Being a mountain enthusiast suggest that everyone has heard of Chamonix – the valley where everything began regarding alpinism and guided mountain climbing. Basically, it’s a valley where some small villages are encompassed by the massive peaks of the Mont Blanc massif. More importantly, the Mont Blanc peak is the most appealing attraction here, with its commonly mistaken reputation as an “accessible” summit, possible for even not so prepared climbers. All the mountain legends, the marketing and the various available facilities related to this place, make it a dream for every mountaineer. This summer we got the opportunity to spend some time there, so below you’ll find a piece of useful information, if you plant to do the same.
Chamonix is famous enough, there are tons of marketing and informational materials all over the internet. I won’t be retelling any of the stories or linking you to the popular touristic portals; I’ll try to outline our experience and mark some key points regarding the trip.
How to get there?
Even if it sounds absurd in our digital age, this is one of the most important questions related to this journey. You have some different popular options to consider, depending where are you from. We used 2 of these options, because we deemed it the most suitable for our purposes:
- Flight to Geneva, then shuttle – very popular amongst rich people ? There are a lot of shuttle services in Chamonix, so it is comfortable option, if you find a cheap flight to Geneva or another Swiss city.
- Get in you own car and start driving / hire a car – the best thing here is that you gain independence, you go wherever you want, whenever you want. You can sleep in the car, live there, make love etc. The best thing is that you can bring as much equipment as you want. This is crucial, because the Chamonix valley is so full of things to do regarding mountaineering, that you may need gear for different activities – climbing, summiting & glacier travel, trekking… A downside is that if you are living too far, you may need to spend some days on the road, you might end paying expensive toll taxes for using the highways as well.
- Flight to Milan, Italy, then train from Milan Central Station to Martigny, Switzerland – train to Chamonix. This option we used for arrival. The key here is the “train” word – the train travel is more comfortable in terms of having freedom to go to WC and along the train itself, and it provides more stunning views and sceneries than the bus.
At first, we considered this only because the Internet says it’s very beautiful. However, the whole “beautiful” thing is a bit questionable, at least from Italian side – Italian trains are awful and slow. We had difficulties buying train tickets from Milan, and when we finally bought them – they were more expensive than the flight tickets of WizzAir; we had to change a lot of trains, which was difficult considering we were carrying a giant travel bag (about 30 kg) full with gear and a couple of rucksacks and small bags with more gear and ropes.
The true beauty of this trip is the Martigny – Vallorcine – Chamonix Aiguille Midi section. Entering Switzerland everything becomes green, sunny, clean and tranquil. Trains are great, electric and fast. The most interesting part is when you enter the Chamonix valley itself – the train goes straight trough the rocks and you can see all the aggressive peaks of the Mont Blanc massif, which if you have never been to the Alps before – look very terrifying and demanding.
Another downside of this trip is that even if you use cheap airlines, you’ll need to add more baggage to your flight, because of the tons of gear.
If you attempt it, you can try to find a route which just include the train from Martigny to Chamonix Aiguille Midi.
- Flix bus – the best! We used this option on our way back. Flix bus was great – fast (about 4 hours from Chamonix to Milan), bus was clean, airconditioned and comfortable. The company has an app, booking tickets is extremely easy. The one thing that I didn’t like was that the bus was a bit late upon arrival at the Chamonix station, which got us a bit worried; also there is no information sign where to expect it at the Chamonix station, just the logo. The most important thing – it was much cheaper and faster than the train.
Here are some prices:
- Milan airport shuttle to Central Station – 5.00 EUR per person;
- Milan – Domodossola – 10.80 EUR per person;
- Domodossola – Martigny – 36.20 EUR per person;
- Martigny – Vallorcine – Chamonix Aiguille Midi – 28.00 EUR per person.
- Total: 80.00 EUR per person and about 7 hours of time.
- Chamonix (Gare routière) – Milan (Lampugnano bus station) – 18.18 EUR per person (incl. Atmosfair donation).
- Seat: 1.50 EUR
- Charges: 0.43 EUR
- Total: 20.11 EUR per person and about 4 hours.
