MONT-BLANC, FRANCE: Finally, we were lucky to get a glance of the sheer beauty of majestic Mont Blanc right before leaving Europe. Mont Blanc, meaning the “White Mountain”, is the highest peak of the Alps and in the European Union. Situated on Mont Blanc massif in the southern region of France, this is known as the roof of Europe. It stands boldly and solemnly looking over the whole continent.
This is a popular destination for those mountaineers, hikers, climbers, snowboarders, and skiers. I myself is not that brave nor fit for those sports. So I enjoyed looking at Mont Blanc from the peak adjacent to it, Aiguille du Midi…which most of the tourist do here.
There are different levels of difficulties for hiking and mountain biking along many different routes. You can’t really go on top of the summit of Mont Blanc unless you are an experienced climber and high altitude doesn’t bother you.
We reached Chamonix from Annecy in the morning, parked near the cable-car station, and went off toward the ticket office from where our thrilling journey to the Alps began.
TIME of TRAVEL: This was our last road trip before leaving Europe for good. Therefore, it’s a memorable trip for our whole family. And we couldn’t leave Europe before visiting the highest peak of the Alps…it would be simply unethical. Our friend Sidfar from Antwerp, Belgium also joined us in this trip. We drove from Tervuren, Belgium to our hotel in Annecy on a nice Friday of July 2014. On the 2nd day, we drove another hour on scenic highway to reach Chamonix for this trip.
One piece of advice I want to give all of you who want to visit Mont Blanc, is that wear closed toe shoes and bring enough winter clothes with you for this trip, even if you are here in the middle of the summer. I saw some people they were not prepared and started complaining when they were up on the summit of Aiguille du Midi. You won’t enjoy anything if you are not properly dressed…so take it seriously.
OUR HOTEL: Our hotel was not in or near Chamonix. We stayed in Annecy, about an hour drive from Mont Blanc. It was “Sejours & Affaires Pont Neuf – Cran Gevrier” somewhat close to Annecy Old Town. The hotel (which was more like a hostel) didn’t have 24-hour reception service. That was not a problem although we reached there really late at night (they left the keys in a safe-box for us). Good part of this place that we had a small kitchen and a balcony. We also had free Wi-Fi and parking. Annecy, situated by Lake Annecy, itself is a stunning town and is known as The Venice of France. Spare a day if you can for this little town and you won’t regret it for a second.
EATING and SHOPPING: Chamonix is a good place for all your meals and souvenirs at reasonable price. Things are more expensive on the mountain summits. May be it’s not a bad idea to buy some sandwiches and drinks before getting on the cable car. For souvenirs, there was a big store near the ticket office in Chamonix.
PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We arrived in Chamonix from Annecy around 10-ish in the morning. After spending a whole day on Mont Blanc massif, we were down in the parking lot around 6 or 6:30pm. But then again we spent about an hour in Chamonix too (which will be my next post).
There are two sections of the “Telepherique” that takes you up to the summits from Chamonix: first one was from Chamonix to Plan de L’Aiguille and the next one was all the way up to the upper station of Aiguille du Midi.
1) PLAN de L’AIGUILLE: With tickets in our hands we hurried to the line for the next cable-car. We saw couple cable cars leaving with many eager tourists in front of us. Five of us squeezed into that machine when our turn came. I am thinking in my head, hopefully it will take us safely to our next stop, Plan de L’Aiguille. For the next five minutes, we soared over a forest to reach the summit.
Plan de L’Aiguille is 2317 meters (or 7602 ft) above sea level. From the plain, view of the glaciers, valley, peaks, and endless layers of mountains are truly admirable. Loved breathing fresh air and looking over lush greenery from here. There is a small bar and souvenir shop up on Plan de L’Aiguille where you can get light snacks, hot drinks, and generic souvenirs. Take a look around, if you are lucky like us, you may see some donkeys chewing on the fresh mountain grass. We didn’t see any snow here, nor was it chilly.
2) AIGUILLE du MIDI: From Plan de L’Aiguille we took another 5 minutes cable-ride to Aiguille du Midi which is another mountain in the Mont Blanc massif in the French Alps. The upper station of Aiguille du Midi is 3842 meters (12,602 ft) above sea-level. Now we were at the heart of high mountains. In 1949, this cabin linked the summit of Aiguille du Midi with the Plan de L’Aiguille for the first time. It holds the record as the highest vertical ascent cable car in the world. The distance between these two points is about 5 km (3.1 miles).
After reaching Aiguille du Midi, first thing we did was that we ran to a kiosk to buy tickets for Chamonix Panoramic Aerial Tramway. It’s a one hour ride over the Mont Blanc massif. Thanks to this aerial tramway that we were able to cross a massive stretch of snow valley, glacier, deep ice caves, and…hikers/climbers on the ground (yikes). There are some classic climbing routes to the summit of Mont Blanc. Of course you got to be a highly experienced mountain climber or hiker (who is also used to this altitude) to come here and climb the highest peak of the Alps.
The best part of this ride is that it takes you to the Italian side of the Alps. It connects Aiguillle du Midi with Pointe Helbronner in Italy without making a stop on the Italian part (yes, you actually cross the French border and take a peek at the Italian Alps). The cable ride opened in 1958. Only 4 people can fit in each cable, making it perfect for our family. Make sure to take this tram-ride over the glorious Alps when you are here in summer…a thrilling and adventurous journey you should not miss.
After some aerial Alps experience, we came back to the Aiguille summit. It has a panoramic viewing platform, café, shop, exhibitions. On a clear day, you can see the Black Forest, central mountain ranges, and other major summits of the Alps from the terrace. Be stunned by the jaw-dropping view of the French, Swiss, and Italian summits. After the terrace, we went to check out “Step into the Void”. “Step into the Void” is a small cube glass sky-walk which guarantees 100% thrills and offers an unforgettable experience with 1035 meters void straight beneath your feet thru the glass box on snow-covered mountains.
Make sure to spend at least couple hours here on top of Aiguille du Midi. Ticket per adult from Chamonix to all the way up to Aiguille du Midi (round trip) is 55 euros. The tramway to Pointe Helbronner is 25 euros (if I can remember correctly). The weather changes drastically from Plan de L’Aiguille to Aiguille du Midi. Even in July, it was very cold and windy. We saw thick snow and ice on the ground. Tourists should have plenty of winter clothes for this summit because it’s a lot cold and windy up here.