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.
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.
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 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.
Access and maps
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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.
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…
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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.