A New York Times article about Chamonix, a “French town at the base of a lofty Alps peak,” describes the area as one ideal for “skiers, climbers, foodies and night-life lovers,” and it is plain that whether visiting during the winter or summer months, there is an immense list of things to see and do.
The emphasis, for many, is on the seeing.
Sightseeing is Essential in Chamonix
Naturally, as part of an immense ski area, it offers travelers great ease when seeking to take in the scenery from the highest heights, and the Chamonix Valley ski lifts mean that visitors (skier and non-skier alike) will be able to see Balme, Flegere, Lognan Plan Joran, Brevent, Montenvers, Plannards, Les Bossons, Prarion, Tramway Mont-Blanc, and Bellevue.
And as that New York Times article made particular note to mention, there is the “fire-engine-red Montenvers Train, which has been carting visitors 3,000 feet up into the Alpine wilds since the track was completed in 1909.” It allows you to enjoy the views over the nation’s largest and longest glacier, known appropriately as the Mer de Glace (sea of ice), that is actually a huge frozen river making its way through the mountains. There is also a cave open for visitors to experience.
Another must-see is the Balme Tour – Vallorcine area that, according to experts, is a “pastoral site [with] extensive alpine pastures, among the last that are still in use in the Valley…and ideal for mountain biking.” There is also the Tramway du Mont Blanc, the oldest of the ski lifts in the area. If a 360-degree view is the goal, the Bellevue cablecar is a good choice and allows travelers to take in Mont Blanc, Aiguilles de Chamonix, the Aravis, and the Les Fiz chain of mountains.
Not a skier? The Prarion Gondola is the perfect choice for bikers, walkers and hikers, and mountaineers., and the Panoramic Mont Blanc gondola is also a good choice, but has to be reached via the Aiguille du Midi Cable Car.
Alpine Museum in Chamonix
You might not expect a “palace” to exist in the mountains of a modern ski area, but the Alpine Museum in Chamonix is house within the old “Chamonix Palace,” which (as its official website points out), is “the first of 3 palaces to be built in Chamonix at the beginning of the 20th century.” And though the idea of a museum visit is not always at the top of the list of things to do when visiting a location that is all about food, fun, nightlife, skiing and sightseeing, this one is a must.
Why? It is one that is dedicated to the development of the area as a tourist favorite. It “retraces the development of Chamonix from the first tourists who came to admire the ‘Glaciers of Savoye” to the golden age of winter sports.” Home to a great assortment of prints and photos, it also documents the area’s ancient history with its collection of objects from the distant past. There are regular programs in addition to the permanent collection and the fun “Rallye Selfies” that challenges visitors to document their visits to seven different areas in the town of Chamonix to win a personalized souvenir.
If you want something a bit more active than a day at a museum or spent sightseeing from cable cars, gondolas or by walking or hiking, there is an abundance of “other” sport and leisure activities.
The Many Athletics of Chamonix
As one expert has said, the geography of Chamonix is “ideal for living in rhythm with your body.” That is true at any time of the year, including both summer and winter. As that same expert noted, there are a multitude of summer hikes that include strolling to area creameries, climbing Mont Blanc or taking a tour. There is also an abundance of mountaineering as it is the “capital” of this activity and a popular spot for ascending world-famous Mont Blanc.
Cyclists love the area for its challenging paths and routes, and there are even ski lift passes designed for the avid mountain bikers. Trails are also available for runners as the emerging sport of trail running is becoming one of the more popular activities in the region.
Swimming and water sports are quite popular, and while you’ll find an abundance of swimming pools (and even many chalets with private pools), there are also saunas, water parks, Turkish baths and more. The area has thermal spas at several resorts, too.
And for the very daring, there is paragliding. It is so popular that there are multiple paragliding schools, and opportunities for “taster” experiences, tandem flights, and official training courses that help you become a master at this heart-pounding experience. Rock climbing is also an option and whether it is winter climbing indoors our summer experiences on the rocks and boulders of the region, there are many options.
Tennis, ice skating, petanque bowls, fitness centers, ice climbing, guided mountaineering, sledding for all ages, and endless options for shopping are all part of the “leisure” and activities available.
There are theme parks suited to any interest, including tobogganing and outdoor adventures, like zip line fun, and kids may really appreciate some of the animal adventures in the region, including dogsledding and pony riding. The tamer traveler can find summertime golfing adventures, white water is a good option for the spring and early summer visitor, but everyone is well aware of the fact that the skiing is “the thing”.
Skiing includes Grands Montets, Les Houches, Brevent, Balme and Flegere. Most are active within the first week or two of December and feature a diversity of ski passes and packages.
There is one thing that can be said with great validity about the Chamonix area – there really is no limit to how much you can see and do. This is true whether you have opted to rent a ski chalet that has ski-in and ski-out conditions or one that is close to the many pistes, lifts and gondolas of the region. Everything is only a short distance away on ski, snowshoe, foot, by dog sled, and more!