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France: Annecy, Chamonix Mont Blanc, Paris, Versailles
Chamonix Mont Blanc, France: On top of Europe
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Chamonix for most of us or Cham for a few offers exceptional viewpoints, which can be reached either by use of the lifts or the hiking trails. The different panoramas are situated along the length and breadth of the valley, in the heart of the Mont Blanc and Aiguilles Rouges mountain ranges. When two young English aristocrats, William Windham and Richard Pocock, discovered the Priory of Chamouni in 1741, they had no idea that the recital of their visit to this small mountain village and its glaciers, will have an impact on the whole of Europe.
I took a train from Annecy to Saint Gervais from there I took another train, namely Mont Blanc Express that brought me to Chamonix in about 40 minutes. For those arriving by Paris can take a train to Lyon and change for Saint Gervais. Chamonix can easily be accessed by road from Switzerland and Italy as well. The Alps share their borders with these two countries along with France, thus the names French Alps; Swiss Alps and Italian Alps.
For my 2 days in Chamonix I was booked at Hotel Le Morgane. Since the hotel was located just next to Aiguille du Midi station, it made sense to alight here instead of Chamoix Mont Blanc station which was the next stop, not far though. Le Morgane is a very nice hotel offering good views of the mountains, including Mont Blanc, on clear days though. It has a Michelin Star restaurant where I had my breakfast for the 2 days that I was there.
Good to remind you that I arrived in mid November in Chamonix. That, probably, is the worst month to be there. During this period Chamonix’s most important attraction which is the cable ride to Aiguille du Midi has its annual closure! Well the flip side is that there are fewer tourists and the cost of hotels is just at a fraction of their original. That ride apart, you get to see it all.
On checking in, every hotel in Chamonix Valley will give you a Carte d’Hôte pass. This pass entitles visitors for free and unlimited train and bus rides in the Chamox Valley between Servoz and Vallorcine thus giving you access to all major ski locations, hiking trails and the villages that fall between these two stations.
I checked into the hotel at about 2PM. In an hour I was ready to explore the town. It was snowing in Chamonix Valley. And the weatherman had predicted snow for the next few days too. That meant, I will have very little chance to view Mont Blanc and Aiguille Du Midi peaks. Well, so is life.
For the next few hours I walked the streets of Chamonix. Most of my time was spent on Rue du Docteur Paccard. You can safely call this street the main road of Chamonix. The street is flanked by shops (mostly dedicated to mountain-sports), life-style, art galleries, restaurants and groceries. Look out for the building of “Bureau De La Guides”. The wall painting out there is simply outstanding. For a moment you will feel the guys on the wall are for real!
Dinner that evening was at McDonalds. I slept early as the whole of the next day I would be walking. I would also wake-up quite early to try my luck for pre-sunrise pictures. My room had a balcony saving me the bother to dress-up warm for the occasion. As predicted, it was snowing all night long. There was a blanket of snow over Chamonix the next morning. A pretty view indeed.
Chamonix is a popular winter sports resort town. As the highest European mountain west of Russia, Mont Blanc holds a special allure for mountain climbers, and Mark Twight described the town as "the death-sport capital of the world" because it is a base for almost all types of outdoor activity, especially their more extreme variants, such as ice climbing, rock climbing, extreme skiing, paragliding, and rafting.
In the summer months Chamonix is a Mecca for alpine mountaineers, drawn to the area by challenges like the north, west and south-west faces of the Dru, the Frendo Spur on the Aiguille Du Midi, the north face of the Grandes Jorasses and the massive face climbs on the south side of Mont Blanc. Traversing the Alps by foot or more accessible challenges like reaching the summit of Mont Blanc (by a number of possible routes) are also quite popular.
Mont Blanc, the “roof of Europe”, is the world’s third-ranking most visited natural area, continues to attract millions of visitors and thousands of mountaineers every year. Conquering Mont Blanc is a dream shared by many amateur mountaineers and enthusiasts. At last count the peak stood at 4810 meters. I say last count because the height changes due to weather changes. Just so you know, due to the prevailing winds, the peak moved 25 metres from its axis towards Italy. Well, it’s true that all roads lead to Rome!
As mentioned earlier, Chamonix is famous for its spectacular cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi that stands at 3842 meteres. Constructed in 1955, it was then the highest cable car in the world. Together with a cable car system going up to the Pointe Helbronner (3462 meters) from Entréves in the Aosta Valley located in Italy. It is possible to cross the entire Mont Blanc massif by cable car. Had it been summers, I would have had the privilege to travel between 2 countries in a cable car. That was not to be.
Thankfully, the rack & pinion train to Montenvers – Mer De Glace train was operating. For EUR 26 visitors can go up 1913 meters, spend time exploring the glacier, many mountain peaks, ice caves and walk on many trails. Of course, summers would be ideal months though there’s no stopping you in winters. The cable cars that take you down to the ice caves and near the glacier had their annual closure.
I opted to take the train up that left at 12 noon from Gare Du Montenvers. That gave me a few hours in the morning to explore other parts of Chamonix – the church, tourist office, Place Balmat, avenue Michel Croz, Place Du Mont Blanc and Chamonix station.
The journey time is about 20 minutes to climb the 1000-metre altitude difference between Chamonix and Montenvers. The track zigzags up the mountainside through pine trees, tunnels carved into the rock and a few viaducts. The landscape is dramatic. Indeed, the journey is as beautiful as the destination itself.
I spent an hour and took the same train that left the mountain top at 1:30PM. Back in Chamonix, I walked to the Chamonix station and boarded the Mont Blanc Express to get down at Les Pelerins that was 3 stations and a few kilometers away. The station is near a few lakes and a forest park. The plan was to walk back all the way to Aiguille Du Midi, exploring on the way the beauty the Chamonix Valley has to offer.
It was 5PM and dark by the time I reached the hotel. Dinner was on one of the many restaurants located in the vicinity Place Balmat. The next morning my train would leave Aiguille Du Midi at 7:11AM.
After an early breakfast, I dragged my bags through inches of snow to reach the station. My return journey home now commenced. The route was Aiguille Du Midi – Saint Gervais – Annecy – Lyon – Paris CDG – London – Mumbai – Pune.
Chamonix Mont Blanc Image Gallery Photo viewer
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