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    Chamonix Mont Blanc: at the Foot of the Rooftop of Europe

    The word “breathtaking” defines something that is delightfully astonishing, but rarely will a sight truly leave you breathless than that of the enormous alpine massifs that stand impressively over the little French town of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc.

    Situated between the giant peaks of the Aiguilles Rouges and, as its official name suggests, right near the foot of Mont Blanc, Chamonix boasts a global reputation as one of the best ski resorts in the alpine area. The “Gateway to the European Cascades” hosted the first ever Winter Olympics in 1924, cementing its place in history as the home of winter sports. During the summer months, the town of roughly 10,000 inhabitants transforms into a paradise for hikers and extreme sports enthusiasts alike – paragliding, mountain climbing and rafting are all possible there. The popularity of Chamonix as a holiday destination is reflected in the number of tourists it welcomes, with 5 million people visiting the town every year.

    Getting there

    LyonChamonix is located 1,035 metres (3,396 feet) above sea level – compare this with Paris, which is located only 35 metres (115 feet) above sea level. This restricts the number of public transport connections available to Chamonix. The town is served by the St. Gervais-Vallorcine Line operated by the SNCF. The rail line spills over the border into Switzerland along the way. It holds the record for the steepest gradient for a railway (the climb up the mountains into Chamonix offers an almost 45-degree view through the window!).
    A car hire would offer the most flexible form of travel, as you can drive around the rest of the Rhône-Alpes region and nearby Switzerland at your own pace and without the constraints of train schedules. The nearest airport is Geneva, located about an hour away from Chamonix by car via the autoroute 40 (A40) and autoroute 41 (A41). The luxurious city of Lausanne is only a 40-minute drive from there, offering a beautiful view of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman). From Chamonix, the picturesque town of Annecy is only a little over an hour away, while the 11.6-kilometre Mont Blanc Tunnel, which runs underneath the famous mountain, links Chamonix to Courmayeur in Italy. The Route Nationale 205 (RN205, affectionately known as the Route blanche, “white route”, for the snowfall along the road), an extension of the A40, runs through Chamonix and ends in Le Fayet, a village in St-Gervais-les-Bains. With the A40 (and A42) you can also reach the city of Lyon, regarded as one of the principal food capitals of the world, in two and a half hours (around 220 kilometres), while the “Capital of the Alps” Grenoble is two hours away via the A41 (around 145 kilometres). Closer to Chamonix, you can visit the neighbouring villages of Les Houches, another alpine ski resort and the home of the Le Kandahar World Cup ski race held in February, and Argentière, a more laid back ski resort than Chamonix and located at the foot of the powder fields of Les Grands Montets.

    Sightseeing in Chamonix

    Top station of Aiguille du Midi

    As mentioned earlier, Chamonix is a famous ski destination. The Chamonix Le Pass grants access to three valley ski areas (Brevent-Flegere, Le Tour, Grand Montets) and costs around €48 a day. The Mont-Blanc Unlimited pass allows access to areas covered by the Chamonix Le Pass, as well as the top station of Grand Monets, the Montenvers train, Les Houches, Courmayeur, the Tramway du Mont Blanc, and Aiguille du Midi, the mountain that dominates the Chamonix skyline (3,842 metres/12,605 feet). The Mont-Blanc Unlimited costs around €58 a day. Please note that ski-pass prices may vary from year to year.

    During the summer months, the aforementioned hiking and extreme sports are popular outdoor activities, as well as cycling. For casual sightseeing, there is an aerial tramway service which brings visitors to the top of Aiguille du Midi, offering a spectacular view of Mont Blanc and the surrounding alpine mountains.

    Mer de GlaceFrom there, a second, smaller aerial tramway connects Aiguille du Midi to Pointe Halbronner (3,462 metres/11,358 feet), stopping just past the French-Italian border. This trip offers fantastic views of the Mont Blanc Massif and of the glaciers below the tramway car. From this point, travellers can choose to return to Aiguille du Midi or descend to Courmayeur. You can also take the Montenvers railway from Chamonix for 25 minutes to reach the Mer de Glace, France’s largest glacier (7 kilometres long, 200 metres thick). Visitors can venture inside the glacier which is resculpted every year. The area within is called the Grotte de Glace (Ice Cave). The average temperature in Chamonix between June and August ranges from 20°C to 24°C.

    Cuisine

    Chamonix is rich in alpine cuisine designed to warm up the body during cold days in the mountains. There are five popular dishes in Chamonix:

    • Fondue is a pot of melted cheese wherein pieces of crusty bread are dipped. Recipes for the melted cheese vary by cheese type and flavouring.Fondue
    • Raclette is about a half-moon of cheese melted in front of a table-top grill. Once melted, it is poured over a plate of meat, potatoes and salad.
    • Tartiflette is a heavy dish of potatoes layered with cream, cheese and pieces of bacon.
    • Pierre-chaud is the sizzling of raw meats on a hot rock. If cooked on a table-top barbecue, it is called a
      brasserade.
    • Tarte aux myrtilles is a bilberry (similar to blueberries) tart and is a popular dessert of the region

    The main cheeses in Chamonix are Reblochon (soft, gentle nutty flavour) and Beaufort yellow in colour, sharp taste). The Haute-Savoie region in which Chamonix lies is not famous for its wines. Most Savoyarde white wines are light and dry, and best enjoyed young. The two most famous red wines are Gamay (full-bodied, fruity) and Mondeuse (matures well, fruity).

    There are plenty of hotels, hostels and chalets in Chamonix and these are best booked early before the holiday rush. Since Chamonix is a famous ski resort, goods and services will be pricier compared to other tourist destinations. Hiring a car will allow you to visit towns and cities located nearby, as Chamonix is quite a small town. If you like to stretch your legs, why not try out the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc? This is a popular series of long distance races across the Alps that takes place at the end of August, with the quickest finishing-time recorded at over 22 hours. You’ll definitely want a lift home after that!

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