It was perhaps a bit serendipitous that we chose to spend the last four days of our Tour de Mont Blanc in the glorious mountain town of Chamonix in France. For it was here, back in the summer of 1966 that my dad made that fateful call to my mother, resulting in their marriage a few weeks later in Switzerland. My dad had been backpacking through Europe with a fraternity brother and was only a month or so into the trip when he arrived in Chamonix, saw the stunning beauty of Mont Blanc and realized that he couldn’t be there without his favorite girl. My mother flew to Europe with all the money she had which wasn’t much, met my dad and they were married at the town hall in St. Gallen, Switzerland.
That story had been told to me over and over again throughout the years, and I finally got to see Chamonix and Mont Blanc for myself when I was thirteen years old on our first family trip to Europe. I don’t remember much about Chamonix however I do remember riding the train up to see the Mer de Glace and being absolutely taken away by its beauty and scale.
I returned to Chamonix again in my late 20s on a ski trip with my family and a few years later brought with my husband to show him this special place. My father even scaled Mont Blanc when he was about my age which after seeing it in person is quite an impressive feat. Fondue dinners, stunning vistas of glaciers and of course Mont Blanc are always the nostalgic memories that come to mind when dreaming about Chamonix. So you can imagine the utter joy I felt at ending our Tour de Mont Blanc in this glorious place and for introducing my son to Mont Blanc. I could hardly wait to see if he would be as smitten by its beauty and mystique as the rest of my family.
We arrived in Chamonix in the mid-afternoon, on a postcard-perfect day. For the past week, we had nothing but extraordinary weather in the Alps and for that I was grateful. The hiking season for the Tour de Mont Blanc is relatively short with the prime hiking months being June, July, and August. The downside is that it is quite busy on the trail yet the upside is that the weather is normally spectacular with cloudless days and little rain meaning stunning views.
As we entered Chamonix, I realized how much I didn’t remember about the town itself. My memories were only a mismatch of jigsaw pieces of a puzzle and nothing was as I had remembered. It is funny how memory works and the more you age, the more your memories of a place become more like a fragment of your imagination. Needless to say, when we arrived down the main road leading us into Chamonix it was even better and more magnificent than I remembered.
Chamonix is perfectly located in the heart of the Chamonix Valley in the northwestern part of the Alps at a natural border created where three countries, France, Italy and Switzerland converge. Given its prime location, there are exceptional panoramic views of endless peaks and glaciers all throughout the town. It is a place to stop and stare in awe at its breathtaking beauty. A place to linger.
We booked a couple of single rooms at the Mont Blanc Lodge, one of six of the Drop in Chalets in Chamonix. The Mont Blanc Lodge was once a charming farmhouse that has been converted into a cozy alpine lodge with six rooms and is tucked away next to the park only a two-minute walk to the heart of town. We loved this lovely place and best of all was the view of the Glacier des Boissons directly from my window where I often sat out on the tiny balcony and watched the sun turn the glacier from pink to purple to an inky black as the sun disappeared at the end of each day.
Staying so close to the heart of town was all the more fun as it was easy to walk to dinner each night and also for taking a later afternoon stroll after a day of hiking in the Alps. From our hotel on Rue des Allobroges, all we had to do was head towards the train station and take a left on Avenue Michel Crox then we were in the thick of everything.
We were in Chamonix during the height of the summer tourist season so there were people everywhere creating an energy that I soaked into my soul. As an extrovert, there is nothing I like more than being surrounded by people from all over the world. For a small mountain town, there was plenty to keep us busy. Lots of excellent restaurants, shops, and cafes as well as more glaciers in one place than I’d ever seen.
Like most towns and cities in Europe, the history of Chamonix runs long and deep. It is one of the oldest ski resorts in France, with skis being introduced in 1897 by Doctor Payot who wanted to use them for traveling to meet his patients in heavy snow conditions. It didn’t take long after for skiing as a sport to catch on and grow. The sport of mountaineering was pretty much invented in Chamonix. Serious mountaineers have been attempting to summit Mont Blanc and its neighboring peaks for over 200 years. The first successful summit attempt was completed in 1786 and mountain climbing enthusiasts have been climbing it every year.
There are many dining choices in Chamonix ranging from quick and easy to french bistro and even gourmet. The options are endless which is especially nice given how famished we were after a day of hiking in the Alps. One of our very favorite places that we dined at twice is La Calèche, a traditional french restaurant serving cheese and meat fondue, raclette and Pierrade (stone cookers where you grill your own meats and vegetables at the table). Cheese Fondue has always been a family favorite ever since my parents went to Chamonix in 1966, it has been served at our home on special occassions.
On our last night in Chamonix, I sat outside on the window balcony watching the sunset and marveling at how it cast such vibrant glowing colors across the Glacier des Boissons. I sat there for almost an hour, sipping my wine and soaking in the beauty of Mother Nature once again. I hope these glaciers will last for future generations to enjoy.
If you go:
Consider staying at one of the Drop In Chalets in Chamonix. There are six choices and each give guests a feel of staying in a more traditional B&B than a large hotel. While there are endless dining choices in Chamonix and many are excellent, if you want to experience a true French Alps meal then go to La Calèche at 18 Rue du Dr Paccard and enjoy either fondue, rachelle or pierrade.
Stay tuned.…the best three hikes in Chamonix is the next set of posts. If you love mountains and gorgeous views, you won’t want to miss these posts. Spoiler alert….here is one of my most favorite pictures taken on our last hike in Chamonix.