Chamonix, the heart of the mountains

Maïder Oyarzabal
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The story

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Chamonix is a town with a dual identity. Like the icy North face of the Massif, it sometimes has an air of cold beauty about it. But get to know the locals and their enchanting way of life, and you’ll soon discover the warmth of the South face.

Arriving in Chamonix means setting foot in the fascinating, other-worldly universe of the high Alps. Scientific experiments, pioneering endeavours and ancient legends: this place is steeped in the history of the mountains, and the evolution of Alpine exploration.

The streets of Chamonix are alive with a constant hustle and bustle: a race, a live concert, people flocking back from the slopes. On these pavements you’ll hear every possible language, see every possible type of face, and all of them drawn here by the lure of one thing, the object of all attentions. You meet it at every street corner: Mont Blanc, 4810 metres of rock, snow, ice and dreams. The highest summit in Western Europe, and a rallying point for travellers from all over the globe.

In Chamonix, the locals have a saying: “whatever the glacier takes, it will give back one day.” Although often associated with mountain tragedies, this proverb doesn’t have to be negative. We can also choose to see it as a source of hope, an inspiration to all those who raise their eyes, peer up at those lofty peaks and dare to dream.

The mountains have sculpted men in their own image: stocky figures, piercing eyes, sun-weathered faces and hands as solid as blocks of glacier ice. The life of a Chamoniard is inextricably tied to the mountain, and his eyes are always turned skywards. The locals know the mountain like their own back yard, and have spent decades making it accessible to all, with the Montenvers train, the ice caves, the hiking trails and the Aiguille du Midi cable car.

In these extraordinary natural surroundings, time stands still as your breath is snatched away. The panorama is lined with peaks, like clouds rolling in over the horizon: the Glacier des Bossons, Mont Blanc, l’Aiguille Verte, Les Drus and Les Aiguilles de Chamonix. Up above the ice cliffs and glaciers, eyes wide open, you learn to live and breathe to the rhythm of these magnificent mountains.

When you leave Chamonix you always leave a part of you behind, borne aloft by the clouds over Mont Blanc, wandering from peak to peak.

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When to go?

There is no off-season in Chamonix because the scenery is magical all year round. Nature lovers will be spoilt for choice at any time of year, but the best time to visit will depend on your interests and the activities you have planned. Hikers flock here in the summer months, exploring the trails and meeting marmots and mountain ibexes along the way. Fans of skiing and other mountain sports will obviously prefer the winter, when Chamonix is coated in a deep layer of white.

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How to get there?

The best way to arrive is to take the train directly to Chamonix Station, or fly to Lyon or Geneva and catch a train the rest of the way. Geneva is the quickest and most practical option, within easy reach of Chamonix by both car and train. Most day trips and outings leave from the town centre, and you can explore Chamonix itself by foot.

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Experiences

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Extreme skiing

Soar over the peaks and discover some of the most legendary (and legendarily inaccessible) runs in the Alps, those well-kept secrets reserved for the most experienced mountain adventurers. Load your skis onto a helicopter and set off for the summits, experiencing the mountains at their most majestic and untamed. Conquer the frozen peaks and vertiginous valleys, following in the tracks of our experienced mountain guide. A unique experience for extreme skiing fans and hardened thrill-seekers.

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A photographic adventure

Discover the unseen Chamonix, following in the snowshoe prints of our intrepid photographer. As you navigate through the forest trails, she’ll introduce you to the lesser-known side of this fascinating valley, while providing tips and tricks to help you capture the soul of her beloved mountain landscape in your photos.

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The hoppy secrets of Mont-Blanc

Step inside the world-famous, award-winning Mont-Blanc brewery, for a private tour. From brewing techniques to bottling, get to know the secrets of the iconic “glacier beer.” Round off your visit with a special tasting menu that pairs each dish with a different beer.

