Chamonix is snowy peaks, alpine meadows, glacier tunnels and more.
Chamonix offers so many reasons to lace up your hiking boots.
Arrived in Chamonix by train around three in the afternoon.
The 4810m summit of Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain, watches over Chamonix. This snow-capped wonder dominates the mountainous skyline above the many valley villages.
Shortly after settling into our room, with its Mont Blanc view, clouds began tumbling over the alpine ridges announcing their arrival with flashes of lightening and clap of thunder. This happens frequently in Chamonix when the weather is particularly hot … as it had been this June day … and often disappear as quickly as they came.
The day was sunny. Prepared for cold we had brought coats, toques and gloves but none were needed. We took pictures as though we had never seen snow-capped mountains or snow before. After some fooling around we had refreshments at the restaurant which overhangs the valley below.
The cable car took us back down to Planpranz and a trailhead for one of the hikes which had attracted us to Chamonix. At the start we incorrectly assumed we were on the right track when, in fact, we were on the ups and downs of a service road rather than the intended narrow trail clinging to the mountain side like a goat path.
Once on the correct path the vistas were beautiful, both within the forest and looking out to the valley and the mountains that comprised the other ridge, including impressive Mont Blanc.
Along the way we selected rocks for our grandchildren. Rocks collected were small and could be easily carried in a pocket but their Grandpa found one rock that he couldn’t put in his pocket so he climbed it instead. Maybe one day the grandkids can come to Chamonix with their grandpa and climb it together.
About two hours into our trek we reached a ridge which allowed us to see our destination … still about an hour away and across two rock slides.
We were greeted at the terminus of the gondola (which would have returned us to valley floor) by a young Saint Bernard – very fitting.
Dinner at a sidewalk cafe. Near the end of our meal, people we had met earlier on the mountain sat down at the small table next to us and we had a long conversation as they ate their dinner. A light shower warned of pending rain … again caused by the heat of the day. We said our good-byes and headed up the hill to our B&B.
As we entered our room, only slightly damp, Terry realized we had left the cafe without paying. When the French sit down at a cafe they are considered to have the table for the evening if they wish … not like the North American way of “hurry up and finish up, we have other customers waiting.” And unlike the North American “here’s your bill” as a hint to leave, French waiters wait for the customer to request “L’addition”.
Terry left immediately and headed down the hill as the rain fell a little more earnestly and by the time he was on his way back he had to take refuge for a time under a tree to escape the downpour.
Today we ventured up the mountains on the other side of the valley to see Mer de Glace … but today we did it the easy way … we went by train.
This train, especially designed to tackle steep grades, is one of the last rack and pinion trains in France. As we climbed we could look across to the mountains of yesterday’s hike.
When we arrived at our destination and looked at the glacier it didn’t seem all that big. It actually looked like a gravel slide. On second glance we realized the little pebbles were actually boulders and the tiny moving dots were people.
Like all glaciers, Mer de Glace is constantly undergoing changes in size due to snowfall and melts and is forever moving under its own weight, creating crevices and pockets of water.
The glacier’s speed, although not discernable to the eye, is considerable. In its upper section it moves about 120 meters a year and where we were standing, near 90 meters a year (which works out to be one centimeter per hour).
To get a closer look we hiked twenty minutes down into the valley (rather than take the cable car). It was a pleasant hike and gave us a better appreciation of how massive this mountain of ice really is.
Many years ago tourists would come to walk on Mer de Glace (which now requires hiring a licensed guide). In 1946 two brothers-in-law were given permission by the Chamonix authorities to develop the first tunnel into the glacier. They hollowed out a tunnel 50 meters long, two meters wide and about two meters high. Charles and George’s efforts were rewarded. Tourists who flocked to see were awed by the bluish ice and its natural beauty.
After going through a long entrance tunnel the newest grotto opens up to a living room with ice chairs, coffee table, fireplace (with clock) and piano – all carved from ice. The next room, a bedroom with a Paul Bunyon-sized bed leads to a kitchen and then back to the living room.
Rather than hiking back to the top, we took advantage of the cable car.
Back in Chamonix, we compared one of the earliest rack and pinion train engines to the one we traveled on today.
Another trek above Chamonix, but on a trail lower than the one we hiked June 9.
We picked wild strawberries … small but the flavor intense. Terry has fond memories of picking them around Lillooet, British Columbia, but Sherrie had never experienced these exceptional morsels.
At one of the many streams Terry had an opportunity to show Sherrie how to drink like a Boy Scout. The water was cold, fresh and sweet. Delicious.
We passed some settling ponds where they are extracting chalk from the river’s water. Still plenty continues downstream making it impossible to see below the surface of the fast rushing water.
Along the river bank, we stopped and spread out our picnic. It started to rain and we made a dash to complete our journey. When we reached the shopping area of Chamonix we sought cover in an internet cafe and had our camera cards backed up to a disc which would be tucked into our backpack. For dinner we partook of a traditional Chamonix dish; potatoes and onions are the main ingredients. Great food for winter workers but a little too heavy for summertime tourists.
A travel day. We were headed to Gimmelwald, Switzerland.
TOURIST INFORMATION CENTER
There is so much to do in and around Chamonix – for every age, every level of fitness, in any season.
Spending some time on the Tourist Information website and at their Choamonix Center may ultimately give you more quality time doing the things you want to do in and around Chamonix. The Center is well located in town and staff is friendly and informative. There is lots to see and do, plus ways to save on expenses, so please allow time, particularly in high season. Their very informative website is a good place to begin so you can be more specific in what type of assistance you need.
Chamonix has plenty of accommodations from dormitories and B&Bs to hotels and high-end chalets and apartments. If you are looking for well-priced accommodation (under €100), it is best to plan ahead and make reservations early.
Address: 85 Place du Triangle de l’Amitié, 74400 Chamonix-Mont-Blanc
Phone: +33 4 50 53 00 24
Email: on website page
Website (English): www.chamonix.com
Website (train to glacier): Montenvers Mer de Glace