Chamonix for non-skiers

Chamonix has been one of the world’s favourite places for winter holidays since long before skiing was invented, and it’s a fantastic places to go and enjoy the snow.

A real French mountain town rather than a resort, Chamonix has everything that goes with France – wonderful food and wine of course, culture and heritage, boutiques and chocolatiers, spas and pools, scenic roads and railways….
See our guide: Seven days in Chamonix for non-skiers for more suggestions.

Above all, though, it’s the landscape that’s drawn people here for hundreds of years: the stunning setting with Mont Blanc towering above the jagged peaks and glittering glaciers which gouge down through the pines almost to the valley floor. Savour its charms at a more relaxed pace…

Aiguille du Midi cable car

Bridge over the Poubelle couloir at the Midi
Bridge over the Poubelle couloir at the Midi

The highest cable car in Europe, The Aiguille Du Midi is a heart-stopping ride to the pinnacle, 3842 metres above sea level. Once at the top, you’re in another world of ice and snow. The views over the Alps are indescribably beautiful and you can often see the tiny dots of climbers, really bringing home the scale.

Dent du Geant and Grandes Jorasses
Dent du Geant and Grandes Jorasses

There’s a cafe and shop, or you can have lunch at the restaurant. It’s possible to cross to Italy from the top, on the Hellbronner lift, and have a coffee in a hut on the Italian side – beautiful view and great border photo-ops!

Montenvers Railway and Ice Cave

Montenvers Panorama in autumn
Montenvers Panorama in autumn

The charming old cog railway on Montenvers winds up from a separate station just next to the main train station in Chamonix. You can see it sometimes from the balcony as it passes high above the chalet). At the top, there’s an amazing panorama of the Mer De Glace glacier, a cafe, restaurant and shop.
It’s a lovely spot for lunch, and you can either walk or get the lift down to the ice cave carved out of the glacier.

Mont-Blanc Tramway

Tramway Du Mont Blanc station at St Gervais
Tramway Du Mont Blanc station at St Gervais

Another lovely old rack railway, the Mont Blanc Tramway – built in 1913 – starts at Le Fayet and makes a stop at St Gervais. In winter, after winding up through woods and villages,it stops at Bellevue. You can enjoy the views at the restaurant, or by walking or snowshoeing on the plateau surrounding
the area.

Winter activities

Snowshoeing in Chamonix
Snowshoeing in Chamonix

Snowshoeing is beautiful, tranquil, and lets you enjoy the spectacular views of the mountains in peace. Paragliding is one of the most fun things to do in the valley – swoop over the glaciers in safely with qualified tandem pilots. Cross-country skiing can be enjoyed by anyone, or just get some chains on your shoes (chaînes à chaussures are widely available in the sports shops) and walk the network of pisted paths though the valley.

Helicopter rides

Highly recommended – a breathtaking ride around the peaks with the longest trip going around the summit of Mont Blanc with Pascal, one of Europe’s finest helicopter pilots. The heliport is next to the excellent Cremerie du Glacier restaurant, signposted from the turn-off to Les Grands Montets just before Argentiere. Full details on their site:
http://www.chamonix-helico.fr/

Chamonix and around: Spas

 

If you’d like to spend some time at a spa, try the superb facilities of “Le Bachal” at the Hotel Hameau Albert Premier, within walking distance of the chalet, in Chamonix. You need to reserve this in advance so check their site for more details.

The famous spa baths at St Gervais are in a beautiful building set within the grounds of a splendid park. You can get the train from Les Praz direct to St Gervais – check the times for the journey back.

Finally, a drive of less than an hour through beautiful scenery takes you to the beautiful spa complex of Lavey-les-Bains. Kids also love the thermal baths here.

Chamonix Leisure Centre

Swimming in a huge pool complete with giant waterslide, sauna and steam rooms, gym, ice rink, indoor climbing and tennis are among the facilities available at the Chamonix Centre Sportif

Bowling

A fun place to go, with eight bowling alleys, pool tables and air hockey. It’s in Chamonix Sud, and isn’t hard to find as it has a huge neon bowling pin outside it

Chamonix Casino

In a beautiful old building, the casino has table for blackjack and roulette upstairs and machines downstairs, and also has a cafe. It’s over 18s only and you may need ID to play.

Cinemas in Chamonix

Cinema Vox has three screens showing a variety of movies from Hollywood blockbusters to more offbeat choices including mountain movies. Movies are often shown in English or with English subtitles – check the listings for times and languages. Extra showings are put on if the weather’s bad.

Shopping in and near Chamonix

Chamonix has a huge variety of shops – from upmarket boutiques like Chanel to some of the best choice of climbing and skiing equipment around in Snell Sports. As you’d expect, it’s a good place to shop for clothes – the big snow and surf brands like Quiksilver, Reef and Billabong all have shops here. Zero G has a particularly good clothing range and stocks brands like Analog and Nikita along with the bikes and boards. There are also chocolatiers, bookshops, galleries, local crafts, delicatessens and gift shops from the fun and cheesy to the exclusive and beautiful.

Shops open from 9am to 12 noon and then from around 2pm until 7 pm. Almost nothing opens 12-2, so you may as well settle in for a good lunch!

Food shopping

There are several supermarkets in town, but if you intend to cook at the chalet a lot, it may well be worth while stocking up at the Carrefour at Sallanches, which is excellent and cheaper, especially for wine. You’ll also find a branch of Satoriz opposite Carrefour, a French wholefood store which has a good range of organic,
vegetarian and vegan food.

There is also a wholefood shop in Rue des Moulins which has a good selection of veggie food including tofu.

During the season, you can find a seafood stall near the clock in the town centre where you can buy oysters and platters of Fruits de Mer.

Day trips

The walled city of Annecy is very picturesque in winter – it’s an hour or so to drive, or the Chamonix Tourist Office arranges weekly coach trips – check the site for times. Geneva is also just an hour away by car or bus, and the elegant lakeside towns of Montreux, Vevey and Lausanne are also close by.

You can also visit the lovely medieval village of Yvoire or the cosmopolitan and beautiful town of Evian on the banks of Lake Geneva

An hour’s drive through the Mont Blanc Tunnel is Italy. Have a day in the cheerful traditional town of Courmayeur- great Italian food and friendly bars.

For a cultural day out, there are several excellent galleries in Martigny (take the train directly from Les Praz towards Switzerland) including the Fondation Gianada. Martigny is also the home of the wonderfully eccentric St. Bernard Dog Museum. Also in this area is the lovely old hilltop town of Sion – a delightful place to spend a day, with picturesque streets some very good restaurants.

An unusual trip is to Plateau d’Assy, a pretty mountain village that has an incredible church decorated by some of the greatest modern artists – Notre Dame de Toute Grace incorporates work by Matisse, Chagalle and Braque amongst others.

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