Sitting humbly at the foot of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps, the French commune of Chamonix, which in 1924 was home to the first ever Winter Olympics, is something of a mecca for snow/extreme sports enthusiasts. Each year thousands of people flock to the powdery slopes in search of exhilarating fun and, barring broken bones and dislocated joints, that’s exactly what they find.
However, with all this attention on the snow, Chamonix itself is all too easily overlooked. This is no purpose-built, characterless resort, as is so often the case at skiing destinations. Rather, it is a genuine town with its own unique personality, albeit one that’s inextricably linked with the harsh terrain that surrounds it. Dig around a little and you’ll be able to appreciate the town on its own merits, which hopefully will add a new dimension to your visit.
Tips to discover the charms of Chamonix
To get yourself acquainted with some history, join a guided heritage tour with the Chamonix Tourist Office, during which you’ll be taken to some of the town’s most notable buildings, including St Michel Church, La Marie and The Priory. You can also visit the Chamonix Alpine Museum, where engaging displays trace the town’s story right back to its humble origins, and also show photos from outlying places that are so inhospitable few humans have ever clapped eyes upon them.
But if histories and artefacts aren’t your thing, just have a wander round the town and make your own discoveries. Perhaps you’ll come across one of the colourful markets, famed for their French gourmet cheese, such as tomme and reblochon, both of which are produced locally at nearby dairy farms. Or maybe you’ll spot the enormous fresco on Rue de Docteur Paccard – a now legendary piece of street art that has immortalised key figures of Chamonix’s mountaineering history, including Jacques Balmat, who in 1786 became the first man to scale Mont Blanc.
Wherever you end up, you won’t fail to notice the impressive examples of baroque and art deco architecture, which are abundant throughout the town.
So where to eat? That depends on your budget of course, but if you’re willing to splash out a bit, look no further than La Caleche. Located in the centre of Chamonix and spread over three levels, it’s the perfect place to sample the local Savoyard cuisine in an authentic setting. Despite its size, the restaurant has retained an intimate and cosy atmosphere, with booths and private corners throughout. The menu is vast, with dishes ranging from Tartar of Salmon and Scallops to the irresistibly authentic Hot Stone Cooked Beef Filet.
Accommodation in Chamonix
Finding accommodation here won’t be a struggle – the town is bursting with lodges, hotels and chalets. For something upmarket, you can’t go wrong with the Grand Hotel des Alpes, located at the base of Mont Blanc and offering spectacular views of the same. It was built in 1840 and completely refurbished in 2004. Facilities include a swimming pool with its own wave machine, a Jacuzzi, sauna and massage parlour.
However, it’s not all luxury lodges and hedonistic hotels – the wide range of accommodation in Chamonix caters to all budgets, big and small.
Visit http://www.mydestination.com/chamonix for a comprehensive guide of Chamonix.