Summer in Chamonix

World class four-season destination

Chamonix is infectiously cosmopolitan. The 11.6km Tunnel du Mont-Blanc offers swift access to and from Italy’s Aosta Valley, while at the head of Chamonix’s own valley you can slip seamlessly via the celebrated Col du Forclaz into Switzerland. Road access is straightforward via Geneva, with non-autoroute option from Lyon via Chambéry and Albertville.

Despite its winter sports image, in summer everything but the snow-capped summit of Mont-Blanc and the slowly-retreating glaciers becomes a paradise for Alpine wildlife and a host of outdoor activities.

View of summer flower displays in heart of Chamonix

The village

It's grown over the years to town-sized proportions, but somehow the village feel is alive and well in the predominantly locally-owned businesses. Yes, the big-brand boutiques are there too (along with a slightly incongruous casino), but there's also a tangible pride in being a part of this remarkable place. Chamonix is like nowhere else.
It also continues to edge ever further upmarket. Property values climb relentlessly as premium apartment developers and individual chalet constructors snap up some of the most desirable plots around. Ultimately, though, the driving force behind the whole phenomenon remains the incomparable setting among some of the most astonishing mountain landscapes the Alps have to offer.

Staying There

Value for Money Accommodation Dining Out Nightlife Village Charm

See Practical Information below for accommodation suggestions.

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High view of visitors looking at Mont Blanc from observation deck of Aiguille du Midi, high above Chamonix

Summer Activities

For all the glitz and glamour, Chamonix remains above all the spiritual home of mountain activities, with something for everyone, at all levels and whatever the season.

There are a few things that should be on everyone's "to do" list when they come to Chamonix, whether in summer or winter. Ascending to the Aiguille du Midi on a fine day, experiencing the altitude and gazing at the views and toward the summit of Mont Blanc is a spectacular trip. With the added thrill of stepping into the void, this is a once in a lifetime experience.

Buy a Mont-Blanc Multipass and you'll also want to take the Montenvers train up to the glacier where you can go down hundreds of steps to enter the ice cave. Remember you have to climb back up so you need to be relatively fit - and take warm clothing, it's (literally) freezing up there! However, the legendary Hotel du Montenvers, now renamed Terminal Neige-Refuge du Montenvers has recently been re-opened after a major overhaul, providing hotel accommodation and restaurant. Guests will be able to enjoy traditional local cuisine in the cosy dining room or on the beautiful terrace. The Bar des Glaciers, located at the Montenvers train station, has also been refurbished and will serve snacks all day.

Golf, cycling, walking, watersports, parascending, mountaineering - it's all on offer somewhere in the Chamonix valley. And it doesn't have to be hard core. There are pleasant walks along "Les Balcons" - relative easy valleyside footpaths with the added bonus of occasional "cremeries", cafés which traditionally provided walkers with refreshment from their herd of cows grazing on the mountain pastures. And there are sufficient lifts open throughout so you don't need to climb to gain those spectacular views.

During our visit, we took the Mont-Blanc Tramway from Saint-Gervais up to the Nid d'Aigle above Les Houches. Spectacular scenery, and enough time to have lunch and a walk before your return trip.

Activities There

Attractions Walking Cycling Activities

Activities Information

Walks, rides etc.

Tried and testedLe Petit Balcon Sud

View of signed forest footpath trail above Chamonix

The Balcon walks in Chamonix are well worth exploring. There are four paths running along the valley sides at lower and higher levels and are known as le petit and le grand balcon nord and le petit and le grand balcon sud according to which side of the valley they are. You can walk their whole length or dip into them at various points. All have stunning views over the valley and are more or less on the level though be prepared for a few steep climbs. We joined the Petit Balcon Sud walk at the footpath to the rear of the Brevent gondola. Go to the right and climb through forest in the direction of the Chalet de la Floria cremerie. On the way there are good views over Chamonix, and across to the glaciers and the Aiguille du Midi. The final steps up to the La Floria are steep but the views from the café terrace reward your efforts and there's a good choice of refreshing drinks and snacks in charming surroundings.


Tried and testedTramway du Mont Blanc

80, Avenue de la Gare
74190 Le Fayet or
571, Rue du Mont-Lachat
74170 Saint-Gervais

Le Fayet - Nid d’Aigle (summer only) 35€ return or included on the Mont-Blanc Multipass

Visitors at high mountain viewpoint beside the Tramway du Mont-Blanc

Ride this historic tramway (France's highest mountain railway) from Le Fayet or Saint Gervais up to the Col de Voza, and higher still to the 2380m Nid de l’Aigle. During the 75min ride you’ll be dazzled by the landscapes along the way, whiile pondering what this must have felt like to the early travellers who rode the line when it completed back in 1913. There are opportunities for mountain walks above Les Houches from the Col and the Nid d’Aigle.


