Chamonix is renowned as the skiing and climbing capital of the world. It hosted the first Winter Olypics in 1924 and since then has been a centre for extreme sports in both summer and winter.
But Chamonix offers far more than just the ‘extreme’. Sitting at the base of the majestci Mont Blanc (Europe’s highest mountain) it is an area of oustanding natural beauty, with an elegant and cosmopolitan town centre and a plethora of fun things to do.
Here are some things we would recommend doing in the non winter months:
Take the tram up to the Montenvers to see the imposing panorama of the Mer du Glace Glacier. There’s an ice cave and a very interesting, mini museum about the creation and evolution of the Glacia, as well as a snack bar, restaurant and if you feel like a fancy lunch why not pre-book a table on the sunny terrace of the Hotel Montenvers. You can walk down to town from there. It’s is about a 2 hour walk, so not too long or difficult, but if you’ve got bad knees you might want to walk up instead and take the tram down.
Take the authentic rack and pinion Tramway du Mont Blanc up to see the panoramic view of the Bionnassay glacier. It’s beautiful up there and there’s a nice restaurant too. (Check it’s open first). You can take the Prarion lift and then walk across to it if you fancy a little hike (aprox 30-45 minutes) or you can simply take the Bellevue lift up and take the train directly from there.
The Parc de Merlet in Coupeau is a great day out for those with young children who can’t walk too far. The park is home to more than 80 mountain animals in their natural habitat: Ibex, Chamois, Mouflon, Fallow Deer, Sika Deer, Roe Deer and last but not least the Marmot! The park has no fences and the animals roam freely amongst you. The adults will also enjoy the beautiful panorama of the Mont Blanc and there’s another restaurant if you want to eat and enjoy the views.
Go up the Aiguille du Midi to see the Mont Blanc and its spectacular glacia and surrounding views. In my opinion this is a ‘must do’. Yes, it is expensive, but you won’t do or see anything else quite like it – (unless you are hard core mountaineer). If you then want to make a day of it why not hike from the Mid Station Aiguille du Midi to along the Balcon Sud to the Montenvers train where you enjoy the panoramic views of the Mer du Glace. This is a whole day out, with the walk across the Balcon Sud taking about 3.5 – 4.5 hrs. I’d recommend pre-booking an MBU pass and your lift up the Aiguille du Midi in advance so you avoid the queues. Go early and make sure you go on a mostly sunny day as you want to make the most of those views. The MBU pass will cover you for the Aiguille du Midi and the Montenvers train down again.
From the top of the Aiguille du Midi you can travel across the glacia in the impressive Panoramic Mont Blanc Cable Car over to Italy. Again it’s not cheap but the views are fantastic and a it’s rare opportunity that will take your breath away. Some people organise to take the new and very bling Italian Skyway lift back down into Courmayeur and pre-book a minibus home. Remember to take your passports
Both of our properties have jacuzzis, bbqs and big sunny gardens. In the summer the children love to cool off in the tub (or as we like to call if the bath babysitter). At Chalet Sous les Bois there’s also a child size wendy house with a kitchen, mezzanine and table and chairs. Attached to this is a slide, swing and a climbing wall. There’s also a sunken trampoline, scouters and a few small bikes. We tend to have friends round, do a pizza on the bbq and watch the kids play form a safe 50 meter distance! In peak summer the chalet is one of the last places in the valley to lose the sun, which sets at around 9 pm – beating Chamonix by at least a couple of hours.
Try out Chamonix’s sparklingly new and chic QC Thermes Spa. For 14 years and older, you need to book online beforehand, but it’s a really great way to relax, unwind and soak in the views. For 22 euros you can also have a healthy lunch (or not so healthy if you’d rather not) with wine and soft drinks.
CHAMONIX LUGES & AMUSEMENT PARK
Fun for both children and adults alike, there’s a hair raising luges (that operates in both summer and winter) as well as slides, trampolines, fairground rides and some smaller rides for the little ones, including a carousel, electric bumper cars and some mechanical diggers.
THE ACCRO PARK DES GAILLANDS
A fantastic Tree Top Adventure for both the young and the brave. With more than 80 tree top elements the park offers six different courses depending on your age and bravery! Giant zip lines, wobbly bridges, Tarzan swings, pirate nets, flea jumps and much more more. It’s hours of fun and there’s no time limit on how long you stay.
Try out Chamonix’s sparklingly new and chic QC Thermes Spa. For 14 years and older, you need to book online beforehand, but it’s a really great way to relax, unwind and soak in the views. For 22 euros you can also have health (or not quite so healthy if you’d rather not) lunch with wine and soft drinks.
Take a day trip to Annecy. Often referred to as the Venice of the mountains, Lake Annecy is one of France’s largest lakes. It has a charming old town with canals running through it and there’s a partially ringed cycle path around the lake. You can hire electric bikes, (or not), and enjoy a day out stopping to swim, picnic and enjoy the views on the way. It takes about 2 hours to get round the lake without stopping, but don’t do a me and be the only one to choose the non electric bike! I was broken trying to keep up. The town has lots of love shops and restaurants and there’s loads of space for sunbathing by the lake
•The Emmerson Dam is within an hour’s drive. The drive up there is spectacular. There’s a restaurant by the dam and you can either have a gentle stroll across the dam or do a big and beautiful hike up to the dinosaur foot prints.
• Visit the fantastic modern art Pierre Gianadda Foundatin museum in Martigny, Switzerland. Again it’s another scenic drive to get there, but if you’d rather not drive than you can take the train and relax and soak in the views all the way. The museum itself is highly regarded as one of the best modern art exhibitions in Switzerland, offering a new exhibition every few months. I’ve seen Picasso, Giacometti and Toulouse Lautrec. There’s also a lovely garden full of sculptures, a picnic area and cafe and a bonus old car exhibition in the basement.
• There’s also some quite impressive waterfalls too. Cascade de Berard is on the way over to Vallorcine. It’s a nice walk, not too far (15-25 minutes), with a charming café at the top. There’s another waterfall by the Mont Blanc tunnel too called the Cascade de Dard, which is just a 5 minutes walk. Again there’s a nice, scenic restaurant. You can also walk up either side of Les Bossons Glacia. Again there are cafes on the way up (aprox. 30 minutes), but be warned if you want to go to the very top both walks are steep and not for the faint hearted.
If you’d rather a day by a lake then why not visit Lake Passy or Lac Ilettes in Sallanches. Passy has cristal clear water, a play ground, and in the summer time a bouncy castle, an accro park and a water park. You can take a picnic or buy lunch from the snack bar or restaurant.
Lake Ilettes is more basic and the water is muddy, but if you’d rather avoid the crows than this is the place for you. You can also book lunch at the friendly and relaxed Le Transat restaurant or grab a takeaway sandwich and chips.