48 Hours in Chamonix-Mont Blanc: Summer and Winter
By Deborah Grossman
Chamonix-Mont Blanc is an anytime destination. Host of the first Winter Olympic Games in 1924, Chamonix is a skier’s paradise, a hiker’s haven, and an ideal launch point for additional European travel.
Located in the Rhone-Alps regions of southeastern France, Chamonix is at the corner of Switzerland—Geneva Airport is 75 minutes away—and Piedmont, Italy, a 20-minute drive through the Mont Blanc tunnel.
The valley town, nestled among stunningly beautiful Alpine peaks, offers an array of heritage and culture, accommodations from luxurious to rustic hotels and appealing cuisine. The outdoors fun runs through all four seasons. A rental car makes getting there and getting around easier.
Ride to the Peak
The ride from downtown Chamonix to the top of the Aiguille du Midi peak is the second most popular attraction on natural sites in France after the Eiffel Tower. The thrills derive from soaring over forests and mountains to the second level of the Aiguille (“needle”) at 12,391 feet or 2.35.
You’ll get a close up of Mont-Blanc, the highest peak in Europe outside the Caucasus range, while viewing the other Aiguille peaks, the Bossons Glacier, and the Dru peaks. In the summer a gondola car provides transport. At the top you can “Step Into the Void,” a four-walled glass overlook where you can peer down into 1,000 meters (3,280 ft.) of empty space.
Location: 100 place de l’Aiguille du Midi, 74400 Chamonix-Mont-Blanc
Phone: +33(0)4 50 53 22 75
Skiing at Chamonix
Chamonix is known for its vertical thrills. Skiing and mountaineering have a rich heritage in the area. There are four high altitude ski areas in the Chamonix valley with a variety of passes and activities available: Les Grands Montets, Balme, Brévent-Flégère, and family-friendly Les Houches.
There are also three world-famous excursion sites: Aiguille du Midi, the Mont Blanc Tramway, and the Montenvers – Mer de Glace tram to view the Mer de Glace, the largest glacier in Europe, and tour the ice cave. Website
Summer Fun in the French Alps
In the summer activities include paragliding, walking, hiking and climbing. The Merlet Animal Park in nearby Les Houches delights families. Chamonix hosts many cultural events in the summer including the Cosmo Jazz Festival. For elite athletes, there is also an annual ultra-marathon in August, the Ultra-Trail Mont Blanc, that covers three countries—France Italy and Switzerland in five type of races—the ultimate race for 103 miles while climbing a total of 30,840 feet.
For Ultra-Trail Mont Blanc: Website
A free shuttle train picks up passengers at the Aiguille du Midi and stops around Chamonix for a day of shopping, dining and culture. The architecture of the town includes historic buildings from grand mansions to the Baroque St. Michel Church and Alpine Museum. The pedestrian boulevards such as rue du Dr Paccard offer a high-end collection of global luxury brands in addition to local crafts, foods and beverage products.
Location: Tourist Office, 85 place du Triangle de l’Amitié, Chamonix
Phone: +33(0)4 50 53 00 24 Website
The rue du Dr Paccard is the pedestrian street in Chamonix for shopping, people watching and dining. From the terrace of La Calèche, you will see tourists and lovers of the outdoors from around the globe.
The food and décor here are traditional. The restaurant evokes an Alpine mountain home with authentic artifacts and traditional furniture, plus a bobsled from the 1924 Olympic games and rare books about the Alps.
The cuisine boasts regional specialties from a casserole of snails with Savoy-style parsley butter to tartiflette Reblochon savoy cheese with potato, onions and smoked bacon.
Location: 18 rue du Dr Paccard, Chamonix Phone: +33 (0)4 50 55 94 68 Website
Auberge du Bois Prin
Awarded a Michelin star in 2012, Auberge du Bois Prin offers fine cuisine with breathtaking views. The lunch time specials are reasonably priced and offer great gourmet value.