Tourist Office

Chamonix Tourist Office

85 pl du Triangle de l'Amitié
74400 Chamonix-Mont-Blanc
Tel: +33 (0)4 50 53 00 24
www.chamonix.com


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icon-smileyYes please...

  • Free bus and rail transport with Carte d’Hôte pass.
  • Walking itineraries close to town and in the high mountain.
  • Plenty of things to do for families.
  • Internationally renowned festivals and events.
  • Choice of accommodation to suit most budgets.
  • Numerous chairlifts and cable-cars open.
  • Shops and restaurants galore.
  • Easy to access.

icon-frowneyYes but...

  • Chamonix is a premium destination, so expect premium prices.
  • Although well-connected, the valley covers a large area, something to bear in mind when choosing your accommodation.

icon-winkingOur Tips

  • Use your Carte d’Hôtes (available at your accommodation) to enjoy excellent free public transport to access sites throughout the Chamonix Valley.
  • To avoid disappointment, visit the Aiguille du Midi on a fine, clear day — and book your visit in advance to avoid queues.
  • Visit the Tourist Office to pick up useful guides for walkers, places to visit and transport timetables.
  • You’ll find free parking in the Planards car park, near the Montenvers Tramway station.
Jump to Insight

Jump to Insight


Practical Information


Insight: Chamonix-Mont-Blanc

Mountain restaurant terrace with diners high above Chamonix

Summer in Chamonix

Chances are, anyone who has ever been here to ski or snowboard will have got to know Chamonix and its long, straggling valley rather well. In contrast to purpose-built ski villages, things here feel much more spread out, with many of the most tempting options lying at the end of a meaningful bus (or train) ride. It all adds to the sense of adventure, of course, with wondrous snowy magnificence at every turn.

Coming here in summer, on the other hand, reveals a totally unexpected side to the character of this small but beautifully-formed corner of the French Alps. If you arrive, as we do, in bright sunshine, your first reaction to setting eyes on it in summer mode for the first time is likely to be much the same as ours: “ Why didn’t we do this before?” One thing we have been expecting is our accommodation, a few km out of town in Les Houches.

Le Hameau de Pierre-Blanche had looked like a tempting option when we spotted it during one of our previous ski visits, and when we finally get to stay there it doesn’t disappoint — not least since it offers a terrace with stirring views of the Aiguille du Midi.

In summer Le Brevent is a gateway to serious walking territory, plus advanced-level mountain-biking descents. We content ourselves with what we came for — uplifting overviews of the valley and across to the Aiguille du Midi, plus the eternally snow-capped summit of Mont-Blanc…

Side view of Brevent cable car with mountains in background above Chamonix

The Brevent cable car ascends to 1999m above Chamonix.


Side view of parapente experience with mountain backdrop above Chamonix

Paragliding is just one of the exciting activities for summer visitors.

Le Brevent

Our first day begins overcast, with dull drizzle, so we decide to explore the marked forest trails from Les Houches and which eventually lead down to a small halt at Vaudagne for local rail services (free to holders of Carte d’Hôtes accommodation travel passes). Happily for us, the point at which the track becomes steeper coincides with a marked improvement in the weather, so we make our way back and this time head off to the Planpraz gondola lift just above Chamonix. The entire lift has been replaced since our previous visit, and now feels smoother and faster than its aged predecessor, with much roomier cabins. The haul is as steep as we remembered it, but much quicker, and minutes later we’re at the 1999m top station.

When we step from the gondola conditions are clear, so we waste no time heading even higher for the classic overview of the valley, which means transferring to the nearby Téléphérique du Brevent cable-car. Still one of the essential mountain experiences to be had around the valley, the celebrated link was inaugurated back in 1930. Back then the cabins were primitive, with little or no comforts, but passengers were transfixed by the breathtaking sensation of crossing some 1350m in an audacious single span.Today the cars are much bigger and smoother, but the drama of the traverse remains, particularly as we approach the top station, at the end of a 504m climb.

Floating free

The 2525m summit is home to a panoramic restaurant, but otherwise it all feels rugged, exposed and far removed from more earthly preoccupations down on the valley floor. In winter Le Brevent is the departure point for some demanding Black-graded ski terrain (which feeds onto the more benign slopes lower down) but in summer it’s a gateway to serious walking territory, plus advanced-level mountain-biking descents. Being equipped for none of the above, we content ourselves with what we came for — uplifting overviews of the valley and across to the Aiguille du Midi (3842m), plus the eternally snow-capped summit of Mont-Blanc (4810m).

