For a gal who loves vineyards and mountains (and history), you’d think I’d have spent more time in France. But I haven’t. 4 amazing days in Paris (which I loooovvve) is all I’ve seen of France.
“Why?” you ask. Good question. It’s not that I don’t have a list of places to go in one of the largest countries in Europe. Cause I do. I just keep going back to Italy and Ireland. Everyone says the countryside and the small villages are where you really see the true France. And I have no doubt about this.
So I’m hoping to change this in the next couple of years. And as such, I decided to write some posts over the coming months about some of the places that are high on my France list. Maybe some of you have been to these places and can chime in with information on these destinations. I would LOVE that! Feel free to leave a comment below.
So where am I beginning? With the mountains of course, in Chamonix.
Where exactly is Chamonix?
This ski town, formally known as Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, sits in the shadows of the highest and one of the most famous peaks of the Alps, Mont Blanc (or Monte Bianco on the Italian side). Yes, it’s on the border with Italy and Switzerland is not far either. So when you look at the map of France, it’s east and a little south. This is the western edge of the Alps.
What’s so great about Chamonix?
Well there is fabulous skiing and snowboarding here. Chamonix is one of Europe’s oldest ski resorts. It’s a mountaineer’s dream as Mont Blanc is a prize for those who love to strap on crampons and carry ice axes. There are wonderful hikes for all fitness levels in summer and the “scene” in town is vibrant and energetic at any time of year.
Did you know the first winter Olympics were held here? Yup. In 1924.
And there are little villages surrounding the bigger town of Chamonix that will charm your boots off. Villages such as Argentière and Les Praz are all part of the greater Chamonix valley and community.
It’s not one of those super expensive resort towns either which is great for those who aren’t part of the jet set. There are places to stay to fit every budget. Yay!
But it’s the mountain scenery..
and the valleys that surround these peaks that are the stars. This is the destination for you if you’re a snow bunny, a mountain climber or a hiker — or even a mountain biker. However if you simply love to gaze upon all this natural beauty without exerting yourself, guess what? You can take one of a few cable cars up to some fairly high elevations for some incredible views.
Taking the cable car up to Aiguille du Midi (3842m) is a real treat —and so worth the money (as long as the weather is clear) as you’ll be able to see the French, Italian and Swiss Alps. Mont Blanc will be right in your face!
And in summer you can actually go another 30 minutes in your own private cable car (well you and a friend) to the Pointe Helbronner which sits on the French-Italian border. The scenery is stunning with snow and ice fields. If you want you can even take another cable car down to Courmayeur, one of the famous ski resorts in Italy. So you see — something for everyone!
Why is Chamonix on my list?
Well, if you’ve been reading my blog, you know I love me some mountains. So I would be all over the hiking trails in summer or early autumn.
And while I used to do some snowboarding and snowshoeing, I’d be less inclined to go in winter. Although I have to admit, it would be fun for a few days to get out and play in the snow then sit by a nice warm fire and people watch.
One of the aspects that intrigues me is that Chamonix has a certain aura about it. It’s one of the early ski destinations along with St Moritz in Switzerland. There’s a history with the mountains here — skiing, mountaineering and hiking. It conjures up a pioneering spirit and I love places like this. It’s truly a classic in my eyes.
But there’s one thing in particular…
that really has my attention: the Tour de Mont Blanc. This is a long distance hike that circles Mont Blanc. It’s about 170km (110 miles) and is one of the classic long distance trails. Yes, I’m obsessed with these long distance walks!
Anyway, you stay in the mountain huts (refugio in Italian) along the way. The highest point is around 2664m (8750ft) so it’s not like you’re climbing up Mont Blanc (which is over 15,000ft). It typically takes 11 days and can be done on your own or with a guide or group. The standard route is doable for those who are somewhat fit. There are some variations that are a bit more challenging for those seeking more adventure.
And if you’re a runner, how about an ultra marathon of the Tour de Mont Blanc? Yeah, me neither! (and I am a runner — but that’s just too damn far to run!)
And perhaps another reason Chamonix is on my list?
This has to do more with Mont Blanc. You see, on the northern slope of the Mont Blanc massif is the Mer de Glace, a glacier that is about 5.5km long and 200m deep. It’s one of the longest and largest glaciers in France. It’s pretty spectacular.
You can actually hike on this (best with a guided group). And you can walk underneath of it. What? Yes, you read that correctly. Every year they dig an ice cave into the glacier so visitors can walk into the glacier. Pretty cool, huh?
I would love to see this glacier because we all know these glaciers are disappearing. So for me, seeing something this spectacular that may not be here one day is even more appealing to me.
And in all honesty..
seeing some of these big peaks is a big deal for a mountain gal like me. I mean, I was practically in tears when I saw the Eiger in Switzerland a couple of years ago. The mountains are my happy place and seeing these iconic slices of nature is my idea of a dream trip. So Mont Blanc and the quintessential ski resort of Chamonix sitting at its base? Hell yeah! Sign me up!!
All photos courtesy of Pixaby unless otherwise noted.