The menu ranges from simple salads with herbs, flowers and vegetables from the restaurant’s organic garden to modern twists on foie gras, local Savoyard cheese fondue and seasonal game. The terrace brings unbeatable views of Mont Blanc and neighboring peaks. Note that access to the restaurant is up a fairly steep hill.
Location: 69 Chemin de l’ Hermine, Chamonix Phone: +33 (0)4 50 53 33 51 Website
Chalet 4810 for Tea
Perhaps due to the number of British visitors who frequent the town, Chamonix is known for its afternoon tea service and traditional high standard of macaroons in a panoply of flavors from passion fruit to lemon and raspberry. ”
Chalet 4810 is housed in a recently renovated 1909 chalet with bench backs shaped like crystals. The Mont Blanc range is known for the many crystal deposits in the area, and the venue used to house a crystal shop. The selection of chocolates in the shape of crystals and the mountains, macaroons and pastries are excellent.
191 rue Valliot, Chamonix
Phone: +33(0)4 50 53 00 43
Les Caves du Pèle Wine Bar on la rue des Moulins
In the evening after a day outdoors, la rue des Moulins is the pedestrian thoroughfare to meet friends for a drink and a dance to the live DJ. A prime example is the Les Caves du Pèle Wine Bar with a separate entrance at Le Cap-Horn restaurant. At this hideaway, you will find music, ambiance and bottle service for the serious imbiber. Bottle service is available.
Location: 80 rue des Moulins, Chamonix
Phone: +33 (0)4 50 21 80 80
Hotel Pointe Isabelle
The setting is modern with artistic touches such as decorative floor tile by the bar. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the bar is popular any time of day.
The terrace is open in the summer for people watching. The establishment is named after the famous English climber, Isabella Straton, who made the first winter ascent of Mont Blanc, in 1876.
65 avenue Michel Croz, Chamonix
Chambre Neuf Happy Hour
Happy Hour happens daily at this popular après ski spot on the upper side of town near the train station. But you’ll see happy smiles all day long as locals and tourists congregate after outdoor adventures. DJs spin the tunes on the weekends. A wide variety of libations and international food are served.
272 avenue Michel Croz, Chamonix
Phone: +33.(0)450 53 00 31
Hôtel le Hameau Albert 1er
There are several five-star hotels in Chamonix including Hameau Albert 1er, a Relais & Château property. A choice of rooms from mountain style to modern with two independent chalets co-exist on the property. The outdoor swimming pool overlooks Mont Blanc.
After a day on the slopes, the hotel’s Le Bachal Spa is open for body treatments or a hot stone massage. To prepare for the Michelin-starred restaurant, stop by the Quartz bar for some jazz, crystal-inflected décor, purple-hued lighting and wine. The two on-site restaurants serve traditional meals with innovative twists.
Location: 38 route du Bouchet, Chamonix Phone: +33 (4) 50 53 05 0 Website
Heliopic Hotel and Spa
The Heliopic is conveniently located next to the launch point of the Aiguille du Midi cable car in downtown Chamonix. Open since Dec. 2013, the property sports a modern décor with trendy orange design elements, comfortable couches, communal tables—and an indoor swimming pool and hot tub visible to the main lobby with views of Mont Blanc.
The Spa by Lux has a full menu of options including body sculpting with essential oils, aroma, light or chromotherapy. The restaurant serves fresh, seasonal cuisine with light gourmet touches. The 102 rooms and two apartments give ample room to store sporting gear, and some are family friendly.
Location: 50 place de l’Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix Phone: +33 4 50 54 55 56 Website
From her home base in the San Francisco Bay Area, Deborah Grossman explores the world, one vineyard and dining table at a time, looking for behind-the-scenes stories about underappreciated cultures, food and drink. A taste of her articles can be found at deborahgrossman.com.
Read another story by Deborah Grossman about Wine in the country of Moldova on GoNOMAD