Learn some basic French phrases before you go to France - it's only polite to know how to say 'hello', 'please' and 'thank you'! Please ask if someone speaks English before starting to rattle off at them in a foreign language (ie, English!!).
Chamonix is in France, and oddly enough most French prefer to speak their own language rather than a foreign one. I hardly think this is a fault nor unusual. Of course it is a tourist town and you will find most people who work in tourism can speak English.
Over time the rudeness of certain tourists becomes wearing and they grow to resent the attitudes of people who come and assume that everyone does/should speak it, as this is a very busy town in the high season (mid-summer and winter holidays).
If you work here for one season in anything tourist related, you will find people do indeed walk up without even getting your attention by saying 'hello' and just start rattling off to you in German, Italian, English, Japanese, Russian or Chinese often without bothering to ask if you can even understand that language first.
Even when someone does learn tourism English it does not mean they can understand you when you talk 'at' them at 90 miles and hour. Speak in a reasonable tone and slowly, using simple words and no slang words if the person you speak with has a strong accent when speaking English to you. It never hurts to use 's'il vous plaît' and 'merci' liberally as well.
And certainly you can expect nothing but trouble if you walk up and blurt out something like 'hey can I get some service here or what!?', or yell at them 'English! English!' over and over in a loud voice as I heard two Swedish skiers doing to a restaurant worker earlier this season when trying to order take away from a menu. They were so rude that even I wanted to smack them upside the head! Believe me, if you act like that towards a service worker, you will hear nothing BUT French for your entire time in their presence, just to spite you (all done in total 'innocence' of course). :-) In fact even some English native speakers such as myself will speak to you only in French if you pull that kind of an attitude!
Be patient, friendly and polite, use a few common phrases in French to start with, and you'll find that people will be quite friendly back.
SORRY BUT UNFORTUNATELY THE CYBAR BURNT IN A FIRE IN 2007 AND HAS NOT BEEN REBUILT AS OF 2009.
The CyBar is a cyber cafe with lots of computers (price is about €1/10 min) as well as a bar (and they serve coffee or hot chocolate too). Book computer time downstairs at the bar. Lots of 'hang out' room upstairs during the day, with couches and coffee tables letting you gather with friends. Notice boards listing stuff for sale and roommate ads. New this year is restaurant service - I haven't tried the food yet so can't comment. They have redone some of the decor and everything looks pretty spiffy.
Great outdoor terrace in summer (upstairs) with good mountain views. A bit smokey in winter (could use a better ventilation system).
Definitely a 'must see' for those doing a season in Chamonix - good message boards to find gear for sale, old cars, even sometimes roommate wanted ads. You can even arrange to plug in your laptop to the network here and do some work on the road if you get on nicely with the techies who work there.
At night, especially in 'high season' during the winter, the Cybar turns into a real party bar with DJs and dancing.
Located on Rue des Moulins - hard to miss once you find the street itself, which is a pedestrian zone along the Arve river. Entrance to the street from next to Irish coffee, or at the opposite end across the street from the Galeries Alpina/Saturday market area. 80 Rue des Moulins is the exact address - phone +33 (0)4 50 53 64 80
During one of our hikes we heard rolling moreens above our trail. Accidents easily happen.
It might be not a bad idea to take the number of the Mountain rescue with you on your hikes. The mountains are cell-covered.
i used the tourist information a few times and i had a few complicated questions as i was partly in chamonix for work, but the charming ladies at the tourist information were always ready to go out of their way to help me with my odd questions.
there was no french arrogance there, so don't hestitate to ask them for help if you are in town.
they are doing a damn good job.
If you plan to stay a few days you'll probably take some cable cars, gondolas, chairlifts or tramways to several sites, especially while these sites are inaccessible by car.
Depending on the moment of the day, you'll have to deal with long queues at the cash desk.
You might consider buying an all-in "Multipass Mont-Blanc", which is a badge allowing you a quick and easy access to the sites and domains from the Compagnie du Mont-Blanc, with some extra advantages.
for instance: 3 consecutive days: € 71,50 /adult (price Summer 2006).
We would have paid € 111 for our excursions without multipass.
Available at any of the Compagnie du Mont-Blanc cash desks.
The office doesn't only provides brochures and information about the several "must do" activities, but also they organize (English)guided day excursions by touring bus to Switzerland and Italy.
For instance to Aosta and the Lago Maggiore.
Also for a free map of the city, this is the place to go.
Location of the office: next to the church, at the "Place du Triangle de l'Amitié, 85"
Chamonix has been totally destroyed by a fire in 1885, so you'll need to search very carefully to find something of the original town, like the old Saint-Michel church here.
Luckily Chamonix has been nicely rebuilt . The centre is still very charming and cosy. Especially the area around the turbulent river (more pictures soon in my travellogues).