Here is some advice:
- I used Rome2Rio for planning the trip – it’s a nice solution, gives you a lot of options and valuable info;
- Don’t bring tons of gear, you’ll have trouble storing and carrying it. Instead of bringing underwear and first / mid layers for every day of your whole stay – bring just the minimum, you can use laundry services / do the laundry yourself. Try to go with just a rucksack (about 40 liters) where you put the alpine gear (ice axes, crampons, biners, etc.) and a small bag for the rest.
- Don’t book luggage on Flix bus – nobody cares how much you bring aboard (2.00 EUR); it’s the same with seats (1.50 EUR each) – nobody respects the numbers.
Truly a capital of alpinism and adventure sports
The place is utterly magical for one filled with a sense of adventure. Definitely, it’s a must-see for everyone who is interested in hiking, trekking, alpinism, climbing, glaciers, skiing, mountaineering and extreme sports as a whole. Here, from early morning, you can see people jogging, heading for a climb or a hike. You can find ultra-marathon participants, all kinds of adventurers.
A compendium of the brands in mountaineering sports
At the Chamonix village, there isn’t a brand (at least a premium one) of sport / mountaineering goods, which is not represented in some way. There are giant shops, you can find whatever you can think of there – the latest, for hire, you name it. Mammut, La Sportiva, Scarpa, Black Diamond, Petzl, North Face, Millet – every brand has either a shop or could be found in a bigger shop.
The best low-cost option is still the Decathlon shop – it’s a small place near the village center and the river. It’s certainly the best option to buy something cheap that you didn’t carry in the airplane or you won’t be needing on your way back. Here is a map for your convenience:
Event calendar for everyone, year-round
Chamonix preserved the crown as alpine capital, because there are tons of events you can participate in or just visit. The tourism information centre is where you can find info on these, as well as all over the place.
We managed to see the finals of the Climbing World Cup. Also we saw the French Alpine battalion, on the national holiday. So just research in advance – the official Chamonix portal, and plan your visit accordingly.
What to see – the musts
Depending on how much time you’ve got, you can choose from the various attractions in Chamonix and across the valley. I recommend the Alpine History Museum – there you can see how alpinism and mountain sport began, also how professional guiding was discovered. Ticket price is 5.90 EUR each.
You can take some pictures with:
- The monument of Horace-Bénédict de Saussure and Jacques Balmat.
- The wall painted with a portrait of Gaston Rebuffat.
Where to sleep – the cheap options we used
There are a lot of options here as well. I recommend these two:
- Camping de la Mer de Glace – although it is not exactly in the Chamonix village, the camping is nice, well organized, with good bathrooms and guest cooks (different) every day – you can order pizza today, or barbecue tomorrow. However – it’s not a good option for bad weather – we experienced it.
- The Le Chamoniard Volant hostel – if you are not seeking luxury – this is a perfect place to stay. It’s definitely one of the cheapest (if not the cheapest at all) with bed prices from 10.00 EUR (if no place is available and you sleep in the reception) to 22.00 EUR per person. The place is very close to the village center – 10 min walking (so you can get back on foot after the late buses) and they offer an option to store you luggage – very convenient if you brought tons of gear which you don’t need for some days.
Here are some other tips, of what you can expect during your stay at Chamonix:
- Bus transport across the valley is free of charge – officially costs 3 EUR per ticket, but the bus drivers do not take money or want any tickets. The thing is that you receive a card from the place you are staying, which gives you the opportunity to travel free of charge. So, to be official – bring your card with you… or just pick the bus you need greeting the driver with a big smile.
- It is pretty expensive here, so if you are on a tight budget, I suggest you get supplies from the supermarkets. The good ones are at the Alpina hotel (near the Mont Blanc square) and the one near the bus station and Aguille du Midi lift station.
- You can buy all the maps you’ll need for your adventures from the main bookstore – it is called the Press House / Maison de la Presse in French/, Maps usually cost from 8.95 EUR (Tour du Mont Blanc map) to 16.80 EUR (Mont Blanc massif maps). Find the Press House here:
That’s it. Remeber – Chamonix is about the mountaineering culture – try to experience it that way.
Have a nice journey – plan it carefully in advance, enjoy Chamonix and its terrific mountain world!