Our address book

La Calèche

Picturesque perfection

La Calèche is an institution, in fact its unique decoration and atmosphere mean that it’s almost Chamonix’s unofficial museum. Wood everywhere, vintage snow shoes on the walls, classic mountaineering posters… The mountain is the heart and soul of this restaurant, and that extends to the menu. Savoyard charcuterie, diot sausages, crozet pasta and Tome des Bauges: it doesn’t get any more local than this.

18 Rue du Dr Paccard, 74400 Chamonix-Mont-Blanc

La Remise

An unforgettable view

One of the great unmissables of the Chamonix Valley, with an unbeatable view over Mont Blanc. The atmosphere is “après-ski,” the food is classic gastronomic fare with a dash of contemporary English cuisine. The chef is constantly innovating, and matures his own “dry-aged” beef. On weekends from 3pm, settle in on the heated terrace for one of La Remise’s “special bowls”. Special mention goes to the tortelloni with porcini mushrooms.

1124 route d'Argentière, 74400 Argentière

Restaurant Albert 1er

Between France and Italy

With 2 stars in the 2017 Michelin Guide, the Albert I prides itself on its fresh, convivial and creative cuisine which is constantly evolving with the seasons. Chef Pierre Maillet draws inspiration from both Mont Blanc and the nearby Italian region of Piedmont, working with the finest products from both traditions: local porcini mushrooms, white truffles from Alba, wild thyme and other mountain herbs.

38 route du Bouchet, 74400 Chamonix-Mont-Blanc

Le Soul Food

Retro soul

Music is the heart and soul of this charming little bar, run by two former record shop owners. The ideal spot to grab a drink and watch some live music. A must for music-lovers, especially fans of soul and funk.

34 rue des Moulins, 74400 Chamonix-Mont-Blanc

Les Caves

Relaxed chic

With its “mountain chic” vibe, this cute wine bar is well worth a visit. Soft lighting and soft furnishings, with animal hides scattered about: the atmosphere is thoroughly cosy. The perfect spot for a quiet glass of wine with your other half, or a more lively evening on the nights when guest DJs turn the bar into a pop-up club.

80 Rue des Moulins, 74400 Chamonix-Mont-Blanc

Chambre Neuf

Après-ski party

With its friendly, international atmosphere, Chambre Neuf is one of the liveliest bars in Chamonix. Peel off your skis and enjoy a Mont-Blanc beer on the sunny terrace, as you wait for the evening’s live music to get started. The Scandinavian inspiration found in the design scheme also makes an appearance on the menu, since Chambre Neuf also doubles as a restaurant.

272 Avenue Michel Croz, 74400 Chamonix-Mont-Blanc

Couteaux Le Chamoniard

Pocket perfection

No experienced hiker would ever leave home without a decent knife. Didier Simon is a ski instructor in the winter months and an expert craftsman in summer, designing and creating beautiful bespoke knives. You can visit his workshop to watch your knife take shape, then set off fully-equipped to tackle the peaks.

26, descente Joseph-Marie Couttet Les Pélerins, 74400 Chamonix-Mont-Blanc

The Montenvers glacier train

A train to the kingdom of ice

Chamonix’s little red train is the only one of its kind in the world, taking just twenty minutes to ascend to France’s longest glacier. From Montenvers, at an altitude of over 1900 metres, you get a fantastic view of the Mer de Glace, Les Drus and Les Grandes Jorasses, in all their icy majesty. Intrepid explorers can venture into the ice caves, or strap on their crampons and get to grips with the glacier.

35 pl de la Mer de Glace, 74400 Chamonix-Mont-Blanc

Aiguille du Midi

Head in the clouds, feet in the air

You don’t need to be an experienced mountaineer to get up close and personal with the towering peaks. Just hop aboard the Aiguille du Midi cable car and brace yourself for a kaleidoscopic succession of breath-taking panoramas. With a 360° of the Alps, count the peaks and spot the mountaineers scaling the slopes. With your head in the clouds, you can also put your feet in the air by taking a “Step into the Void”. This reinforced glass box gives you an idea of how it would feel to soar 1000 metres above the slopes and glaciers.

Téléphérique de l'Aiguille du Midi, 74400 Chamonix-Mont-Blanc