At the time of writing Chamonix is probably best known as the alpine capital of the world. As a destination it has a reputation for the extreme and this, whilst undoubtedly true its reputation can mask a wide array of sporting and leisure activities both in winter and summer, peace and quiet, great nightlife, and superb scenery which can be enjoyed at whichever pace suits you. Chamonix is equally suited to a weekend break, a week's holiday, a season, or a lifetime!

Situated in the Haute-Savoie commune in the Auvergne-Rhone Alpes region of south eastern France. Chamonix is bordered by Switzerland and Italy and is dominated by the spiky mountain chain which peaks at the top of the Mont Blanc (4811m) - the highest mountain in Western Europe. There are two distinct seasons: summer and winter, and the area is busy for most of the year with different activities at the fore-front of people's minds. If you don't like to be bored, Chamonix is the place to come.

Chamonix, called “Chamouny” in those days was discovered in 1741 two Englishmen, Windham and Pococke. They encountered a rural, agricultural population of mountain farmers and modest monastery high in the hills living sparsely from their farming efforts.

The two Englishmen toured the valley and encountered La Mer de Glace, which translates as See of Ice referring to the wave like formations of ice at the foot of the magnificent glacier whose source is near the summit of Mont Blanc. They published their journeys and expeditions in journals around Europe and this sparked massive interest at large to know more about Chamonix.

Accordingly, the first guest house was opened by Madame Coutterand in 1770 and by 1783 celebrities including Saussure, Goethe and Bourrit, had visited raising the profile of Chamonix futher. Millions of tourists now visit each year!

On 8th August 1786 two local men, two local men Dr. Michel Paccard and Jacques Balmat, made the first ascent of Mont Blanc marking the beginning of modern mountaineering. Marie Paradis was the first woman to summit the mountain in 1808. The record for the youngest person to climb Mont Blanc was set in 2009 by 10-year-old Asher Silver (UK).

There are several routes and variations available to mountaineers in their attempts to summit requiring in each varying degree of stamina and technical climbing ability. Other summits must be passed if starting from L’Aiguille du Midi including Mont Blanc du Tacul and Mont Maudit. 

It is worth bearing in mind for all climbers the summit is generally known to be at an elevation of 4,807.40m or 15,772 ft 4 in (although there have been recent measurements of around 4,808m too) that significant acclimatisation and readiness is needed to safely navigate the mountain. Please take advice and employ a mountain guide if you are thinking of climbing anywhere in the area! Global warming has made climbing more dangerous in recent years.              

The first luxury hotel was built in 1816 (The Hotel de l'Union), followed by 'la Couronne', 'le Royal' and many more since.

In 1821, 'La Compagnie des Guides' was created following an accident on the Mont Blanc. Until the end of the 19th century, mountain guides were the main economic power in Chamonix.

However, from the beginning of the 20th century with the construction of numerous hotels, the hotel industry become the predominant economic power in the valley.

In 1860 a carriage road was built joining Geneva to Chamonix via the nearby town of Sallanches and in July 1901, the railway line that passes through the Chamonix valley was inaugurated. The nearest TGV station is just outside the valley in St. Gervais les Bains just 25 minutes by road to the town of Chamonix connecting to the French high-speed national railway network. This presaged the area as a mass tourism destination.

Between 1908 and 1910 Chamonix took on its present rhythm of winter and summer tourist seasons and now approximately 5 million visitors come to the area annually.

Whilst the principal town is of the same name 'Chamonix' is often used to refer to the whole and neighbouring valleys, stretching over 55km to the Swiss border. It is, however, made up of several distinct and charming villages including Servoz just outside the valley entrance, Les Houches, Les Bossons - the 'base-camp' of alpinism, Les Praz, Les Tines, Argentière, Montroc, and at the top of the valley, Le Tour/Balme.

Area :

116.53 km² (11 653 hectares)

 

Minimum altitude

995 m

 

Maximum altitude

4 807 m

 

Average altitude

2 901 m

 

Altitude of the city hall

1 037 m

Sexagesimal geographical coordinates (WGS84):

Latitude: 45° 55' 20'' North
Longitude: 06° 52' 08'' East

Decimal geographical coordinates

Latitude: 45.921 degrees (45.921° North)
Longitude: 6.863 degrees (6.863° East)

Lambert 93 geographical coordinates

X: 9 997 hectares 
Y: 65 432 hectares

Road map of Chamonix

Servoz (814m) which is on the approach to Chamonix was built on the site of an ancient lake which over the centuries was eventually filled in by landslides. The village is extremely picturesque and there is a superb gorge to visit and wander through. It is known for the lovely walks and the Gorge de Diosaz.

Area :

13.47km² (1,347 hectares)

 

Minimum altitude

758m

 

Maximum altitude

2,324m

 

Average altitude

1,541m

 

Altitude of the city hall

814m

Sexagesimal geographical coordinates (WGS84)

Latitude: 45° 55' 54'' North
Longitude: 06° 45' 43'' East

Decimal geographical coordinates

 

Latitude: 45.931 degrees (45.931° North)
Longitude: 6.765 degrees (6.765° East)

Lambert 93 geographical coordinates

X: 9 914 hectares 
Y: 65 438 hectares

 

Road map of Servoz

Les Houches (1,010m) was really the first significant residential settlement and ski area you reach when arriving in the Chamonix valley. With its own lift system and identity, Les Houches is not only a wonderful destination for family ski areas it is also the starting point for climbing Mont Blanc. Weather and snow permitting, the village annually hosts Le Kandahar World Cup ski race on its famous La Verte piste.

