Chamonix is the third most visited natural site in the world behind Mount Fuji (Japan) and the Niagara falls (Canada). With it being renowned as the world capital of alpinism, freeride skiing, ice climbing and ultra-trail running it’s not necessarily the first place you think of as a place to shop 'til you drop. However, the town boasts a diverse range of stores that are guaranteed to suit all tastes and lifestyles.
From high-spec technical sports apparel and equipment to luxury shops and artisanal food shops, Chamonix has an array of 'magasins' that are perfect whether you need a last minute gift or just fancy a mooch.
Food & Drink
There are plenty of small supermarkets scattered along the valley - mostly Casino or Super U - which are fine for stocking up on general groceries.
If you want to sample some of the local cheese or meats there are a number of 'Refuge Payot' stores selling fine local produce and many other gourmet food specialities. There are a couple of excellent trattorias where you can enjoy a taste of Italy without even having to go through the Mont Blanc tunnel; they stock the finest Italian hams, cheeses, oils, and fresh pastas, and you can sample them with a glass or two of wine. To try more of the local tipple, we highly recommend a visit to a local wine bar for an excellent selection of wines, whiskeys and plenty besides, which you can discover at a tasting session, or simply pull up a stool at the bar and ask the staff for their recommendation.
Those with a sweet tooth will find it hard to resist temptation when faced with the delights of a French patisserie. All the bakeries in Chamonix offer a mouth-watering selection of cakes and pastries - their window displays alone are to die for and their chocolate creations make excellent gifts. You'll find every flavour of macaroon you can think of and plenty that you can't, as well as an array of cakes and speciality teas. This is where all your healthy intentions fall apart when faced with fruit tarts, sticky pastries and creamy gateaux to eat in or take home.
Aside from the cakes, you can also find organic foods, unusual ingredients and healthy snacks here - from gluten-free breakfasts and vegan cakes, to kombucha and freshly squeezed juices. Most of the supermarkets also have an aisle where you can find soya and oat milk, tofu, gluten-free items, organic products and the like - all thrown together under the label "bio".
Gifts & Souvenirs
Popular Chamonix gift shops stock beautiful prints, postcards and art work of the local scenery. Some veer more towards animals and nature, whilst others have fascinating vintage photographs of alpine life and early mountaineers - look out for the ladies crossing crevasses in high-heeled boots and voluminous skirts. There are a couple of bookshops that sell a wide range of English language guide books, maps and beautiful coffee table books.
Retro prints and kitsch household items with an alpine twist can also be found, and cowbells and cuddly marmots can be purchased pretty much everywhere.
High Street fashion
If you prefer high street trends to Gore-Tex, you'll also find popular brands in Cham. Rummaging through the second-hand (or is that pre-loved?) items in the local second hand stores could result in a vintage bargain or two. For more basic items such as socks, underwear and plain t-shirts go downstairs in Super-U.
Not forgetting the little'uns, there is an old-fashioned toy shop, crammed floor-to-ceiling with all sorts of puzzles, stuffed animals and games - if you're buying a gift they'll wrap it for you at no extra charge. Elsewhere you'll find some lovely items including teething toys, new baby gifts and wooden musical instruments.
There are a couple of children clothing stores and warmer clothing such as snow suits and winter boots can be found in some of the lower priced outdoor stores, where you can pick up an array of outdoor clothes that will keep your little ones snug without costing the earth. If you find that you need a few emergency items while you’re here, the Super U supermarket on Rue Paccard has a small selection of children’s clothes and footwear downstairs as well as nappies, wet wipes, dummies, etc.
If you're after some perfume and beauty goods you can head to the pharmacies - there's nothing quite like the French pharmacy beauty brands, they are known for their high quality with a whole host of great brands that are unavailable in the UK.
Luxury & designer
For those aspiring to a bit of 'haute couture' there's something here to suit you too. There are a couple of high end boutiques scattered throughout the town selling the latest collections from certain designers mixed in with some truly bling ski wear - furry collars and tight shiny ski pants that won't look out of place on the swankiest Verbier terraces.
The weekly market takes place every Saturday morning in Chamonix on Place du Mont Blanc, where you can purchase everything from local cheese and meats, fresh fish, fantastic colourful flowers, alpine honey and THE best hot rôtisserie chickens. There is also a regular market every Saturday morning in Vallorcine, that sells similar produce but has fewer stalls.
There's more to Chamonix than skiing and snowboarding, as a browse around some of the shops will reveal.
As you would expect from an outdoor sports Mecca, there are plenty of sports stores in Chamonix where you can get your hands on top mountaineering brands such as The North Face, Black Diamond, Salomon and Scarpa to name a few; as well as the fashionable mountain brands such as Peak Performance, Patagonia, Helly Hansen, Napapijri and Quicksilver that also offer a good range of attractive outdoor mountaineering clothing. There are kit shops that sell climbing and mountaineering gear with a good range of shoes, ropes, harnesses, axes, etc, while you'll find trail running specialists that stock everything you need to train for your next ultra from brands such as Brooks, Inov-8, Scarpa and more. The sports shops are good for general hiking gear and the staff are extremely knowledgeable and happy to advise.
Summer in Chamonix is when we swap our skis for wheels and there are a number of specialist bike shops in town, from small but well-stocked shops to the larger stores with the latest mountain bikes and bits of kit and workshops where you can put your own bike in for services and repairs. Road biking is becoming more popular these days and you'll find shops well-equipped with all the lycra and inner tubes that you need to tackle the local cols.
Patagonia was one of the first big name brands to enter the Chamonix scene about twenty years ago, choosing to promote its European sales here over larger cities such as London or Paris, preferring the strong mountaineering vibe and historical charm this town presents. In recent years they have worked hard to build an ethical image and now promote recycled and environmentally friendly materials that perform just as well as ever. Along with many of the top mountaineering brands available, these specialist stores have gone from strength to strength promoting Chamonix's reputation as a shopping destination.
Although not well known for its long sandy beaches, Chamonix is still home to big surfing and beach brands whose colourful ranges of technical and dedicated sportswear have developed considerably over the past few years, and their latest funky designs make for eye-catching window displays. During the winter, the surf and beach wear is replaced by the latest snowboarding and ski wear, ensuring that they have a great selection all year round. Some of the sports shops not only stock a good clothing range but also have in-house ski and snowboard workshops where you can rent, buy or have your kit serviced. If your style is more 'street fashion' then there are little boutique type shops in and around Chamonix's main streets that sell the latest collections from brands such as Volcom, Nixon, Nikita, Carhartt, Vans and Electric.
If you're planning on shopping during the sales to pick up a discounted Gore-Tex jacket or designer handbag, you need to plan your visit to a very specific time of year. Unlike the UK when it appears that shops have almost permanent sales on, sale or “solde” time in France is strictly regulated and shop owners are not allowed to discount their products at any other time. End of the line (“fin de serie”) and “Promo” is acceptable but the real bargains are to be found at the specifically designated sale times, when you can get your hands on all the big brands for 40-70% less than the normal retail price.
In Chamonix, sale time usually runs at the end of each season when the town puts on its Braderie - stalls in the streets and great discounts.
Shop opening times
Opening hours vary to the UK with many shops and all service providers (banks, post office etc) closing for lunch.
You'll also find the banks are closed on Mondays, although they are open for business on Saturday morning to compensate. Most of the shops open between 09:00-10:00 and then close from 12.30 until 14:00 or 15:00 for lunch, re-opening again until 19:00 or 19:30, which allows you to browse the shops of an evening or on your way to dinner.