© E. Butcher
Chamonix is a lively market town known as both a world-class ski resort and mountaineering destination. Consequently, it is bustling with activity, in both the winter and summer seasons. Situated in the Haute-Savoie region of France, Chamonix is bordered by Switzerland and Italy and dominated by the incredible Aiguilles de Chamonix mountain chain which peaks at the top of Mont Blanc (4,810m) - the highest in Western Europe.
History & Culture in Chamonix
Following the first ascents of Mont Blanc, Chamonix opened its doors to hundreds of tourists with the first specific tourist hotel opening in 1770. In 1760 Genevois Doctor Horace Benedict de Saussure offered a prize to the first person to reach the summit of Mont Blanc which he had observed from the top of the Brévent. It wasn't until 8th August 1786 that Dr. Paccard & Jacques Balmat, two locals, first made it. Saussure himself made it the following year, leading the first of many scientific expeditions conducted on the peak. Read a more detailed account of the history of Chamonix.
Sights & Attractions in Chamonix
The town has a lot to offer in terms of sites and attractions. The main attraction that brings tourists to this picturesque town is Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe at 4,810m. Visitors either come to scale the summit themselves, take the Aiguille du Midi cable car from Chamonix up to 3,842m to view the peak from the station at the top, or simply take it in from the valley floor. As Chamonix’s history is tied in with various Mont Blanc expeditions, you’ll find several statues around the town commemorating famous mountaineers including Dr. Paccard.
Another famous site is the Mer de Glace glacier (sea of ice) which is accessible by the Montenvers tourist train. The view of this glacier and the surrounding mountains from the top station is impressive. From the top, you can descend to the ice caves via cable car and a series of walkways and steps, which vividly shows just how much the glacier has retreated in recent years.
Unlike most other mountain resorts, Chamonix is busy all year round. In the winter most people visit the town to ski. A particular draw is the famous off-piste ski run the Vallée Blanche from the top of the Aiguille du Midi, past the Mer de Glace and back into Chamonix via the Planard’s ski area. Skiers and snowboarders can also access the Brévent ski area directly from Chamonix centre and from there, Flégère. In the summer the cable cars that link to Brévent and Flégère are open to mountain bikers and walkers. Lac Blanc is a popular place to trek to, as are various mountain huts such as the Chalet de La Floria which all can be accessed from numerous paths starting from the valley floor.
Events in Chamonix
Chamonix is considered to be one of the adventure capitals of the world, so unsurprisingly there are a wide range of sporting events that take place throughout the year. The big sporting events include the various Mont Blanc Marathons in June, the World Climbing Festival in July and UTMB trail running race in August. It is not all about sport though, Chamonix also has a strong music tradition. It's worth visiting the town for the lively Fête de la Musique in June, where dancing in the streets until the small hours is standard – even in the rain, the Cosmo Jazz Festival where you can enjoy music at the end of sunny July in different mountain locations and Black Crows ski and music event in April, Chamonix Unlimited Festival.
Dining in Chamonix
Chamonix has a great selection of restaurants with over 40 eateries to choose from. Munchies is normally on everyone’s list, it is a Scandinavian restaurant providing popular fusion cuisine. For regional specialities, Le Boccalatte offers some of the best Fondue available in town at a reasonable price. For a burger with a difference, Möo is worth a visit, especially for their pulled pork burger. There are a number of late-night fast food places, and unlike many other French resorts, in Chamonix you can still get a curry from the Annapurna restaurant.
Nightlife in Chamonix
During the winter months, there is the usual 'après-ski' party in several of the main bars in town and there is always a choice of restaurant regardless of how busy the town gets. Some places do close in the inter-season months but since Chamonix is an all-year-round resort it is more 'open' and busy than most other Alpine resorts.
Hotels in Chamonix
Following the first ascents of Mont Blanc, Chamonix opened its doors to hundreds of tourists with the first specific tourist hotel opening in 1770. Today that tradition continues and the town has a wide range of accommodation available for visitors. There are hotels from the five-star Le Hameau Albert Premiere Hotel to Le Morgane Hotel with its modern rooms or the comfortable Alpina Hotel which is in a fantastic location right on the Place du Mont Blanc.