CHAMONIX, THE PEARL OF THE FRENCH ALPS • A COMPLETE TRAVEL GUIDE (2020)
Updated: Sep 19, 2020
I travel a lot. I hate it when routine disturbs my life.
Chamonix is considered as the cradle of Alpine tourism. Since the 18th century, the valley has seduced mountain lovers. This authentic, but trendy mountain town ranks among the 10 most popular ski resorts in the world. Yeah, that's right.
From luxury to extreme sports, the incomparable natural heritage of this region turned Chamonix into an idyllic place to travel to. Nestled at the Mont-Blanc's foot, Chamonix valley invites you to escape into a wild paradise. Feeling like skiing, free-riding or hiking glaciers during winter ? Or perhaps are you more into climbing, paragliding or biking during summer ? From 1000m to 4810m, there are countless activities throughout the seasons, to be combined as desired and without moderation.
To sum up, we can easily say that Chamonix knows how to cultivate the art of hospitality.
Tourism has literally shaped Chamonix and its valley, from its infrastructure to its population.
Everything started back in 1741, when the little french village of "Chamouni" was discovered by two young English aristocrats : William Windham and Richard Pocock.
At the time, they did not suspect how their story about this charismatic village would spread throughout Europe.
As the first guesthouse opened in 1770, it marked the simultaneous development of hotels and climbing attempts of the Mont-Blanc, the second highest peak in Europe. Its conquest became an obsessive challenge for thousands of expert climbers around Europe.
Until 1786, when Jacques Belmat and Michel Gabriel Paccard successfully ascended the Mont-Blanc. From that moment, the number of climbers and mountain lovers increased drastically in the valley.
From the 19th century, the trend of hydrotherapy also appeared and Chamonix quickly became one of the flagship destinations. Renowned for the quality of its water and for its thermal baths, Chamonix started attracting the most emblematic people, from the four corners of the world.
Incredibly attractive as a summer destination, the town of Chamonix developed its winter facette in 1924, when the city hosted the Olympic Games.
From then on, the little mountain village experienced a dazzling development, especially with the construction of many ski lifts and touristic attractions.
↠ Currency : Euros.
↠ Best time to go : All year long. Each season got its range of activities and incredible vibes.
↠ Prices : Expensive.
↠ Airport : Geneva Internation Airport.
↠ Best way to travel : Into the city itself it's pretty easy to explore around by walk, or even by bike. As for the rest of the valley, Chamonix has an awesome bus system that runs all year long and for free.
Top 10 things to do
1 - Aiguille du midi
For more than 60 years, the Aiguille du Midi has been a world attraction. To get up there, you can take a cable car and you will reach the first platform in 20 minutes.
From its height of 3777m, the Aiguille du Midi offers a 360° view of all the French, Swiss and Italian Alps. Once there, you can take another lift, that brings you to a stunning terrace at 3842m, where you will have the clearest view of Mont Blanc. A quite breathtaking spot to grab a drink, don't you think ? Besides, since December 2013, a new attraction has been added to this beautiful spot. An attraction for the most fearless, an invitation to take A STEP INTO THE VOID, in a glass cage out over a 1000 meters precipice. Pretty sensational.
Round-trip ticket for an adult : 65 €
Round-trip ticket for children (5-14 years old) : 55.50 €
2 - Petit train du Montevers - Mer de Glace
Created in 1908, this charming mountain train gives access to the gorgeous site of the Mer de Glace, at 1913 m. The ride up feels as magical as in a Disney's attraction.
Once there, an incredible panorama awaits you, offering a beautiful view of the Glacier. If you want to explore more, about 500 steps down you can enter into its ice cave.
Round-trip ticket + ice cave access for an adult : 34 €
Round-trip ticket + ice cave access for children (5-14 years old) : 28,90 €
3 - Lac Blanc (White Lake)
A must-do for any hiker lover. It is located in the gorgeous natural reserve of the Aiguilles Rouges. This incredible hike is quite accessible from the Flégère cable car, as you can start from the Flégère Refuge (1877m).
