24 Hours In Chamonix
With the 2015 Winter season in danger of passing by most of the Average Joes team by we decided to join the Infiniti QX30 guys for an action packed, whistle stop tour of one of the most famous ski resorts in the world, Chamonix. Sitting in the heart of the French Alps with spectacular views of Mont Blanc, the area is renowned for some of the best off-piste skiing around. Although that may have been somewhat wasted for our second time ever on a pair skis. So what does 24 hours in Chamonix look like for someone of average skiing ability? With a couple of weeks of the season left, you could still find out.
Travel to Chamonix
There are plenty of options available to get across to the Chamonix. EasyJet, BA, Swiss and Flybe all provide flights to Geneva which is only 100km from the resort of Chamonix. If you time it right you can reach the resort in just over one hour, or if you do what we did and arrive for the weekend that the Geneva motor show is on you can find yourself stuck in the utter misery that is Geneva rush hour traffic. Once you break free of the grid locked city centre and reach the free flowing E25 route to Chamonix the imposing and genuinely impressive Mont Blanc mountain comes into view which signals the beginning of your weekend.
Chamonix isn’t your picture perfect mountain-side resort. If you’re looking for that classic mountain resort look and feel that you’ll find in resorts like Verbier and Megève (both do come with a hefty price tag though), then Chamonix doesn’t quite offer that. Instead you’ll find a busy and vibrant resort with a city-like feel to it. This is of course no bad thing – think of it as a trendy part of London with snow and skiing available.
This place is a haven for adrenaline junkies and advanced boarders and skiers. The ski area is huge and you’ll struggle to do it all in a week let alone a weekend. Any resort guide will tell you that it isn’t the most ‘beginner friendly’ resort in the world but you can certainly still find some wide, sweeping slopes up the mountain. Chamonix isn’t built for beginners though and is one of the must visit areas for advanced skiers/boarders who are looking to really test their ability.
A bustling and vibrant centre plays host to a mix of snowports shops stocking the latest ski gear all the way through to a local McDonalds, not something you’ll find in too many alpine resorts. Throw in some boutique shops, charming eateries and a famous night scene and you’ll soon see why Chamonix is one of the go-to weekend/short break ski destinations.
It’s worth mentioning that I’m an experienced snowboarder but for this trip I joined the dark side of skiing. With 2 hours of previous skiing experience under my belt I set about to master the technique of getting down the mountain without any style. Accomplished to perfection. After a couple of runs under the guidance of a professional freeride skier (there couldn’t have been a bigger gulf in skiing ability), Camille from the Black Crows ski brand, we got to experience the Brévent and Flégère ski areas which offers a range of wide, sweeping runs. These aren’t too challenging but a perfect way to get your ski legs back, or even find them in the first place.
The key to getting the most out of your time on the slopes is to plan in advance. Chamonix offers a vast range of slopes and skiing but they aren’t all connected and will require some public transport to reach different areas. Keep that piste map to hand and plan ahead. Chamonix.net has all the info you’ll need.
The benefit of these slopes is that they are South facing which means you get to top up the tan while enjoying some mountain-side dining and afternoon drinks. The vertigo inducing restaurant Le Panoramic offers some spectacular views of Mont Blanc and the surrounding valleys. It can get busy but it is well worth the wait for the views and the food is pretty good as well. Heights don’t usually affect me but after a couple of drinks and big lunch it is well advised to not look down (see below).
Dinner in Chamonix
Although Chamonix has an abundance of very good restaurants we actually headed to Italy to eat. When a restaurant requires a cable car and snowmobile to get to you don’t really need to know a lot more about the venue to make a reservation. Catching a lift at Courmayeur, which is the other side of Mont Blanc in Italy, you are greeted by a fleet of snowmobiles. A short but exhilarating journey to the restaurant is every bit as good as we had hoped. La Maison Vielle can be described as a game of two halves. The first involves a variety of courses from a set menu that is delivered to each table when it is ready. It’s a civilised and sociable affair that focusses on good wine and good food to share.
After a fantastic caramel based dessert was cleared away the restaurant turns into one of the best surprises we’ve had in a long time. On come the disco lights and a playlist that is littered with old school garage and funky house tunes that left us in our element. When was the last time you heard The Scatman by Scatman John? Dancing on the tables and rounds of shots come as standard. Once the early evening festivities were complete we jumped back on the snowmobiles and headed back down the mountain (no, we weren’t driving). A short taxi ride back through the Mont Blanc tunnel and your back in Chamonix with a difference.
Chamonix After Party
Chamonix is famed for its apres-ski and lively nightlife. With bars and clubs in plentiful supply you certainly won’t struggle to find a place to party. The town offers a mix of traditional bars that feature a more traditional, rustic feel with a slightly older clientèle right through to the modern bars & clubs that deliver a more international feel and array of attractive folk. Rue de Moulins provides a small ‘strip’ of places to visit but with slightly more class than say, Magaluf. We headed to Les Caves Chamonix which is a wine and cocktail bar that is full of character and a maze of walkways and hidden seating areas. Funky house music fills the main room and this really is the place to be if you’re looking for that chic and elegant nightspot.
Quieter spots can be found in nearby Argentiere but if you’re in Cham for a weekend you shouldn’t be looking for ‘quiet’ or a full eight hours of beauty sleep. A short walk in to the centre and you will find the Casino Barrière Chamonix and the brilliantly named Alpes Angles (A gentlemans club). Both provide an excellent way to burn through those extra Euros you have laying around in your back pocket. With only €15.50 left in our pockets it was time to call it a night and head back to the chalet for a much needed session in the hot tub – when in Rome, Chamonix.
We headed back to Geneva first thing on Sunday morning via the Geneva Motor Show, which by the way, is as impressive as it is painfully annoying. If huge crowds walking incredibly slowly through crowded passageways is your thing, then this is the place for you. There are also a few cars as well.
Would we choose it for a week long ski break? Probably not. But as a weekend ski destination Chamonix is certainly up there. A sub 2 hour flight from London and just over an hour in the car from airport to resort is very hard to compete with. As with any short ski-break you have to approach it with bags of energy and enthusiasm. Hangovers and tiredness are a given but what you get from Chamonix is some first-class skiing, a resort with everything you could want and one of the best alpine night scenes available. Just remember, sleep is for the plane journey home and don’t forget to set that 6:30am alarm for work on Monday morning.