A guide to Chamonix
Chamonix is a vibrant, edgy town known as both a world-class ski resort and a mountaineering destination. Situated in the Haute-Savoie region of eastern France, Chamonix is bordered by Switzerland and Italy and dominated by the incredible Aiguilles de Chamonix mountain chain which peaks at the top of Mont Blanc (4810m).
With these vast, jagged mountains towering over the town, the scenery here is arguably the most spectacular in the French Alps. The snow-capped peaks soar into the bright blue sky, ancient glaciers sweep down towards the valley floor and waterfalls cascade through pine-covered hillsides. Old rustic farmhouses and barns can be found in the Alpine meadows, whilst new luxury chalets stake claim to the best locations on the valley floor. Take in the views from Chamonix itself or ride the cable car up to the top of the Aiguille du Midi peak at 3842 metres. Pretty mountain huts only accessible by foot are hidden along the mountain trails providing welcome refreshment stops for hikers and often offer the best views around. The natural beauty of this valley is the main draw for those who love the outdoors whether you be a skier, a mountaineer, a hiker or a sightseer.
Skiing in Chamonix
Chamonix is most famous as a ski destination. It has five separate ski areas spread above the 20km of valley floor that provide terrain for skiers of all levels, from beginner to advanced. The skiing is often talked about as ‘challenging’, this is because 70% of the pistes are classified as red or black as they tend to be long and steep descents. However, each of the ski areas has nursery slopes and blue pistes that will keep beginners happy for their week's holiday. The high altitude of the skiing (most pistes are over 2000m) means that snow is assured through to the end of April. In addition, there is an incredible amount of off-piste and ski touring terrain that draws experienced skiers and snowboarders from all around the world.
Also see: Ski Areas in Chamonix
Things to Do in Chamonix
Whether you're coming here on a day trip, a week's holiday or for a longer stay, Chamonix welcomes visitors from around the world, all year round. It's a great place for families as well as the more adventurous traveller.
Chamonix has a big international reputation as the home of not just skiing but also extreme sports. Mountaineers can tackle the mighty Mont Blanc or the many routes around the massif. Hiring a mountain guide is highly recommended. The Chamonix valley is also a haven for rock climbers with everything from bolted sports routes in the valley to trad climbing at mid-mountain level, plus numerous bouldering opportunities. There are also a couple of Via Ferrata routes for which you don't necessarily need that much climbing experience. Paragliders fill the sky in summer and winter giving visitors a unique view of the valley. The river Arve in Chamonix, as well as rivers over the border in Italy or Switzerland, provide rafting and canyoning adventures.
Hiking & Trails
The terrain and beauty of the Chamonix Valley lends itself very well to trail runners, hikers and mountain walkers. Make use of the vast network of pathways that criss-cross the mountain sides and the valley floor - you’ll enjoy the views wherever you choose to go. Take advantage of the mountain huts along the way, they are invariably located in the best spots to admire the views. Chamonix is the traditional starting point for the Tour du Mont Blanc, a very popular hiking route that takes 7-10 days following trails through to Italy and on to Switzerland before returning to Chamonix.
Culture & relaxation
Of course, you don't have to be extreme to enjoy a trip to Chamonix. The town became established in the 19th century and its history is all around when you take a wander through its pedestrianised streets. Plenty of cafes and restaurants spill out onto the pavements, so you can take in the beautiful views whilst eating or drinking. Many of the shops are sports-focused but you’ll find a number of fashion boutiques, and interiors & gifts shops. Every Saturday, the town hosts an outdoor market brimming with local crafts and produce. In addition, there is a cinema, a bowling alley, an ice rink, a large sports centre with a pool, gym and indoor climbing wall and numerous museums in which to while away the day. Some of the 4 and 5-star hotels have spas with outdoor swimming pools if you prefer a more relaxing day in Chamonix.
The kids will love the leisure park at Planards with its year-round luge ride (mini-rollercoaster), the summer tree top adventures, the vintage Montenvers train ride to the Mer de Glace glacier or simply riding up the gondolas into the mountains.
There is a real international feel to the place, not just from tourists, but from individuals and families who have decided to settle here from all over the world. Come and find out why!
Also see: What to Do in Chamonix
Sights & Attractions in Chamonix
The main attraction that brings tourists to this picturesque town is Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe at 4810m. Visitors either come to reach the summit themselves, view it from the station at the top of the Aiguille du Midi cable car (3842m) which also enjoys spectacular views of the Mont Blanc range, or take it in from the valley floor. At the top of the Aiguille du Midi, you'll find "Step into the Void", one of Chamonix's most recently added attractions. You literally step into a glass-sided box with views of Mont Blanc to your left and a 1000 metre drop under your feet.
