What to expect in Chamonix
Wintertime in Chamonix is a magical! There are a wide variety of activities to suit everyone. While we traveled in the winter, many of these tips can apply to visiting Chamonix all year round – it looks gorgeous in the summertime! Here is what the expect when visiting Chamonix to help plan your trip.
How to get there
If flying, the easiest way to get to Chamonix is through Geneva’s airport which is just over an hour away. Lyon’s airport is another option but it is 2.5 hours away. As a reference, Paris is a 6 hour drive away.
From Geneva’s airport, there were a few options – train (incredibly indirect), bus, or setting up private or shared transport. While the bus was the cheapest option, it was only a few more dollars to get a shared transport (Mountain Drop Offs) that dropped us off directly at our Airbnb – well worth the splurge.
Where to stay
There are several villages that make up the Chamonix-Mont-Blanc region. The most common ones for visiting are Le Tour, Les-Praz-de-Chamonix, Argentière, Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, and Les Houches – each offers their own flare. As expected, Chamonix-Mont Blanc is the location of most of the action and the resort hub. We chose to stay there as their were plenty of Airbnb options as well as having everything accessible by walking distance. As a reference, the Bourdain French laps episode was primarily out of Argentière and many families choose to stay in Les Houches.
How to get around
Downtown Chamonix is very walkable – definitely a huge advantage to staying on Chamonix-Mont Blanc village area. However, there is a shuttle service that shuffles people around not just Chamonix, but the north and south villages as well.
We relied on Chamonix Bus on many occasions, including transporting us to the ski slopes. It is a huge network so no matter where you are staying or where you are trying to get to, it is only a few minute bus ride away. We used the bus timetable a lot – pick one up at the tourism office. The buses are also included in the ski pass but we were never checked for a bus ticket on the entire trip. There are also bus tickets available at most hotels and residents as Chamonix wants people to use the system. If you are not staying or have a ski pass, it is 3 euro a day.
Things to do
There are several major attractions that must be done when you visit:
- Go up to the top of Aiguille du Midi
- Take the Montenvers Train to Mer de Glace
- Enjoy all the natural beauty through winter (skiing of all kinds) or summer (hiking) activities
For the best experience, do these first thing in the morning when they open – you will most likely have them all to yourself as we did. Plus, light time hours in the wintertime especially are limited so take advantage of the sun while it’s up.
Tips and Tricks for skiing / snowboarding
There are six ski areas and countless number of lifts. Take time to study the lifts and to plan out which you feel will suit both your skill level and the length of time you have. For us, the ski level was more challenging than what we were used to on the east coast so the skiing was quite difficult for us. We chose Le Flégere as it had the most green slopes for us to get started on and many blue ones.
One of the challenges I had when planning this trip was how to pack for a ski day without having the luggage space for it (only pack in a carry on). Well Chamonix has that figured out. You can rent everything! Not only did we rent the skis, poles, and helmet but also the ski clothing as well – snow pants and snow jacket. We used Chamonix Ski which was nearby our Airbnb. It is important to choose your ski rental place wisely – purely from a location stand point. Either pick one close to where you are staying or by a bus stop (more on that below!)
The buses are utilized by many ski goers to get around – it is not an uncommon sight to see the bus stops full of people with their equipment.
The buses reach to all the ski areas, which makes it easy to pick whichever one you wish to visit or even travel between them.
There are not lockers at any of the ski base lifts – they were removed several years ago as an anti-terrorism initiative. This means you have to wear the heavy ski boots from where you are staying to the closest bus stop – and everyone does it. If you are renting equipment and in order to avoid more discomfort, pick a rental location near a bus stop.
- Currency is the euro
- Language is french but english is widely used due to the high number of British tourist
- Don’t forget sun screen no matter what time of year you visit
- Do not need to ski to visit the top of the ski lifts! We visited Le Brévent and it was the most stunning view, not to mention we grabbed a snack at the Le Panoramic Restaurant as well
I hope these tips help you plan your trip to Chamonix! It is truly a magical place any time of year!