Nestled below Mont Blanc, the Chamonix valley is legendary amongst snow seekers. It's the kind of place that most skiers and snowboarders have on their bucket list as a place to conquer because of it's steep slopes and extreme weather conditions. Beyond the epic snow, the town of Chamonix is full of Victorian chalet charm and its proximity to Switzerland and Italy make it ridiculous easy to mix things up for the ultimate winter vacation.
While the area is synonymously known as Chamonix, the whole valley is actually composed of several areas. There's Chamonix proper of course where the main resort is but then to the northeast is Argentière and to the southwest is Les Houches. In between, there are probably a good half a dozen more smaller resorts. The beauty of it all is that they all count as Chamonix as far as lift passes are concerned. For those looking for a quieter and serene experience, I personally recommend staying out in Argentière and in one of those luxury chalets in Chamonix.
Hero Status Slopes
When you first get to Chamonix and look around you realize just how immense the Mont Blanc massif is. What makes the skiing and snowboarding here so good is the fact that you get massive range and versatility. The Chamonix Resort starts at 1035 meters and soars to a height of 3842 meters which is where the highest lift goes to. You can imagine just how long the runs get and how varied it gets when going from high to low altitude. While a lot of Chamonix is geared towards advanced skiers, don't be turned off if you're a beginner. There are still a ton of easy runs. Just make sure you know the difference between a green circle and black diamond before you head up.
More Than Skiing
Beyond the carving of powder, there's a ton more to do in the region. For one, don't miss your opportunity to go dogsledding with the cutest and fluffy dogs you've ever seen. If hiking is your thing, snowshoeing gives you an opportunity to be one with nature and connect with the kilometres of trail that will allow you to find all sorts of hidden gems along the way. Lastly, in the town of Chamonix itself, you'll have the opportunity to check out the numerous shops, restaurants, and cafes which contribute to the liveliness of the streets. Beyond that, there is also an ice rink, a luge on rails which is open all year round, a swimming pool, an indoor climbing wall, and several museums to explore.
Without looking at the map, you probably won't realize that Chamonix is wedged right at the convergence of the 3 countries of France, Switzerland, and Italy. So what does that mean? Well that means that there's a heck of a lot of single or multi-day adventures that you can launch right from your cozy chalet in Chamonix.
Your alpine vacation can easily extend to the neighbouring Italy. Accessible via the Mont-Blanc tunnel or through the Petit St. Bernard's pass, you can decide to either do more skiing in Courmayeur (free for all holders of a Mont-Blank Unlimited lift pass) or head down to Pré St Didier, a cute little Italian village just past the border to relax in saunas and steam baths.
Absolutely take advantage of the fact that you're so close to Switzerland. To start, Geneva is the closest international airport so you're almost guaranteed begin your adventures here. The drive to Chamonix is only 1 hour 15 minutes drive. Once here, you can easily hop on the Mont Blanc Express train and enjoy the stunning scenery as you descend through the grapevines and end up in Martigny, Switzerland. Alternatively you could also rent a car and drive up to Saillon or Lavey for their thermal baths.
So you see, if you're looking for a different kind of winter destination vacation and have been looking to the Alps for a long time, make sure you consider Chamonix as a place of choice. The French Alps and the Mont Blanc mountain range are a wonder to see in person. Hotels in Chamonix provide the perfect balance of an alpine retreat while giving guests access to adrenaline of the mountains.
Who's been to the French Alps? Would love to hear from you about your experiences.
Featured image by Flickr eguidetravel