The entertainment value of the return cable-car run to Planpraz is boosted by a group of weekend parapente flyers wheeling silently around us in search of thermals rising from the valley, and by the time we step back onto terra-firma the numbers launching themselves from Brevent are increasing steadily. Conditions like these are obviously irresistible, both to solo flyers and visitors taking tandem ‘baptême’ flights to discover for themselves just how it feels.


View of signed forest footpath trail above Chamonix

Clearly signed balcon footpaths trail along both sides of the Chamonix Valley.


View of family on the terrace f the Chalet de La Floria above Chamonix

Making the most of the valley views from the terrace of the Chalet de La Floria.

On mountain footpaths

Not that everyone comes to Chamonix to put their nerve to the test. One of the reasons we’ve wanted to return and see the valley in summer is to get physical on the marked footpaths — sentiers de randonnées — which wind their way up the sides of the valley. The choice is wide, and they’re graded on the map in a similar way to ski runs, beginning with Blue for medium difficulty/fitness requirements. Next comes Orange, denoting panoramic trails above the valley floor. The toughest routes, involving significant climbs, are graded Red.

One route in the Brévent Flégère area has caught our eye, since it passes a Le Chalet la Floria, one of many crèmeries in the Chamonix valley. So-called because they were usually situated on or near transhumance routes between the valley floor and the high alpage and refreshment would have been direct from the cows. The only slight problem for new arrivals like us is that the route is graded Red, although it looks a safe bet as long as we stick to the lower section up to the café. There are several departure points between the Planpraz and Flégère lifts, but it makes most sense for us to set off from the former. (Note the Flégère cable car is closed this summer (2019) and will be replaced by a new gondola lift and lower station in time for winter 2019/20. Walkers will be able to use Brévent, and the Index chairlift – open for just over 1 month during peak summer to access the classic hikes to mountain lakes.) The climb feels quite steep, but in reality is as nothing compared to what lies in wait for those who venture higher up the mountain (but who then have the option of a lift descent). We also slip almost immediately into the forest, with only the hum of the town below to remind us that this is only the start of what could be a long and challenging climb into full-on nature.

For now, though, it’s not exactly relentless, and things flatten a little, and allows us to catch our breath before the next climb. From time to time we pass waymarkers where paths intersect, and it’s already clear that you could easily spend a lot of time exploring all the variations in this sector alone, let alone the multitude of options further up the valley.

Efforts rewarded

Eventually, though, the path becomes steeper, narrower and more winding. Fortunately, signs to the Chalet la Floria tell us that our tenacity in maintaining our pace onwards and upwards will be rewarded. Other walkers descending obviously know how it feels, and greet us with a sympathetic smile and an encouraging “Not long now!”

Sure enough, a few minutes later we round the final bend and catch sight of the chalet. It looks a picture, with most of the old stone facade being covered by billowing vibrant displays of geraniums — but we find it hard to believe the sign which tells us that we’ve climbed little more than 300m since leaving Chamonix. After taking a seat at one of the brightly-painted tables placed around the chalet terrace we order drinks and home-made tarte aux myrtilles and begin to take in the kind of hypnotic mountain views which seem to agree with us. We’re still thinking as skiers, of course, to whom 300m of vertical sounds like peanuts, but to anyone heading up not down, the modest-sounding figure feels very different.

On the other hand, the historic chalet is merely a popular stop along a path which continues all the way up to the 1894m top station of the La Flégère cable car — or if you have truly boundless energy, onwards to the top of the Index chairlift (2396m). Somehow we don’t see ourselves ever doing that in a single slog, however much the idea appeals. Plenty of people do, however, a thought which we ponder in awestruck amazement on the return walk down to Chamonix. Maybe that’s why we manage to miss the path down to the base of the Planpraz gondola lift and emerge onto tarmac instead of where we’d left the car a couple of hours before. Happily, a near-level 10-minute walk gets us back to where we began, with a glow of achievement and a resolve to explore more of the Chamonix valley’s justly-celebrated network of mountain paths.


Chamonix

Chamonix bursts with floral colour throughout the summer.


Underview of Brevent gondola lift cabins, with mountainside in Chamonix valley

The Brevent gondola takes walkers, cyclists and paragliders up the mountain.

Going up, in style

During our time in the valley we get to realise more of our longstanding ambitions, including seeing how it feels to step deep inside a glacier. We’ll be describing this and other experiences on dedicated pages celebrating Chamonix’s legendary Mer de Glace Mountain Railway, riding the sensational Aiguille du Midi Cable Car, and taking the historic Tramway du Mont-Blanc from nearby Le Fayet all the way up to the wild, remote Nid d’Aigle (2380m) high above the ski resort of Les Houches. MountainPassions heart icon

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