Our first trip to Chamonix, France, we went with the Cleveland Metro Ski Club and our friends Karen Moyer and Bruce Kahn, plus 97 other skiers from Cleveland. Chamonix is the the site of the first winter Olympics in 1924. One of the oldest ski resorts in France and is known as the “gateway to the European Cascades”. We arrived in the morning after a long night flight and wandered around the quaint town of Chamonix until we could check into our room at the Hotel Prieure. There were 30 of us staying at this hotel and 70 staying at the Hotel Alpina. At night the narrow streets are lit up with bright snowflakes of all sizes, the shops and restaurants are open late, as the French begin their evening after 8pm. We had dinners in the hotel and also breakfast every day, (included in the package), and then hit the slopes right after breakfast. Click on thumbnail to view images
Skiing at Mont Blanc Resorts
Our first day we went to Brevent-Flegere, it was a short bus ride to the gondola that took us up to the lifts. The mountains are south-facing looking across at the Mont Blanc range. The fantastic panoramic views were spectacular, but the snow conditions were a little sparse, especially for boarders. We ate lunch at the Altitude 2000 restaurant, outside on the deck until it got too cold and went inside to find the rest of the skiers from the group. We took the cable car across to La Flegere for the afternoon.
The next day we headed to Les Grands Montets, another short bus ride from our hotel. This mountain is wide open above the tree line at 3275 meters, with plenty of skiable runs from the top. Another sunny day with panoramic views of the Alps in all directions. The view from the top after climbing up many flights of stairs was worth it all. We ate lunch at La Table De Plan Joran, a beautiful restaurant on the mountain with wonderful food. The large cauldron of beouf bourguignon was very impressive to look at but we didn’t indulge in it. The snow conditions were better today but still hard packed and some ice. All in all it was a better day! Click on thumbnail to view images
Skiing at Courmayeur, Italy
We went to Italy to ski at Courmayeur for two days, but it was a long bus ride to get there. We missed the 8:30 bus both days and got the 9:30 bus going through the Mont Blanc tunnel, 11.6 km, 7.2 miles in length, arriving at the Italian border. The police boarded our bus checking for passports, and one time it took us 45 minutes to get through the border. Courmayeur is a small town in northern Italy, in the Aosta Valley, with an elevation of (1,224 m), 4,016 ft. It is located at the foot of the southern side of Mont Blanc, (4810 m), 15,781 ft, the highest point in the Alps and western Europe.
The snow conditions were much better and the views of Mont Blanc from the south side were clear and impressive. We went to the top in two cable cars and many stairs to reach the deck, where we took photos to commemorate this wonderful view. We ate lunch at the Pizzeria Christiana, on the mountain, we had to have pizza in Italy, Bob was in heaven, finally pizza with real cheese! Spectacular day in Italy, and our farewell lunch was at the same Pizzeria Christiana. Click on thumbnail to view images
We took a day off of skiing to visit the town of Annecy. It was a 2 hour bus ride from Chamonix. Annecy is an alpine town in southeastern France, where Lake Annecy feeds into the Thiou River. It is known for its old town, “Vieille Ville”, with cobbled streets, winding canals and pastel-colored houses. We had a guide named, Karmen, who told us the entire history of Annecy and took us to the oldest church in the old town. The Annecy Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral, and a national monument of France. It was built in the beginning of the 16th century by Jacques Rossel as a chapel for the Franciscan priory. In 1882 it became a cathedral.
Then we visited the Chateau d’Annecy, a restored castle which dominates the old French town of Annecy. The castle was built between the 12th and 16th centuries. Several times it was a victim of fires, the castle was abandoned in the 17th century and later repaired to serve as a barracks until 1947. The town of Annecy acquired it in 1953, restored it and installed a museum. We ate lunch at Brasserie Le Sarto in Old Town by the canal. We ordered the Raclette and cheese Fondue plus white wine, beer and salads. Raclette is a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese that is usually fashioned into a wheel of about 6 kg, and is used for melting, scraping off the melted part onto meats, potatoes or bread. What a feast, but it was delicious, best meal in France.
On the bus ride back to Chamonix we drove around the lake and stopped at a small town, Talloires, to walk along the shores of Lake Annecy. It is the third largest lake in France. It is known as “Europe’s cleanest lake” because of strict environmental regulations introduced in the 1960’s. A cycle path goes partially around Lake Annecy, and when completed it will reach Albertville. The lake is around 14 km long. The weather toady was too cloudy to give us a good view of the lake. Click on thumbnail to view images
The Montenvers Railway – Chamonix to the Mer de Glace
On our second day off we took the Montenvers Railway, or Chemin de fer du Montenvers, a rack and pinion railway line, that runs from Chamonix to the Hotel de Montenvers station, at the Mer de Glace, at an altitude of 1,913 m (6,276 ft). The line is 5.1 km (3.2 m) long and uses the Strub rack system to overcome a height difference of 871 m (2,858 ft). It opened in 1909. The ride up in the train was beautiful with spectacular views of the mountains across the way. When we arrived at the top we were told that the cable car to the Mer de Glace was closed today due to high winds so we wandered around through the museum in the Hotel. The views of the mountains were well worth the trip on the train, of the Aiguille du Drus and the Grands Jorasses. Click on thumbnail to view images
Aiguille du Midi, 3842 m (12,605 ft)
In the afternoon we went up to the Aiguille du Midi, ‘Needle of the Mid-day’, a mountain in the Mont Blanc massif within the French Alps. From Chamonix we took the cable car, built in 1955, it was then the highest cable car in the world, and remains the highest vertical ascent cable car in the world, 1,035 m to 3842 m. We took two cable cars to the upper station at 3,777 m, then an elevator up to the summit. The Aiguille summit contains a panoramic viewing platform, to get there we walked through an ice cave through the mountain to the viewing deck, it was freezing in the ice cave and once we got out the wind was intensely cold. In Dec, 2013, a glass skywalk called “STEP INTO THE VOID”, opened at the top.
Once you walk into the glass box the view is 1,035 m straight down and a close up view of Mont Blanc. In 2015 ‘Le Pipe’ was built that completely circles the summit. We made reservations at Le 3842 Restaurant, one of the highest eateries in Europe. The menu is written on a slate every day with quality traditional cuisine. The restaurant is very small, quaint and cozy, a perfect finish to our outing at Aiguille du Midi. The winds were starting to pick up so we had to finish our meal before the last cable car left at 2:45 pm, we did not want to get stranded on this mountain. An amazing experience, one of the highlights of our trip to Chamonix, France. Click on thumbnail to view images