Day 6 - Chamonix
Today we’ll spend the day exploring Chamonix and the surrounding area. Around 08:00 this morning, we ventured down to the hotel lobby to eat breakfast. The breakfast was excellent; we enjoyed meat, cheese, fruit, jams, pastries, bread, and more.
Aiguille du Midi
Right after breakfast, we walked through downtown to the cable car station, where we bought our tickets and narrowly caught the cable car up to Aiguille du Midi (“The Needle of Midday”). The view at the top was incredible. You can see Mont Blanc up close, plus many other peaks of the French, Swiss, and Italian Alps.
The Aiguille du Midi (“Needle of Midday”) is a 3,842m (12,605′) peak in the Mont Blanc Massif range. The cable car to the top, Téléphérique de l’Aiguille du Midi, opened in 1955, has the highest vertical ascent of any cable car in the world (1,035m to 3,842 m // 3,396′ to 12,605′).
The “Step into the Void” attraction opened in 2013. I walked on the glass platform (with great trepidation) when I visited in 2017.
Another nail-biting attraction, Le Pipe, opened in 2016. Click here to watch a video of its construction.
We finally headed down, once again changing cars at Plan de l’Aiguille, which marks the end of the ice and the beginning of the trees. The second (top) leg of the cable car is the longest stretch of cable in the world with no intermediate support beams.
Mer de Glace
Now safely back on the ground in Chamonix, we made a quick pit stop at our hotel (stopping in the lobby to grab a chocolate and lemon-creme-raisin croissant each) to change into some less-warm clothes, since we were no longer above 3,800m.
Changed, refreshed, and less hungry, we walked to the Montenvers train station to begin our ascent to Mer de Glace on the cogwheel train. It took a while to find the path to the train station, because the normal train tracks are in the way. We finally found the bridge over, and made the 12:30 train just in time.
The Mer de Glace (“Sea of Ice”) is a 7.5km (4.66mi) long glacier in the Mont Blanc Massif mountain range. It’s a staggering 200m (600′) deep. The glacier is the second-longest in the Alps, behind the Altesch Glacier in the Berner Oberland, just a few miles south of Lauterbrunnen.
I can no otherwise convey to you an image of this body of ice, broken into irregular ridges and deep chasms than by comparing it to waves instantaneously frozen in the midst of a violent storm.
William Cox, 1777
The train creaked its way up the mountain, and finally arrived at the station. We walked down to the cable car, which takes you about ⅓ of the way down to the glacier. One must walk the rest of the way down – almost 1,000′ of elevation change on very steep stairs.
At the bottom, we entered an ice cave carved in to the glacier. Every year, the Mont Blanc Company must dig the cave again, because the glacier moves >20’/year.
The walk back up to the cable car station was exhausting. The view of the glacier and the surroundings peaks was breathtaking (as were the stairs), so it made the climb a little more enjoyable.
We took the cable car back up to the train station, waited about 20 minutes, and then boarded the train headed back to Chamonix. Faith and I both struggled to stay awake on the return trip…it was now around 15:00.
We finished our “tea”, asked for some restaurant recommendations from a lady at our hotel, and walked around downtown Chamonix for about two hours, popping in and out of ski/clothing/jewelry/meat/cheese/other shops. We purchased a few souvenirs and other items, and then headed back to the hotel once again to drop off our items.
The Count of the Genevois first mentioned Chamonix in a land grant in 1091AD. Over the years, it developed into a famous tourist destination, and was especially popular with British gentry. The area’s economy has been largely tourism-centric since the 1800s.
Coat of Arms
The commune’s official name is Chamonix-Mont-Blanc (Mont-Blanc was added in 1916), though it was originally spelled Chamounix. The city hosted the first Winter Olympics in 1924.
Our first choice/recommendation for dinner, Chez Constant, was unfortunately closed for the shoulder season and won’t open until tomorrow, so we went with the hotel’s second recommendation: Neapolis, an Italian restaurant next door that featured wood-fired pizza and homemade pasta. Faith and I split three dishes recommended by our waitress: a mixed appetizer plate, a lasagna bolognese, and some kind of pizza I’d never heard of – that had a white sauce, prosciutto, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. It was all excellent. We finished off the meal with Italian ice cream (not gelato); I got chocolate and Faith got café.