Chamonix Tourist Attractions
Chamonix (officially known as Chamonix-Mont-Blanc), situated at the foot of the highest peak in the Alps, is a climatic and winter sports resort and a climbing center of international reputation. The resort area, which extends for 23km/14mi along the Vallée de Chamonix between Les Houches and Argentière, also includes the smaller resorts of Les Bossons, Les Praz de Chamonix, Les Tines and Argentière.
Chamonix was host to the first Winter Olympics in 1924. The Mont Blanc road tunnel (11.6km/7.25mi long) links Chamonix-Mont-Blanc with the Italian resort of Courmayeur in the Aosta valley.
The high valley of the Arve, flanked on the southeast by the Mont Blanc chain with its mighty glaciers and on the northwest by the Aiguilles Rouges, does not quite equal the Bernese Oberland in scenic beauty, but vies with Zermatt in the magnificence of its glaciers and possesses in the Aiguilles a series of mountain pinnacles which are unique in their rugged grandeur. From 1091 the valley, under the name of Campus Munitus, belonged to a Benedictine priory. From the mid 18th century onwards it became more widely known through the writings of the English travelers Pococke and Windham and the Genevese scientists Saussure and Bourrit.
The central point of Chamonix is the intersection of the main street (Rue Dr-Paccard and Rue J.- Vallot), which runs along the whole length of the town, with the Avenue de la Gare (formerly Avenue Foch). Near the junction is the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall). A little way south, on the banks of the Arve, is the Saussure Monument (by J. Salmson, 1887), commemorating the first scientific ascent of Mont Blanc in 1786; it shows the guide, Jacques Balmat, pointing out the route to Saussure. The Musée Alpin illustrates the history of the valley and its development by man.
Dominated by Mont Blanc, Chamonix combines not only beautiful scenery but some of the best expert skiing in the world. This is not a place to choose if you are a beginner but an advancing intermediate who wants to be challenged will enjoy this most famous of French ski towns. One of the longest but not really that difficult off-piste runs in the world is the Vallée Blanche but to get to it you have to walk with a guide, with your skis on your back and with the aid of ropes down a narrow ridge. No matter what your level a guide can help find the most suitable terrain at six different ski areas. The town is cozy with narrow streets but you need a car or bus to get to the slopes.
Aiguille du Midi
There is a cableway (5.4km/3.5mi) from the Praz-Conduit station (1,040m/3,412ft), on the southwest side of the town of Chamonix, by way of an intermediate station at Plan de l'Aiguille (2,308m/7,573ft), with fantastic views en route, to the upper station (3,790m/12,435ft; 20min.), under the summit of the Aiguille du Midi (3,842m/12,606ft; chair-lift to top), with a view of Mont Blanc.
From the upper station there is a cabin cableway (5km/3mi; 20min.) by way of the Gros Rognon (3,533m/11,592ft) and the Punta Helbronner (3,462m/11,359ft; passport control) to an Italian mountain hut, the Rifugio Torino (3,322m/10,899ft; views), below the Col du Géant (3,369m/11,054ft); then a third cableway leading down by way of the Pavillon del Monte Frety (2,130m/6,989ft) to the Italian town of Entrèves (1,306m/4,285ft; station in La Palud district). The whole trip from Chamonix to Entrèves (century 15km/9mi) takes about 1.5 hours and offers a memorable experience.
Glacier des Bossons
From Les Bossons (4km/2.5mi southwest of Chamonix) there is a 45-minute trip (chair-lift available) to the Pavillon des Bossons (1,298 m/4,259ft; restaurant), on the left-hand lateral moraine of the Glacier des Bossons, with a fine view of the glacier and Mont Blanc du Tacul (4,248 m/13,938ft) looming over it; to the left the Aiguille du Midi and Aiguille du Plan (3,673 m/12,051ft).
Mont-Blanc (4,807m/15,772ft), the highest peak in the Alps, over which the French-Italian frontier runs, was first climbed in 1786 by a village doctor named Michel Paccard with Jacques Balmat of Chamonix, and in the following year by the scientist Horace-Bénédict de Saussure with Balmat and 16 porters. To experienced climbers with a guide the climb offers no particular difficulties, but it is extremely strenuous. From Les Houches the climb takes 10-12 hrs, taking the cabin cableway to the Pavillon de Bellevue and the "Tramway du Mont-Blanc" to the Glacier de Bionnassay and continuing on foot to the Chalet-Hôtel de Tête-Rousse (3,167m/10,391ft; 2 hrs). From there it is 3 hrs to the Refuge de l'Aigle du Gôter (3,817m/12,524ft), and another five hours to the summit. The fantastic panorama which can be enjoyed from the summit rewards the effort of the climb.
Of great importance to tourist traffic is the Mont Blanc road tunnel, constructed in 1958-1964. It begins above the hamlet of Les Pèlerins at an altitude of 1,274m/4,180ft and runs through the mountain for a distance of 11.6km/7.25mi to Entrèves (1,381m/4,531ft). The tunnel (toll charge), which is open all year round, shortens the distance from northern and central France and western Switzerland into Italy during the period when the high Alpine passes are closed (October-June) by several hundred kilometers.