Chamonix Valley, Chamonix-Mont-Blanc
We reserved this trip for the last day of our journey. No hiking this time, just a gondola ride to the snow.
While it was 30°C in the valley, it was only 1°C on the top. And with the icy wind, it felt as it was freezing.
But... the view over the glacier and the snowy rocks was awesome! The wind blowed over the clouds and each cloud passing, reserved a surprising view.
After a little walk in the snow (the place is marked out and surrounded by deep ravines), we walked up the stairs to the open outlook. Incredible what this thin ice cold air can do with your body. We needed a few stops on our way to the tower.
After this efforts, we deserved a hot drink in the chalet of the gondola station. Mmmm!
There is a gondola ride every 30 minutes, with a switch at Lognan, the first gondola station at 1960 m.
Depart: a few kilometers east from Chamonix, in Argentière. There is a big (free)parking lot at the gondola station.
Discover the oldest tramway of the valley!
The little rack-train departs from the village of Le Fayet, a few kilometers West of Chamonix, for a journey of over an hour.
The panorama is alternating: pine woods, villages with chalets and traditional farms... and then it opes to pastures, before getting rocky.
The Nid d'Aigle is the last stop, at the foot of the Bionnassay glacier.
The amazing spectacle over the high mountains at that spot is worth the trip!
From there you can walk to the glacier. The path is easy at the beginning and gets more difficult after a while. Hiking sticks are a must!
This is actually a popular hiking path with locals but not as many 'day tourists' seem to realize it exists.
You start at the Le Tour parking lot (the last village at the head of the Chamonix valley) which is a ski station in winter. To get to it, drive towards Argentiere (follow signs at all the roundabouts) and pass Argentiere and turn off to the right for Le Tour. Pass through Montroc-Le Planet. The road ends at the parking lot in Le Tour.
In summer (starting in mid June) the lifts start to run again. You can either walk (a couple of hours of hiking in a gentle green cow pasture with streams and rolling dips and hillocks) up to the top or can take the ski lift (past the mid station to the top) up this more gentle hill. The top is called the Col de Balme at 2200m of altitude.
This is the border with Switzerland and there is a small restaurant up here run by a very old couple. They serve simple lunches and accept Euros or Swiss Francs. You can also bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the beautiful views of the whole Chamonix Valley and Switzerland from here. Also several Swiss hiking trails start here and traverse the area and have gorgeous views as well. For example, you can hike to Trient (Switzerland) and the Col de la Forclaz (Switzerland) quite easily from here.
Note that it can get windy on the top of the Col so unless it is a very hot day, a light jacket might be advised.
To get down you can hike, ride the lift or mountain bike. There is an easy trail for mountain bikes that leads to the bottom, and which is also used as a service road, so is wide and easier to negotiate than some of the steeper mountain bike trails in Chamonix. The summer lifts will let you take your bikes to the top with no problems.
UPDATE: Sadly I have found that the Cham Jam on year 15 is being moved to Andorra. There is talk that the moguls competition will still be held, but we shall see as the main organizers are not involved.
This is happening mainly because last year the local authorities closed down the Cham Jam final party, costing the promoters a lot of money (they had all the proper permits and were within agreed noise levels - but someone at one of the hotels complained of noise). It is too bad the officials in this town don't see the value in offering events like this to the youth of Chamonix as this event had been getting international coverage as a music and ski festival!
EVERYONE IN CHAM WOULD BE VERY HAPPY IF SOMEONE ELSE WERE TO ORGANIZE A NEW MUSIC/SKI FESTIVAL IN TOWN!!! BUT MAYBE THIS TIME TRY TO INCLUDE BOTH FRENCH AND UK COMMUNITIES IN THE EFFORT ** END OF UPDATE
The Cham Jam was held each year (for 14 years previous) in early March. It started out as a moguls competition between resort worker/skiers from various area ski resorts (Meribel, Val D'Isere, Chamonix etc.) and became a multi-day music festival and 'extreme' ski/board event. Some of the events held qualified skiers and snowbarders for the Winter X-Games competitions.
There was skier-cross, boarder-cross, moguls (boss des bosses) and a big air competition.
There also was a music festival held in various bars around town each evening.
Several mountain guide offices around town offer tandem parapenting rides. This is an amazing and exciting activity to try, and is not about falling - it's all about floating - expect between 45 minutes to one hour (or even more) of 'air time' depending on the thermals, where you take off from and what you pay.
Prices are not super cheap (over 100 euros to start), but it's definitely a unique experience if you have the money and desire to try something different. This is a popular birthday gift around town for that reason. Also, I have observed that as a girl (with a guy pilot leading your tandem flight) you may mysteriously get a bit more 'air time' than your guy friends do - take advantage girls! :-)
Depending on your fitness level and how much you are willing to pay, there are various mountains from which you can take off on a tandem flight. Common are Le Brevent and L'Aiguille du Midi (accessible via lifts) and less common are Mt Blanc du Tacul or Mont Blanc itself (requires full-on mountain climbing experience to get up there, but the descent is a heck of a lot easier!).
The person you are flying with must be certified (this is a long course) and the best of these outfits are run by mountain guides. Obviously this is also a weather-dependent activity and though the pilots are well trained, the activity is not without risk, though tandem parapenting accidents are rare.
In mid-July (usually coinciding with the French Bastille day on the 14th) is a European Cup or World Cup climbing competition. This lasts 3-4 days and includes bouldering, speed climbing and sport climbing. A great way to watch some of the top people in this sport.
When the competition coincides with Bastile Day, there are fireworks immediately following the final event.
Check the Chamonix tourist office calandar for dates (dates are also advertised on the roadsigns as you are coming into Chamonix).
This small, very photogenic, chapel, below the Druz is part of a yearly cultural pilgrimage combining religion and music.
It is located in the hamlet of les Praz (meaning the meadows), half way from Chamonix and Argentieres.
On a clear day you have a superb view on the opposite side of the valley (including Mt Blanc). But the walk from telecabine "La flegere" to Lac Blanc is very poppular and (over)crowded on holidays and weekends.
We made an alternative walk, but I think it was even better nad less crowded then the normal path:
- Take the telecabine al the way to the top (Index)
- Walk down to Lac Blanc (only 100m drop) but on rough terrain (good shoes required)
- Have a break and look around, then continue to XXX lakes, and when arriving on the Tour Mt Blanc trail, walk to "La Flegere" and take the telecabine down.
Estimated time : 4-5 hours, medium walk due to difficult terrain near Index.