Haute Savoie / France
With great skiing, great views, great accommodation and a long history of hospitality, it’s difficult to fault Chamonix as a winter destination. Originally a centre of mountaineering, the town’s reputation grew with the popularity of skiing, until it became the first host of the winter Olympics in 1924. With a resort height of 1035m and lifts rising to almost 4,000m, there are great vertical descents and extreme off piste terrain.
The scenery in Chamonix is just as beautiful in the summer - many of the lifts stay open, making it easy for bikers and hikers to enjoy the wonderful high-altitude views.
Adrenaline seekers can try downhill biking, climbing and paragliding and there’s a great choice of family options, such as canyoning and via ferrata. Younger children will enjoy meeting the local wildlife at the animal park, pony rides and train trips around the town.
Take a hike - There are so many wonderful places to walk in and around Chamonix, whether you are looking for a family day out or a strenuous high-altitude hike. Head for the Lac Blanc for amazing views of Mont Blanc or the Mer de Glace for an up-close look at a glacier. Head for Les Pyramides from Les Bossons, or Berard valley and Mont Le Buet for family treks. Take a picnic, or plan your route around a visit to a buvette - a mountain hut offering wonderful views, snacks and drinks. The tourist office in Chamonix will be happy to advise you on a walk that will suit your itinerary.
Conquer a mountain - From Chamonix, take the cable car to the top of the Aiguille du Midi for views you will never forget. The two-part journey will take you to an altitude of 3,777m, taking in the Glacier des Bossons, Mont Blanc, the Aiguille Verte, and the Aiguilles de Chamonix. At the top, if you dare, you can step into the void - a five-sided glass box which will give you a real sense of altitude! Check the website for opening times.
Heli-skiing - Fresh tracks and incredible views are guaranteed when you access some of the best off-piste descents by helicopter! These unforgettable descents and routes have been carefully selected by your experienced guides, leaving you free to just enjoy this unforgettable experience.
Pamper yourself - You’re on holiday, so why not treat yourself to the ultimate in relaxation - a day at a wellness centre? Whether you’re looking for a relaxing swim, or a day of saunas, spas and thermal baths, massages and treatments to soothe aching muscles, or just some time to yourself, you’re sure to be able to arrange an itinerary that suits you perfectly.
Biking In the summer - The mountains become a magnet for cyclists. Experienced mountain bikers will find plenty of challenge, as many of the trails are steep and technical, but there are trails for all levels. Bikes can be taken on many of the lifts, and on the Mont Blanc Express train, which links Switzerland to the Vallée de l'Arve via Chamonix. Road bikers will find plenty of tours starting from Chamonix, depending on your experience and time available. The tourist office is a great place to start when looking for routes and advice.
Golf - Surprisingly for a mountain golf course, all but two of the 18 holes at Golf de Chamonix are on the flat. The 6km course features bunkers, water holes, woodlands and streams as well as wonderful views. Check the website for more information.
Climbing - Just 2.5km from the centre of Chamonix, the rock-climbing park at Les Gaillands has about 140 routes of varying difficulty. The sunny south-facing climbs are all bolted, and there are plenty of easy climbs, making it a great choice for beginners. There’s a free car park and a picnic/sunbathing area by the lake where you can relax if you’re not climbing.
Downhill fast - Whatever time of year you decide to visit, the 1.3km luge run at Domaine des Planards is always open! Each luge seats two, and can be used by children aged from three, although those aged up to seven should be accommodated by an adult. Planards is a great place to explore with children - in the winter it’s a ski area, and in the summer the snow is replaced by an amusement park, with water rides, slides, trampolines and much more. There’s a restaurant too, but if you want to bring a picnic, there are plenty of places to eat it.
Via ferrata - You don’t need any experience of climbing to conquer the mountains when you try via ferrata - a sort of vertical hike around cliff faces on wire trails. It’s all totally safe as you’re attached to the rocks by a wire harness. Via Ferrata des Evettes, near Chamonix, is one of the easier courses, so is ideal for families wanting to give this sport a try.
Canyoning thrills - Children looking for adventure will find it canyoning - scrambling, climbing, jumping and swimming down mountain streams, rivers and waterfalls. You’ll be accompanied by a mountain guide, who will ensure your safety at all times. This thrilling experience is open to children over the age of 10, as long as they can swim and are not afraid of a 4m jump.
Animal encounter - The wonderful Merlet animal park in Les Houches is a great day out for all ages, especially in the summer. Take a leisurely walk around the forests and meadows of the park, where you can spot indigenous animals such as ibex, chamois, marmots and roe deer. There are no fences, the animals roam wild. In the winter, you can take a snowshoe tour of the park with a guide. Picnics are not allowed in the park, but there is a restaurant, and picnic tables are available just outside the entrance.
