Following on from my Chamonix summer must-see post, here’s a few places that are less well known than the big sights, but have a charm all of their own. As a bonus, none of these places need lifts to get to, so they are more accessible to pushchairs, the vertiginous or anyone who would like a more relaxing view of the mountains – and also much less expensive!
A very special place – just a handful of picture perfect chalets in a high meadow lush with flowers, with the snow covered peaks of Mont Blanc and its surrounding summits behind. Tranquil and beautiful – find a rock by the stream and appreciate a perfect summer day. From Les Houches (access via bus) , follow signs to Les Chavants and then the Ecole Physique (uphill on the Mont Blanc side of the valley). Footpath is well signed from the road, a 15 minute uphill walk. A lovely day at Charousse – with photos
Plateau d’Assy and Lac Vert
A marvellous fifties modernist masterwork, a new organic garden, gallery and cafe, a classic alpine lake and a spectacular panoramic view of Mont Blanc – this is an area that has loads to offer, and all easily drivable, though a car is pretty much essential. Plateau d’Assy and Lac Vert – more photos
Lavancher & Le Chapeau
Tranquil, lovely le Lavancher. It also has a very nice restaurant, “Le Rosebud” at the Jeu de Paume hotel. I must confess I think the restaurant is a touch overpriced, but the food is very good and the setting matchless. Walk up from Les Praz or down from Argentiere.
The real joys of Le Lavancher are the walks – cows graze in the peaceful alpages, the village is very pretty, and the walk to Le Chapeau is a Chamonix classic – leading you up past the gorge to a spectacular glacier overlook point (NB – not suitable for pushchairs) There’s a lovely chalet near the overlook which serves drinks and simple meals.
When the Chamonix valley is busy, slipping into the adjoining Berard valley makes for a relaxing day away from the crowds. Accessed from near the station at Le Buet, a 15 minute walk takes you to the lovely chalet, built over a rushing cascade. Climb up to visit the cave behind the waterfall, where a forger is supposed to have hidden.
Further along, a gentle uphill walk by the river (NB – not suitable for pushchairs) leads eventually to a refuge in a lovely setting, wild and peaceful. This area is full of ibex who seem to enjoy posing for the camera!
Access: train to Le Buet, bus, or car
Col des Montets
High, wide and open on the Swiss border, the Col des Montets has a beautiful view over the Mont Blanc massif. Huge glacial boulders are dotted around – it’s a popular bouldering spot. Small ponds and streams are bordered with flowers, and the old, widely spaced larch trees give it a distinctly different feel to the rest of the valley. It’s a lovely place for a picnic. A chalet contains nature exhibitions and books, and provides drinks and toilets. The “Chemin des Diligences” is a very accessible walk here, leading to the Vallorcine train station. Access: train to Le Buet, bus to Col des Montets, or car
Photo from the Col des Montets by Guilhem Vellut, used with kind permission under Creative Commons.