From then on, it's an intense 1h30 hike up to the top. But your efforts will be rewarded by the astonishing view from the top.
You can even enjoy a nice homemade picnic at the summit. Or if you didn't pack any lunch, don't worry, you will find a charming restaurant proposing delicious local meals (only cash payments are accepted, which makes sense at 2400m high).
This hike is only doable from June to October included, during winter time it is impossible to hike up because of the snow.
4 - Paragliding along Chamonix's snowy ridges
Whether you're an experienced paraglider, or just seeking new sensations, Chamonix is an amazing spot to experience paragliding. Facing the mountains, admiring the different shades of blue and green, saying hello to the Mont-Blanc, what else do you need ?
Plus, you will appreciate the valley's lift system which provides easy access to the various take-off points. Talking about take-off points, this is a little list of our favourites :
- Merlet (in Les Houches)
Our recommendation : AA Haut vol Parapente ski Montagne, they are really great.
5 - Meeting with the wildlife in the Parc de Merlet
"Le Parc de Merlet" is a magical place, it will astonish any kids and their parents.
Perched at an altitude of 1500, this park invites you to immerse yourself into a vast space dedicated to animals.
Let's take a relaxing hike through the forest, discovering several traditional chalets along the way and getting unusually close with many animals. It is such a surprising and incredible moment at the encounter of the wildlife, it would nearly make you forget that they actually live in the wild.
It's an idyllic activity to do with your kids, no matter the season.
For an adult : 8 €
For children (4 - 14 years old) : 5 €
6 - A relaxing walk in Le Paradis des Praz
Located in the village of Les Praz, above Chamonix, the Paradis des Praz is a marvellous place with a little restaurant, a playground for kids and some slacklines along a nice river during summertime.
It's a great place to enjoy a relaxing afternoon in solo, with friends, family or with your partner. The restaurant is open from May to September included.
It's also the departure of several hikes.
7 - A relaxing break at the spa
A recent facility has opened in Chamonix. Right into nature's heart, let's discover this little gem that is QC TERME. After a long ski day or a challenging hike, what's better than a soothing moment in the therapeutic waters of the valley ? A moment of well-being, in the middle of the mountains.
Massages, saunas, bubble baths, swimming pool... This luxurious and refined spa has everything to offer a fully relaxing experience.
If you want to have a look at their different services & prices, have a look here : QC TERME options.
8 - A moment of fun at Planards's area
The Domaine des Planards is one of the greatest ski areas of Chamonix during wintertime. Indeed, this is an amazing place for a ski day with your family, ideal for beginners as it's equipped with fun elements for adults and children, to help provide a fun way to ski.
During summertime, this ski area becomes an amusement park. It has a range of fun activities, such as slides, trampolines, looping rides, boat splash, giant swing or even a carrousel and other games for the youngest.
For the prices of the different summer activities, check it out here : Planards Tickets.
9 - A visit to the little villages nearby
Chamonix is a charming town, but the little villages around are worth a visit as well. Authentic, preserved, full of charm and traditions, they are faithful to the traditional image of mountain holidays.
Offer yourself this nice moment, where time seems to have stopped. Enjoy local food and drinks, admire the gorgeous landscapes, learn the stories of this rich region. This is always the greatest way to experience a destination, by digging into its culture and getting out of the most touristic attractions.
We would particularly recommend you Les Houches, Argentière and Le Tour.
10 - An "apéro" at Lac des Gaillands
Apéro : A typical french term, which comes from the name "aperitif". It designates the moment before dinner when you can enjoy a glass of your favourite beverage ( most of the time wine) and a few snacks on the side. It's an after-work ritual, a moment of conviviality to gather with friends, family or just yourself.
