (though not visible to the naked eye), at about 45m a year at the edges and 90m in the centre. You can see the aftermath of the movements at the Grotte de la Mer de Glace – an ice cave that has been carved every spring since 1946. Look down the slope to see how far the caves have moved.


FRANCE RHONE-ALPES HAUTE SAVOIE Gare du Montenvers

Tourists have been visiting the caves and glacier via the railway line built in 1897 and 1908, on which the Gare du Montenvers [+33 450532275 ad/ch €20/25] runs. This red mountain train takes 20mins to get to the glacier and caves. Its ticket comprises of the admission fee to the glacier and the caves. An alternative way to reach Mer de Glace is to hike your way up from the mid-station at Place de l’Aiguille.





If you would like to stay indoors for some time, then you can head on to the Musée de Chamonix [89 avenue Michel Croz, +33 450532593 ad/ch €4.40/5.70] and the Musée des Cristaux [Esplanade St Michel 615 allée du Recteur Payot, +33 450555393 ad/ch €4.40/5.70]. The Alpine Museum is housed in an old 20th century palace, documenting the town’s Alpine history, from the days of the local crystal hunter Jacques Balmat and doctor Michel Gabriel Paccard, who scaled the Mont Blanc summit in 1741, to the development of the area’s tourist industry. East of this building, lies the Crystal Museum- this is especially dedicated to displaying information regarding the area’s crystal collection as well as other minerals in the region. The museum houses this sparkling, enchanting permanent collection as well as a host of other temporary exhibitions.

There are many activities to tackle around the Mont Blanc massif, regardless of the seasons. If you would like to try your hands at any one of these activities, you can drop by the Maison de la Montagne [190 Place de l’Eglise]. The place offer information regarding hiking trails, hiking conditions and copies of the area’s maps and topoguides. The maison also houses the reputable Compagnies des Guides [+33 450 530088] and the École de Ski François [+33 450532257], both offering guide services for mountaineering expeditions and other activities like off-piste skiing.


FRANCE RHONE-ALPES HAUTE SAVOIE Alpinistes sur une areteThanks to the varying the altitudes in the region, there are many winter activities for visitors to try out (even different types of skiing). Situated in a challenging terrain, Chamonix offers something for everyone- even for the most advanced of skiers. However, the downside of skiing in Chamonix is that, its ski areas are not connected to each other by lifts. Instead, you will have to return to the resort and switch lifts to get to the different ski areas. Nonetheless, Chamonix remains popular among skiing enthusiasts as the place has a total of nine ski and snowboarding areas- Le Tour, Les Planards and Les Chosalets catering to beginners; and Brévent-Flégère and Les Grands catering to advanced skiers. Les Grands also has a well-facilitated snow park for boarders, fitted with half-pipes and kicker ranges. 

Ski the VB:  Off-piste skiing is also welcomed in Chamonix (with a guide) as there are many marked but ungroomed trails in the region. The most famous off-piste trail is the 20km Vallée Blanche (or VB to the locals) descent- a dream come true for accomplished skiers.
Theruns starts at Aiguille du Midi (point #16 on the map below), and continues along the Glacier du Géant (in the Vallee Blanche, or VB, as the locals say; #13 on map), to Mer de Glace (point #12)  and finishing at the Gare du Montenvers terminus (point #B) or Chamonix itself. This route covers many challenging avalanche-prone, crevasse-filled areas that feature a whopping 2,800m drop in altitude -one of the world's biggest. This route may take four to five hours to complete, and a full day if you consider the cable car transfers; so start early.

Hot tips:  Winter crowds can slow the cable car transfers to the peaks, especially during the French and British school holidays.  Consider (1) using trains instead of the more crowded buses (which come free with ski passes) and then (2) head to the Vallorcine train station and take the cable car to the Col de Balme area on the Italian border (#H on map).  This cable car is normally less crowded and delivers you to behind the piste zones, which is a good starting point, and by-passes the more crowded Le Tour cable car access to Col de Balme.  Another tip is to ask your hotelier for a pass issued by the Town Hall (Mairie) that grants you free travel on the trains, which as mentioned above, are less crowded than the buses, and for this reason.  Many travellers are not aware that they are entitled to, or can access, these passes from their accommodation providers.

Guide hiring should be taken seriously in these areas, as many terrains in Chamonix are risky. The guides in Chamonix are well-trained and experienced and are easily accessible via the tourist office or the Maison de la Montagne.


FRANCE RHONE-ALPES HAUTE SAVOIE HuskiesOther popular winter activities in the region, are ski touring (held in Chamonix since 1927), heli-skiing, mushing and snowshoeing. Ski touring refers to a skiing expedition that is held in the region by guides, providing you a tour of the area’s beautiful sights on skis. These tours come with a tour guide and pre-arranged accommodation. Based on your skiing proficiency, you can opt to go on a tour as short as two days or for as long as six (the classic Haute Route). Heli-skiing on the other hand, is only open to experienced skiers, who are well-versed in both on and off-piste skiing. Mushing, otherwise known as dog-sledging is also made possible in Chamonix by the Huskydalen Company [chemin des Falets, +33 450477724], which provides introductory courses on this ancient mode of transportation.  For those who would like to experience the snowy sights in a less strenuous manner, you can try your hand at snowshoeing.