Another hugely popular place to visit is the Mer de Glace glacier (the "Sea of ice") which is accessed by the Montenvers train. From the top, you can descend to an ice cave excavated into the glacier via a cable car and a series of walkways and steps. Markers along the rock walls on the descent show you just how much the glacier has retreated in recent years.
You can also take the Tramway du Mont Blanc from Les Houches down into the neighbouring town of St Gervais and back again up to the Nid d'Aigle (2372m). Many mountaineers use this as the start of their access to routes up Mont Blanc but it's even more popular with hikers and sightseers in the summer months.
Also see: Attractions in Chamonix
Events in Chamonix
Chamonix hosts a wide range of sporting events throughout the year. The biggest ones include the Freeride World Tour in January where you can see pro skiers and snowboarders making extreme tracks down the mountain, the various Mont Blanc Marathons in June, the World Climbing Festival in July and the UTMB trail running race in August.
It's not all about sport though, Chamonix also has a strong music tradition. The lively Fete de la Music takes place on 21st June every year where dancing in the streets until the small hours is standard - even if it rains. The Cosmo Jazz Festival at the end of sunny July has venues in different mountain locations as well as the town centre (all concerts are free) and Black Crow’s ski and music event, Chamonix Unlimited, takes place in March.
Also see: Main Events in Chamonix
Where to Stay in Chamonix
There is a vast selection of accommodation, covering all budgets from hostels to luxury chalets. There are very few ski-in and ski-out properties because of the low altitude of the valley in comparison to the high altitude skiing but you can find some in Les Houches, Chamonix and Le Tour. Many hotels and apartment rentals have a flexible approach to holiday bookings so you don’t need to be tied to a traditional Saturday to Saturday, seven-day holiday.
Chamonix is more than just a ski resort, it's the beating heart of the valley. This is the place to stay if you are looking for the biggest selection of accommodation, shops, restaurants and nightlife. There are two lift stations in the town, the Aiguille du Midi cable car (for views and the off-piste ski route La Vallee Blanche) and the Brevent gondola (for sunny skiing suitable for all abilities).
Argentiere & Les Praz
The smaller, more traditionally Alpine villages of Les Praz and Argentiere lie further up the valley. Les Praz is served by the Flegere cable car, taking you to a beautiful ski area suitable for all abilities. It's also where you will find the golf course. Argentiere is a lovely village with a good selection of accommodation, bars and restaurants and is right next to the Grands Montets ski area. This is where to come if you want challenging skiing as it's renowned for its steepness and long descents. It's also north facing, and so holds on to the best snow all the way through to May.
Les Houches is a larger village just below Chamonix with its own ski area. It's a pretty town and the ski area is a favourite with families thanks to its mix of pistes and kid's play areas. Chalet holidays are popular here, with many companies offering minibus services so you can also explore the rest of Chamonix's skiing area.
Servoz, Les Bossons, Les Tines and Montroc are quieter hamlets, dotted along the valley, where you will need to take a bus/train or drive to the slopes.
Also see: Where to Stay in Chamonix
Restaurants in Chamonix
Chamonix is a town inhabited by and visited by a large international community and its cuisine reflects that. As well as the much-loved fondue, raclette and traditional French restaurants, you'll also find Indian, Scandinavian, Chinese and fusion cuisine on offer. There are plenty of restaurants in Chamonix, most on the valley floor, but also a good selection at altitude which you can access by the ski or summer lifts. Many of these mountain restaurants offer spectacular views of the surrounding mountains.
Also see: Where to Eat in Chamonix
Nightlife in Chamonix
The Chamonix valley offers visitors a range of nightlife from live bands, boisterous après ski parties and nightclubs to more sedate jazz nights, the occasional music festival and film nights. In the centre of Chamonix, you'll find the broadest selection of things to do, with each of the villages along the length of the valley offering their own unique selection of nightlife.
Also see: Partying in Chamonix
Where is Chamonix?
Chamonix is situated in the French Alps, at the foot of the Mont Blanc. The resort is nestled up against the border of Italy and Switzerland, giving access to three countries (sometimes within the same day!).
It takes a little over an hour to get here from the nearest airport at Geneva, making it a popular destination for quick weekends away and short trips. Its location and accessibility to neighbouring countries make it a great destination for people touring through Europe in summer as well as to ski the varied terrain in winter. A 15-minute drive through the Mont Blanc Tunnel will take you to Italy, and the Swiss border is a 30-minute drive if you continue on up the valley.
Also see: How to Get to Chamonix