If you are on budget, then you'll need to be selective when it comes to buying food. Meats are expensive while wine, cheese, breads and other stuff are less expensive.
And don't leave the shopping till around 4pm or later, as you'll not find a bagette of bread available in any shop.
I think I ate spaghetti with butter and a bottle of wine every night I was there (I ate the bottle too! no really!)
Fondest memory: wiiiiiiiine!
Chamonix is in the north-western Alps, 15 km from the Swiss border (via the Col des Montets) and 15 km from Italy (via the Mont-Blanc tunnel). The border of these three countries meet at 3820 meters on the summit of Mont Dolent.
The Chamonix valley sits in between the Mont Blanc massif to the south and the Aiguilles Rouges to the north. The town center is at an altitude of 1035 meters and the top of the valley in the village of Le Tour is at an altitude of 1462 meters.
The source of the Arve river (the main river of the Haute Savoie) is at the Col de Balme in Le Tour. The Arve flows through the Chamonix valley picking up flow from the surrounding glaciers, and travels all the way down to Geneva where it joins the Rhône river. It is much higher in summer when the color is milky due to glacial runoff, and lower and crystal clear in winter when the river is fed by snowmelt and underground springs.
The permanent population of Chamonix is something over 10,000 people. The number of people in town increases dramatically during the tourist season - in Summer up to 100,000 visitors per day arrive, and in Winter approximately 60,000 per day visit during school holidays and New Year holidays. Slowest season is normally late October and early November when most of the people you will see in town are actually living there permanently....
Chamonix is twinned with Aspen (America), Davos (Switzerland), Fujiyoshida (Japan), Cilaos (La Reunion), Garmish Partenkirchen (Germany) and Courmayeur (Italy).
Hidden to the side off the street which leads to the train station (pedestrian zone) is the Alpine Museum. This has a history of alpinism and mountaineering in Chamonix as well as a geological history of the region.
avenue Michel Croz
Tel + 33( 0)4 50 53 25 93
It is open mainly in tourist season (ie summer and winters) in the afternoons only - 2pm - 7pm.
Some of the things you can find out about include:
1741 - The first two explorers in the "Chamouny Valley" were Englishmen Windham & Pococke. The publicity which following their climb up Montenvers started the tourism into the valley.
1786 - Michel-Gabriel Paccard and Jaques Balmat completed the first ever ascent of Mont Blanc on the evening of August 8th.
1803 - Marie Paradis was the first woman to Mont Blanc (mind you carried up in a chair!) in 1803 followed by Henriette d'Angeville in 1838
1860 - the Duchy of Savoy becomes French
1901 - first railway into Chamonix brings in more tourists.
1908 - railway built from Chamonix to Montenvers (Mer de Glace) - original journey by steam train took 55 minutes (now takes 20).
1924 - first ever winter Olympic games held in Chamonix
These tales and more are found described in the museum.
This page I created for another web site has a great set of links to all things Chamonix as well as the surrounding valley and towns within 1/2 hour drive/train ride from Chamonix. I spent some time putting this together and it has a lot of great internet information that will not fit onto one tip.
Chamonix Area Links
Come to Chamonix to see and *experience* the mountains. If you don't like the mountains or outdoors, there really isn't much point in coming here, to be honest! I recommend planning a trip of at least a week (more if you are arriving from the US). if you are a mountain person. The weather here is unpredictable, and you really don't want to waste money on cable cars to see views of clouds! Giving yourself a week should give you at least one sunny day with gorgeous views to take photos of in most seasons. Avoid late Fall and late Spring when rain is more likely.
Fondest memory: The first time I saw Chamonix I was in love with the area, and instantly wondered about what it would take to live there. Be prepared - this may happen to you as well, especially if you are already a rock climber, skier, snow boarder or mountaineer. Use available online resources and plan some activities ahead of time, and come up with 'alternate plans' in case of bad weather. Hiking is possible even in the rain, for example, with the right equipment - but climbing Mt Blanc in the wrong conditions could be disasterous. There are many sites that have contact information for mountain guide services, and most bookstores in town (or also try Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.fr) will have various books in English or French on local hikes, rock climbs, mountain bike trails etc.. If you spend a month or more here you will get a definitely better feel for the area. But even one action-packed well-planned week (with the blessing of good weather) can give you mountain adventure experiences you will cherish for the rest of your life.
To visit Mont Blanc it is most sensible to stay at Chamonix. A small town very well geared for tourists, and surprisingly well priced.
Architecture is interesting. Mountains surrounding Chamonix are breathtaking!
Favorite thing: Plenty of small hotels for visitors to stay. And glaciers coming right down to the town as you can see in this photo.