Chamonix is the third most visited natural site in the world behind Mount Fuji (Japan) and the Niagara falls (Canada). Its convenient location at the crossroads between Italy and Switzerland means that it fits neatly into the majority of travelling itineraries. With Chamonix being renowned as the world capital of alpinism, freeride skiing, ice climbing and ultra-trail running it’s important to take a moment to mention the appeal it carries for the non-extreme sportsmen and women too! This busy little town is a popular place for day trippers, those on short weekend breaks or those on longer activity holidays.
Many people would not automatically think of Chamonix as a place to come shopping, however the town boasts a diverse range of stores that are guaranteed to suit all lifestyles. As you would expect from an outdoor sports Mecca, there are plenty sports stores where you can get your hands on some of the top mountaineering brands such as The North Face, Black Diamond, Salomon and Scarpa to name a few; and there's the fashionable mountain brands such as Peak Performance, Patagonia, Helly Hansen Chamonix, Napapijri and Quicksilver that also offer a good range of attractive outdoor mountaineering clothing.
Patagonia was one of the first big name brands to enter the Chamonix scene about twenty years ago. Patagonia chose Chamonix to promote its European sales instead of larger towns such as London or Paris as it preferred the strong mountaineering 'image' and historical charm Chamonix presents. In keeping with its strong traditional brand image, Patagonia selected a retail property with unique character and a prominent standing on the town's high street. Patagonia were joined in 1997 by well-known brands such as Napapijri and Peak Performance who extended their French sales by opening stores in the high street, again selecting buildings with character and stature, mirrored in their product and brand image. Helly Hansen Chamonix is situated at the top end of the rue Paccard where it has been well established for a few years now. This shop has got the lot, from outdoor any weather clothing through to summer t-shirts and tops. Along with many of the top mountaineering brands available, these stores have gone from strength to strength enjoying the specialist shopping atmosphere Chamonix whilst assisting in promoting Chamonix's reputation as a shopping destination.
If you're a young, hip, cool and trendy kind of person who prefers with boarding/surf wear then you'll not be disappointed either. Although not well known for its long sandy beaches, Chamonix is still home to big surfing and beach associated brands such as Billabong, Quiksilver and Rip Curl. Their colourful ranges of technical and dedicated sportswear have developed considerably over the past few years and this can be seen by the latest funky ranges being displayed in their large window fronted shops on the high street. During the winter stock is replaced by further trendy snowboarding and skiing clothing ranges facilitating these stores to enjoy healthy trading all year round. Some of the sports shops such as Zero G and Legend'Chx also stock a good clothing range of both on and off mountain wear. If your style is more 'street fashion' then there are further little boutique type shops in and around Chamonix's high street that sell the latest Volcom, Nixon, Nikita, Carhartt, Vans and Electric labels too.
If you prefer high street fashion to more technical wicking fabrics and Gore-Tex, then along the main street you will also find popular brands such as Benetton, Timberland and Esprit to kit yourself out in “normal” clothes which can sometimes be hard to come by in Cham!
Not forgetting the littleuns... There are a couple of small children's boutiques situated along the Rue Paccard which are dedicated to the needs of children's fashion and entertainment so that your child can be dressed as stylishly as you are! If you find that you need a few emergency items when you’re here, then the large Super U supermarket also on Rue Paccard has an array of children’s clothes and footwear downstairs. For warmer clothing such as snow suits and winter boots, you should head to Technic Extreme in Chamonix Sud, where you can pick up an array of snug and waterproof clothing that will keep your little ones dry and cosy without costing the earth. With toy shops that sell the latest gadgets and gismos from a cuddly marmotte to a Chamonix version of Monopoly the high street is very diverse offering a degree of retail therapy to many ages and tastes!
For those aspiring to a bit of 'haute couture' there's something here to suit you too. Chamonix has beautiful designer shops such as Chanel, Lacoste, La Fuma and Swarovski on its high street in addition to other specialist boutique shops selling other designer brands. Rue Dr Paccard is Chamonix's very own little '5th Avenue'!
Sale Time! If you’re hoping to get a bargain when you’re here, be it the latest Peak Performance ski jacket or a designer handbag, you need to time your visit to very specific times of year. Unlike the UK when it appears that shops have almost permanent sales on, sale or “solde” time in France is strictly regulated by department and shop owners are not allowed to discount their products at any other time. End of the line (“Fin de serie”) and “Promo” is acceptable but the real bargains are to be found at the specifically designated sale times, when you can get your hands on all the big brands for 40-70% less than the normal retail price. In Chamonix, sale time usually runs from the last week in June until the first week in August.
Local Produce Although alpine sport shops and clothing shops tend to dominate the high street, there are also many souvenir, kitchenware and newsagent/book shops too. If you want sample some of the local cheese or meats there are a number of 'Refuge Payot' stores selling fine local produce and many other gourmet food specialities that allow you to 'try before you buy'. La Spiga d'Oro is the place to head in Chamonix for a taste of Italy without even having to cross through the Mont Blanc tunnel! Being both a restaurant and a 'traiteur' (delicatessen) you can have the choice of eating in or taking away. You can simply sample all of the finest Italian produce from hams, cheeses, and pastas to the widest selection of Italian wines in town. La Spiga d'Oro also prepare their own fresh antipasti, pasta and sauces 'just like de mama used to makea' - delicious! If it's the local produce you're interested in then don't forget the local market that takes place every Saturday morning where you can purchase everything from local cheese and meats, fresh fish, fantastic colourful flowers, fresh savoie honey and THE best hot roast chickens!
Other popular shops in the town include the Tiarraz photography and poster shop on the road leading to the train station, and the Alpine Library bookshop which sells a wide range of English language guidebooks as well as a huge range of Alpine maps. Chamonix shops contrast massively, so don't be surprised to be walking past Chanel and Patagonia one minute then passing bargain t-shirts, souvenirs, and stuffed toy shops the next!
Opening hours vary to that in the UK. We've been living here for years yet we still get caught out and forget that many shops and all service providers (banks, post office etc) close down for long lunches! You will also find that banks are closed on Mondays although they are open for business on Saturday morning to compensate. Most of the shops open around 9-10am and then close from 12.30pm until 2–3pm for lunch, re-opening again until 7-7.30pm, which allows you to browse the shops of an evening or on your way to dinner.
Chamonet's Top Tip: Make sure you pack light on your trip out leaving plenty of baggage space for the way back. Your wallet, on the other hand, is likely to be somewhat lighter....!!