All about Chamonix Are you new to Chamonix?
Here we introduce the local villages of the Chamonix valley to you.
Chamonix is probably best known as the alpine capital of the world. As a destination it has a reputation for the extreme due to the challenging terrain. However, get past the initial shock and awe of the place and you will discover a wide array of sporting and leisure activities (particularly in summer). Also, it combines a great balance of peace and quiet, great nightlife and superb scenery available to you at whichever pace suits. Chamonix is equally suited to a weekend break or weeks away, for a season even a lifetime!
Situated in the Haute-Savoie region of France, Chamonix is bordered by Switzerland and Italy and dominated by the spikey mountain chain which peaks at the top of the Mont Blanc (4,811m) – the highest mountain in Western Europe. There are two distinct seasons: summer and winter, and the area remains busy for most of the year with different activities taking place regularly. If you don’t like being bored, Chamonix is the place to come.
Whilst the principal town is named ‘Chamonix’ it is often used to cover the whole valley, stretching over 55km to the Swiss border. It is, however, made up of several distinct and charming villages including Servoz, Les Houches, Les Bossons – the latter known as the ‘base-camp’ of alpinism, Les Praz, Les Tines, Argentière, Montroc, and at the top of the valley; Le Tour.
Servoz (814m) has been built on the site of an ancient lake which over centuries has been filled in by landslides. The village is extremely picturesque and there is a superb gorge to visit and wander through.
Les Houches (1010m) was really the first big settlement in the valley. With its own lift-system and identity, it is the starting point for many attempting to climb Mont Blanc. Weather and snow permitting, the village annually hosts Le Kandahar World Cup ski race on its famous La Verte piste.
Les Bossons (1000m) as aforementioned, the ‘base-camp’ of alpinism due to it being where the very first excursions to Mont Blanc departed from. Now more serene, the village has several chalets and hotels that enjoy spectacular views straight up the Glacier du Bossons and the Taconnaz Glacier.
Les Praz (1050m) is home to Golf De Chamonix, several fine hotels and chalets, and of course the Flegere cable car giving access to the ski area and Les Aiguilles Rouges nature reserve. Situated a short drive or a 20 minute walk from Chamonix town, Les Praz is bordered by woodland and therefore ideal for some great walks, runs, or hikes.
Les Tines is a small development of charming chalets (some of which are very luxurious!), again bordering on the golf course and giving superb views of Mont Blanc and the lower parts of the valley. On the plateau just above you will find the delightful hamlet of Le Lavancher, suited to a quiet getaway whilst remaining within easy reach of all the activities.
Other than Chamonix town, Argentière (1250m) is the biggest village in the valley and sits at the foot of Les Grands Montets (1250-3300m). It has a great character of its own, with brightly coloured buildings, several choice chalets, hotels, apartments; notable bars and restaurants. You can’t go far wrong with Argentière as it provides a more laid back atmosphere than Chamonix town.
About the ski areas
Chamonix offers an unparalleled mix of skiing terrain, from beginner, intermediate skiing and boarding on easy slopes; to challenging black runs that are extreme off piste always with incredible vistas. With different skiing areas, there is something for everyone in Chamonix.
Le Tour or the Domaine de Balme ski area is situated about a 15 minute drive from Chamonix town centre just passed the village of Argentiere. It is a vast domain with lots of sun and good snow cover, offering skiing for all levels. Le Tour is on the Swiss border with scenic tree runs and largely undiscovered off piste bowls on the forested Swiss side, avoiding queues on even the busiest of days. The wide beginner and intermediate west facing slopes are perfect for learning new skills or relaxed afternoon cruising. Le Tour is one of the highest snowfall sites in France.
Argentière / Les Grands Montets: Characterised by large bowls and long runs offers intermediate and advanced levels that include challenging and scenic descents with up to a 2,100m vertical drop. As it is high and north facing, there is usually snow from November through till May. From the summit of Les Grands Montets (3,345m), the glacier runs offer skiers and boarders some of the most spectacular on and off-piste runs in the world.
La Flégère: This area is mostly for beginner and intermediate levels with some exciting off-piste routes in sunny “couloirs” (gullies). Outstanding views of the magnificent ‘Mer de Glace’ (“Sea of Ice”) as well as the Mont Blanc chain.
Le Brévent: Located on the sunny-side of the mountain directly opposite Mont Blanc is the highest in Europe. It is suited to all levels of ability with good off-piste skiing routes and fabulous views. Brévent and Flégère are linked together – it is usually quicker to go up the gondolas at Brévant and ski across than to queue for the cable car at La Flégère.
L’Aiguille du Midi: Is one of the highest cable cars in Europe taking you to 3,800m presenting spectacular view of the Alps. This is the beginning of the famous “La Vallée Blanche” a 20km day trip. Intermediate skiers and boarders can take the classic route, while for advanced levels there are more challenging variations and many off-piste itineraries.
A detailed summary of the Chamonix Ski Area can be found here: www.compagniedumontblanc.fr
Other Areas Nearby
Les Houches: Located 10 minutes past Chamonix, this is a good area for beginner to intermediate levels with wide carving runs and great family restaurants on the piste. Most suited to days when other areas are covered in high cloud, as Les Houches is at lower altitudes with long tree runs that aid visibility.
Courmayeur: On the other side of Mont Blanc and a 20 minute drive through the Mont Blanc tunnel, this classic Italian resort is a fun day trip to experience skiing “the Italian way” with 20 restaurants to choose from.
Megève/St Gervais: Situated a 40 minute drive from Chamonix, Megève is a charming village and an ideal day trip to explore the many intermediate slopes. The lower altitude slopes of Megève have a different microclimate to Chamonix and serves as an alternative when weather conditions make Chamonix difficult. It is best to access the ski area from the St Gervais section with the gondola parking on the road just after the St Gervais village on the road to Megeve which is 30 minutes from Chamonix.
Verbier: If the above choices are still not enough, Verbier in Switzerland is a 45 minute drive away from Le Tour. Verbier is a village located in south-western Switzerland in the canton of Valais. It is a holiday resort and ski area in the Swiss Alps and is recognised as one of the premier backcountry ski resorts in the world.