Category Archives: Chamonix

Chamonix Mont-Blanc

Chamonix is unlike any other ski resort – its string of villages along the valley floor are centred on a traditional and beautiful French mountain town with a proud history of pioneers in the fields of climbing, mountaineering, skiing and snowboarding.

Chamonix town centre in spring
Chamonix town centre in spring

The stone-flagged squares and streets of the town centre are mostly car-free, and full of a lively and cosmopolitan mix of people – from those just here to enjoy the atmosphere and scenery to ice climbers festooned with ropes. Mont Blanc towers above the town and dominates the sky.

Chamonix has over a hundred shops ranging from upmarket boutiques like Chanel and of course Mont Blanc to mountain equipment of all kinds.

With about a hundred and fifty bars, clubs and restaurants, the apres-ski and nightlife is excellent. Eating options range from cheap and cheerful cafes to restaurants with two Michelin stars, and bars range from lively apres venues to cosy wine bars, serving drinks from the much loved microbrews to chic cocktails – we have a full list of bar and restaurant recommendations at the chalet in our information folder.

In winter, the town attracts people from all over the world to marvel at the magnificent natural setting, and as well as the lures of winter sport, it remains a great place to enjoy the mountains at a more relaxed pace, with plenty on offer away from the slopes.
From mountain railways to spas, from art to snowshoeing, there’s loads to do here as well as skiing. A quick overview of the highlights here, and for those planning more time away from the slopes, take a look at our “Seven days in Chamonix for non-skiers” pages for more ideas.

Seven days in Chamonix for non-skiers
Day 1: Getting your bearings
Day 2: Savoyarde Gastronomy
Day 3: Snow Safari
Day 4: Spa day and fabulousness
Day 5: Slow track to culture
Day 6: Explore the Alps
Day 7: Mont Blanc

In summer, Chamonix fills with flowers, and the streets are full of life as the restaurants and bars spill outside on summer evenings. The town has a more relaxed feel than winter’s frenetic adrenaline-driven pace, with long warm days and cool, refreshing nights. See our Summer activities section for more.

Les Praz de Chamonix
Chalet La Forêt is in Les Praz de Chamonix (maps of our location here). A mile further into the mountains from Chamonix, Les Praz is one of the most desirable areas of the town and home to the Flegere lift which takes you up to the sunny bowls and slopes of the Flegere ski area, linked with Brevent. The beautiful village centre, with its pretty church, has several excellent restaurants (one of which also does takeaway pizzas) a village shop, a newsagent/tabac, a couple of bars and three ski shops.

Chamonix town is a five minute drive or a pleasant twenty minute stroll along a choice of well signed routes, either beside the river or through the woods. More about Les Praz here.

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

Les Praz de Chamonix

Les Praz de Chamonix – the village we are in – is one of the most sought-after areas of the town. Sunny in both winter and summer, it has a traditional village feel, and is the base of the Flegere ski lift.

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

Access and maps

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

Les Praz is five minutes from the centre of Chamonix by car. By the regular public transport options, it’s a 10 minute bus or train ride. Or enjoy the pleasant 20-30 minute stroll along the woodland paths on a quiet road or lovely woodland paths.

Map of the location
More about our location

Amenities

It has a charming village shop where you can get fresh bread, croissants, local cheeses and saucisson, fresh fruit and vegetables, wine and other necessities. For bigger shopping expeditions, the supermarket in Chamonix will deliver your groceries to the door.

Les Praz shop
Snow chains on the bike for the winter baguette run

There are several friendly, English speaking ski and snowboard shops, a newsagent/tabac and a post office. Restaurants range from cheerful pizzeria at the Cremerie des Moulins to superb modern alpine at La Cabane. There are also couple of bars, including a nice apres bar, for vin chaud in front of the fire and regular live acoustic music.

Chamonix Golf club restaurant
Shaded terrace at La Cabane

Summer

Les Praz is a great base for all Chamonix’s summer activities – sunnier and calmer than Chamonix centre, but still within easy access of all amenities.

Les Praz church in summer
Les Praz church in summer

In summer, some of Europe’s most spectacular mountain hikes , trail running and mountain biking routes can be started right from the door.

Mont Blanc reflected in Les Praz lake
Mont Blanc reflected in the lake in Les Praz

The Flegere lift, within a 5-10 minute stroll, can whisk you up to the start of the high alpine walks such as the classic Lac Blanc. Chamonix golf course, a short walk away, is a world class eighteen hole course with superb views.

