Adventure

Forget Paris, Chamonix Needs To Be Your Next French Destination

A winter playground for the rich and famous, Chamonix fulfils every cliché of a must-do winter vacation, complete with snow-capped mountains, French patisseries and luxury brands. However, with winter comes the crowds… and the hefty price tags. To still experience Chamonix and everything it has to offer, but without the crushing hoards, try visiting outside of winter. Autumn, spring and summer are great times to visit without the above complications.

So, with hiking, eating, parapenting and more on offer in Chamonix, here’s why Chamonix needs to be on your travel bucket list.

Mont Blanc and Aiguille du Midi

 

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Experience the best of both worlds – mild temperatures with jaw-dropping mountain vistas – by scaling Mont Blanc. The 4,810-metre giant is the highest peak in Western Europe, and for the adventurous and fit, can be tackled via a dangerous, if not particularly difficult trek. However, pre-planning, the right climbing gear, and a 2am start is required, so it’s not for the faint of heart.

For those who’d like a more leisurely take on Mont Blanc, it’s also possible to take a cable car trip (return €32.50/AU$52) to the top of the Aiguille du Midi, at a slightly lower, though no less impressive 3,842-metres. From the top you’ll be able to experience panoramic views of the French, Swiss and Italian alps, all of which are covered in snow year-round. Come prepared though – even on summer days the temperature can drop to a bone-numbing -2ºC.

Finally, for those who wish to take alpine viewing a step further, try the faintly-horrifying “Step into the Void”, a transparent box hovering 1,000-metres above the snow-filled valleys below (it’s free!).

Parapenting in the French alps

 

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Keen for some envy-inducing snaps to fill your feed, but don’t have it in you to hike a literal giant of a mountain (don’t worry, me either)? In that case, try the surprisingly docile adrenaline sport of parapenting, aka paragliding. Really, the scariest part of the sport is the moment when you’re told you need to “run off the mountain”… though the gigantic parachute you’re strapped into will soon lift you up and you’ll be soaring.

The best bit? You’ll be strapped in with a pro, so all you have to worry about is taking in the view of the snow-covered French alps in every direction, or the picturesque town of Chamonix below, or how best to take a flattering selfie with frozen hands at 1000 metres.

Flights start at 100m vertical descents, for approximately €110 (AU$178), and can be booked through Fly Chamonix.

Mer de Glace

 

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Continuing on with winter delights all year round, travel a short distance from Chamonix to reach Mer de Glace, France’s largest glacier at 7km long and over 200-metres deep. While Mer de Glace can be reached via a winding two-hour hike through the Chamonix Valley, for an equally picturesque journey, take the Montenvers train from Chamonix (return 32.50/AU$52, which includes access to the gondola and ice cave), a meandering, uphill train ride that provides scenic views of the valley, town and surrounding mountains.

Once there, the best thing to do is soak in the views and atmosphere. You can reach the glacier itself by either a 15-minute walk, or you can take the gondola, included as part of your train ticket. Make sure to explore inside the ice cave itself, where the ethereal blue ice makes for a surreal Insta-worthy shot (or five).

The town of Chamonix

 

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Though there’s plenty of activities to undertake in and around Chamonix, the town of Chamonix itself is an ideal destination to while away a day or two. Complete with cobblestones, winding alleyways and charming huts tipped with wooden roofs and curlicue-ironed balconies, Chamonix will fulfil every idea you’ve ever had about what a European alpine town should look like.

Following on from that theme, the restaurants and patisseries of Chamonix will not disappoint, with a mix of restaurants serving everything from Michelin-starred fare (Le Comptoir Nordique is particularly impressive), hearty French cuisine, and even American-style burger joints to satisfy your cravings after a day of activity (Poco Loco was a personal, if thoroughly filling, personal favourite). Of course, the best way to complete any trip to France is to make a pitstop at the local bakery – Patisserie Richard is a stand-out favourite for cakes and pastries that will delight the eyes as much as the tastebuds.

Located at the edge of France and Switzerland, Chamonix is located an hour from Geneva airport, with shuttle buses leaving approximately every hour between the two. Or, for those continuing on a French-inspired odyssey, Chamonix can be easily accessed by nearby town Annecy, or via train from central hub Lyon.

How to get there

  • Fly Qantas to Geneva via Singapore and London
  • Take a Geneva–Chamonix shuttle (there are several on offer)
  • Chamonix, France

(Lead image: Peak Experience / Facebook)