Chamonix , France
The Chamonix Valley cuts deeply through Europe's highest mountains and glaciers and has long been a place of pilgrimage for those searching out tough off piste terrain and stunning scenery.
Chamonix town is steeped in mountain traditions being home to Europe's highest mountain, Mont Blanc, and the magnificent Aiguille du Midi range. At 3,840m altitude Chamonix has the highest ski lift in the world and this accesses the famous Vallee Blanche run - a 22km off-piste high-mountain route to the base of the Mer de Glace glacier.
The main ski slopes of Chamonix are spread across distinct areas - Brevent, La Flegere, Les Grands Montets, Les Houches and finally, Le Tour. Getting to and from these separate ski areas requires using the local bus service or a car, the latter giving you the most freedom to explore.
Chamonix offers fantastic restaurants, a lively Saturday market and some great apres bars. Over the last 10 years more and more luxury chalets in Chamonix have been built and these wonderful properties now rival anything that can be found in the other European mega resorts of Verbier, Zermatt, Courchevel and Val d’Isere.
Chamonix has a car-free old centre which is full of atmosphere - cobbled streets and charming squares, beautiful old buildings and the fast flowing mountain River d’Arve which cuts through the centre of town. During the day Chamonix's pavement cafes are bustling with shoppers and tourists, sipping drinks and absorbing the breathtaking scenery. At night the apres ski venues come alive as holiday makers let their hair down.
Chamonix has changed dramatically over the years from being considered a hard-core skier's resort with reasonable prices to a much more upmarket resort town with smart shops and fantastic restaurants.
Pros & Cons
- An advanced skier's off-piste haven - but definitely hire a ski guide!
- Breathtaking scenery and unique Chamonix hotel 'fin de ciecle' architecture
- Hotels in Chamonix cater for long weekends & short breaks
- Plenty of activities to do off the slopes
- Lively variety of bars and nightclubs
- Separated ski areas are linked by a rather inefficient and slow bus service
- Can't easily ski to the valley floor
The restaurants in the Chamonix village are a haven for foodies (and much better value for money than their 'mountain' counterparts) and cover a range of budgets and eating tastes. It would be a definite recommendation to have an evening meal out even if you're staying in a chalet. Chamonix does get busy though so just remember to book a table in advance! The best include the Bergerie or the L'Auberge du Bois Prin, a small chalet style hotel with some of the finest cuisine in the valley. For more traditional fare, try La Caleche, the Monchu or the Chaudron. Vegetarian cuisine is hard to come by in the Alps, but do try the Petit Moulin. It is even possible to dine in some of the Chamonix hotels! Try La Maison Carrier (bustling and rustic serving traditional food) which is in the Albert 1er hotel. Since Chamonix is so close to the Italian border, you would expect some excellent Italian options, for fabulous pasta and pizza head to Casa Valerio or Spiga d'Oro, and if all else fails and you have a vehicle, why not head through the Mont Blanc tunnel to dine in Italy!
Not that great to be honest - it really does depend on which area you happen to be skiing in or the location of your chalet! Le Brevent's most attractive option is the Bergerie de Planpraz, a wood and stone alpine restaurant, that has both self and table service options. Food and service are great, but be warned, it can get very busy! For amazing views over to Mont Blanc, the little Panoramic at the top is well worth stopping at, alternatively try the self-service restaurant at La Flegere which has a large terrace to soak up the views as well as the sunshine. In the Grand Montets area, the Plan Joran serves good food, has table & self service, and like all well recommended restaurants gets busy during the peak lunch hours! The rustic Chalet-Refuge de Lognan has marvellous food and a great atmosphere (be prepared to spend some Euros!), you'll find it off the Variante Hotel run to the valley, and it overlooks the Argentiere glacier. If you pack your own picnic and the weather doesn't quite co-operate, then there is an indoor picnic area at the Plan Joran or at the top of the Le Tour gondola there is a picnic area near the Chalet de Charamillon. If you fancy saving a little money then make sure you make the most of your breakfast and get home for some tea and cakes at your chalet! Chamonix does have some spectacular views though, so be sure to make sure you have a break at some of the restaurant spots to take them in!
There are a great selection of bars in and around the pedestrian centre of Chamonix, that are busy for the hours of apres ski and for most, well into the night. Our picks, other than to follow where the most noise is coming from, is to sample the apres delights at the Bar du Moulin, Bar'd Up, Goofy's, The Pub or the Bar Terrasse, which will give you a good head start. Most venues will have live music and/or DJs playing well into the evening - if this is more you cup of tea, then ensure the Micro Brasserie and the Terrasse are on your list. Some hotels in Chamonix offer great apres ski too, including The Chambre Neuf bar at the Gustavia hotel.
After your delicious meal in your chalet, Chamonix nightlife should be tried and tested. There is a lively selection of nightlife, most of the apres ski venues continue on well into the night, for the discotheque fans (or those out on a bender and everything else has closed), there are a couple of late venues - there is infamous Dicks Tea Bar (just like the one in Val d'Isere) and The Garage in Chamonix Sud. It is possible to get taxis throughout the night so you do not need to worry about getting back to your hotels in Chamonix. If you are located a little further out of town it is possible you will have a driver service with your chalet. Chamonix nightlife should be tried though!
- Cable Car
- Chair lift
- Drag lift