Friday thought #47 Being a tourist in Chamonix

With only a couple of days to go until I leave Chamonix for good, it seemed only right to do some of the tourist things that I’ve never got round to doing in my almost 9 years here, plus some of the old favourites that I will never get tired of. August is by far the busiest time of year in Chamonix, with wall to wall people lining the already crowded pedestrian streets and a permanent line of cars trying to park in the town centre. These last 2 weeks of the summer are especially busy with the world famous ultra marathon ‘Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc’ looming; there are runners literally everywhere and the town is absolutely at capacity, but every now and again you just have to brave the crowds and even embrace the overwhelming busy-ness of it, because people come here for a reason. It’s amazing! Some of my highlights over the last couple of weeks:

The endlessly spectacular Aiguille de Midi:

If you ever get bored of the views from the top of here, there’s something wrong with you…

View down the famous arête and across to Switzerland from the top of the Aiguille de Midi
View down the famous arête and across to Switzerland from the top of the Aiguille de Midi
Looking down the Chamonix valley towards Les Houches across the Bossons Glacier
Looking down the Chamonix valley towards Les Houches across the Bossons Glacier
Majestic Mont Blanc with climbers in the foreground just finishing the Cosmiques Arête
Majestic Mont Blanc with climbers in the foreground just finishing the Cosmiques Arête

The tramway du Mont Blanc and hiking up to the Tête Rousse mountain hut This is the start of the classic route up to Mont Blanc and a path well travelled by many thousands of people. A beautiful day out:

The Glacier de Bionassay on the way up to the Tête Rousse hut
The Glacier de Bionassay on the way up to the Tête Rousse hut
The stunning Tramway du Mont Blanc, over 100 years old, how on earth did they build it in 1907??!
The stunning Tramway du Mont Blanc, over 100 years old, how on earth did they build it in 1907??!
So many ibex en route, we lost count
So many ibex en route, we lost count

The Lac D’Emosson funicular

An incredible 3 part ride from the tiny Swiss town of Le Châtelard up to the Emosson dam and reservoir. Two incredibly steep funicular railway rides with a beautifully quaint and spectacular open air train ride in between. Absolutely worth a visit.

One of the 2 incredible funicular railways
One of the 2 incredible funicular railways
Setting off on the tiny tourist train
Setting off on the tiny tourist train
Rounding the corner to catch our first sight of the Emosson dam
Rounding the corner to catch our first sight of the Emosson dam
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Friday thought #30 What to do when visiting Chamonix…?

Having visitors is a perfect opportunity to reflect on what you love about a place and why you choose to live there as it forces you to come up with a suitable itinerary that will entertain, occupy and create lasting memories for your guests. Or maybe it’s just me who thinks that visiting guests need their visit planned out step by step? Others may just choose to wing it but the thought of people flying over to visit, and me having nothing planned for them, fills me with horror! What if they have a rubbish time?! What if it’s your fault?! Maybe it depends on the type of visitor, or maybe it’s my love of organisation…! But whatever the reasons, recent visiting family forced me to consider all manner of things such as; where have they already been? What’s the weather going to be like? What can we do in the rain? How much will it cost? How much time have we got? What would they like to do? Do I need to book in advance? What will we eat? What is there to do?! …… And the list goes on and on.

The first few times people visit, it’s easy. You tick off all the main attractions, the cable cars, the famous walks, the viewpoints etc, but once they start arriving for their 4th, 5th, 6th visit, that’s when you start to scratch around for activities and destinations they haven’t already seen. It’s fine when you live there all the time, if it rains you just stay indoors and potter around, but visitors need a holiday, it needs to be a worthwhile visit.

So I’ve decided to compile a small list of activities and excursions I would recommend for non-skiing, non-climbing visitors to do when in Chamonix, all based on my own experience and the reactions of real-life visitors.

* Take the cable car up to the Aiguille de Midi – the 2nd highest cable car in the World! Look up to the highest mountain in the Alps and look across to tumbling glaciers in both France and Italy.

