Photo courtesy of Salome Abrial/Office de Tourisme de Chamonix
Reach Out and Touch the Sky
France's Chamonix Valley is one of the most scenic places on the European continent. It's a narrow river valley which houses everything from rock-climbing centers to pulsing bars and pubs, and on both sides of the river the peaks of the French Alps explode thousands of feet into the sky. While there are numerous ways to experience the grandeur of the mountains from Chamonix—boarding the ski lift at Les Grands Montets, biking along the steep ridges, or paragliding off the many peaks—the most accessible might be a ride on the Aiguille du Midi cable car, a hair-raising ascent which gains 9,200 vertical feet over the course of 20 minutes. From the summit perch you can take in a 360-degree view beneath Mont Blanc, and from this frigid vantage point set nearly at the top of Europe, it's almost possible to reach straight out and touch the sky.
By Kyle Ellison, AFAR Local Expert
Views and Brews in Chamonix
The half-day hike the Plan de l'Aiguille to Montenvers is one of the best in Chamonix. Be sure to get up early, so that the line isn't too long at the cable car to reach the Aiguille du Midi. Have your water and snacks packed and even in the middle of the summer be sure to have your rain jacket, winter hat, and gloves. Double-check to make sure the ticket you're purchasing not only gets you up to the Aiguille du Midi point, but also then lets you hop on the next cable car to head towards Helbronner (the incredible viewing spot that hovers over the border of France and Italy). Once you step out, you'll see hundreds of teams tackling the more technical descents on the snow and ice. You'll then descend by cable car back to the mid-station at the Plan d'Aiguille (that you saw on the way up). From there, you'll walk the steep, zigzag, wooded track back down to Chamonix (3–4 hours) or cross over from the Plan d'Aiguille to the Montenvers train/Mer de Glace station (three hours) to take the tourist train back down to Chamonix. Either way, you're guaranteed inspiring views. By your return to town you'll have worked up an appetite worthy of the delicious Micro Brasserie de Chamonix at 350 Route de Bouchet. Walk along the river to head toward the pub and enjoy the food, beverages, and cozy atmosphere.
By Bronwen Gregory, AFAR Local Expert
We arrived in Chamonix late the night before after a long week in Munich. When we got up the Aguille du Midi was back lit and majestic. We had ten days of new snow and great terrain accompanied by enormous amounts of incredible cheese. The Saturday market in Chamonix brings out vendors with locally cured meat, regional cheese and fresh baked croissants for a fraction of the price of the stores in town.
By Rusty Perry