Where to stay in Chamonix in winter

Chamonix and its villages – where’s best to stay? In most ski resorts, it’s reasonably straightforward – you want to be in the centre, near the lift – but Chamonix is different.

It’s not a purpose built resort but a real mountain town, surrounded by small villages.  As it’s much more spread out, the pros and cons are a bit more varied – some parts of Chamonix can be quite central to the town, but a long walk to the lift. All of them have spectacular scenery, and each has its own appeal. I’ve put together an overview of the different areas to help you get a feel for them.

Chamonix's ski areas, with our position within them marked
Chamonix’s ski areas, with our position within them marked

Choosing where to stay in the valley

The Chamonix area is made up of the town itself and a string of villages along the valley floor, most of which are clustered around a ski lift. All of these are often collectively referred to as Chamonix, as they are linked by a network of buses and trains, so it’s easy to get around. Places that describe themselves as being in Chamonix are not necessarily in the town itself so it’s well worth confirming the area before deciding on accommodation.

The villages, starting from the lower end of the valley:

 


 

Les Houches

At the gateway to the valley, Les Houches is the first place you encounter – a pretty village with plenty of restaurants and shops, including a supermarket, and a few bars. It’s a more family-orientated village, with a tobogganing area and ice rink. One of the few areas to have ski in / ski out accommodation available, it generally has a more relaxed feel than Chamonix

The good

  • Excellent on-slope food – the best in the valley.
  • Tree-lined runs – good when visibility is poor, especially as it’s lower and can be beneath the clouds
  • Less expensive than the other areas
  • New terrain park this year
  • Characterful village
  • Has some ski in/ski out accommodation

…and the not so good –

  • Village doesn’t get much sun in winter
  • Some parts can have road noise
  • Difficult to get to and from Chamonix at night
  • Not much nightlife (though there are plenty of restaurants and a few bars)
  • Not well placed for accessing the other ski areas
  • Flat spots can be a pain for snowboarders
  • The lowest in altitude, snow can be risky in early and late season

Skiing and snowboarding from Les Houches

Clouds in the valley from Les Houches
Clouds in the valley from Les Houches

Les Houche’s pistes are gentler than elsewhere in the valley and it has more tree-lined runs. It’s very popular with families, and can get quite crowded during school holidays. There is some steeper terrain available though – the Kandahar World Cup black run is superb – but skiers wanting a bit more challenge might not want to do more than a day here. It also has some good high altitude cross-country skiing on the plateau, and a snowshoeing path at Le Coupeau opposite.
More about skiing and snowboarding in Les Houches


 

 

Les Bossons, Taconnaz and Le Coupeau

These areas between Les Houches and Chamonix have many lovely chalets, some of which are very upmarket – however, there are no lifts in this area and public transport is not often up to much, so you really need your own transport.
All the catered chalets here will shuttle you to and from the lifts as part of the package. This is undoubtedly convenient but can have the effect of rather insulating you from the life and atmosphere of the town, which to my mind is one of the most unique and fun aspects of Chamonix.

The good…

  • Lots more room, nice big chalets with outdoor space
  • Wonderful views of Mont Blanc
  • Good choice of accommodation

…and the not so good

  • 20 minutes at least to get to the lifts
  • No nightlife or restaurants
  • Some parts can have road noise
  • If not in a catered chalet, a car is pretty much essential

 

Chamonix town

Chamonix town © Chamonix TO
Chamonix town © Chamonix TO

Central Chamonix is the place to be if you want to go out a lot – there’s a huge choice of nightlife and the town is very lively. A lot of accomodation in central Chamonix is apartments, as chalets tend to be located in the villages or towards the outskirts of town. Although there are some lovely chalets very close to the centre, they often come with a price to match.

