Ports of Call
Chamonix Travel Guide
Paris, France © Benh Lieu Song
The holiday resort of Chamonix sits in the shadow of Mont Blanc and offers some of the most challenging skiing in Europe. The town is in the centre of a string of villages spread out along a valley cutting deep through the Alps; the village of Argentiere is six miles (10km) up the valley, beneath the renowned Grands-Montets slopes, and Les Houches is a small holiday resort a few miles below. The huge variety of on- and off-piste skiing in Chamonix attracts ski bums and serious weekend skiers (the town is only 50 minutes drive from Geneva) and this is reflected in the sportive atmosphere in the bars and restaurants.
Chamonix and Argentiere are renowned worldwide for their wide variety of challenging skiing, but there are also plenty of options for beginners, particularly at Le Tour at the top end of the valley. There are nursery slopes nearer town at La Vormaine, Les Chosalets and Les Planards. Intermediates and advanced skiers can enjoy up to 300 miles (500km) of slopes available with the full lift pass, ranging from Le Brevent and La Flegere to Les Grands-Montets. Les Grands-Montets is the major attraction for advanced skiers with some massive mogul fields and endless off-piste skiing. The Vallée Blanche is probably the best-known ski trail in the Alps: a 13 mile (21km) glacier running along the Mer de Glace back to Chamonix. It's often closed due to bad weather, but is an essential adventure for competent skiers. Skiers should take a guide and be prepared for bad weather.
Chamonix is a year-round holiday town and is packed with a selection of shops - though most are aimed at skiers and climbers on holiday. There are plenty of supermarkets and delicatessens for self-caterers.
Chamonix is alive with restaurants, ranging from first-class French restaurants to Indian, Chinese, Italian and Japanese eateries and holidaymakers will not be disappointed. For Michelin-standard food, book Albert Ist et Milan in the town centre. Argentiere has some good local restaurants but much less choice than Chamonix. There are some fine restaurants on the slopes too, including Le 3842, the highest restaurant in Europe.
Chamonix is known for its ski-hard-party-hard atmosphere and the nightlife won't disappoint. The Bumble Bee and the Mill Street bar in Chamonix and the Office Bar in Argentiere are popular choices for après-ski drinks, and Wild Wallabies is an essential stop for hard-drinking Brits and Scandinavians. There is a casino for those wishing to try their luck on the tables.
Chamonix has a swimming centre with pools, a sauna and Turkish baths, and an indoor ice rink and bowling for holidaymakers to enjoy. Paragliding can be arranged when the weather's good. There are plenty of hiking trails in the area.
The ski areas in Chamonix do not inter-connect and the base lift stations are far apart, so a car is essential in Chamonix unless you are happy to wait for the erratic shuttle buses. The beginner slopes are separated from the main skiing areas making lunch meetings hard to organise. Chamonix has its own microclimate and the weather can be bad when neighbouring resorts are fine. If it is clouded over, it's worth checking out the weather in Courmayeur in Italy, a short trip away through the Mont Blanc tunnel.