Day 7: Mont Blanc

The highest cable car in Europe, The Aiguille Du Midi is a heart-stopping ride to the spiked pinnacle, 3842 metres above sea level.

Midi in summer
The Midi rising over mist in the valley

Tips:
• It’s a good idea to book a ticket in advance if it’s a busy time of year. It’s one of France’s biggest attractions outside Paris and can fill up.
• Check the weather forecast first as there is no point in going if it’s cloudy. But if your chosen day dawns overcast, remember to check the webcam at www.compagniedumontblanc.com – it may be low cloud only, and this ‘sea of clouds’ effect is stunning seen from above.
• At 3842m, it can get very cold, even in full summer. Take warm clothes and sunglasses. There is a list of medical exclusions – it’s not recommended for people with heart conditions or small children. Check with your doctor if you have concerns about the altitude
• All the terraces have wonderful views – don’t miss the ones by the Hellbronner lifts that look into Italy
• Take it easy – the air is very thin. Stop and rest if you feel very dizzy or out of breath

Once at the top, you’re in another world of ice and snow.

Ice world of the cable car station building
Ice world of the cable car station building

The views over the Alps are indescribably beautiful and you can often see the tiny dots of climbers ascending the summit of Mont Blanc – you’ll need to use one of the telescopes provided. Seeing the minute scale of a human figure in this majestic landscape really brings home the incredible scale of the mountain. I never tire of the astonishing views.

Mont Blanc on an intensely blue sky day
Mont Blanc from the Midi terrace on an intensely blue sky day

There’s a cafe (nothing special, but you can have the highest beer in Europe!) and shop (has some fun tat and a postbox), or you can have lunch at the restaurant (supposed to be pretty good, but you may well feel queasy with the altitude).

Dent du Geant and Grandes Jorasses
Dent du Geant and Grandes Jorasses
Bridge over the Poubelle couloir at the Midi
Bridge over the Poubelle couloir at the Midi

In summer, you can hike from the midstation of the Midi to Montenvers and take the railway back down – this is one of my favourite walks in the whole of the valley. Allow a full day to do this if you want to enjoy the top of the Midi as well.

 

From the other lifts

All the ski areas of Chamonix have spectacular Mont Blanc views but I think I would choose Brevent (close up) and Le Tour (from a distance) as being perhaps among the best.

Mont Blanc seen from Le Tour
Mont Blanc (centre) seen from Le Tour

 

Keeping it simple
Of course you can admire Mont Blanc from the balcony, the hot tub or the chalet! We have binoculars (in the small table in the living room) which are great for picking out detail when there’s a beautiful sunset, or making out tiny figures descending the ridge on the left of the Aiguille du Midi.

View of the Aiguille du Midi from the hot tub
View of the Aiguille du Midi from the hot tub

Other viewpoints which don’t involve taking a lift are the Tramway du Mont Blanc from Les Houches (see Montenvers at the beginning for details) or a scenic drive such as Le Coupeau.  This is a pretty hamlet just above Les Houches – drive down to Les Houches and look out for turnings signed to Le Coupeau or Le Merlet (Parc Animalier). This takes you up a winding road with some great viewpoints – make sure you have snow chains in case they are needed. There’s also a snowshoeing trail up here. Plateau d’Assy, a little further on, also had a wonderful view, and a beautiful church full of amazing modern art to explore too.

Mont Blanc seen from Le Tour

Mont Blanc by Helicopter
For an unforgettable treat, you can take a half-hour circuit around Mont Blanc in a helicopter.

This comes highly recommended – a breathtaking ride around the peaks with Pascal, one of Europe’s finest helicopter pilots. Every time we see people getting off the the flights, they are grinning ear to ear! The heliport is next to the excellent Cremerie du Glacier restaurant, and is signposted from the turn-off to Les Grands Montets just before Argentiere. Full details on their site:
www.chamonix-helico.fr
Incidentally, this is not run from the heliport near the chalet, which is for rescue helicopters only.

The helicopters you’ll see sometimes passing overhead are either the high mountain police (blue) or Securite Civile (red & yellow) who share the mountain rescue in Chamonix.

If you’re interested in what they do, there is an excellent book at the chalet about their work, Chamonix Mountain Rescue by Anne Sauvy.

 

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