Fun and games - Pony rides, playgrounds and a shallow swimming lake are just some of the summer attractions at Le Paradis de Praz, just 2.5km from Chamonix. In winter, snow rafting is on the agenda! Drinks and snacks are available from the small restaurant.
Take the train - Youngsters will love exploring Chamonix on the little train, which runs throughout the summer season - tour the town or head out into the villages of Le Praz and Les Bois. Get your tickets from the driver. If you want to go a bit further afield take the Montenvers train, which has its own station next to the main train station in Chamonix. This funicular railway climbs steeply to a viewing point above the Mer de Glace. From the top of the line at Montenvers, it’s a lovely walk down to the glacier and an ice cave.
Mumma (31 rue Whymper, 74400, Chamonix, tel +33 (0) 4 50 53 05 08) Asian Scandi fusion is the theme at this sleek restaurant. Chef David Lillieroth was born in Stockholm and has been working in Chamonix since 2005. Vegetarians and vegans will find plenty to tempt them. Choose and share a selection of dishes to make the most of this innovative menu.
Le Caphorn (74 rue des Moulins, 74400, Chamonix France, tel +33 4 50 21 80 80) French, Japanese and European dishes sit side by side on this menu, along with three-course lunch and dinner menus, a very extensive wine list and a children’s menu. The cellar bar is a popular place to start the evening, and on a warm evening, there’s plenty of seating on the terraces. Book ahead to make sure of a table.
Casa Valerio (88 rue du Lyret, 74400, Chamonix, tel +33 4 50 55 93 40) Book ahead for this popular Italian restaurant. The menu is extensive, but the award-winning pizzas are the most popular choice. In addition to the main menu there are two set menus for lunch, and a four-course dinner menu.
Restaurant La Tablée (75 avenue de l Aiguille du Midi, 74400, Chamonix, tel +33 4 50 53 31 23) This family-friendly restaurant offers traditional French mountain food in a fabulous setting. Prices are reasonable and the set menus, which range from €27-41, are great value. Make sure you are still hungry enough for one of their amazing ice creams! The children’s menu is €11.
Patisserie Richard (10 rue du Docteur Paccard, 74400, Chamonix, tel +33 4 50 53 56 88) For the best ice cream and pastries in town, head to this town centre bakery. Buy to takeaway or stay and have a coffee and a cake.
Snell Sports (104 rue du Docteur Paccard, 74400, Chamonix, tel +33 4 50 53 02 17) A one-stop shop for all the mountain sports equipment you are likely to need. Whether you are looking to buy or hire, the staff are very knowledgeable and happy to advise you on the right choice.
Cha cha cha (134 avenue Ravanel le Rouge, 74400, Chamonix, tel +33 4 50 93 47 74) Try before you buy at this popular shop selling wines and spirits. The shop has a bar, with seating indoors and outdoors - head outside for great views of Mont Blanc.
Ancey Chocolatier (98 rue Joseph Vallot, 74400, Chamonix, tel +33 4 50 53 09 79) An eye-catching window display full of colourful macarons will tempt you into this delightful shop. Once inside you’ll be spoiled for choice, but the helpful staff are happy to help you make up your mind.
Refuge Payot (166, Rue Vallot, Chamonix, tel +33 4 50 53 18 71) Pick up local cheeses, charcuterie, jams and desserts at this delicatessen. Tastings are available, and there’s a second shop in Les Houches.
Rabbit on the Roof (Route des Praz, 74400 Chamonix, tel +33 06 64 35 80 93) Peter Stetzner makes beautiful wooden skis for modern freeriding, using the best wood and technical materials. Every pair is bespoke, and Peter is happy to work with you on the finish you want, whether it's engraving, painting or marquetry. A really unique experience.
When you stay in Chamonix, your rental includes a guest card or carte d’hote, which entitles you to free buses and SNCF trains between Vallorcine and Servoz. The buses are regular and well-connected but may be busy, so allow plenty of time for your journey.
By train - Trains from Geneva airport take about three hours and involve one or two changes. Chamonix station is served by SNCF (free with your carte d’hote). The Mont Blanc Express is a scenic mountain route, running from St Gervais/Le Fayet up the Chamonix valley through to Chamonix and Argentiere. It’s a great way to visit Vallorcine and the Emosson dam, but worth taking just for the views!
By plane - The nearest airport is Geneva, just over an hour away. Trains from Geneva airport take three hours and involve two changes, so bus or private transport may be a better option.
By bus - The bus service runs all year round in Chamonix, but lays on extra services during the summer and winter seasons. Routes between Vallorcine and Servoz are free with your ski pass and carte d’hote. Alpy bus offers transfers from Geneva to Chamonix.
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