Chamonix-Mont-Blanc – perfect all year round
The historic town of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc is a vibrant place to visit in either winter or summer attracting many visitors because of its spectacular scenery. Mont Blanc is ever present as a backdrop, and there are a wealth of outdoor activities available.
In winter it is popular with skiers as it is a short transfer from Geneva airport and offers great skiing including the famous Vallée Blanche off-piste route, a kilometre run which ends up on the Mer de Glace glacier. An ‘away from it all’ ski run where you most definitely need the services of a guide.
In the summertime, there are a host of outdoor activities including tandem paragliding, mountaineering, mountain biking, hiking and white water rafting on the river Arve which flows through the centre of the town.
I’ve just come back from an amazing trip where I tried some of the top summer activities in Chamonix – including paragliding and white water rafting. I stayed at the Inghams Hotel la Sapinière conveniently located about 5 minutes walk from the town centre. It’s an ideal base from which to explore the many things the area has to offer. And, there’s a bonus – many of the rooms at the Hotel La Sapinière have balconies looking out onto the meadow where the paragliders land, with Mont Blanc and the Bossons Glacier making a stunning backdrop.
The buildings along the main streets are beautifully maintained, even the main SNCF railway station town and the station for the Chemin de fer de Montenvers. Colourful displays of flowers make this a truly picturesque place to visit. Weather permitting, you can sit outside in one of the many bars and cafes lining the streets and take in the breathtaking views of the mountains.
Chamonix-Mont-Blanc was at the heart of the alpinist movement. In 1760 Horace Benedict de Saussure, a financier from Geneva, offered a prize to any man who could reach the summit of Mont Blanc, a feat which seemed impossible at the time because of the many glaciers and harsh mountain weather conditions.
After many unsuccessful attempts, the summit was finally reached on August 8 1876, the team being two local men, local doctor Michel Gabriel Paccard and Jacques Balmat who was doing it for the reward. A bronze statue in the main square was erected in 1887 to commemorate the achievement – the two figures are Balmat and the financier Saussure; the story is that although Dr Paccard had led the expedition his part in it was played down to the glory of Balmat. This was put to right when a second bronze statue was erected in 1986, behind the original statue, to commemorate Dr Paccard.
Edward Whymper, the famous English mountaineer, is buried in the English cemetery in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc. With such a strong history of mountaineering, it’s not surprising that there is an official organisation dedicated to guiding – La Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix, founded in 1821, with around 100 guides available to hire for guiding at any one point in time. It’s very important to have a local expert who knows the mountains well, especially for people looking to do more extreme activities such as mountain climbing or off-piste skiing.
A magnificent fresco covering the entire end of a wall of a building in the Rue du Docteur Paccard depicts the history of the Chamonix guides.
It’s easy to get up the mountains or access the wider valley either by train, bus or ski lift. It’s most cost effective to buy a pass, these are available for different durations. so, for example, I had a three-day pass during my time in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc. It also saves time as the ticket offices at the various lifts can be busy during peak times.
The larger area the Chamonix valley is part of meets the borders of both Switzerland and Italy at the summit of Mont Dolent which rises to an altitude of 3,823m. There are around 121 glaciers in the whole of the Mont Blanc massif region with Mer de Glace, at 11 kilometres long, being the longest.
One of the most spectacular is the Bossons Glacier, it tumbles down towards the valley, local superstition being that it was inhabited by demons It winds its way down from the high peaks and is ever present in the landscape. When I stayed in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc we took the chairlift up from the valley to the viewing point where you can get close to the snout of the glacier. It’s certainly an amazing sight to see this glacier gleaming brightly in the sunshine. From the vantage point, there is a winding path so that you can hike back down to the valley, rather than taking the chairlift back down, it’s a lovely walk through the trees.
Thinking of visiting yourself? why not pin this post for later.
I was a guest of Inghams at the Hotel La Sapinière in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc.
Inghams has launched a NEW range of excursions in Chamonix this summer, to introduce guests to the resort’s plentiful outdoor activities. These must be pre-booked and include:
- Overnight Glacier Experience from £105 per person – spend an unforgettable night in the newly renovated Refuge du Montenvers, with a three-course dinner included
- Mountain Magic from £121 per person – enjoy three half days of adventure including white-water rafting, gentle hiking and guided biking
- Ice, Air & Rapids from £260 per person – experience big thrills with white-water rafting in Italy, tandem paragliding and a Mer de Glace glacier hike (during two and a half days)
Inghams offers a seven-night stay on a catered basis (including buffet breakfasts, packed lunches, afternoon tea and cake and evening meals with complimentary wine for six days) at the three-diamond Hotel La Sapinière in Chamonix, France, from £470 per person in August / September 2018. Price includes return flights and airport transfers. To book, visit www.inghams.co.uk/lakes-mountains-holidays or call 01483 791 116.
For more information on the resort, visit www.chamonix.com.