Situated in the Haute-Savoie region of France, Chamonix is bordered by Switzerland and Italy and dominated by the incredible Mont Blanc (4810m), the highest mountain in Western Europe.
Chamonix, where you will find our luxury ski chalets, is the birthplace of modern mountaineering and often known as the Alpine skiing capital of the world. As a destination, it has a reputation for the extreme and this, whilst undoubtedly true, can mask a wide array of sporting and leisure activities for pure pleasure and relaxation. A great casino and nightlife, unrivaled spectacular scenery, music and sport, passionate local culture, culinary delights and the peace and quiet of mountain life. Enjoy Chamonix at whatever pace suits you. There really is something for everyone here.
The lively streets of Chamonix are colourful with a mix of sports shops, guides' offices, restaurants, bars and cafes. Every Saturday morning, the town hosts an outdoor market, brimming with local crafts and produce. On grey weather days there is a cinema, bowling alley, ice rink, a large sports centre with a pool and gym as well as indoor climbing facilities to discover. Take the time to visit one of the numerous museums and learn about the incredible local history; there was a time when the locals believed these mountains and their glaciers to be possessed by demons. After the enlightenment, these once feared structures became the heart of the economy as the booming new trade of Alpine tourism emerged. It all started here!
The local population of Chamonix numbers around 10, 000 inhabitants, a figure which swells to nearly ten times that with the influx of tourists, climbers, alpinists, backpackers, students and seasonnaires across the four seasons.
Whilst the principal town is of the same name, ‘Chamonix’ is often used in reference to the whole valley, stretching over 28km from Le Fayet to Switzerland. This area encompasses several distinct and charming villages including Servoz, Les Houches, Les Bossons, Les Praz, Les Tines, Argentiere, Montroc, and at the top of the valley – Le Tour and Vallorcine.
HOW DID IT ALL START
In 1741 two Englishmen, Windham and Pococke, discovered the ‘Chamouny’ valley and its glaciers. Their expedition was met by a rural population of mountain farmers. This community spent their lives raising livestock with a sparse harvest of oats and rye. They feared the mountains and its glaciers were considered evil spirits, which threatened their livelihood. They would regularly invite priests to 'exorcise' them.
As Windham and Pococke explored the valley, they visited the largest glacier in France, the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice). As their stories and exploits were published in literary journals throughout Europe, their pilgrimage became the "mode" or fashion of the time. Chamonix's fame was on the rise and the upper classes were lining up to be associated with, and discover for themselves, these heralded locations.
Madame Coutterand opened Chamonix's first guest house in 1770. By 1783, celebrities such as Saussure, Goethe and Bourrit, had visited the valley and raised its profile. Around 1500 visitors ventured to Chamonix each summer.
SOME MORE FIRSTS
Two local men, Paccard and Balmat made the first ever ascent of Mont Blanc in 1786. The first luxury hotel was built in 1816 (The Hotel de l’ Union), followed by ‘la Couronne’, ‘le Royal’ and many more. In 1821, ‘La Compagnie des Guides’ was created following an accident on Mont Blanc.
Until the end of the 19th century, mountain guides were the main economic power in Chamonix. However, from the beginning of the 20th century with the construction of numerous hotels, hoteliers became the predominant economic force in the valley.
In 1860, a carriage road was built joining Geneva to Chamonix via Sallanches. In July 1901, the railway line that passes through the Chamonix valley was inaugurated. This opened the town to winter visitors, many of whom didn't make it past the stunning village of Les Bossons in awe of its Glacier, a real centre of commerce at the time.
Between 1908 and 1910 Chamonix took on its present rhythm of winter and summer seasons.
SKIIING IN CHAMONIX
- Skiing was introduced into Chamonix at the end of the 19th century by Dr Payot.
- The first big winter season was in 1906-07. Much of the initiative came from the ‘Club Alpin Français’, which organized a local winter sports competition.
- In 1924 Chamonix hosted the first-ever Winter Olympic Games.
THE CABLE CARS AND THE MOUNTAIN TRAIN
From then on, the mountains were transformed forever with the construction of the first custom-built tourist attractions:
- The Montenvers railway in 1908
- The cable-car ‘des glaciers’ in 1924 ( no longer operational)
- The Planpraz cable-car in 1927
- The Brevent cable-car in 1930
- The Aiguille du Midi cable-car in 1955
- The Flégère cable-car in 1956