Chamonix (officially Chamonix-Mont-Blanc) is a famous resort in the Haute-Savoie. Located at the foot of Mont Blanc, it is regarded as the birthplace and one of the capitals of mountaineering. It is also credited with hosting the first Winter Olympic Games in 1924.
In 1760 the Genevan physicist Horace Bénédict de Saussure established a prize for the first person to climb the Mont Blanc. After several failed attempts, on August 8th 1786 the 20 years old mineral prospector Jean-Jacques Balmat and the Chamonix physician Dr. Michel-Gabriel Paccard reached the peak. This is regarded as the birth moment of alpinism. In the following years also the other peaks in the region were conquered. Today many different yearly mountaineering events take place in and around Chamonix.
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Chamonix also has a history as a center of winter sports, alpine skiing in particular. The first Winter Olympics were arranged here, and if you're here for winter sports, there are five resorts to choose among in the Chamonix valley.
- Office de Tourisme de Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, 85 Place du Triangle de l'Amitié, ☎ +33 04 50 53 00 24, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. daily 9-12:30 and 14-18, Su afternoon closed in the winter.
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, and Martigny in Switzerland by road and rail.
Coming from west (Geneva, Paris, Lyon) you can reach Chamonix by freeway A40. From central Switzerland, the freeway takes you to Martigny from where you'll take the smaller road across the mountain pass Col des Montets and the border into France. From Italy, take the Mont Blanc tunnel, whose French end is in Chamonix.
The rail line between St Gervais and Le Fayet/Vallorcine Martigny in Switzerland pass through Chamonix. This is a line that runs around the year and also stops in places like les Houches, les Bossons, les Praz de Chamonix and Argentière.
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.
Chamonix is on the Eurolines European long distance bus network. It is on the Amsterdam to Milan route. Stops include Antwerp, Brussels, Paris and Geneva. SAT also operates buses to nearby towns in Haute Savoie and Geneva, Switzerland. From Geneva bus terminal, there are three daily buses to Chamonix, operated by Helvecie with one way tickets costing CHF34 or €25. SAVDA operates buses to Courmayeur in Italy. The stop for these bus services is outside the main railway station.
- EBA Eurobus provides shared and private bus transfers between Geneva airport and the Chamonix valley from €10,67 per person.
Haute-Savoie Mont Blanc Airport is located around 90km and can be reached from Paris-Orly Airport by Air France. In practice, Geneva is the most convenient and accessible airport for tourists travelling to Chamonix. If you plan to fly to Geneva and hire a car, the route to Chamonix is relatively straightforward, 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.
- Cham-van.com provides shared and private minibus transportation between Geneva airport and the Chamonix valley throughout the winter season from €25 per person.
- Chamexpress runs a timetabled daily service to Chamonix from Geneva Airport every 45 minutes throughout the winter and summer seasons at €28 per person.
- Alternatively Alpybus, which is based in Geneva offers a high frequency shuttle service to Chamonix with fares starting at €24.50 per person.
- Deluxe transfers offer a private, chauffeur driven service between Geneva and Chamonix all year round.
Heli Securité. 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, 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.
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. Visitors paying the tourist tax to the commune (this generally includes people on campsites and staying in hostels) get a Carte d'Hote which allows free travel on trains and buses between Servoz and Vallorcine. In winter holders of lift passes can also travel for free on the buses.
In the winter season there is a bus network operating in the valley.
- Mountains and glaciers - Chamonix's most impressive sights are free and impossible to miss, the town is located next to some of the highest mountains in Europe (outside Caucasus), including the mighty Mont Blanc.
- Jacques Belmat memorial. A memorial of Jacques Balmat, one of the two first persons to reach the peak of Mont Blanc, erected in 1887 in central Chamonix. It is the most famous mountaineering memorial in the Alps, and it is popular to take photos of it with the mountain itself visible in the background. It took until 1986 until the second climber in the party, Michel-Gabriel Paccard got his own memorial which is at the bank of Arve.
- Musée alpin (Alpine Museum), La résidence 89 avenue Michel Croz, ☎ +33 04 50 53 25 93. daily 14-19, during school vacations also in the morning. Located in an early 20th century hotel, it shows the development of alpinism in the region from the first ascent of Mont Blanc to the modern sports climbers by means of historical paintings, photos and maps. They also host interesting temporary exhibitions. adults €5.
- Musée des Cristaux - Espace Tairraz (Crystal and Mineral museum), 615 allée du Recteur Payot (You will find it just behind the Maison de la Montagne and the church.), ☎ +33 04 50 55 53 93. daily 14-19, during school vacations also in the morning. A very nice museum, exhibiting an impressive collection of crystals, mostly from Chamonix (smoky and rose quartz), but also from the rest of the Alps and worldwide. At the museum you get to enjoy the beautiful exhibits and learn about the processes that formed them and the geology of the sites where they were mined. Created and maintained through a partnership between the city council and the local Mineralogical club, it is both very aesthetic and scientific, displaying pedagogical posters. There is also a smaller crystal museum with free entrance in a cave next to Montenvers station and Mer du Glace, but you need to take the rack rail up or hike. adults €5.
