Chamonix, or indeed the Alps, may not be the first place you think of when planning a European summer sunshine holiday. I suspect for many, Chamonix is more likely associated with snow and skiing and winter holidays. Having very recently spent a couple of days there as part of a longer trip, I would suggest it is worth adding to your summer holiday wish list.
The setting is uniquely beautiful as it is situated near the massive peaks of the Aiguilles Rouges and the Aiguille du Midi. Wherever you are in Chamonix, you cannot fail to be overwhelmed by the surrounding landscape. The north side of the summit is Mont Blanc and therefore the summit itself are part of the village of Chamonix. The snow covered peaks watch over the town of Chamonix with a calm and strong presence. Admittedly, the weather can be changeable — and it does disappear behind the clouds on a fairly regularly basis — but it is reassuring to know that it is there.
Chamonix is an outdoor town even in the summer (or perhaps especially in the summer). I suspect that many who visit do so for serious trekking or climbing. It is the starting and finishing point for the popular Tour du Mont Blanc Trek and also the Mont blanc to Matterhorn Trek. There are a whole range of other outdoor pursuits should you be so inclined. We watched rafting, body boarding along the river, and cycling, to name just a few. To come to such a beautiful area and not set foot on the mountains would seem a crime — and you do not have to walk very far to feel the alpine soil under your feet. Parapente or paragliding is a popular sport here too should hanging gracefully in the air be your thing. I have decided it is definitely mine although I have yet to try it!
If you are not inclined to pull on walking boots for some serious mountain walking, then I am reliably told that one of the most exciting and fabulous excursions into the mountains is the cable car trip to the Aiguille du Midi for a 360° view of the French, Swiss, and Italian Alps. From here, it is possible to take a gondola lift ride over the Glacier du Géant to the Pointe Helbronner in Italy. Although we did not manage to do this during this occasion, it is certainly something we have added to our must do list the next time we are in the area.
The streets are lined with outdoor shops. From the North Face to Helly Hansen to Marmot and everything in between. All the big names are here — along with some very big prices too! If you are looking for outdoor gear and have a healthy bank balance you will find everything you could possibly need. Of course, there are plenty of souvenir shops in which to buy your Chamonix t-shirts and fridge magnets — even a sprinkling of tasteful interiors and “frippery” shops.
Eating and Drinking
There is an abundance of pavement cafes and restaurants although they are mostly places that have lots of inside space too should the weather change. As you would expect, cheese and meats feature heavily on most menus. Alpine dishes such as Tartiflette and Raclette are never in short supply and vary in quality and quantity.
We found some delicious lunch options at the quirky but very pretty Cool Cats Cafe, a little bit removed from the main drag and probably all the better for it. Fresh fruit smoothies, avocado with local toasted bread and a selection of delicious hot dogs — all from locally sourced ingredients.
Chamonix is not too cheap. A coffee costs around €3.50 ($4.16), and beer is often significantly more. I discovered that local wine was often the best value with large glasses from between €3-4 ($3.57-4.76). However find yourself a table in the sun with a view of Mont Blanc and that expensive coffee will soon seem like a very good value.
Ice cream is very popular in Chamonix. If you spot a large queue, chances are it will be for ice cream. I am married to an ice cream lover who in the interests of research consumed a considerable number of different flavored boules de glace while we were in Chamonix and rated them all consistently highly.
Flowers bloom in Chamonix and window boxes are packed with trailing geraniums, borders are crammed with petunias and dahlias, and balconies groan under the weight of blossoms.
When the sky is blue, and punctuated by only wisps of cloud or splashes of color from the ever present parapente, it would be hard to imagine a more beautiful setting. However, do be warned that this is the Alps. Even in the height of summer, the weather can be changeable. So come prepared with sunscreen and waterproofs and you will have a fabulous time whatever the weather. Chamonix is too beautiful and and has too much to offer to leave it just for winter holidays.