The good

  • Lots of bars, restaurants and clubs.
  • Lively, atmospheric, beautiful town
  • Some parts are very close to the Brevent lift.
  • Central to all transport to lifts

…and the not so good

  • More expensive accommodation
  • Not often with outdoor space
  • Can be noisy
  • Steep hill up to Brevent, the only lift from the town

Skiing and snowboarding from Chamonix town centre – Brevent

Snowboarding at Brevent
Snowboarding at Brevent

The Brevent lift (on the outskirts of Chamonix town centre up a short but steep hill) accesses Brevent/Flegere, Chamonix’s biggest linked areas. Brevent has a good range of pistes including the Charles Bozon black run from the top, which is among the most scenic pistes in the Alps. Anyone can come up to the Panorama restaurant at the top and take in the views, as the two gondolas are also open to pedestrians. Nice big rolling blues and reds here, and some very good off piste too (for which you need a guide). Links to Flegere, so you can descent to either Chamonix or Les Praz.
More about skiing and snowboarding in Brevent and Flegere


 

Chamonix-Sud

Universally (but affectionately!) known as the Ghetto, Cham-sud is a district of Chamonix with rather less appealing architecture, typically blocks of apartments. However, it’s also where a lot of lively bars are, and several excellent restaurants as well as the Aiguille du Midi cable car.
The good

  • Lively bars
  • Lots of restaurants
  • Inexpensive accomodation close to the town centre

…and the not so good

  • Not very pretty
  • Apartments can be small
  • Can be noisy – avoid anything looking over the main square unless you really want to party.
  • Quite a walk to the nearest lift (Brevent). Close to the Midi, but you are unlikely to take this lift more than once in a holiday

 

Les Praz de Chamonix

I am of course biased about Les Praz , as it’s where we are. Still – there are good reasons why we chose here! It’s sunny, charming and the as first village past Chamonix, it’s close enough to access the town easily but bus, train or even foot, whilst enjoying the peace of being away from the centre.

Les Praz church on a winter morning
Les Praz church on a snowy winter morning

Home to the Flegere lift, which links with Brevent to make Chamonix’s biggest pisted ski area, the central position of Les Praz means Les Grands Montets and Le Tour are easily accessible without having to go through the town centre.  it’s also got several very good restaurants, a few bars and shops including good ski hire places, and is not too far from Chamonix for a walk (20-25 minutes) or a quick cab ride home after a night out. The same advice goes for Les Bois and Les Tines, the two villages bordering Les Praz on the side furthest from Chamonix.
The good

  • Charming Alpine village
  • Mostly flat, walking distance to Flegere ski lift
  • Link to Brevent makes for huge skiable area with descent into Chamonix
  • Central position in valley, good for accessing other areas
  • Sunny
  • Good restaurants, a couple of nice bars for apres

…and the not so good

  • Might be a bit quiet for some
  • Chamonix town centre is a bit of a walk in winter

Skiing and snowboarding at Les Praz: Flegere & Brevent
me_flegere_1470

Flegere’s sunny slopes and bowls are a fantastic natural playground, ideal for mixed ability groups as there’s so much variety of terrain. The Trappe lift accesses a couple of easy greens which are a great place for beginners to learn in unparalleled scenery, while the Floria accesses beautiful rolling reds and challenging blacks as well as very good off-piste (take a guide to access Flegere’s hidden gems). It’s worth getting up there early as the lift from the base at Les Praz can get very busy at peak times. The link across to Brevent opens up the whole south side of the valley and you can ski or ride back down to either Les Praz or Chamonix.
More about skiing and snowboarding in Brevent and Flegere


 

Le Lavancher

Between Les Praz and Argentiere, up a winding road, lies Le Lavancher, a lovely hamlet which has a couple of nice hotels and the very upmarket Chalets de Phillippe complex. Very beautiful and tranquil but, again, you need to either be in a catered chalet providing transport or have a car.


Argentiere

Home of Les Grands Montets, one of the most famous ski areas in the Alps, Argentiere is a lovely place to stay. It’s a good sized village with plenty of shops, restaurants and bars and a more relaxed atmosphere than Chamonix.

