Chamonix is France’s oldest ski resort and with only an hour transfer from Geneva, a popular destination for a short ski break for all, including over 50s skiers, as Petra Shepherd found out on a recent visit.
Enjoy skiing amongst spectacular mountain scenery
With 90% of the terrain above 2000m, Chamonix has for many years attracted skiers looking for good snow with an efficient ski bus linking the five main ski areas and the nearby village of Les Houches. Set against truly spectacular scenery at the foot of Mont Blanc, the choice of skiing ranges from cruisy blues and fun reds at Le Brevent, Flegere and Le Tour to more challenging runs at Les Grands Montets.
Located in the village of Le Tour, at the northern end of the Chamonix Valley, a new gondola lift opened in December 2022, providing a much-improved access to the Balme-Vallorcine ski area. The Balme ski area offers wide open gentle slopes, tree lined forest trails and an exceptional panorama of the Mont Blanc Massif. Meanwhile back at Le Mer de Glace, an investment programme of over 53 million euros, sees 25 million of the budget allocated to the construction of a new cable car which will facilitate access on and of the glacier for visitors, alpinists, and skiers arriving from the vallee blanche and is set to open in 2023. Chamonix-Mont- Blanc was the birthplace of the first Winter Olympic Games in 1924, labelled “Land of Games 2024” with next year seeing the centenary of the games
Stay in a refuge
What have Charles Dickens, Napoleon, Lord Bryon and Mary Shelly in common? They’ve all stayed at Hotel-Refuge du Montenvers. I joined these illustrious names for a night tucked up in the Franz Liszt room as a snow storm raged outside bringing some much welcome fresh snow to the slopes. The ski season is now is very much in full swing.
Inghams offers an incredible night in the Refuge du Montenvers which at 1,903 metres sits on the edge of the Mer de Glace (sea of ice), the largest glacier in France, 7 km long and 200m deep and one of the biggest attractions in the Chamonix Valley. In order to reach the refuge, we took the Montenvers Railway to the top station, along with a back pack with a change of clothes and overnight essentials. After the last train departed back to Chamonix on the rack railway, it was time to enjoy the tranquillity of the refuge and watch the sun go down over of the Mer de Glace and surrounding mountain peaks, followed by a three-course dinner.
I felt as though I was taking a journey into the past, experiencing the same accommodation (although considerably more luxurious) and views as the greatest mountain climbers, adventurers, famous artists and writers (if only the walls could speak). The refuge (built in 1880) exudes old-fashioned charm and isolated from the rest of the world, is the perfect place for a one-night digital detox.
Explore an ice cave and discover more about glaciers
In the morning, after a hearty buffet breakfast, I’d recommend venturing to the ice cave or finding out more about the glacier at The Glaciorium. A small cable car descends from the train station onto the Mer de Glace glacier from where you can enter a man-made ice grotto. Access is via 430 steps on both the outward and return walk from the top of the glacier gondola lift, so you’ll need to be pretty fit. The Glaciorium (established in 2012) features an exhibition dedicated to glaciology with interactive and educational presentations all about glaciers, how they form and their history.
Relax in a spa hotel
My accommodation for the rest of my visit was rather more state-of-the art, the chic yet comfortable Hotel Heliopic at the foot of the Aiguille du Midi cable-car. With a wonderful spa and large indoor swimming pool, so plenty to keep non skiers entertained as well. Whilst Le Frometon (the hotel’s new cheese restaurant) is the place to go to savour the best Savoyard specialities, think fondues and raclettes.
Dine out on the slopes
Chamonix has some excellent mountain restaurants serving up hearty lunches. After our first morning’s ski, Alpage de Balme was the perfect spot for refuelling on the slopes. Dishes are all typical mountain fare – cheesy croutes, steak and chips, potato rosti, goats cheese salad, etc but they are very well done and not over-priced. The restaurant also benefits from a sunny terrace with views the length of the valley.
For a more gourmet choice Restaurant La Bergerie de Plan Praz which opened nearly 20 years ago, is a well-known address to Chamoniards. Located at the Brevent mid-station at the top of the Planpraz gondola, the restaurant has two rustic dining rooms and a large terrace with a panoramic view of Mont-Blanc. The dishes are based on fresh local products with the meat grilled on a wood fire.
Chamonix – not just for skiers
Chamonix has a lot to offer for non-skiers and one particularly unique attraction. After more than two years of renovation, the Crystal Museum is once again open to the public. With nearly 1,900 pieces on display, pink-red fluorites, smoky quartz, the exhibition continues around the world, starting from French mines and quarries. t takes you to discover the most emblematic pieces from the five continents: azurites from Chessy-les-Mines, aquamarines from Pakistan, Peruvian pyrites, Congolese dioptases and Australian opals.
Who doesn’t like chocolate? Shouka is a coffee and cocoa factory installed in the old Swiss chalet that used to house “le Choucas”, an emblematic Chamonix bar from the 70s and 80s, this new brand has been offering chocolate and coffee “made in Chamonix” since February 2021. Originally from Brittany, Nathalie and Christian Duperrier trained in the chocolate and coffee trade before settling at the foot of Mont Blanc, to open the first place in France to practice double roasting, with a “bean-to-bar” concept, literally: from the bean to the bar. Carefully selected from small producers from all over the world, cocoa beans and coffee beans are processed on site. In the basement, when visiting the chocolate factory, gourmets learn more about the different steps of the manufacturing of Shouka chocolate, made without additives, soy lecithin or preservatives whilst at the entrance you can watch the coffee being roasted, before heading to the coffeeshop to taste the coffee and tempting chocolates.
Resorts in the alps were suffering earlier this month but snow is finally falling. Chamonix has plenty of skiing on offer, loads to keep mature non-skiers amused and all with oodles of Alpine charm and, of course, those staggering views of Mont Blanc. The night in Refuge de Montenvers was a particular highlight – I was amused by my given room, for those who know me and cockney rhyming slang will understand!
For ski trips to Chamonix, and all the popular resorts, call our Silver Travel Advisors 0800 412 5678 to find out more about travelling with Inghams.
For further information visit https://www.chamonix.com