Chamonix golf course
Chamonix golf course combines an 18 hole course with amazing scenery

The leisure centre with its tennis courts and excellent outdoor and indoor swimming pools is about 15 minutes walk.

 

Winter

In winter, the Flegere lift opens up the whole south-facing side of the valley. It connects to Brevent to make Chamonix’s largest and sunniest ski area – Brevent-Flegere which connects Chamonix town and Les Praz .

Perfect powder day at Flegere
Perfect powder day at Flegere

Snowshoeing trails wind through the woods around Les Praz. This is a lovely option for a day off or for anyone who prefers not to ski.

Panorama over Les Bois and Les Praz
Sunset panorama over Les Bois and Les Praz, from the snowshoeing trail.

Cross-country ski trails for all levels can be started right from the chalet door. Equipment can be hired easily from cross-country ski shops.

crosscountry skiing in chamonix

Chamonix climate & weather

A year in Chamonix is a round of glorious seasons – fresh springs, warm summers, golden autumns and white winters – with a six month skiing season.

Temperatures range from around 25 °C on warm summer days to well below freezing in midwinter, with snaps of -25°C  not unknown.

For some reason, most temperature graphs for Chamonix take their temperatures from the station on top of the Aiguille Du Midi where it rarely drops below freezing, causing a lot of confusion.

Here’s one that is more accurate. Even this one is a little confusing. I think the low average minimum temperature is due to the wide fluctuation throughout the day, and must be taken from very early mornings. 10°C would be most unusual during the day in July! The maximum temps look about right to me.

Like all mountains, Mont Blanc is a weathermaker, and conditions can change very quickly, so these are just general guidelines. Here’s a rundown of what to expect…

Alpenglow on Les Drus - 1
Sunset on the Dru, taken from Flegere

January is usually the biggest snow month. It’s normally very cold – temperatures rarely get much above freezing, so the conditions are great with the cold keeping the powder light. This is my favourite time of year for skiing and snowboarding – after New Year, the slopes are very quiet. The ice climbing season is in full swing and the cross-country ski tracks open. January’s early sunset times mean spectacular views from the slopes!

Clouds in the Chamonix valley from Flegere
Clouds in the Chamonix valley from Flegere

February is usually a few degrees warmer, but still very cold, with increasing snow depths – in good years, we’ve had a metre and a half in the garden at this time. It’s a busy time with school half terms, so make sure you book accommodation, travel, equipment hire, guides etc well in advance. It’s worth checking the dates of the UK and Paris (French Zone B) half terms if you have flexibility in your dates.

Home run at Flegere
Home run at Flegere

March brings steadily warmer weather, and still great snow, with more sun and clear views. With the school holidays over, this is the time for groups of friends to come, so the bars are generally very lively at this time! Parties like the Black Weekend and the Winter Sessions keep the bars and clubs going till the small hours. On a more wholesome note, ski touring season begins in earnest with the longer days, better weather and well filled glaciers. A good month to come if you want to do some off-piste, as the better snow depths (around 2.5m on the higher slopes, occasionally reaching 4m at Grands Montets) mean that more of the classic routes are likely to be in good condition.

Me at Flegere!
March off-piste at Flegere

April – spring skiing, and Easter holidays bring everyone out to enjoy the sun and snow. This is often a very beautiful time in the valley, with early blossom starting to appear on the trees as spring begins, and still great conditions on the slopes, since most are above 2000m. It’s a more relaxing time of year, with barbecues and sunbathing. Don’t forget the sunblock! Also an excellent time for ski touring.

Spring blossom., originally uploaded by melwigg.

May is when the lifts finally close – look out for the Freeride Days closing party, usually early in the month. It can still be a good time to do high altitude off piste like the Vallee Blanche and some ski touring. The lower hikes start to be accessible. Ski or board in the morning, then hike, climb, golf or mountain bike in the afternoons! The Aiguille du Midi remains open, and possibly Montenvers.

Chamonix - Alpine flowers
June flowers

June is sunny and fresh, with flowers everywhere. It’s perfect hiking and climbing season, and the best time of year for watersports like rafting, hydrospeeding and canyoning. The mountains are quiet and it’s a lovely time for tranquil walking, though many high walks will still be inaccessible due to snow. Around the middle of June, the lifts restart. A great month for mountain biking as it’s not too hot and all the trails are open (In July and August, some of them become pedestrian only)

Chamonix: Mont Blanc from Les Bossons

July brings beautiful clear days – this is sunniest month in Chamonix. Walk through shady woods or take the cablecars and mountain railways for spectacular scenery. It’s lively, but not as busy as August, and an excellent time to visit. All lifts are open for mountain biking on the bike-specific downhill and cross-country trails in July and August. Late June and early July are also among the best times to see the mountain flowers.