In general, the climate at the upper cable car stations is different from the valley. Powerful winds, rapidly changing weather, fog and sudden thunderstorms or snowstorms are possible around the year and even in the summer the temperatures are remarkably lower than in the valley. A windproof jacket or anorak and a pullover should be brought by everyone who wants to spend time outside the cable car station, also in the summer. These can also lead to temporary shutdowns, or simply zero visibility at the top. In the latter case you can take the ride if you wish but once at the top you are not going to see anything but the station itself and a lot of fog. They will let you know about it at the ticket counter so you won't waste your money but it's still not fun to hear if you've come on a daytrip from Geneva.
The cable cars are quite popular in the tourist seasons, so reserving your places beforehand can be a smart idea.
- Compagnie du Mont-Blanc S.A, ☎ +33 04 50 53 22 75. Operator of the cable cars in the region. If you consider taking the more than one cable car trips for sightseeing or skiing, you should seriously consider buying Mont-Blanc multipass. They sell passes for 1–10 days at very good prices. Also, their website provides very good information on possible activities and hikes from the cable car stops.
- Aiguille du Midi (Téléphérique de l'Aiguille du Midi). Opened in 1955 as the highest cable car in the world it's still one of the highest apart from a few in South America. It consists of two cable cars, starting at 1035 m at the valley bottom to an intermediate station, Plan de l'Aiguille at 2310m. From there another car takes you up to a staggering 3810 m over the sea level and you will traverse a 3 km stretch without pillars which is the longest in the world! From the bottom to the top, it has the greatest vertical range in the world, and the ride up takes about 20 minutes. At the top there is a restaurant and many viewing platforms, and you can take an elevator to the summit at 3842m. Bring warm clothes. as the temperature is always cold even in mid-summer, also sunglasses are good to have. These are the closest viewpoints of Mont-Blanc and also provide different views of Mont-Blanc. From here you can continue towards Italy with another cable car or descend on skis into Vallee blanche (something for experienced skiers only). €55 as of July 2014.
- Brevent cable car. On the other side of the valley, at 2525m this peak of the Aiguilles Rouges massif 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 (1999m) from Chamonix. If you are fit there is a path can walk back down to Chamonix.
- Bellevue. 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 up to Nid d'aigle. It stops at Bellevue on the way. There are beautiful views over the valley from Nid d'Aigle also.
- Cable cars to Italy. Don't miss the exhilirating 5 km Vallée Blanche cable car ride over snow capped mountains from Aiguille du Midi in France to Helbronner in Italy. You will get to the other side of the Mont Blanc massif, crossing through a region of high alpine glaciers and mountains over 4000m high. The ride takes around half and hour. The route almost exactly the Mont Blanc tunnel, a few kilometers below. €70.
- Funivia Monte Bianco. If you still want to continue, the Monte Bianco cable car takes you to Courmayeur. To complete a "vertical circuit", you can travel back to Chamonix by bus.
- Le Tour cable car. 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.
- Mer de glace (Ice Sea). from spring to fall, depending on weather conditions. 7km long, 200m thick and covering 40 km², this is France's biggest and one of the biggest glaciers in continental Europe, accessible by the Montenvers rack railway (Chemin de fer du Montenvers), opened in 1909. The ride up takes about 20 min. 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. At the mountain station you can also visit an ice cave inside the glacier itself (accessible by a short cable car ride), a cave serving as a small crystal museum, a small glacier museum in a hut and a historical grand hotel part of which also functions as a museum. All these sights are free. €29,50 return as of July 2014.
The town is a world renowned center for winter sports, and there is a wide array of skiing areas to choose among. As most of the pistes are located at over 2000 m over the sea level, snow is practically guaranteed every skiing season.
Three skiing sites can be accessed directly from Chamonix; the White Valley, Brevent and Flegere. The two latter are the easiest skiing areas to get to and on those two you will also be skiing on the sunny (southern) side of the mountain. There are no pistes connecting the different skiing areas, but the cable car stations in the valley are connected to each other by bus.
The "Mont Blanc" ski pass is valid for a total of 700 km of pistes, including the neighboring valleys as well as Courmayeur in Italy.
- Vallée blanche (White Valley). Needs a full day from the Aiguille du Midi cable car. From the cable car station you take a path - dangerous when covered by ice - to the glacier located 300 m below. That's the starting point of the piste leading down through the Vallée Blance and Mer de Glace. 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. This is not something to attempt in bad weather.
- The Brevent (west of Chamonix). 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. Good for ambitious and experienced skiers.
- Les Houches. South of Chamonix, this is likely the best choice for families, 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. It's green piste is used at the alpine skiing world cup competitions.