* Take the historic rack and pinion railway up to Montenvers to see the famous Mer de Glace and visit the ice caves.

* Hike up to the magnificent Lac Blanc, either starting from ground level or by taking the Flegere cable car to give a significant head start!

* Take the cable car up to the Plan de l’Aiguille and hike across the high mountain pass to the Montenvers railway station before taking the train down.

* Either snowshoe or walk up to the Vielles Luges restaurant in Les Houches for lunch or just a vin chaud and a bit of people/mountain watching.

* Book a table at the Cremerie in the woods of Argentiere and hike up with head torches for a memorable alpine meal in wonderful, cosy surroundings.

* Drive up to Plaine Joux, facing Mont Blanc, for a perfect view of the whole mountain range, then take a gentle stroll through the forest to the lake before heading back to watch the parapenters literally running off the side of the mountain…

* Spend the day in nearby Annecy, have lunch in the sun or take a swim/hire a pedalo in the beautiful lake.

* Drive through the Mont Blanc tunnel and pop out in Italy to spend the day in a different country eating delicious, cheap Italian food!

* Jump in the car and head off to explore beautiful central Switzerland – Interlaken and the surrounding area at 3 hours drive is well worth a visit.

These are only but a small handful of the things you can do whilst spending some time in the French Alps. If you enjoy the outdoors and appreciate stunning natural scenery then you will never be bored in a place like this, you just need to be willing to alter plans at the last minute as the weather has a knack of hindering even the best laid plans!

Enjoy!

So many options!
So many options!
Toblerone??
Toblerone??
Top of Europe...
Top of Europe…
Who needs an itinerary when the views look like this?!
Who needs an itinerary when the views look like this?!

Friday thought #20 Snow plastered mountains

Following the lack of snow in the Alps, the last week has seen its fair share of rain, but as dreary as that is to look at out of your window, rain in the valley means snow in the mountains (yippee!) Earlier this week saw a few days of miserable, grey rain, but when the clouds finally lifted they revealed the majestic Aiguille de Midi as it is very rarely seen; the towering sides too sheer to hold snow except in the event of a heavy snowfall combined with very strong winds. I am truly pleased to have captured it in its brief moment of pure white, a very special view, and out of my living room window too!

Not a view many people get to see...
Not a view many people get to see…
Truly stunning
Truly stunning

Friday thought #11 Wingsuiting – a terrifying sport!

October has provided us with some amazing weather here recently, and one day last week it was a perfect day for a trail run in the mountains. The run ended up at the mid-station lift of the Aiguille de Midi cable car, the highest one in Europe and whilst this is a beautiful spot on its own, I had a free afternoon so decided I might as well head on up the lift to the very top, always breathtaking and worth a visit no matter how many times you’re been up there. Being almost 3000 metres higher than the town, I was pretty cold in my running kit! But I took my time wandering around the various viewing platforms taking photos and generally admiring Mont Blanc and its stunning neighbours! Looking up I was thrilled to learn that I had timed my visit well as teetering on the edge of one of the highest points I spotted a tiny figure in white wearing the distinctive outfit of a wingsuiter. He was geared up and ready to jump, from a height of 3842 metres.

I quickly flicked my camera on to burst mode and managed to capture the whole jump. After stitching the photos together I am pretty happy with the following astonishing sequence as he descended. You can see near the bottom that he’s just starting to move out away from the rock face, he then plateaued and I watched him fly across the valley at the most incredible speed until he became so small that he dropped out of sight.

As a sport this seems to be becoming more and more popular and I have absolutely no idea why! The thought of jumping in to nothing, a total void, especially that close to a rock face, chills me to my very bones. It’s something I can confidently say that I’ll never ever do, but I can understand that to the adrenaline junkies out there it’s as close to flying like a bird mankind will ever get.

Terrifying!
Terrifying!
A view that's pretty hard to beat!
A view that’s pretty hard to beat!