Area

43.07 km² (4 307 hectares)

 

Minimum altitude

796 m

 

Maximum altitude

4 280 m

 

Average altitude

2 538 m

 

Altitude of the city hall

1 000 m

Sexagesimal geographical coordinates (WGS84)

Latitude: 45° 53' 24'' North
Longitude: 06° 47' 55'' East

Decimal geographical coordinates

Latitude: 45.889 degrees (45.889° North)
Longitude: 6.798 degrees (6.798° East)

Lambert 93 geographical coordinates

X: 9 944 hectares 
Y: 65 393 hectares

Road map of Les Houches

Les Bossons (1,000m) is well known as the 'base-camp' of alpinism as it is from here that the very first excursions to Mont Blanc used to depart from and there is plenty of hotel, chalet and apartment accommodation for those making preparations to ski, climb or walk around in the area.

The village is fairly quiet and has several chalets and hotels that enjoy spectacular views directly up the Glacier du Bossons and the Taconnaz Glacier. These glaciers join at “La Jonction” which is a good 3-4 hours walk (safety precautions must be taken though).

 

Chamonix village and town

Chamonix town is richly developed with a wide variety of restaurants, shops, hotels and local amenities and has been beautifully landscaped to provide visitors with a scenic bonanza of the high mountains on each side. The mix of traditional buildings and central pedestrian only areas give the impression of Chamonix’s rich history whilst providing a great many facilities for all to enjoy.

There is an alpine museum displaying the famed climbing exploits over Chamonix’s history, art galleries, poster shops, a crystal gallery (one of the best in the world) and wonderful restaurants, bars and eateries to suit all tastes.

The local bus system connects all the main areas of the valley and there is a superb municipal swimming pool, climbing wall and natural spa too. Whether you come here to be active or simply to indulge in the joy of being in and around the mountains Chamonix never disappoints! Sitting in a café and looking up at the L’Aiguille du Midi peak astride of Mont Blanc should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Area

116.53 km² (11 653 hectares)

 

Minimum altitude

995 m

 

Maximum altitude

4,807 m

 

Average altitude

2,901 m

 

Altitude of the city hall

1,037 m

Sexagesimal geographical coordinates (WGS84)

Latitude: 45° 55' 20'' North
Longitude: 06° 52' 08'' East

Decimal geographical coordinates

Latitude: 45.921 degrees (45.921° North)
Longitude: 6.863 degrees (6.863° East)

Lambert 93 geographical coordinates

X: 9,997 hectares 
Y: 65,432 hectares

Road map of Chamonix

 

Les Praz (1050m) is home to the Chamonix Golf Course, several fine hotels and chalets, and of course the La Flégère cable-car giving access to the ski area and Les Aiguilles Rouges nature reserve. Situated a short drive or 20 minutes’ walk from Chamonix Town, Les Praz is bordered by woodland and is the start or end of some great walks, runs, or hikes.

Les Tines is a small development of charming chalets (some of which are very luxurious!), again bordering on the golf course and giving superb views of Mont Blanc and the lower parts of the valley. On the plateau above you will find the delightful hamlet of Le Lavancher, which is more than suited to a quiet getaway whilst remaining within easy reach of all the activities.

Except for Chamonix itself, the old village of Argentière (1,250m) is the biggest village in the valley and sits at the foot of Les Grands Montets (1,250-3,300m). It has a great character of its own, with brightly coloured buildings, notable bars and restaurants, and several choice chalets, hotels and apartments. As locations go you can't go far wrong with Argentière and it provides a more laidback atmosphere than Chamonix Town.

Driving through the valley you will come to signs for Switzerland and the scenic road departing from Chamonix Valley winds up to the high valley of Vallorcine and Le Buet and eventually to the Swiss border and on to Martigny. Just outside Chamonix Village is the Mont Blanc tunnel which was bored directly through the mountain and under the summit of L’Aiguille du Midi. It was opened on 19th July 1965. The tunnel connects Chamonix with Italy arriving on the hillside above the picturesque village of Courmayeur.

Leaving the valley at Les Houches and winding through the dramatic viaduct connects Chamonix by road to the lovely skiing of St. Gervais, Megeve, Le Contamines and about 30 minutes’ away. Only 70 minutes’ away is the famous and enormous ski area know as Les Porte du Soleil with it’s 650km of connected pistes and well know villages of Avoriaz, Morzine, Chatel, Morgins. Les Crosets, Champery and Les Gets amongst others.

Given Chamonix’s location it is an excellent hub enabling the keen adventurer to experience the high mountain and varied domains of the Chamonix mountains but also to access the many other resorts within an hour or so in Italy, Switzerland and nearby in France.