Chamonix is my favourite town in France. There’s something magical about it that keeps drawing me back there. The children broke up for Christmas a whole week before Santa was due, so we packed up the car, with two children, two dogs and our luggage. We found an apartment in Chamonix on Booking.com, and paid for our Eurotunnel crossing to make the most of our time away. And I booked an appointment with a vet in Chamonix to get the dogs’ passports stamped before heading home again. And then we were on our way.
Chamonix from Calais/Coquelles takes around 8 hours of driving if you use the super-efficient toll roads. The convenience comes at a cost though, budget around £60 each way just for the tolls. The lovely part about driving the French autoroutes is the reliable frequency of the Aires. Aires are ‘unmanned’ services – rest stops, picnic tables, greenery … a bit of peace and tranquillity off the noisy busy roads. Pack a picnic and a flask, or two, and make full use of these rest areas. They are also great if you are travelling with pets as there’s always space to exercise them/bins to deposit ‘deposits’ in, and you can attach their leads around the picnic table leg away from the road and get a bit of fresh air and enjoy your lunch.
When we drive to/through France we always cross from the UK very late at night. We then drive for a few short hours, then pull over at an Aire and get a few hours’ sleep – it means we’ve broken the back of the journey and it never feels quite so far.
Anyway, on the drive to Chamonix I thoroughly recommend a stop at the services in Bourg en Bresse … it’s famous for its (unbelievably expensive) chicken, but it’s actually a really nice lunch stop and by the time you reach here the final part of the long journey is in sight.
The approach to Chamonix (Autoroute Blanche / the White Highway) is stunning with lots of tunnels, viaducts and mountains. You just know you are heading somewhere special.
Our apartment was perfect for us. We paid extra for underground parking and rented a studio room for 4 nights. This consisted of a room with a dining table and chairs, a kitchenette with hob, microwave, fridge, sink and kettle (no oven). There was access to a good-sized balcony where we could have eaten meals, had the temperature not been in the minuses! The sofa converted into a comfy bed at nighttime, and there was also fixed bunkbeds and a full bathroom. Everything we wanted for our short stay. There was a TV too, but it only showed French channels so we never used it.
Chamonix is a small town with a pedestrianised central area, which I like because you can get around it all ‘at leisure’. Everyone there seemed to have dogs, so Izzy and Jack were welcome everywhere we went with many cafes bringing water out for them.
Apart from the amazing views towards Mont Blanc, I love window shopping in Chamonix. Not handbags or posh clothing, but cakes! Oh wow they just KNOW how to make and display a good cake 🙂 Here’s just a small selection of the photos I took …
During our stay Chamonix had a small, charming, Christmas market from which the children demanded a daily serving of freshly made churros and chocolate dip!
There are lots of places to walk the dogs – Chamonix is a small town on a valley bottom, so you have slopes on both sides to explore. Many years ago, when I first visited Chamonix, we managed to get my mum on a cable car to the top of Le Brevent … she refused to get back in the cable car to come back down so we walked down. It took just under 7 hours and the follow day none of us could walk!
For children there’s LOTS to amuse them in Chamonix. Of course you have the cable cars that take you up to the snow. So there’s skiing too, naturally, during the ski season and snow shoeing along the valley floor. You can take the Montenvers train from the centre of the town all the way up to the Mer de Glace glacier (which you can walk inside) – well worth the trip.
If you time it right you could catch an ice hockey match; the team always seem to be playing away when we are there so haven’t managed this one yet.
What we do though, every time we visit, is take the cable car(s) up the Aiguille du Midi. It’s as close as you can get to Mont Blanc without crampons and ropes 🙂 You take two cable cars up to the top. Oh, it’s not dog friendly so they can’t go. Warning … the top is 3842m above sea level. I’m a bit of a wuss, but I’ve come close to fainting on the last two visits. The air is so thin up there! But it is AMAZING and you really do feel on top of the world. You can watch mountaineers setting off towards the Mont Blanc summit with all their gear and there’s an ice tunnel, restaurant, shop, lots of indoor and outdoor viewpoints, and a new glass floor to seriously freak you out! On this recent occasion, the top was very cloudy, so we couldn’t see much. It was darn cold too … and I wanted to faint! Don’t let any of that put you off though 😉 On a good summer’s day when the wind is calm, you can take a small panoramic cable car all the way down into Italy.
It looks cold doesn’t it …
The view from the top down into Chamonix …
For the shopaholics, the town is full of gift shops, walking/ski outlets and you’ll find Chanel, Benetton, Timberland, Superdry, Lacoste, Swarovski, North Face and so many other stores. Patisseries are plentiful and amazing, lots of cafes, bars and restaurants. It’s just a lovely dog-friendly laid back town to ‘hang out’ in.
Honestly there is so much to do that can be reached on foot – we didn’t move our car until we needed to drive to the vets the day before we headed home. If you do drive, you are only a few short miles from the Swiss border and if you head back down the valley you have all the famous ski resorts like Les Houches and Servoz.
On this trip we simply wanted to ‘chill out’. We did lots of walking. Lots of window shopping. Lots of coffee and hot chocolate drinking. Lots of Pokemon Go playing! We explored the town. We walked up the valley slopes with the dogs. And I took the children up the Aiguille du Midi as Huw needed to spend the day working on his laptop. It was a lovely ‘getaway’ before the chaos of Christmas kicked in.
Driving home, we left early one morning and drove all day (with lots of small stops), and crossed back through the tunnel late that same evening. We were home and in bed by midnight.
Chamonix: Add it to your ‘to go’ list if you’ve never been. It’s equally a summer destination too – my first visit was during an August school holiday. There’s so much to do. The scenery is out of this world. If you want to be busy, you won’t be disappointed. If you want to relax and do nothing, I can’t think of a better place to do it 🙂