The Alternative Chamonix Guidebook: Insider Tips from 16 Experts
Soaring peaks, breathtaking valleys, exhilarating cliff-faces and gorgeous alpine meadows make Chamonix one of Europe’s most popular and idyllic mountain havens.
It’s the home of the continent’s highest mountain, Mont Blanc, it’s regarded by many as the home of mountaineering, and it hosts the world's best ski resorts.
But there’s more to this beautiful French town than simply powder and peaks: all year round people come for golf, white water rafting, kayaking, canyoning, hiking, mountain biking, road cycling, yoga, trail running, skiing, snowboarding, mountaineering, abseiling, glacier walking, paragliding, and wingsuiting, to name but a few. And that’s just what you can do outside - the town of Chamonix, and the surrounding area, is home to a wonderful selection of architecture, restaurants, bakeries and bars.
Anyone visiting can quickly look up online the best places to eat and the best trails to walk, and often the information is the same wherever you find it - that’s why we got in touch with the Chamonix experts themselves and asked them for their insider tips and hidden gems. We reached out to professional skiers, photographers, mountain guides, climbers and trail runners asking for tips and recommendations that you won’t find in the guidebooks or travel sites.
Check out their stories and suggestions so you can see what the people who live and breathe Chamonix like to do, both for thrills and for chills.
Alex Buisse | alexbuisse.com
"My insider tip would be the newly renovated Épicerie des Praz, next to the post office, which offers great products and pastries, and especially made-to-order sandwiches. For people skiing in Flégère, it’s a much better lunch option than the overpriced on the slopes restaurants."
Alison Culshaw | offpiste.org.uk |
"I seem to have been mentioning to many of my clients / visiting friends the bakery in Argentiere this season (the one at the top of the road on the right as you are going uphill through the village). Since it had the seating area inside it has become a firm favourite and a great way to start the day in summer or winter. With easy parking (or access from the bus), it’s so easy to nip in and get a sandwich. Everything is incredibly tasty and good value making it a firm favourite. And a loaf of their “Pain Sportif ” is really hard to beat!"
Belinda Buckley | belindabuckley.com |
"Perched at 2032m of altitude on the slope of Les Grands-Montets, just below the tip of the Glacier d’Argentière, is the classic stone Chalet Refuge de Lognan, which dishes up the best food to be found on this mountain, whenever the Lognan cable car is running.
Access is somewhat off-piste, which adds to this traditional refuge’s charm: you can ski to it either from the Herse chairlift or via the Point de Vue run that follows the glacier from the Aiguille des Grands-Montets cable car. In summer, the walk from the Croix de Lognan, through mountain flora and crossing glacial streams, has stunning views of the village of Argentière below the moraine of its mighty glacier.
The refuge is run by a local high mountain guide who is the grandson of Armand Charlet, one of France’s most celebrated alpinists of the 20th century. The restaurant specialises in traditional Savoyard mountain cooking, which keeps the fare simple and delicious. "
Charley Radcliffe | digitalsteak.com |
"My favourite skiing tip is.. if you are new to off piste, especially Chamonix off piste, head over to the Tabe lift at Grands Montets, underneath this lift are a number of short and not steep couloirs to learn on. Running laps on this area is a great morning with a cafe at the bottom to warm cold toes.
My favourite going out tip is.. cocktails at Bighorn Bistro & Bakery. Known for their food, I reckon their cocktails are where it's at with some unusual twists on classics - my favourite being the Ocho Old Fashioned - a classic whiskey cocktail but with tequila..!"
David Anglister |
"Chamonix is great in every season, but since it's summer...
. Take your road bike and head to "Emosson Barrage" then back to Chamonix (60km)
. Hiking in Les Houches: Stage 1 (good shape); from Les Houches to Bellevue top early in the morning - Stage 2 (cool); go to "Col du Tricot" and discover Bionassay glacier.
. Hiking to "Les Aiguillettes des Houches" (good shape)
. Go to the swimming pool (50 metres) in front of Mont-Blanc: most spectacular!
. Then feel the emotion of the trail runners of "Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc" when they reach the finish line..."
Doug Mayer | runthealps.com
"My suggestion is to hike or trail run the Chamonix Vertical Kilometer route. It’s challenging, airy in spots, has an historic start next to the church, and is without a doubt one of the most famous vertical kilometer trail race routes in the world. Plus, you can enjoy a meal or snack at the top, before your ride down."
