France Day 6: Chamonix Part 1

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Getting to Chamonix

After a nice hotel breakfast in Annecy, we hopped in our rental car, and started the drive up the mountain to Chamonix.  By 11am, we had made it to this ski resort town. We stashed the car in a parking garage on one end of town, and started to explore.

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In Europe, both the signs and the road rules are a little different, so make sure you read a little about the specifics before you rent a car.  Fortunately the most important signs are usually pictures rather than text, so even if you don’t speak the language, you can usually figure it out.  As an illustration, I really like the “Quay or Riverbank” sign.  The language barriers really aren’t as big as you might fear.

Aiguille-du-Midi

We had originally planned  to do a hike by the lift on the north side of town. But when we realized that purchasing a 2-day pass up the mountain was only slightly more expensive than a single ticket, we decided to start with Aiguille-du-Midi instead and go near the top of Mont Blanc.  Not knowing what the food situation would be, we picked up some picnic supplies to take with with us.

The view was amazing!

The kids took off running up some steps.

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Following them, we realized our mistake about half-way up.  As it turns out, the elevation was almost 12,400 feet!!!  Coming from Annecy the day before, which was less than 1,500 feet, we really felt the altitude difference.  Since the town of Chamonix is only 3,400 feet, it probably wouldn’t have mattered if we would have gone up the first day or the second.  Either way, it would have been an issue.

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So, we enjoyed the views, encouraging the kids to take a slower pace.  We saw some steps – the kind made of woven metal that shows you what is underneath – that led to nothingness.  I only made it a couple of steps before I started panicking and had to turn back.

We think the clouds scared away a some other tourists, so it was really quite peaceful and uncrowded.  On a less cloudy day, crowds could have been an issue.

We thought about taking the gondola to Italy, but given that it would take at least another hour and a half, we skipped it due to time constraints.  Plus, we were all feeling the altitude.  Beyond just being out of breath, I had progressed to a mild headache and one of the kids was starting to have a more serious headache.

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The Mid-Point

On the way back down, we decided to stop at the mid-point and look around.

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The kids enjoyed the donkeys.

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And everyone enjoyed drinks on the restaurant/snack shack terrace.

Our son’s headache was a lot worse by this time, so we decided to head back to town.

Evening in Chamonix

We really enjoyed the town.  Even though Annecy was nice, we preferred Chamonix.  When comparing it to our favorite Swiss town of Wengen, we noted that it had a similar feel, but was quite a bit larger (not large, but definitely more amenities and restaurants).  There was a reasonable amount of pedestrian areas, but more amenities than you might expect from a smaller mountain town.  All-in-all, quite nice.

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For dinner, we decided to try a nice looking restaurant that offered raclette.  When looking at French and Swiss mountain towns, cheese fondue is almost always offered.  A secondary method of eating large quantities of melted cheese is raclette.  Your server will give you a portion of raclette cheese appropriate to the size of your party, then will place it under a heat lamp.  As it melts, you scrape it off and enjoy on potatoes, ham, and other goodies. Quite tasty, but probably best after a long day hiking or skiing!

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After dinner, we took the boys to the park, then headed back to the apartment for rest and sleep.

This experience with high-altitude headaches was really valuable later on when we planned a trip to Peru! Here’s our second part in Chamonix.

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