Popular with tourists for centuries Chamonix is set high up in the French Alps, just a short drive from Geneva.
Home of the French government run mountain rescue service, the first monks settled in this area in the 13th century. Today all that is left of their priory is a door and a few stones which now form part of the mountain guide centre in the middle of the town.
The guide company which started in the 1820’s meet every evening at 5pm when they assign work for the next day. Climbers from all over the world are drawn to Chamonix were they can train as professional guides, The course is not easy but to become a member of the Company is a great honour. The first foreigner joined in 1930 and on August 15th every year there is the Fete des Guides service in the local church.
Chamonix has only been part of France since 1860 and back in the 1400’s the area was actually considered to be as important as France itself.
In 1860 the area did a deal with Napoleon 3rd. However even today there is stil those in the area who believe it should be part of Switzerland.
Traditionally a skiing resort in the summer it draws a large number of serious walkers and climbers to the area. Famous for its crystals, there is an excellent exhibition on crystal hunters with examples of different formations in the Espace Tairraz.
The mountain has always drawn climbers to it and there have been several tragedies when people have been killed. Some of their graves can be seen behind the tiny English church which is close to the main railway station.
The mountain dominates the town and a very good open view can be obtained from in front of the Hotel Sapiniere on Rue Mummery just a few minutes from the centre. On a clear day you should be able to see the tiny observatory on the top. For those wanting to find out more then a good place to start is the Alpine Museum near the Place du Mont Blanc. There are regular cable cars to the higher reaches of the mountain and even one which takes you over the glacier to the other side which is in Italy. If you decide to do this you should invest in a multi pass which is by far the cheapest way of doing it. Be warned however that the trip across the top is extra. Also choose a fine day for this. Another great excursion is the Mer de Glace. The railway which takes you up to the glacier starts next to the main station and takes around 20 minutes. When you get up there take a walk along to the unique Grand Hotel du Montenvers. Here you can enjoy a dinner with traditional music every Thursday during the summer. If you are into walking then there are plenty of local trails ranging from easy to very hard. However the weather can be very changeable in this region so be prepared to alter you programme at a moments notice.
For those who don’t want to walk, climb or take the cable cars there are plenty of shops and cafes in the town where you can just watch the world go by. You could also stroll along the river or take the Mont Blanc Express which travels up and down the valley linking the many delightful villages.