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Chamonix

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Chamonix

Chamonix is a famous resort in the French Alps at the foot of Mont Blanc. Also it is credited with hosting the First Winter Olympic games in 1924.

Understand

Get in

Chamonix is connected to the valley by a highway and a small railway line. It is also connected to Courmayeur in Italy by road via the tunnel under the Mont-Blanc [1], and Martigny in Switzerland by road and rail.

In the winter there are TGV lines that go directly to St. Gervais-les-Bains (Le Fayet), where you can switch to a small local train to ride up into Chamonix. There is also a TGV that leaves directly from Charles-de-Gaulle airport to Lyon, and you can transfer to St. Gervais-les-Bains (Le Fayet) from there. Via St. Gervais, sleeper trains to Paris are also easily accessible.

The Chamonix valley can be considered everything between Servoz and the Swiss border, or the towns of: Servoz, Les Houches, Chamonix, Les Praz, Argentiere, and Vallorcine.

If you plan to fly to Geneva and hire a car, the route to Chamonix is relatively straight-forward, covering a distance of 88 km. Chamonix is located 80 km southeast of Geneva, Switzerland, and driving time is about one hour via the Autoroute Blanche (A40) motorway. Chamonix is 226 km from Lyon and 612 km from Paris.

Geneva is the most convenient and accessible airport for tourists traveling to Chamonix. Cham-van.com [2] provides shared and private minibus transportation between Geneva airport and the Chamonix valley throughout the winter season from 28€ per person. Chamexpress.com [3] run a timetabled daily service to Chamonix from Geneva Airport every 45 minutes throughout the winter and summer seasons at 28€ per person. Alternatively Alpybus [4], which is based in Geneva offers a high frequency shuttle service to Chamonix with fares at 26.50 euro per person. Deluxe transfers [5] offer a private, chauffeur driven service between Geneva and Chamonix all year round.

Helicopter

Heli Securité [6] Luxury helicopters can also be chartered to transfer you and your friends and family from any resort in the French Alps. Pilots will pick guests up in VIP style and convey them to their luxury chalet in Chamonix [7], Megeve, Meribel, Val D’Isere, Tignes, Morzine or Courchevel, from the airport in time to catch their flights. Heli Securité can also arrange for inter resort transfers, so if guests are based in Chamonix but would like to try the slopes in Meribel Heli Securité can arrange a luxury helicopter charter to suit.

See

  • Mer de Glace (Ice Sea), one of the biggest glaciers in continental Europe, accessible by the Montenvers rack railway. From the Montenvers Station one has great views on the glacier but also on the north Face of the Grand Jorasses, one of the three most famous North faces in the European Alps.
  • Aiguille du Midi cable car, one of the highest cable cars in the world, apart from a few in South America. In fact the Aiguille Du Midi starts at 1035 m and finishes at a staggering 3810 m! From the bottom to the top, it has the greatest vertical range in the world. Bring warm clothes. as the temperature is alway cold even in mid-summer. Don't miss the exhilirating 5 Km cable car ride over snow capped mountains from Aiguille du Midi on France to Helbronner on Italy. These are the closest viewpoints of Mont-Blanc and also provide different views of Mont-Blanc. A 3 Km stretch without pillars is the world's longest cable car ride without pillars.
France to Italy
  • Brevent cable car, on the other side of the valley, provides the best views of the Mont-Blanc massif. A round trip adult pedestrian (not skier) ticket is about €18. The other option is to take the cable car with a change at Planpraz from Chamonix.
  • In Les Houches you can take the Bellevue cable car (Telepherique de Bellevue) for another view of the Chamonix valley, with Mont Blanc to one side and the Brevent to the other. A short walk will allow you to see the other side of the mountain towards St. Gervais, Sallanches and the glacier de Bionnassay. In August 2005, a round-trip pedestrian adult ticket was €12.10.
  • Another option is to take the Montblanc Tramway from St.Gervais Le Fayet that goes upto Nid d'aigle. It stops at Bellevue on the way. There are beautiful views over the valley from Nid d'Aigle also.
  • Musée des cristaux, [8] (crystals museum), a very nice museum, exhibiting an impressive collection of crystals, mostly from Chamonix, but also from the rest of the Alps and worldwide. Created and maintained through a paternership between the city council and the local Mineralogical club [9], it is both very aesthetic and scientific, displaying pedagogical posters. You will find it just behind the Maison de la Montagne and the church.
  • You can take the Le Tour cable car to the Franco-Swiss border on the mountains and also for an hike to the Le Tour glacier.

If you consider taking the more than one cable car trips for sightseeing or skiing, you should seriously consider buying Mont-Blanc multipass [10]. You have passes for 1-10 days at very good prices. Also, the website provides very good information on possible activities and hikes from the cable car stops.

