Chamonix is a famous resort in French Alps at the foot of Mont Blanc (White Mountain).
Chamonix is connected to the valley by a highway and a small railway line. It is also connected to Italy by road via the tunnel under the Mont-Blanc.
In the winter there are TGV lines that go directly to St. Gervais-les-Bains, 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 from there.
The Chamonix valley can be considered everything between Sallanches and the Swiss border, or the towns of: Servoz, Les Houches, Chamonix, 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 88kms. Chamonix is located 80kms southeast of Geneva, Switzerland, and driving time is about one hour via the Autoroute Blanche (A40) motorway. Chamonix is 226kms from Lyon and 612kms from Paris.
- Mer de Glace (Ice Sea), the biggest glacier in continental Europe, accessible by the Montenvers rack railway.
- Aiguille du Midi cable car, one of the highest of the world. Take warm clothes. The temperature is alway cold even in mid summer.
- Brevent cable car, on the other side of the valley, the best scenery on the Mont-Blanc. A round trip adult pedestrian (not skier) ticket is about 18 Euros.
- In Les Houches you can take the Bellevue cable car (Telepherique de Bellevue) for another view of Chamonix with the 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 Euros.
- Compagnie des Guides (mountain guides), 190 place de l'Église, 74400 Chamonix Mont Blanc, tel. 04 50 53 00 88
- Vallée blanche (White Valley), glacier skiing. Need a full day from the Aiguille du Midi cable car. Reserved for well trained skiers.
- 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. It 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).
- The Grand Montets are the most extreme and highest altitude slopes, and can be accessed from the town of Argentiere.
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'aguille
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 the 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.
- Glacier d'Argentiere - 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 Belleview 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.
It's France. The food is all good. 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!)
- 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
Drinking in Chamonix can be very expensive. Expect to pay more than 5e in most places for a beer.
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 alchol.
Chamonix and its surroundings are stuffed with hotels, lodges and campings, ranging from basic and cheap to very luxe and expensive.