CHAMONIX MONT-BLANC, FRANCE: Located at the foothill of majestic Mont Blanc in south-eastern France, Chamonix Mont-Blanc (or just Chamonix in short) is an attractive Alpine village to visit any time of the year. For decades, Chamonix was known to be a winter getaway for the up-scale travelers. It was this city which hosted the first ever Winter Olympics in 1924. Being 1030 meters (3400 ft.) above sea-level, many tourists keep coming back here for winter activities and for its charming and unique location.
Chamonix is one of the towns that surrounds Mont Blanc from one side and is itself surrounded by the Alps. This is where passionate mountaineers come to fulfill their dreams of climbing the highest peak of Europe…Mont Blanc. Its picturesque squares with the Alps in the backdrop, artistic buildings, countless restaurants, and buzzing crowds make this place a relax getaway for travelers of any age.
TIME of TRAVEL: Visiting Mont Blanc was on our list for a long time when we were living in Belgium. The opportunity finally came right before we left Europe in July of 2014. Our friend Sidfar from Antwerp also joined us in this 5-day long trip. We visited Annecy, Mont Blanc, Chamonix, then Dijon, and Nancy afterwards. It was our last road trip in Europe, that’s why even memorable for all of us.
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 city center is the probably the best area for tourists to buy souvenirs or winter gears. There were tons of brand name stores where you can buy all the things you need to climb Mont Blanc massif from winter jackets, clothing accessories, to foot gears, and heavy duty sports items. This small town also boasts for gastronomic restaurants. Although we saw an Indian restaurant and did a take-away order from there, you will find tons of other restaurants offering traditional Mont Blanc cuisine right here in the heart of Chamonix.
PLACES WE’VE VISITED: Of course the biggest attraction of Chamonix and the reason most of the tourists is to get a glimpse of the highest peak of the Alps…Mont Blanc (check out my page/post on Mont Blanc). Upon arriving in Chamonix in the morning of our visit, we took a cable car to Aiguille du Midi and spent the whole day visiting different summits of French Alps enjoying glaciers, valleys, green meadows, and whitest snow of Mont Blanc massif. After Aiguille du Midi, we came down to the town and spent about little more than an hour in the city center of Chamonix.
1) CITY CENTER: This is the heart and the liveliest spot of Chamonix. It’s a relaxed atmosphere with trendy shopping streets and stunning view. Each block of this area was decorated with colorful fresh flowers bouquets and baskets. River Arve dissects the city center in two parts carrying water from the mountains.
Being so close to Mont Blanc, one of the popular destinations for winter sports in the Alps, Chamonix city center has tons of sports stores like North Face, Columbia, and Ice Breaker. The place is crowded with serious and experienced climbers and hikers. Just looking at their heavy gears made me adventurous…they were here for real Alpine wilderness. And then of course, there were tourists like us who were enjoying the atmosphere and the natural beauty from our own comfort zone.
If you are there in summer, like us, take your time and go around the town center, enjoy the view of the River Arve, summer blooms, energetic crowds, and outdoor cafes. I am imagining, it’s completely a different scene in the winter time. May be the river freezes, Mont Blanc gets a new facelift with heavier and thicker snow pile, whole city center may look white but be dazzling with Christmas trees, lights, and decoration…not to mention Christmas markets and enthusiastic winter athletes.
2) STATUE of de SAUSSURE: This is a statue of heroism and bravery in the center of Chamonix in front of a casino. It honors Horace Benedict de Saussure who was the first person to climb Mont Blanc. The statue portrays Horace Benedict de Saussure, beside him Jacques Balmat standing, pointing his finger towards Mont Blanc.
3) CATHOLIC CHURCH of St. MICHAEL: This church is in the city center near Place d’la Eglise which also houses Chamonix Town Hall. It was impressively decorated with vibrant hanging flower baskets and flags. I didn’t go inside the church but walking along that street was a pleasure no doubt.
4) PLACE JACQUES BALMAT: This beautiful and little square in the city center was named after Jacque Balmat who was the climbing partner to ascend Mont Blanc in August 8th, 1786 with Dr. Paccard. Again, plenty of flowers adorned this pedestrian zone while many shops and cafes made it a place where I wouldn’t mind going back over and over again.
Rue du Docteur Paccard is, you can say, the main shopping street in city center and got its name from Doctor Paccard who climbed Mont Blanc in 1786 as mentioned above. Their ascension to Mont Blanc was a historic achievement in mountaineering.