Arguably one of the prettiest places I’ve travelled to so far, Chamonix lies nestled in the Haute-Savoie region of France. With stunning views of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps, Chamonix is a mountain-lover’s paradise. Although primarily a ski-resort, there’s still plenty to do for people who don’t ski (like me). Also, if you’re looking to have a good skiing experience, a day-trip wouldn’t do. Make sure you stay for a couple of days at least – there are plenty of options for various budgets.
I travelled to Chamonix on a bus from Geneva, which is really the easiest way to get here if you don’t have a car. There are plenty of buses that head to Chamonix from Gare Routiere, Geneva’s primary bus station. The journey takes about an hour and a half and the tickets (return) are about CHF 30-40, when booked in advance.
There are other ways of getting to Chamonix:
1. By Air: The nearest airport is the Geneva Airport. You will need to get a private or shared transfer from this airport to Chamonix. You can also fly into Lyon Airport and get a transfer from there. Chambery and Turin Airports are also options, but they are not as well connected by international flights as Geneva.
2. By Train: You can get on a Eurostar from any of the major European stations and get to Lyon or other stations that operate an SNCF train to St. Gervais. Once you’ve arrived at St. Gervais, put yourself on the Mont Blanc Express Train which will take you all the way up till Chamonix in about 8 hours.
3. By Bus/Coach: This is the easiest and most cost-effective way of getting to Chamonix. There are regular buses/coaches from Geneva (Switzerland), Annecy (France), Martigny (Switzerland) and Courmayeur (Italy). Most journeys from these places to Chamonix take less than a couple of hours.
4. By Car: If you have your own vehicle, there’s nothing like the drive to Chamonix from any of the three countries that lead to it (Switzerland, France and Italy). Be sure to check the restrictions in winter as some of these roads may be blocked due to snow. There’re parking areas in Chamonix town and outside it, so taking your own car is quite a feasible option.
For more details on getting to Chamonix, visit: https://www.chamonet.com/getting-here
THINGS TO DO:
If you’re on a day-trip to Chamonix, it’d be best to get here on the first bus out of your town. That would give you a tad more time to explore the Chamonix Valley. Also, don’t try to cram everything into a single day – you’re just not going to be able to enjoy the sights that you want to see if you’re trying to get ten things done in a single day. Remember, since Chamonix is in the mountains, most sights close by 3-4 pm (even during the summer), so you’ll need to plan what you really want to do, gauge the distance between the various places to visit and stick to that plan.
1. Aiguille du Midi
The topmost attraction (literally and figuratively) in Chamonix, it offers the most breath-taking panoramic views of the Swiss, French and Italian Alps. It’s easily accessible via cable car all year round, and the same is a two-part ride. You’d reach Plan de l’Aiguille first at 2,310 meters – this place is excellent for a meal pit-stop or just soaking in the scenic views. You can also hike to Montenvers or opt for paragliding! The second part of the cable-car ride will take you to the Aiguille du Midi summit, at a height of 3,777 meters. This is the most amazing viewpoint in Chamonix and possibly in all of Western Europe.
During the summer, there’s a lift that travels over the Glacier du Géant to reach the Pointe Helbronner summit terrace at 3,842 meters. This place houses a restaurant called Le 3842, open only in the summer, offering authentic Savoy cuisine and stunning views of Mont Blanc.
Important: Bring Sunglasses, be properly wrapped up in warm clothing (the temperatures are minus degrees even during the summer), wearing non-slippery shoes and slather your face with sunscreen.
2. Step Into The Void
This is a glass viewing room designed by a local Chamonix design agency called Implicite. Claiming to be the highest attraction in Europe at an altitude of 3842 meters, it can be accessed via the cable-car leading up to the Aiguille du Midi. It’s made of glass on all sides – ceiling, walls and floor, and stepping into it will send chills down your spine. A must-visit for those seeking a uniquely thrilling experience. Needless to say, the views are spectacular.
There is usually a long waiting queue to (step into) Step Into The Void, so you’ll need to keep this in mind while planning your itinerary for the day.
3. Mer de Glace
Literally translating into “Sea of Ice” in French, it’s the largest glacier in France and one of the largest in Europe spanning over seven kilometres in length. Tourists have been visiting this site for over a hundred years using the Train du Montenvers railway. This little red train traverses through a picturesque route that takes about 20 minutes to reach the glacier from Chamonix town. Mer de Glace also offers magnificent views of the Les Drus and Les Grandes Jorasses peaks. There are also a few options for a meal/snack break if you’re looking to grab a bite before continuing your exploration. Le Panoramique Mer de Glace bistro is quite popular with tourists looking to dine with a view.
A 400-step descend (walk) from Mer de Glace is the Grotte de Glace, a 100-meter long ice cave. There’s also a small museum about glaciers called the Glaciorium. There’s also plenty for kids to do including a Temple of Nature airing educational nature films. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can take a hike trail back to Chamonix town.
4. Tramway du Mont Blanc
This is one of the oldest, active tram lines in France and it offers a signature Chamonix experience. It operates three trains, interestingly named after three daughters of the owner Pierre Noury in the 1950s. It winds through mountains, meadows, forests, pastures and tiny villages ending in Bellevue (1,900 meters) or Nid d’Aigle (2,372 meters) depending on the season. There are many scenic waking, mountain biking and hiking paths leading from the two tram stops. The journey in itself is something straight out of a postcard – picture perfect.
If you’re someone who thoroughly loves museums, there are two interesting ones in Chamonix.
Musée Alpin (Museum of Alpine History)
As the name suggests, it’s a 20th century building converted into a museum illustrating the history of the Chamonix Valley from its discovery until present day. It carefully preserves everything from traditional costumes, art, farming tools, an enviable collection of photographs of a bygone era and much more. It’s an interesting place to visit even if museums don’t generally excite you.
Musée des Cristaux (Museum of Crystals)
Strictly for those who are interested in crystals and stones, this museum houses a significant
collection of crystals mainly from the Mont Blanc peaks. The museum also has a very
interactive wing dedicated to mountaineering.
6. Chamonix Town
This is possibly the quaintest, most picturesque yet quirky mountain town I’ve visited. Originally a tiny village called Prieuré de Chamouni, it was discovered by two Englishmen in the mid 1700s. By the 1770s, it became known as an excellent spot for mountaineers and the village’s first inn opened, which was followed by luxury hotels in the 1800s. As its fame spread, the tiny village started getting record number of visitors and it grew into a larger town with its own railway lines.
Surrounded by snow-capped peaks, the present day town has an eclectic mix of chapels, upscale restaurants (some even claiming a Michelin star), luxury hotels, chalets and streets lined with shops. A walk around town is a must!
On the whole, Chamonix makes for a perfect mountain holiday destination for people seeking to explore in a day or stay for a few days. I felt much like Heidi from my favourite childhood book of the same name – dizzy with the kind of quiet happiness that only the mountainside can bring.
For more details on Chamonix, visit www.chamonet.com