Chamonix in July or August is magical. Of course winter in the Alps is undeniably beautiful too, but I find the valleys and mountains around Chamonix exceptionally breathtaking and soothing in the summertime. For those of us living in Asia where pristine, tropical beaches are so accessible, holidaying in Europe’s alpine region is a chance to experience a complete change of scenery, vegetation and altitude!
Nothing is more invigorating than the fresh mountain air and stunning views around Chamonix. At the border of France, Italy and Switzerland, this charming town is uniquely positioned deep in the valley, surrounded by some of Europe’s most spectacular peaks, including the roof of Western Europe, Mont Blanc, which stands at 4,810 metres.
The lively cobblestone streets of Chamonix’s town centre are mostly car-free and full of cosmopolitan vacationers; from those just happy to soak up the atmosphere to serious mountain climbers draped with ropes, the light mood is infectious and the town is abuzz with excitement and constantly brimming with activity!
Over the past decades, Chamonix has become a haven for skiers, rock climbers, trekkers, ultra-marathoners, paragliders, mountain bikers and road cyclists alike, all looking to experience their sport in one of the most beautiful settings in the world. Furthermore, the wonderful thing about visiting Chamonix in the summer is that you still get snow on the mountains (easily accessible via cable car), but as you come back down to lower altitudes, valleys and slopes burst with life and colour. This transition from dramatic, frozen wonderland to lush, fertile life is startling and energising.
Summer walks amongst fragrant meadows, into the cool conifer forests and along meandering turquoise rivers are the stuff of dreams for hikers such as myself; plus, it’s a nice contrast from the lush tropical jungles we usually find in Asia.
On sunny days, clouds of paragliders swish over Chamonix like giant butterflies and if you take the cable car up to Les Grands Montets station (3,275 metres), you’ll also be able to see kite skiers deploying their fabric wings as they literally glide off the mountain side and float down towards the valley.
However, the best thing of all is getting up close and personal with a glacier. Walking through the Ice Cave of La Mer de Glace, the largest glacier in France, which snakes 7km through mighty rock and seracs, is better than any sound and light show. The sunbeams through the ice create remarkable effects and the glacier groans raucously as gravity pushes it down the valley floor. The glacier’s speed, although not perceptible to the naked eye, is considerable. It moves about 90 metres per year, which is equivalent to about one centimetre per hour.
With a wealth of alpine activities available, together with a bustling town centre full of shops, restaurants and bars, Chamonix really does have something unforgettable for everyone, whether you’re searching for an active holiday or a peaceful mountainside retreat!
Top 10 Things to do With Kids in Chamonix
- Catch the Montenvers train – This funicular railway climbs from the valley floor to the impressive Mer de Glace glacier.
- Take the Aiguille du Midi cable to 3,842 metres – This is one of the highest cable cars anywhere in the world and the views into Italy and Switzerland and back into France help you forget the momentary light-headedness at that altitude.
- Whizz down the mountain on the Alpine Coaster – The best attraction at the Chamonix Parc de Loisirs is a cross between a roller coaster and a sledge on a 1,300m track featuring plenty of twists and turns.
- Enjoy a spot of fishing in one of the nearby mountain lakes – Within 20 minute from Chamonix, you can reach two groups of lakes (Lac des Ilettes and Lac des Chavants) and both are fantastic for fishing.
- Play in the snow at Les Grands Montets Station – As you get off the cable car and climb down a few stairs, you will find a large area for children to roll around and enjoy the snow.
- Explore the beautiful mountain scenery on horseback – The Chamonix Valley has a multitude of trails that can be explored on horseback and hopefully allow you to get a closer peek at the wildlife.
- Take a hot air balloon ride (known as Vol en Montgolfières in French) – Hot air ballooning is a truly unique and fun experience. The views are stunning and as you glide silently over the forests, you may even see deer and other animals.
- Mountain bike on the picturesque trails – Chamonix offers something for riders of every ability. There are a number of relatively easy trails which criss-cross around the Chamonix valley, plus lots of wooded and open single tracks, downhill specific tracks, and a fair bit of lift access for those not keen on pedalling uphill.
- Practice archery – Use a bow and arrow and try your hand at hitting a bull’s eye. Beginners can learn from scratch and those with more experience can put their skills to the test with a variety of courses. The Coupeau area of Les Houches has a trail running through it equipped with archery courses of varying difficulty.
- Lastly, spend a few hours at the Forest Adventure Parks – Swing through the trees high above the mountains on a circuit of zip lines, monkey bridges, ladders and ropes. There are adventure parks at Les Houches, Les Tines, and Lac de Gaillands all are open throughout the summer and have different circuits for adults and children.
Book tickets through AirFrance or KLM, which fly from Hong Kong to Geneva several times a week. Travel from the Geneva Airport to Chamonix is about an hour by car.