The two Englishmen who discovered the ‘Priory of Chamouni’, or Chamonix to you and I, in 1741 could have had little suspicion that their visit would create an interest that would continue right through to the present day. So great are the mountaineering and skiing opportunities that the first winter Olympics were held here in 1924 and if that isn’t enticement enough to come try out the activities, then the breath-taking views should be.
Mont Blanc is one of the most famous and most visited places in Europe and one can immediately see why. Arriving in the Alps, the crystal clear sky so blue the shimmering snow on the mountains beneath seemed to take on its colour and the air so crisp I barely notice the altitude. I was so distracted by the natural beauty that I almost forgot to collect my suitcase from the coach. Transferring from Geneva couldn’t be easier with the Sat Bus daily service. Though I have to admit I really wished I could have afforded the helicopter option.
What a view that would have been, swooping up over the peaks and dips of one of the world’s greatest mountain ranges. Still, I couldn’t complain, I was there, in Chamonix. I’ve always loved winter sports, but more to watch than to participate, with one exception, ice skating.
Before my trip I’d assumed all the activities would be aimed at the crazy and the adventurous; those who love to conquer mountains either by climbing them and sliding down them, but I was wrong.
It didn’t take long for me to discover, not only a fantastic ice rink, but paragliding, mountain biking, great spas, golf, tennis and more hikes than I dare count. Now I may not be inclined to try out crampons and a rope to ascend to the ‘roof of Europe’, but a hiking trail or two to explore and I’m there.For me it was spring time, the snow was beginning to ease and the leaves were gathering on the trees so making my way along the mountain sides, looking out of the stunning vistas couldn’t have been more relaxing.
I was also surprised how family friendly the area is. The pretty meadows and hamlets of Les Houches are the perfect place to acclimatise children to the mountains and all they have to offer. One of my favourite touristy activities was Le Petit Train; this cute wheeled train may look like it’s just for kids, but the tour is a great source of local information, history of the town, its architecture as well as the sports and sportsmen and women how have made their mark on the area.
The town itself is almost idyllic in its Alpine construction and as I wandered around the shops I was not disappointed with the variety, there’s everything from the obligatory sporting suppliers to designer stores like Chanel. There are also local handicrafts, as well as some lovely tea rooms and pastry shops to refresh you during a hard afternoon of shopping.
And don’t miss a visit to La Refuge Payot, this quaint delicatessen sells some of the most amazing local produce you can possibly imagine, including wines and hams but it was the array of cheeses that drew me in and who can resist a brandy cake!?
Don’t be fooled into thinking Chamonix is all about the daylight hours either. If sitting by a roaring fire in your cabin isn’t enough for you of cosy evening, then there is plenty of nightlife in Chamonix. There’s the cinema, the casino and British style pubs, but for me, it was the local bars and live music spots that kept my evenings lively and bright.
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My thanks for this article, written by Leah S Thorley, to MyDestination.com – your guide to all things Chamonix
Photo credits: MyDestination.com and Heatheronhertravels.com
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