Arguably, the grand dame of all French ski towns is Chamonix-Mont Blanc. As its name implies, the Alps’ tallest peak keeps an ever-watchful eye over the picturesque Chamonix Valley. Home to the first Winter Olympics in 1924, Chamonix attracts alpinists, skiers, snowboarders and those that simply want some fresh mountain air. An hour’s drive from Geneva or a six-hour train from Paris, a winter weekend in Chamonix is doable and definitely worth the effort.
Just steps from the Aiguille du Midi gondola is a new accommodation choice in Chamonix-Mont Blanc. Opened at Christmas 2016, Le Cristal de Jade is a luxury residence consisting of three chalets facing the famed Mont Blanc. Because the 51 apartments are both for sale and rent, Le Cristal de Jade is a unique blend of hotel and home.
The 51 apartments include one, two, three, and four bedroom options, sleeping one to eight people. Designed with classic mountain chalet feel, the apartments are enveloped in wood planks, flannel, faux fur throws and stunning photography from the area. To counterbalance the chalet cliché, the property features contemporary furnishings with clean, simple lines. Self-catering, the apartments’ kitchens are well equipped with plenty of dishes, cutlery, pots, and even have Cuisinart juicers and Nespresso machines.
Le Cristal de Jade apartments provide the comforts of home, but also offer the amenities of a five-star hotel. Each apartment has a ski locker, complete with boot and glove dryers. For after skiing, enjoy the sauna, hammam, indoor pool, children’s pool and hot tub. A state-of-the-art fitness center and luxurious spa, which includes three treatment rooms, is also located on property. Park or charge your car and store your bikes in the underground garage. For an additional charge, have groceries and fresh bread delivered or a chef create in-chalet meals.
Eat and Drink
This is France, thus there’s certainly no shortage of delicious dining options in Chamonix. From simple to gourmet, you’ll likely run out of time before you run out of choices. For something laid back, try a raclette crêpe on the terrace of Restaurant la Ferme on Avenue de l’Aiguille du Midi or breakfast at Aux Petits Gourmands. On Saturdays, don’t miss the market on Place du Mont Blanc. Area vendors set up shop every week, offering regional specialties, including breads, cheeses, honeys, meats, and pasta from over the mountain in Italy.
Enjoy something sweet at Le Gouthé or try a Mont Blanc with a view of Mont Blanc from Pâtisserie Maison Richard. Make sure to pick up some local specialty food items at Le Refuge Payot. From jams to saucisson to cheese, this gourmet shop will whet your appetite. When skiing at Brévent, head to the summit and Restaurant le Panoramic for lunch with a jaw-dropping view. Book a table at Bergerie de Planpraz for a leisurely gourmet lunch of foie gras, steak, shrimp and wine. Facing Mont Blanc at an altitude of 2,000 meters, Bergerie de Planpraz also offers a quick and casual snack bar just below the restaurant.
Look to Le Matafan inside the Hotel Mont Blanc for a striking setting and deliciously simple food. Having earned a Michelin star, chef Mickey Bourdillat is a fixture in Chamonix and sources local and seasonal ingredients to create his menus. La Télécabine is a favorite for locals and visitors alike. With a view of Mont Blanc, the terrace is a lovely spot for lunch or aperitifs, while dinner features an ever-changing menu in a lively setting. Kids will enjoy sitting in the classic red gondola-turned-table (reserve it early). Le Bistro in Hotel Morgane is a modern dining option now led by chef Daniele Raimondi from Italy. For the ultimate gourmet option in Chamonix, look no further than Albert 1er and chef Pierre Maillet. Consistently awarded with two Michelin stars, this family-run restaurant is comfortable and not the least bit stuffy. However, the food and service remain elegant, befitting of its stars.
A winter weekend in Chamonix-Mont Blanc would be incomplete without skiing at least one of the resort’s five ski areas: Brévent, Flégère, Balme Vallorcine, Grands Montets and Les Houches. From beginner to expert, there’s something for everyone, including the famous Vallée Blanche, the 20-kilometer route that takes skiers over glaciers, as well as around and over crevasses. Rent your equipment from Skiset and hire a ski guide from ESF, then you’re ready to hit the slopes.
For a more high-flying adventure, try your hand at parasailing with Les Ailes du Mont-Blanc. With a takeoff point at the Brévent ski area, the tandem flight lasts around 15 minutes. Hovering over the Chamonix village, eye-to-eye with Mont Blanc is an unforgettable experience. Other non-skiing ideas include dogsledding, ice climbing and snowshoeing. For something a little more serene, take the red Montenvers train and visit Mer de Glace up to an altitude of 1,913 meters. Explore an ice cave and the Temple of Nature. If you have a guide, walk out onto the glacier for a closer look.
A must while in Chamonix-Mont Blanc: the 20-minute cable car ride to the top of L’Aiguille du Midi. Without hiking or parasailing, it’s the closest you can get to the summit of Mont Blanc. In two steps, the cable car originating from the center of town rises a total of 3,842 meters. From Plan de l’Aiguille to the top station of Aiguille du Midi, the ride provides awe-inspiring views, including the magical Pelerins glacer. Hop off the cable car and cross the bridge to the Central Piton terrace. From there, take the elevator 42 more meters to highest terrace. Make sure to Step into the Void; this glass box protrudes out into the abyss below. After, board the Panoramic Mont Blanc. The world’s highest cable car crosses the Mont Blanc Massif over to Italy.
With about 10,000 full-time residents, Chamonix-Mont Blanc is more than a ski resort town. Because of this, it’s a vibrant area adaptable to a number of travelers’ tastes. From upscale and relaxing to modest and active, Chamonix-Mont Blanc is an excellent weekend winter escape that will leave you wanting more.
By Leah Walker
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