Do

  • Compagnie des Guides (mountain guides), 190 place de l'Église, 74400 Chamonix Mont Blanc, tel. +33 4 50 53 00 88, [11].
  • YokmoK Adventures, adventure travel company specialized in the Alps, [12].
  • Mountain Sanctuary, provide Mountain Retreats and Yoga holidays in Chamonix [13]
  • Chalet Academy, run cookery courses specifically tailored to train you as a chalet chef or host. [14]
  • Proffessional Mountain Guide (Steve Hartland), +33 6 08 72 37 21, [15]. English speaking Mountain Guide available for private guiding winter and summer. Skiing, mountaineering, climbing, glacier trekking, Vallee Blanche, Mont Blanc, Haute Route, Via Ferrata.

Skiing

  • Vallée blanche (White Valley), glacier skiing. Needs a full day from the Aiguille du Midi cable car. The easiest route can be skiied by someone who is confident on red runs, although a guide is highly recommended due to the Glacier on which you would be skiing.
  • The Brevent and la Flegere are the easiest ski areas to get to from the center of town. You can walk to the ski lift at le Brevent, or take a shuttle from a number of different drop of points. Skiing for all levels, but mostly mid- to extreme ski.
  • Les Houches is the best family resort, and often has the best low-altitude conditions. It is the only ski area with slopes below the treeline, so it is a good place to go when there is a lot of fog.
  • Le Tour is at the far end of the valley, towards Martigny. It has many easier slopes for beginners, but also some out-of-bounds skiing if you are willing to hike up with your skis. The front side of Le Tour is also a good place to go if you don't like being cold, because most slopes are in the sun (although it can still be very windy, especially on the back side down towards Vallorcine).
  • The Grand Montets has the most extreme and highest altitude slopes, and can be accessed from the town of Argentiere.

Mountaineering

Hiking

Bionassay Glacier

Take the telepherique to the top of a nearby peak. Hike down, it's easy! Or try hikes between two telepheriques, for example:

  • between the Brevent and la Flegere
  • between the Mer de Glace and the Plan de l'Aiguille

Get a fantastic view on both the Mont-Blanc/Aiguilles de Chamonix range, and the ribbon of the Fiz limestone range:

  • Take the Brevent telepherique, then walk down the crest to the Bel-Lachat mountain hut, then walk down to the Rocher des Gaillands or (if slightly more courageous) to the Aiguillette des Houches and down, or
  • Walk up the steep lane from the Gaillands to Plan-Lachat, then Bel-Lachat, then on, up along the crest to the Brevent (about six hours and rather hot in summer: start early, but it is really worth the effort).

Several great glacier hikes exist. Even if you can't get right up to the glaciers and touch them, you can still get close enough to get some amazing views.

  • Glacier des Bossons - depart either from Les Bossons (at the base of the ski jump) by foot or by chair lift, or drive up to the entrance of the Mont Blanc Tunnel for a shorter, flatter hike. Warning, do not attempt to "touch" th glacier here, it is possibly the most dangerous place in the valley.
  • Glacier d'Tour - depart from the town of Montroc, near the ski resort "Le Tour".
  • Glacier de Trient - depart from the top of the Col de la Forclaz, in Switzerland (before descending to Martigny). One hour, flat.
  • Glacier de Bionnassay - depart from the top of the Bellevue cable car.

The first three could feasibly be done in one day if you are up early and have a car, but Bionnassay will require a half-day.

Buy

  • The town itself has a lovely collection of sporting, alpine and local shops. (including some fleece shirts for as little as €8, that's 2 for 16!)

Eat

It's France. The food is all good, though it can be quite expensive in the touristy places. Open a can of Ravioli from the supermarket and eat it with your freshly purchased Swiss Army Knife. If you've been hiking all day, it'll be the best meal you've ever had.

Other regional specialties (Quand meme!)

  • Fondue
  • Pierrade or Pierre chaude - a hot piece of slate on which you cook your own slices of meat at the table.
  • Raclette - like fondue, this is a multi-person event that involves more melted cheese, potatos and cold cuts.
  • Croute savoyarde - a toasted piece of bread soaked in white wine and then baked with melted cheese and possibly mushrooms or tomatos.
  • Tartiflette - potatos and bacon smothered with melted roblochon cheese.
  • Toasted goat's cheese salad with nuts.
  • Midnight Express, Rue du Docteur Paccard. Serves absolutely enormous and very tasty burgers (amongst other things) for around €7. Open every day from 11AM-2AM.
  • Linguini, 242 av. Michel Croz. Freshly made pasta for around €6. Takeaway with a few seats outside.

If you find you've had a bit more cheese that you would really like, there's a very nice Japanese restaurant, Satsuki.

For trendy, 'nouveau French', try these restaurants:

  • Munchie, Rue des Moulins.
  • Le Delice, Les Houches.
  • le Basilic, in Les Houches. For authentic French food (but not typical Savoyard).

