‘There can be no beautiful landscape without a horizon of mountains’ – Chateaubriand 1805
Chamonix is a mountainous valley town in the Haute-Savoie region of France and our destination for a ski holiday, also my very trip to the snow. Chamonix, rich in mountain history dating back to 1741 has 108 km’s of patrolled ski and snowboard trails and ski season is from mid December to May. Surrounded by some of the best mountain in Europe, many sport enthusiasts transcend to the town in winter.
Chamonix is right in the middle of the French Alps and French ski villages nearby include Servoz, Les Houches, Les Bossons, Les Praz, Les Tines, Argentiere, Montroc, and Le Tour. These villages are connected by the SCNF train system.
We choose to visit Chamonix as it offered many activities other than skiing and snowboarding and the ability to ascend the mountain tops by the lift system. One of the cable cars whisks up to 3842 metres high in under 30 minutes. Just like a James Bond scene I longed to sit in one of the cafes on the top of the mountain sipping coffee! I had been told the town had a lively night village atmosphere and this was another plus.
Arriving in London from Australia we flew to Geneva From Geneva we took the Alpy Bus, one of the many ski shuttle buses that leave from Geneva airport. We along with nine other excited people were shuttled through regional Switzerland into France. I have never seen the Alps before so to see the shadows of the mountains grow larger as the driver pressed on taking us in an upward direction left me in absolute awe. The roads between Geneva and Chamonix were fantastic and explained why the car journey only took 45 minutes in peak hour traffic despite the drivers concerns that we might be run late. Our arrival into the town at 6.00 pm was in darkness and to my disappointment seeing the mountains would have to wait until the next morning.
Our studio was located in the car free part of town on a street called Rue Docotor Paccard. The driver dropped us off at the main train station and we walked, luggage in tow. The town centre was a magical scene at that moment for us, cobbled stone paths, Christmas decorations(it was February), sparkling lights, a crepe stand with flaming torches on either side, people content with wandering from shop to shop, big fluffy mountain dogs waiting patiently for their owners outside shop fronts, restaurants tempting us with their candle light glowing interior and the last of the skiers descending from the mountains; skis and snowboards with them. After a few days in Chamonix, we came to realise this magical scene transpired every evening of the week.
Finding the apartment was easy; it was not too far from Balmat square. The agent had given us a code to access the key and as we had prepaid all costs before leaving Australia there was no check in process to undergo, we simply grabbed the key and headed straight up the narrow creeky wooden stairs to Balmat B, our alpine retreat for the week. The location of Balmat B was perfect, right in the heart of the town above a row of shops. There was a late night cafe next door called Midnight Express and a patisserie opposite.
The studio was small but surprisingly very functional containing all the modern conveniences for a pleasant holiday. Inside the kitchen cupboards we found a small washing machine and dryer as well as a dishwasher. The kitchenette was fully equipped and there was a luxury shower unit in the bathroom. There was also a balcony to leave our ski equipment and let some fresh mountain air in.
The features included:
- Small hallway
- Security access
Our first morning
In the morning we discovered the amazing view of the Arve River and Mont Blanc. In bed through the French doors we could see the mountains and could hardly believe that we were at the foot of this big mastiff and so very far away from the beach in Australia!
View from balcony
Photos on the balcony
The town are very proud (rightly so) of its mountain history and our accommodation, Balmat B is named after the mountaineer and crystal hunter Jacques Balmat who along with Michel-Gabriel Paccard was the first to complete an ascent of Mont Blanc (4810m ) and without rope and ice axes as well! During our stay we discovered other places and streets named after key mountaineers and adventurers. There are statues around town and on Le Brevent a fantastic photographic display of the building of the ski lifts.