And to enjoy the most of this apéro, we've got a great spot for you : Le lac des Gaillands.
A beautiful lake, facing the Mont-Blanc, surrounded by beautiful trees.
It's a peaceful and relaxing place to enjoy a glass of wine, some local cheese and fresh bread. How does that sound for you ?
Where to stay ?
Fancy - Hôtel Mont Blanc
A 5 stars hotel, full of refinement and elegance. As the name suggests, it offers incredible views of the various peaks of the Valley, including the Mont-Blanc.
Mid-range - Chalet Hôtel Le Prieuré
Amazingly located, this 3 stars hotel is a cosy and convivial place to enjoy a great stay in Chamonix. They also have a bar, a restaurant and facilities to rent ski material or to buy ski passes.
Don't break the bank - Gîte Le Moulin
A charming and authentic cottage on the heights of Chamonix. A completely different experience where you can fully embrace the mountain vibes and meet locals.
Unusual experience - Eco Bivouac Montenvers
What about sleeping in an igloo ? Spending a night into this white paradise and waking up in front of the Mer de Glace. How unique is that ? Despite the breathtaking view, it's an awesome experience into nature, far from the crowd.
Where to eat ?
Le Monchu - 1 Rue du Lyret ♥︎
Chez Constant - 24 Avenue Ravanel le Rouge
Sesame - 70 Avenue Ravanel le Rouge ♥︎
Monkey - 81 Place Edmond Desailloud
Le Matafan - 62 allée du Majestic
Le Comptoir des Alpes - 151 avenue de l'Aiguille du Midi ♥︎
Craving for pizzas ? Chamonix got two awesome places, I highly recommend both of them.
Paradisio - 20 via d'Aoste & Little Boxes - 269 Avenue de Courmayeur
Or what about sushis ? This is the best Japanese restaurant I have ever been
Satsuki - 288 Rue Joseph Vallot ♥︎
Where to get a drink ?
Tête à thé - 120 route du village (in Argentière) ♥︎
Café Bluebird - 155 place Edmond Desailloud (elected traveler's choice in 2020)
Beer O'clock - 74 Avenue Ravanel le Rouge ♥︎
The Beckett & Wilde - 27 Place Edmond Desailloud
Bar du Moulin - 80 Rue des Moulins ♥︎
Boogie Woogie - 65 Rue des Moulins
- If you feel like discovering many attractions around Chamonix, such as l'Aiguille du Midi or the Mer de Glace, there is a Mont-Blanc multi-pass that you can get, which offers pretty interesting deals. You can have a look at it here : Mont-Blanc multi-passes.
- This is a recommendation for all the sweet tooth, you have to try some Macarons Chez Richard, this the best pastry house over there.
- Looking for the most romantic restaurant in town for a date ? Well look no more, the Atmosphere is the place to go. The restaurant even got an incredible balcony above the Arve, Chamonix's river. It is highly advised to book in advance.
- Want to discover everything about local specialities and make good deals ? Well, you should definitely pay a visit to one of the many traditional Chamonix's markets. The largest and most emblematic is definitely Saturday's one, located in the Mont-Blanc place. To know more about them, check this out : Chamonix's markets.
- If your element is water, do not worry. Even in the mountains, there are a few water activities waiting for you. Like for instance, rafting along the Arve. An activity rich in sensations and a beautiful way to discover the Valley from another angle. As a recommendation, we advise you Session Raft & Adventure.
- Our special Eco Tip : Keep the mountains clean
No need to tell you anymore how much the landscapes are amazing in Chamonix. To keep it that way, let's please all preserve the mountains and natural reserves by not throwing away our rubbish.
Even better, if you see some on the floor, pick it up. Think about our beautiful mountains, don't they deserve to stay clean and preserved ?
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We hope you enjoyed this time into the French Alps. If you want to share some of your own tips or recommendations about this place, you are more than welcome to do so.
See you soon for another article, take care & travel safely.