Last Christmas I gave you my heart Chamonix.
Not only was it the first time I got to spend Christmas with my siblings and together with mom in three years, it was also our first ever real winter holiday that didn’t involve visiting our grandparents in Germany and I am glad it was Chamonix. Not many have heard of this little town by the french alps, overlooked by the pure white peak of Mont Blanc.
While most people come to either climb the mountain or ski, don’t let that put you off if you are not a ski-er or extreme athlete, like me. This city is still a perfect getaway for anyone looking to explore without risking any broken bones. Here is a one stop guide for non-skiers on what you can do here to take in every bit of this picturesque valley.
Where to stay
There are many hotels in Chamonix center, but for a real foresty adventure you should check out this cabin we stayed at, Chalet Les Lupins. It is perfect if you are travelling as a family or a group of 3-5. It is based in Les Tines, which is a 8 minute train ride to Chamonix center. It is also a more affordable option compared to the slightly expensive resort of Chamonix.
My favourite part of the cabin, apart from the fireplace in the living room and attention to detail in the kitchen and every wood carving, is the view from the terrace onto the majestic mountains. Now who wouldn’t want to wake up to this.
And trust me when I say, my iPhone pictures do not do any justice.
What to do
Aiguille du Midi
First stop, get a birds eye view of the alps by getting on the cable car to the peak of Aiguille du Midi where you’ll find yourself soaring at 3,842M. Check daily if the lift is open as it really depends on the hourly weather forecast.
If you aren’t a hiker or climber [again, like me thanks to my knee injury – yes that is the only thing stopping me from being a Pro 😉 ], then this is your closest pit stop to the Mont Blanc summit.
There is always time for a selfie…
Not like looking down on the rocky, snowy mountains was scary enough, you can stand in an exposed glass box known as the step into the void – try not to scream when you look down! I was holding on to my brother, as if he could save us all from the food we had eaten that week.
I can confirm though that this glass is strong and steady.
If you are a little more adventures and physically fit, then actually climbing Mont Blanc is another option. Check out my friend’s post on this: http://sarahalexandrageorge.com/travel/a-guide-to-climbing-mont-blanc-everything-you-need-to-know/
Mer de Glace
This glacier is the largest in France (7km long) and is located on the northern slope of Mont Blanc. You can see in the picture below how much the glacier has retreated since it was first discovered by two English men in 1741. The grey region of the mountains gives you an idea of where it use to be. Look at the effects of global warming first hand.
The journey to the glacier is quite an attraction in itself. Taking the Montenvers railway, which reaches an altitude of 1,900m and has been running since 1908, gives you the chance to experience life on the edge, with only a window between you and a steep drop down the mountainous cliffs.
Once you get to the end stop, you can get a cable car down to get up close and personal with the natural wonder. And then you have the option to really get under it’s skin by entering the man-made cave in the glacier.
WARNING: Getting here requires walking down what feels like a million steps, the walking down is fine, its coming back up which leaves you tired and breathless. Be prepared to get hot and sweaty even with the freezing temperatures. But it is worth doing just to be able to say you’ve been inside the largest glacier in France.
Visiting Aiguille du Midi and Mer de Glace in the same day, like we did, allows you enough time to experience both being in the clouds and under ice. You can buy a day ski pass for 62euros which covers both.
Satisfy your sweet tooth
Chamonix is well known for one other thing – Macaroons. And I must say they are the best I’ve ever tried, we stumbled upon Chamonix Macarons in the town centre. For 1 euro per Macaroon you really can’t go wrong – my favourite flavour was rose. For anyone from Southeast Asia, it tasted just like Bandung!
Relax in style
While everyone else that visits is stood queuing to catch a ski lift and ski down some slopes, the diva in you can treat yourself to an amazing Spa day. Check out Park hotel in Chamonix center, you can either pay 30euros and enjoy access to their heated Jacuzzi and sauna or with any treatment you can also get access to the spa facilities. So we booked a facial massage (which was amazing) for 36 euros and then sat outside in the heated Jacuzzi with a jaw-dropping scenery. A perfect way to peacefully get lost in your own thoughts.
Chamonix is a popular ski resort but like I mentioned, many also come here to trek and climb. With the forest outside our doorstep, it only made sense to spend some days just going on long walks to nowhere. The untouched greenery brought about such tranquillity paired with the silent whispers of the stream that ran along the forest.
From our cabin we could even walk into Chamonix center through a forest route which took about an hour.
Cross the border
Chamonix is just a ride away from Italy and Switzerland. A day trip to Geneva or Courmayeur, a small italian town on the other side of Mont Blanc. For 21 euros you can get a return bus ticket to Courmayeur which takes you through the long Mont Blanc tunnel.
Geneva was where we flew into so on our last day we decided to take a look at the city, which boasts some impressive architecture.
A week in Chamonix is really a good time to spend and really indulge in forest life. I’ll write a few more posts with more details and also on doing Chamonix on a budget – everyone thought it was such a luxury that we went here but my motto is every destination can be done on a budget if you plan it well 🙂