- Le Tour (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 (north of Chamonix). Has the most extreme and highest altitude slopes, and can be accessed from the town of Argentière. Starting from the mountain station of Grands Montets at 3200m, you will be skiing down the Argentière glacier, descending 2000m. This piste is for experienced skiers only.
- Private High Mountain Guide. Available for off piste skiing, mountaineering, Vallee Blanche, climbing, walking, ski touring and via ferrata - Steve Hartland.
- YokmoK Adventures. Adventure travel company specialized in the Alps.
The hiking paths offer splendid views of the highest massif in Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc is a classic hiking trail that takes about ten days to walk. For shorter visits, take the telepherique to the top of a nearby peak and hike down. Or try hikes between two telepheriques, for example between the Brevent and la Flegere or between the Mer de Glace and the Plan de l'Aiguille
There is 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" the 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.
- World cup of alpine skiing. Arranged every year in late January or early February.
- Chamonix Climbing World Cup. Every year in the middle of July, starting off the world cup seasons of mountaineering.
- Mountain Sanctuary. Provides mountain retreats and yoga holidays in Chamonix
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!). The best place for shopping is the main street, Rue du Docteur Paccard.
- Chalet Academy. Runs cookery courses specifically tailored to train you as a chalet chef or host.
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!)
- 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, potatoes and cold cuts.
- Croute savoyarde - a toasted piece of bread soaked in white wine and then baked with melted cheese and possibly mushrooms or tomatoes.
- Tartiflette - potatoes and bacon smothered with melted roblochon cheese.
- Toasted goat's cheese salad with nuts.
- La Gelateria, 204 Avenue Michel Croz. As the Italian name reveals, it is an ice cream bar. But as you are in France, why not try some of their great crepes?
- Midnight Express, Rue du Docteur Paccard. Open every day from 11AM-2AM.. Serves absolutely enormous and very tasty burgers (amongst other things) for around €7.
- Linguini Pasta Bar, 242 av. Michel Croz. Freshly made pasta for around €6. Takeaway with a few seats outside.
- Satsuki, 288 Rue Joseph Vallot. 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, 87 Rue des Moulins.
- Le Delice, 130 Rue Eglise (Les Houches village).
- Le Basilic, 105 Place de la Fruitière (Les Houches village). For authentic French food (but not typical Savoyard).
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 (thank you) when you can.
- Chambre Neuf, 272 av. Michel Croz, Chamonix (Centre of town), ☎ +33-4-50-55-89-81. 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.
Chamonix and its surroundings are stuffed with hotels, lodges and campings, ranging from basic and cheap to very luxe and expensive. However, if you are looking for affordable accommodation (defined as under €100) in the summer and winter high seasons, you should book it beforehand.
- Auberge de Jeunesse Chamonix Mont-Blanc, 127, Montée J. Balmat, Les Pélerins d'en Haut, ☎ +33 4 50 53 14 52, e-mail: email@example.com. A hostel in the town, member of the Fédération Unie des Auberges de Jeunesse and Hostelling International.
- Mont Blanc Spa Chalet, Route du Bouchet 788. Private rooms with bathroom. A fridge, "common room" and yard shared with other rooms.
- Hotel Du Clocher, 110 impasse de l'Androsace. Two star hotel in central Chamonix.
- Ski Breezy, 80 Chemin D'Ile des Barrats, ☎ +44 1629 690 690. Catered chalet accommodation in a beautiful chalet close to the centre of Chamonix.
- Chalet Vert et Blanc, 997 route des praz, ☎ +33 4 50 34 9786. Provider of luxury catered and self catered accommodation in Chamonix.
- Chalets Marmotte Mountain Adventure, 31 chemin des Rambles, Argentiere, ☎ +33682891523. Luxury catered ski chalet accommodation in Argentiere.
- Hotel Le Faucigny, 118 place de l'Eglise, ☎ +33 4 50 53 01 17. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 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.
- Drop in Chalets, Chalet Cachat, Rue Mummery (Around 200 metres from the town centre at the foot of the Savoy nursery slopes), ☎ +44 117 230 6997. Check-in: 12AM, check-out: 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.
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. Remember that the weather on the summit often is different than in the valley a few kilometers down. In the case of sunshine sunburn is a real risk as the UV-radiation gets intenser the higher up you get and is reflected from snow and ice.
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.
- Pharmacie de l'Aiguille du Midi, Ferrari, 262, avenue Aiguille du Midi, ☎ +33 04 50 53 40 93.
- Pharmacie du Mont-Blanc, Piot, 3, rue Vallot, ☎ +33 04 50 53 12 61.
- Post office, Place Balmat. Mo-Fr 8:30-12:15, 14-18:15, Sa 8:30-12.
- Courmayeur - relatively fast and cheap by car or bus, or the expensive but more scenic way by several cable cars