My comrades and I were approximately halfway through a hastily-planned road trip to celebrate the end of University and having sampled the best that northern Italy had to offer, we had been drawn towards the highest peak in western Europe*, with Chamonix (mont-blanc) seeming like the logical base to explore the Mont Blanc massif in more depth. (*I specify western Europe for the benefit of my former Geography teacher who will probably never read this, but who would hopefully be impressed that I remembered about a certain Mt. Elbrus in Russia).
Our combined knowledge of Chamonix was somewhat limited – with the general consensus being that it was supposed to be one of the best ski resorts in the world, with prices to match. It was fair to say that we didn’t know quite what to expect, especially as we were visiting out of the ski season, but I clung to an optimism that the stunning scenery would more than compensate for any shortcomings of the commune itself.
My optimism was soon rewarded. Imposing snow-capped peaks tower over the commune on each side, creating an enclosed, intimate setting that leaves you feeling slightly intimidated but equally cosy at the same time – quite unique in that respect! At street level, the pleasant pedestrianised centre contains a surprisingly diverse selection of shops, bars and eateries that cater for more than just the winter adrenaline-junkies. The excellent tourist information centre is a good starting point, and contains a number of video guides and interactive exhibits alongside the usual ex-rainforest of leaflets.
Once we’d had our fill of the commune itself, we investigated the plethora of options for heading into the peaks, in order to get up close and personal with the mountains. Grabbing all the headlines and certainly the most dramatic option is a ride on the Téléphérique de l’Aiguille du Midi which pulls its passengers some 2,800m closer to the summit of l’Aiguille du Midi in just 20 minutes. My own recommendation may seem somewhat tame in comparison, but is equally enjoyable ‘à mon avis’ (“in my opinion”, you philistine!).
The Train du Montenvers departs from a station located to the east of the town centre and provides a sedate 3 mile shuffle up to the Mer de Glace, the longest glacier in France. Whilst the unforgiving wooden seats provide little in the way of comfort, you will barely notice, due to the jaw-dropping views and endless photo opportunities along the way. A brief word of warning though – temperatures at the glacier can be on the chilly side so make sure you check out the weather beforehand and avoid my own mistake of wearing shorts when you board the train…
Whilst undeniably touristy, even out of the ski season, I would recommend a trip to Chamonix to anyone and everyone, www.chamonix.mydestinationinfo.com is a good place to head for more info. Personally, I am determined to return at some point in the future, only next time with my snowboard under my arm and the season in full swing.
Author Bio: James Rathmell is a Geography graduate currently working in Manchester as a Transport Planner. He can often be found city-hopping across Europe or gigging with his band at a venue near you
[Photo Credits: River from Sebastien.b@Flickr]
What other ski destinations do you know are great to visit in summer? Have you visited Chamonix? Would you agree with James? Share your opinions below, as well as any tips you might have!