The good

  • Close to Les Grands Montets
  • Attractive village with traditional architecture
  • Some good bars and restaurants, quite lively at night
  • Train station in the centre
  • Greater altitude means better snow cover in the village
  • Has a good nursery slope with lots of family activities

…and the not so good

  • Distance from town, Flegere & Brevent is quite significant
  • Long, expensive taxi ride back from Chamonix if you want a big night out (though there is a bus at midnight)
  • Not for the nervous – has a few blues but they are pretty steep. Reds here would be graded blacks in many other places.
  • Has a less attractive area near the lifts

Skiing and snowboarding at Argentiere: Les Grands Montets

Mont Blanc from the top of the Bochard
Mont Blanc from the top of the Bochard

One of the most famous ski and snowboard areas of the Alps, the huge drops and sweeping runs of Les Grands Montets are unmissable. The black runs from the top lift are unlike anything else, with their massive powder fields bordered by wildly crevassed glaciers. A day out with a guide is highly recommended to access some of the world’s most spectacular lift-acessed off piste. Also has a very good terrain park and some lovely forested areas. Good learner slope at the base, with play area for small children.

More about skiing and snowboarding at Grands Montets.


Montroc

A cluster of chalets, loosely centred on Montroc-Le Planet railway station, this is a beautiful part of Chamonix. Not much accomodation is available here, but if you aren’t bothered about nightlife, and just want to appreciate the wild beauty of the valley, it’s a wonderful place to stay and worth seeking out.

Montroc-le-Planet (Chamonix-Mont-Blanc)
Montroc-Le- Planet by Marco Fieber, via Creative Commons, used by kind permission

Le Tour and Les Grands Montets are both close by for skiing (a five minute bus ride in either direction) and Argentiere is (just about!) walkable for restaurants and bars.

Wondering where looks best in the valley for skiing this morning? Look out of the window!


 

Le Tour

Almost at the top of the Chamonix valley, Le Tour is a quiet and pretty hamlet – just a few streets and a couple of restaurants around the lift.

The good

  • All accommodation is very close to the lifts
  • Very peaceful and quiet
  • Tiny but very pretty village
  • Has a good range of slopes, with plenty of fun blues.
  • Getting to other areas is surprisingly easy on the bus as you are going against the main crowd
  • Often quiet in the mornings as no-one’s got there yet
  • Generally gets good snow as it’s very high

…and the not so good

  • Not a big choice of accommodation
  • Very, very quiet, no shops, just two bar/restaurants
  • A long taxi ride back from anywhere after a night out, the night bus doesn’t go this far.
  • Train station is a long way from the lift
  • Quite exposed if the weather is bad, and often windy

Skiing and snowboarding at Le Tour

Mont Blanc seen from Le Tour
Mont Blanc seen from Le Tour

Le Tour is best known for wide rolling blues and reds, but accesses varied mountain terrain including some great tree runs off the back and natural half-pipes. More about skiing and Snowboarding in Le Tour
It’s linked to Vallorcine (see below)


 

Vallorcine

Vallorcine
Vallorcine by Christian Bachellier, licenced via Creative Commons, used by kind permission

Vallorcine is at the end of the Chamonix valley, over the col and close to the Swiss Border. A quiet and traditional Savoyarde village, it’s recently been opened up more by the new, fast lift that runs from the town, and has a new development at the base with a few shops. Even so, it still has the lovely peaceful feel of an undiscovered gem – for the moment…

The good

  • Traditional, low key, attractive village
  • Good altitude, always lots of snow in the village
  • A couple of very good restaurants, with a bit of relaxed aprés at Cafe Comptoir
  • Train station is central to lifts and village
  • Lovely tree runs
  • Small ice rink

..and the not so good

  • Very quiet at night (though of course this may be a plus for some!)
  • A long way from Chamonix (20km)
  • Road can occasionally be blocked by very heavy snow (though access is always maintained through the rail tunnel)

Skiing and snowboarding at Vallorcine

Cafe Comptoir at Vallorcine
Cafe Comptoir welcomes you at the end of the piste in Vallorcine

Vallorcine remains one of the quieter areas of the valley – a good tip for peak times is to get on the lift here if there are queues at Le Tour – and has a nice mix of pistes including some super tree runs. Links to La Balme to give access to the village of Le Tour.

More about skiing and Snowboarding in Vallorcine