The Terrace at Chalet Floria, Chamonix

August is the busiest time of year for Chamonix – busier than even New Year or half term week. It’s usually hot and sunny (around 25°C in the valley on average) though there are sometimes dramatic summer storms in the late afternoons, which freshen everything. A wonderful time to take shady hikes to beautiful viewpoints, and enjoy the lively, cosmopolitan atmosphere in the town. The trails are still all open for mountain biking.

It can be good to plan your activities to avoid the heat of the afternoon. My perfect August day is to hike, cycle or climb in the fresh early morning air, cool off with a swim in the outdoor pool, then come back to enjoy a tranquil and lazy afternoon between the hammock and the hot tub at the chalet, before an evening barbecue.

See more photos of  Chalet la Foret’s lovely summer surroundings and garden here.

September is a great time to visit – it’s actually the driest month, with lovely temperatures and a brilliant time for mountain biking and climbing. The lifts close mid-September, apart from the Midi and Montenvers, but the first two weeks, with full lift access and a more relaxed atmosphere in town after the feverish excitement of the UTMB at the end of August, are one of the best times to visit. You don’t get so many flowers as earlier in summer, but the autumn colours are sometimes just beginning.

Mont Blanc from Flegere

October is quiet and autumnal – there are still some beautiful days and wonderful light in the valley as the larches turn golden. The lifts often open for weekends throughout October and November. The high walks become an amazing sight as the larches turn gold and carpet the ground with their wonderful colours.

Chamonix Valley

November has a feeling of anticipation and misty days as winter begins to make itself felt – though even now you can get some beautiful autumn weather.

Momentary Sun near La Flegere ski lift, by firechick.
I love this photo of the December sun – it’s a beautiful walk to take by the river. Les Praz, where we are, is one of the few places that still gets sun at this time of year.

December brings winter back- sometimes there can be thick snow all over the valley floor by early December, other years the snow level can be higher, but there’s normally snow in the town for Christmas.

More photos of winter, summer, and booking information.

Chamonix Wildlife

With the Aiguilles Rouges nature reserve stretching over the south of the valley, there’s lots of wildlife in Chamonix, and you’ll often see animals when out walking or climbing, especially on the southern side. Of the larger ones, you’re most likely to see Ibex, as they’re not at all shy, and often seen on or above the paths.

Ibex against the Aiguilles
Ibex against the Aiguilles

The most famous are the marmots, endlessly engaging and often heard whistling. Their thick fur is perfectly coloured to camouflage them against the granite, but you can often catch them sunbathing on rocks. Good places for marmots are the Plan de l’Aiguille – walk from the midstation of the Midi downwards towards Lac Bleu for about a hundred metres. You’ll see a series of small bowls in the terrain – this area has a big colony of marmots. If you want to be sure of seeing them, the Merlet Animal Park has a colony in their lovely reserve.

This bold one was on the path to the Albert Premier refuge, near Le Tour:

Chamois are much shyer than ibex but can often be seen from the Flegere lift and occasionally at valley level in winter. Other animals I’ve seen but haven’t been able to photograph are weasels, foxes, shrews and deer

Birds
The chalet garden is full of birds – Alpine redstarts, bullfinches, crested tits, robins, goldcrests, jays, blackbirds…but on high walks it’s the ubiquitous and cheerful Choucas (Alpine Chough) that invariably accompanies you – local legend is that they are the spirits of mountaineers, perhaps that’s why they like the company so much…or could it be the leftover sandwich bits?

You can also see Tetras (black grouse) and if you’re really lucky, eagles. All our animal and bird photos from Chamonix are in this flickr set: Chamimals

Flowers

Chamonix flowers
Chamonix flowers

Flowers in Chamonix are really amazing – they begin around April or May, when the first primroses and crocuses peer up through the snow-flattened grass, and then spread quickly upwards to the high Alpine meadows. The best time for flowers in the valley is probably late June or early July , but there are usually still plenty around right up to September.

 

More flower pictures in this Flickr set: Flowers