Wednesday , February 1 2023

A local’s guide to Chamonix, France: great hikes, the Alps and decent sushi

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Food

Cool Cats in the Rue de Moulins is where I go for an early dinner with my kids, and it’s best in the summer when you can sit outside. But as it does artisan hot dogs with extras including jalapeños and cheese, and street food such as nachos, it can also be good when you’re coming off the mountain in winter.

Chamonix, France. hot dog cool cats

It’s in the same street as Le‑Cap‑Horn, which is a good option, especially for sushi, but a bit more expensive. We would go there for special occasions. Being able to get good sushi makes Chamonix a bit special for a mountain town.

Inspiration

The mountains here are unique but I think what makes Chamonix special is that they are so accessible from the valley. I’ve been to places such as Pakistan, where the mountains are much bigger but take a lot of effort to access.

Cable car Mont Blanc.
The abundance of cable cars make access to the mountains relatively easy compared with other parts of the world. Photograph: Hemis/Alamy

In Chamonix, with the cable car and lifts, it’s easy. And because this is the birthplace of alpinism, when you’re in the mountains you’re either on a historic route or you can see one, and I find that pretty inspiring. I enjoy just being in the mountains with good friends and family, but in the town, the Maison des Artistes, an artist’s residence dedicated to musical creativity, has a concert programme that changes all the time and can be quite unusual.

Neighbourhood

Chamonix is incredibly international: people from all over the world are brought together by the mountains. This part of the Arve valley is divided into three main towns: Argentière, Chamonix and Les Houches. I live in a hamlet called Les Bois, between Chamonix and Argentière, and from my bed I can see the 4,122-metre Aiguille Verte, so that’s not bad.

Closest to me is another hamlet called Les Praz, which has a nice bar, Le Petit Social, for coffee or après ski.

On the other side is Le Lavancher and a 30-minute walk from that hamlet is la Buvette du Chapeau , a mountain cafe with traditional food (cheese, charcuterie, chanterelle omelettes) and desserts such as fruit tarts and faisselle (local fromage blanc) with blueberry jam. It has panoramic views from the terrace.

Green space

The train to Montenvers climbs up to the Mer de Glace, France’s largest glacier.
The train to Montenvers climbs up to the Mer de Glace, France’s largest glacier. Photograph: Alamy

I feel as if the whole of the Mont Blanc range is my garden, and there are great views everywhere – one of the best is from Montroc, further up the valley. At Montenvers you can take a look at what’s left of the Mer de Glace, France’s largest glacier, which is melting so fast. It’s sad when I see the mountains so dry and grey and smoky because of the rocks falling. But it’s sadder for my kids and the next generations.

And guiding is probably going to be more and more difficult as we will have to adapt to working more in spring, which can be difficult because the terrain is pretty unstable then.

Nightlife

Chamonix is a busy mountain town with lots of tourists so the nightlife is good. But since I’ve had kids, my preferred way of spending an evening is getting the cable car to Plan de l’Aiguille and watching the sunset from the Refuge du Plan de l’Aiguille, which is a 15-minute walk from the cable car.

You can have dinner and stay the night there, too, but in summer I like to take a picnic and camp up there. It is my favourite refuge in the whole Mont Blanc range and the mountains are pretty steep from there on, so if I stay the night, I know I can soon be up and doing something interesting the next morning!

Stay

Pointe Isabelle (doubles from €90 room-only), in the centre of town, is a hotel, bar and bistro with 72 rooms. It sits on a corner, so is a good place for apéro and people watching.

Mountain guide and pro snowboarder Julien “Pica” Herry also runs Zom Connection, a charity that donates snowboards, equipment and expertise to communities in northern Pakistan

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