Chamonix holds a special place in my heart. It’s such an amazing mountain town with opportunities left and right to adventure outside into the mountains. Hiking, skiing, paragliding, rafting—you name it, Chamonix has it. I’ve visited a number of times, but on our last trip, we booked a week there, in an attempt to feel a bit more “local” and extend our usual short attention to a little longer attention—and Cham deserves it.
One of the big draws for us to Chamonix is the amazing paragliding and hiking. Quick access to the mountains via a network of cable cars makes it easy to head out for the day and enjoy the outdoors. This last trip we made it up to the top of the Aiguille du Midi (for the first time!) and enjoyed many more high alpine trails than we normally have time for, since most of our quick paragliding trips involve a few days of hucking ourselves off the hills for morning flights.
Satsuki: I didn’t know I could read French in Japanese until the day I ate sushi in Chamonix. Usually, my rule is to skip the fresh fish in landlocked locations, but Satsuki, just north of the main square, is a great local gem—and it allowed me to practice both my Japanese characters and French words! The food is great and hits the spot if you want something other than bread and cheese. There’s one on the other side of the valley in Megeve, as well.
Omletterie La Poele: Tasty omelets and local Savoie cuisine, good for brunch. Many of the outdoor cafes on the Avenue de L’Aiguille du Midi are great. Personally, I like them better than the ones on the main square.
La Casa Valerio: Italian? Heck yeah, you’re right over the border and La Casa is right on the river, serving up delicious, fresh pasta. Or you could spend 50 Euro and drive through the tunnel to go to Italy. Up to you.
Pizzas la Roulotte: A pizza shop in a train car just north of the main town, they make great wood fired pizza and you can eat them outside and mountain watch.
Macarons at Confiserie au Nougat du Mont Blanc: Get the chocolate ones. Sometimes the guy who works there will throw in a few extras. He’s a dude.
Aiguille du Midi & Mont Blanc: On a clear day, there’s nothing better than the views at the very top of the gondola. The Aiguille has a great setup for venturing out on crampons for some mountaineering, or just wandering around and checking out the amazing views. The glass enclosed “Step Into The Void” is a surreal experience, walking into a glass box suspended high above the cliffs. We were lucky enough to watch a wingsuit base jumper huck off on the morning we went to the top (be their early, as morning winds are more favorable for flying).
Tandem Paragliding: This is a blatant commercial for my favorite sport, but if you’re going to do it, this is a great place for a first flight. You’ll launch from Plan Praz and have a mind blowing view the whole trip down. It’s incredibly popular, and many outfits are giving rides around town, so find one you like and try it! For solo pilots, it’s an amazing place, but it does take some getting used to the flying here.
Hike Grand/Petit Balcon du Sud: For my money, the hikes on the north side of the valley are the best, since you have a straight-on view of Mont Blanc. Hiking up to the Petit Balcon is straightforward and although a bit steep to get to, once you’re on it, it’s relatively flat. The Grand Balcon is much higher. You can take the cable car up to Plan Praz or Flegere and hop on the trail from there if you don’t want the steep valley hike up. The views are incredible and each provides a few hours of hiking fun if you’re not planning on doing the Tour de Mont Blanc traverse.
Brevant Cable Car: Rising to 2,525m, the Brevant is the best one to take on a nice weather day. You get an amazing panorama of the region and can head off for a hike to Lake Cornu, or further down the Grand Balcon du Sud.
Mer de Glace: Around the corner from Chamonix, the Mer de Glace is a massive (receding) glacier on the back side of Mont Blanc. You have a few ways to get there. You can take the train from Montenvers (in Cham) and ride the cog rail up the steep valley and around the corner, or take this way down. You can also take the Aiguille up to the mid-point and take the Grand Balcon du Nord hike for a nice view of the valley. It’s a rigorous hike, with some steep parts as you round the corner and head up to the glacier. There’s a lot to see at the Mer de Glace, including an ice cave, a museum, and a restaurant with a view.
There is actually a LOT of shopping in Cham. Everything from mountain wear to high fashion to gifts and souvenirs. A stroll down the main street will meet your shopping needs. Definitely stop in the interesting food markets to find cheese, pastries and Haute Savoie goodies.
Quechua: The home for French mountain wear and goods at a friendly price, the store has a wide variety of hiking goods (so if you want to get up in the hills and forgot something…this is the place to get it!).
Hotel l’Heliopic: One of my favorite places to stay in Cham. Only a few years old and steps from the Aiguille cable car, it’s a great location. The rooms are modern and cozy, and they have an amazing Nuxe spa in the facility. Pool, ice room, sauna, hammam, plunge pools–it’s an amazing spot to chill out after hiking or skiing all day.
Airbnb: For my last stay in Cham, I rented a small 1br apartment close to the Aiguille cable car and was not disappointed! There are a ton of listings–some are definitely “ski apartments” cramming as many beds in a small space as possible. There are really cute and quaint places to stay, but I would definitely say book well in advance if going this route. The good stuff goes quickly, particularly on busy weekends.
Hotel Le Morgane: A great choice right on the river. Solid rooms, but not as exciting of a spa as L’Heliopic.