Drink

Drinking in Chamonix is relatively expensive. Expect to pay around €5 in most places for a pint of beer, though most places will sell pitchers which can work out cheaper. There are many happy hours during the late afternoon. The Microbrasserie de Chamonix (MBC) has different kinds of microbrews, in an American/Canadian ambiance (serves onion rings and hot wings, for example). Otherwise, most places serve standard pilsners, such as Heineken or 1664. Just ask for 'un demi pression' for tap beer, or a 'demi panache' for a mix of half beer, half Sprite, a refreshing alternative with less alcohol. A pint is called a "serieux" or for better value, order a "pitcher". Although most people working in the tourism/hospitality industry will speak some english, making the effort to speak a little french is always appreciated. So throw in a little 'bonjour' (hello) or 'merci' (thankyou) when you can.

  • Chambre Neuf, 272 av. Michel Croz, Chamonix (Centre of town), +33 4 50-55-89-81, [16]. Open daily until 2am. Popular with the après-ski crowd and expats, Chambre Neuf offers a classy location for a tasty and reasonably-priced lunch, a bite to eat, or a happy-hour cocktail.
  • Le Garage, 270, av. de l'Aiguille de Midi (Slightly out of the centre (walking distance) near the Aiguille de Midi), +33 4 50-53-64-49. Chamonix's largest nightclub may be a bit empty out of season (even though it's often the only late-night joint open) but it's still fun and a good place to mingle with tourists, expats and even a few locals!
  • Le Tof, 58 Pl. Edmond Desailloud (Chamonix Sud), +33 4 50-55-95-19. Gay-friendly nightclub in Chamonix Sud. Good place for a boogie.
  • Vagabond, 365 Av. Ravanel le Rouge (Chamonix Sud), +33 4 50-53-15-43. While the walk to 'the Vag' can be a chilly one in winter, you'll probably be met by a roaring fire, football on the TV and a fun crowd of regulars (expats) and backpackers staying in the adjoining hostel. A good place to watch sport or for a low-key midweek chat.

Sleep

Chamonix and its surroundings are stuffed with hotels, lodges and campings, ranging from basic and cheap to very luxe and expensive.

  • Chalet Vert et Blanc, 997 route des praz, +33 4 50-34-97-86, [17]. Provider of luxury catered and self catered accommodation in Chamonix.
  • Chalets Marmotte Mountain Adventure, 31 chemin des Rambles, Argentiere, +33 6 82-89-15-23, [18]. Luxury catered ski chalet accommodation in Argentiere.
  • The Club House, 74 Promenade des Sonnailles, Chamonix, [19]. The Clubhouse is a boutique chalet-hotel, bar and restaurant which sits inside a magnificent Art Deco mansion.
  • Hotel Le Faucigny, 118 place de l'Eglise (Chamonix mont-blanc), +33 4 50-53-01-17, [20]. checkin: 3pm; checkout: 12am. Hotel Faucigny is situated in the historical center of Chamonix mont-blanc, close to shops, ski schools and mountain house, at 100 m from ski buses. Private car park. 90 euros.
  • Drop in Chalets, Chalet Cachat, Rue Mummery, Chamonix, 74400 (Chalet Cachat is situated arpund 200 Metres from the town centre at the foot of the Savoy nursery slopes), +44 117 230 6997, [21]. checkin: 12am; checkout: 10am. Set back in a large private garden with panoramic views of Mont Blanc Chalet Cachat is a Savoie style chalet with large open plan living and dining area full of character. €120.
  • Ski Breezy (Catered winter Chalet accommodation), Chalet D Ile, 80 Chemin des Barrats, 74400 Chamonix Mont Blanc, (Between the Hospital of Chamonix and the river, a 5 minute flat walk into Chamonix Town Centre), +33 6 19-25-78-64, [22]. Catered chalet accommodation in the winter only. Cosy chalet close to the centre of town (but far enough away not to hear it). Great home cooked food and flowing wine. Suitable for individuals, couples, groups and families. Fantastic reviews and superb local knowledge to help you make the most of your precious time in the snow.
  • High Mountain Holidays, 233 Chemin de la Cliaz, Chamonix, +33 4 50-53-38-09, [23]. Selection of self catered chalets & apartments to suit all budgets.


Stay safe

Climbing the Mont Blanc is popular among alpinists. The climb should however not be attempted by people lacking mountain climbing experience and equipment, even using the easiest route (voie royale).

More generally, all high mountain hiking, climbing, and skiing, is potentially dangerous. Bad weather may turn an otherwise easy hike into a strenuous and possibly fatal journey ; weather in the mountains can change at short notice and you should always inquire about the latest forecast. Always carry a cell phone, should you need to call for rescue, though there is no guarantee it will work everywhere. Keep it turned off unless needed, so as not to drain its batteries needlessly.

After snowfalls, in some areas, avalanches can be expected — either natural or triggered in order to prevent further avalanching. Always inquire about avalanche hazards before embarking in hikes in the snow or off-track skiing. Even if you do not fear for yourself, please show consideration for the people who may be underneath you.

Altitude sickness may also be an issue. Using aerial lifts, one may get very fast to high altitude areas. For instance, when going up the Aiguille du Midi, you get lifted from around 1000m altitude (Chamonix) to 3840m in a very short time. You may experience shortness of breath and other symptoms.

Get out

This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!





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