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. 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 lovely chalet near the overlook which serves very good food, and if you are lucky you may be here when they are doing their celebrated summer brunch (booking essential, cash only)
Their facebook page is best to check when they are open and to reserve.
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. The cafe is a nice place for a stop and sometimes opens in the evening
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!
For the fit and committed, a spectacular walk can be done from the Berard, over the Col De Salenton and into the nature reserve, then back down to Servoz. A big, full day for experienced hikers and trail runners only, in a valley as spectacular as the Chamonix valley but wild and undeveloped.
NB strictly no dogs allowed in the nature reserve. However! you can take them on leads as far as the Refuge Pierre a Berard, which is about two hours walk past the waterfall. There is some confusing signage about this but it IS allowed. Do keep them on leads as the ibex, as you can clearly see above, are everywhere, and the waterfall is extremely dangerous for them.
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. Many other wonderful walks can be started here, notably an adventurous alternative route to Lac Blanc. 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.