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Tucked next to the massive peaks of the Rouges Aiguilles mountains in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alps region of France, the village of Chamonix (sham · on · KNEE’) has been a place of awe and inspiration for centuries, and the perfect way to highlight our visit from February 2017. A quick flight from London to Geneva, Switzerland followed by a short hour’s drive, it is located in the French Alps at the base of Western Europe’s highest elevation, Mont Blanc. This gem is a great spot to take in the beauty of the snow covered Alps that practically surround you. A mecca for winter sport aficionados, there are plenty of world-class ski resorts within the town itself and in the surrounding region.
While making a mad dash down the snow covered slopes on a pair of Rossignols would have been apropos, CK opted to take it up a notch (literally) and took his chances by tandem paragliding from the top of the northern peaks. As the video snippets demonstrate, what an amazing 25 minute view from on high!
Once safely back on the ground (Deo Gratias) a walk to the south side of town to the other main attraction of the village was next to be conquered. The cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi (Needle of the Midday) is a most thrilling ascent to the top of a 12,000+ foot mountain within sight of Mont Blanc. On top of the needle, it seems like you can see forever, as the French Alps join together with their Swiss and Italian counterparts to surround you with a 360° icy panorama. One of the touristy elements that attract people to the top is the chance to stand on and peer through a Plexiglas floor - which is, you keenly realize, the only thing that keeps you from falling thousands of feet below!
There are plenty of places to walk around the needle, and if you’re an off-piste skier this is the launching point for an endless assortment of some pretty spectacular runs. In addition, you’ll find a couple of restaurants up top which cater to full service meals and a cafeteria with decent chow that can quickly satisfy your appetite.
Speaking of caloric intake, yes the store full of wine is an amazing site, but we would be remiss if we forgot to mention the local brew Brasserie du Mont Blanc, whose two specialties, La Blonde and La Blanche, we thoroughly sampled. The overwhelming winner was the full-bodied 5.8% ABV La Blonde. Our only regret was not taking those pictures and purchasing an additional souvenir glass. Oh well, another reason to plan a return trip!
On your walk through the main part of town, we recommend a visit to the Paroisse Saint Bernard du Mont Blanc. A beautiful church interior with a view of the Alps at the base and its ringing bells echoing through the town, it evoked the church scene in The Sound of Music. Mass is in French yet is well worth the visit, enveloping you in a contemplative and divine atmosphere.
A painted fresco dedicated to the Mountain Guides of Chamonix is a trompe l’oeil on a magnificent scale.
With prayers said for protection and safety for the remainder of our journey, an additional winter activity that we can recommend, with reservation, is an alpine luge coaster which attracts both adults and children. While the ride was fast, furious and fun – depending on the judicious use of your brakes – we’d proceed with caution as we also found that the supervision of the ride was lacking as we witnessed a couple of minor incidents. Imagining the number personal injury lawyers lining up at the finish line, this ride would not last long in the USA.
Overall, our three-day stay in Chamonix was a great success as we surrounded ourselves with a combination of adventurous excursions, a luxury fine dining experience, and a faith-based stop to one of the prettiest mountain parishes in the Alps. We’d love to help you plan your own visit Chamonix and hope to get another opportunity to re-explore Chamonix in the future ourselves.
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