FRANCE RHONE-ALPES HAUTE SAVOIE
Like many resorts in the Alps, the Chamonix resort also has many post-winter activities that stretch from late spring to October. Some of the snowy, winter terrains melt down to offer great walking trails. Collectively these trails stretch up to 310km long. The most spectacular trails are those that lead an uphill hike; accessible by cable cars till afternoons, or by foot after that. One such mountainous hiking destination is the Lac Blanc (White Lake). This lake is accessed by an easy 1½ hour hike from the Les Praz l’Index or La Flégère cable car mid-point. The serene turquoise lake lies enclosed by rugged mountains, giving you a feel of being in an epic fantasy novel. Numerous chalets or refuges are located along the way for those who wish to stargaze after a long day’s hike. Other trials like the Grand Balcon (western side of the valley, altitude 2000m, providing views of the Mont Blanc peak) and Grand Balcon Nord (taking you to Mer de Glace) are also popular among visitors. For those who would prefer to stroll around, try heading to the Parc de Merlet [+33 450534789 ad/ch €6/4]. Located in Les Houches, this park, houses over 80 typical Alpine species such as marmots and chamois which live in their natural habitat. You can have a walkabout and sight these creatures up close.  

 
FRANCE RHONE-ALPES HAUTE SAVOIE Chamonix paraglider
Other available non-winter activities are white water rafting in the Chamonix’s Arve River, mountain biking in lower altitude trails and paragliding. Paragliding is perhaps the most popular summer activity in Chamonix; look up to the sky in summer and you will see why. Paragliding hotspots around the area are at Planpraz and Aiguille du Midi (be prepared to fork out a sizeable sum of money for this sport). Newbies can hone their skills at the paragliding schools in the area- Summits [27, allée du Savoy, +33 450535014] or further north of Chaminox in
Argentière, Les Ailles du Mont [117 chemin des Chosalets, Argentière, +33 450533619]. The deep valleys in Chamonix also make it a great destination to go canyoning in summer.  If you are there with your family, try to head on to the Parc de Loisirs de Chamonix [351, chemin du Pied du Grépon, +33 450530897 ad/ch €13/9], so as to get your hands on a summer luge (admission price includes luge rental rate). The luge winds through the trees, heading downhill at teeth clenching speeds. Kids under six must be accompanied by adults.

Try to visit Chamonix in mid-August, so you can catch sight of the illustrious Fête des Guides. This festival is held by the Compagnies des Guides to welcome their new members (who undergo a rigorous selection and training process) as well as to honour their colleagues who have lost their lives in the Alps. The festival comes complete with a son et lumiére, fireworks, and concerts and of course, mountaineering displays.

 

Javascript is required to view this map.


CHAMONIX
:   1. Tourist Office  2. Train Station  3. Télépherique du l’Aiguille du Midi  4.Télécabine du Brévent  5.   Gare du Montenvers  6. Musée de Chamonix  7. Musée des Cristaux  8. Maison de la Montagne (Compagnies des Guides & École de Ski François) 9. Chamonix by the Huskydalen Company  10. Summits  11. Parc de Loisirs de Chamonix 



CABLE CARS & TRAINS:   Blue lines are trains.  Red lines are cable cars.   A. Télépherique du l’Aiguille du Midi (Chamonix to Plan du Midi; Plan du Midi to Nid d’Aigle)  B. Télépherique du l’Aiguille du Midi (Glacier du Géant to the Pointe Helbronner (Italy) section)  C. Gare du Montenvers (Chamonix to Mer de Glace base)  D. Cable Car to Mer de Glace  E. Télécabine du Brévent (Chamonix to Le Brévent) F. Flégère  G. Lognan to Les Grands Montets Glacier .  H. Vallorcine to Col de Balme I. Le Tour to Col de Balme J. Tramway du Mont Blanc  (Le Fayet to Nid d’Aigle)

 

 

CHAMONIX-MONT BLANC DISTRICT MAP:   12  Mer de Glace Glacier  13. Glacier du Géant   14. Glacier de Lechaud 15. Les Grands Montets  16.Aiguille du Midi  17. Pointe Helbronner (Italy)  18. Le Brévent Mountain 19. Lac Blanc  20. Col de Balme  21. Arve River  22. Les Ailles du Mont  23.  Mont Blanc

CABLE CARS & TRAINS:   Blue lines are trains.  Red lines are cable cars.   A. Télépherique du l’Aiguille du Midi (Chamonix to Plan du Midi; Plan du Midi to Nid d’Aigle)  B. Télépherique du l’Aiguille du Midi (Glacier du Géant to the Pointe Helbronner (Italy) section)  C. Gare du Montenvers (Chamonix to Mer de Glace base)  D. Cable Car to Mer de Glace  E. Télécabine du Brévent (Chamonix to Le Brévent) F. Flégère  G. Lognan to Les Grands Montets Glacier .  H. Vallorcine to Col de Balme I. Le Tour to Col de Balme J. Tramway du Mont Blanc  (Le Fayet to Nid d’Aigle)

Javascript is required to view this map.