Here's a short story I wrote about it last year: Redlining in Chamonix: Skyrunning's Vertical Kilometre
Lorne Cameron | lornecameron.com |
"I always recommend visitors to make the most of their Mont Blanc Unlimited pass and try to ski outside of Chamonix at least once during a week's visit: Courmayeur and Verbier for beginner to expert terrain and Saint Gervais/Megeve/Les Contamines for beginner to intermediate. In Chamonix itself, hiring a guide for a day's skiing in Grands Montets resort early in the week is a good idea for off-piste skiers of any ability for a little help navigating the mountain and they will surely help with tips for current conditions in the other areas for the rest of your week's skiing, or of course for the classic routes off the Aiguille du Midi or some introductory ski touring off Flegere.
My top tip in Chamonix town which many locals don't even know about is Pizza Hop's "Menu Cinema". €15 gets you any pizza with a soft drink plus a cinema ticket voucher valid for the next two weeks. It's not the fanciest place to sit-in and eat but very good pizza and a nice cheap evening!"
Damien Stork | chamonixhardcross.com |
"Packed lunch on the grass above Plan Praz watching parapentes take off...
Eating freshly made goats cheese at the tiny farm at La Blaitiere, a one hour walk above Les Planards... the only living, breathing and open to visitors farm in the immediate Cham area..."
Mark Seaton | markseaton.com |
"As for nuggets of information, as far as off piste skiing goes (that's what I specialize in) then I would tend to phrase advice in what not to do - top of the list would be: "Don't follow tracks" assuming they lead to good skiing because they could be made by someone with skins, an abseil rope or worse a speed flyer. Best tip is don't ASSUME. Because as the an acronym goes it will make an Ass out of You and Me."
Robbie Britton | robbiebritton.co.uk |
"Going from the Col de Montets up to the Aiguillette des Posettes is a good hike/run on a clearly marked trail all the way up to the top. On a good day you can see the whole of Chamonix and the Mont Blanc range in one direction and Mont Buet and Switzerland in the other. Then you can either go back the way you came, drop down to Vallorcine to get the train back or run down via Le Tour.
If you go on an early morning there can be some spectacular cloud inversions in the valley below."
Ross Hewitt | rosshewitt.net
"Spring is my favourite time of year and ideal for multisports days. Through April and May, you can ski powder in morning, bike in the afternoon and rock climb or boulder in the evening. Pretty much any mountain activity including walking, running, parapente, wing suiting, speed flying, skiing and climbing is possible and with it so easy to get around the valley, it's perfect for doing 2 or 3 activities in any one day."
Stuart Macdonald | avalancheacademy.com
"My number one tip for visitors is to come out of Peak Time. ie ski in January and April and summer trips in June and September."
Andy Perkins | andypmountainguide.com |
"Working as a mountain guide, keeping my calorie intake up is crucial, whether that’s early morning, in the middle of the day or immediately after my day on the hill finishes. I’m a big fan of Le Fournil Chamoniard. Located just outside the town centre, it’s packed with working people in the morning. Why? Parking right outside, friendly staff, and a great selection. The choice of breads, quiches, sandwiches and cakes is massive, but my top two tips are:
· The multicéréales bread. Moist and soft and easy to eat on the hill. Get it sliced and packed in a plastic bag in the shop, and it’ll keep all the way along the Haute Route to Zermatt if necessary.
· Their signature cake, the Chamonix. More chocolatey than Willy Wonka. Lasts about 2 minutes after I get home from a day of off piste skiing. Awesome.
And if you’re based in Argentière, not to worry. There is an outlet for LFC at the top end of the village where you sit down for coffee as well. Sorted."
Tobias Granath | tobiasgranath.com |
"Chamonix is the place to be if you want to have fast access to the mountains. There’s tons of mountain routes and trails you can do in a half day or as a day trip by accessing the mountains with help of the lifts early in the morning. The only problem is that you will not be alone..
So from my heart. What I would recommend for people who want to discover the true mountains of Chamonix with a mountain activity is to slow down a bit and do those half day and day trips in TWO days with a stay in a mountain hut. Experience the sunset and the sunrise. Experience the mountain-hut culture. Be alone on the classic routes by starting one or two hour before everyone else who’s starting from the lift. To do the classics in Chamonix without stress and people around is a unique Chamonix experience."
Emma Jack | cloud9adventure.com
"My summer suggestion would be a short hike up to the buvette at La Floria. It's a delightful spot, easy to reach by foot from Chamonix (approx 45 mins to 1 hour) and from there you get a wonderful view of Mont Blanc and the Chamonix valley amidst a tranquil setting of flowers and birds. The owners have lived there for decades. There isn't a huge choice on the menu: it's simple mountain food. The homemade lemonade is delicious. But the real delight is taking time to savour the surroundings."
Simon Blackmore | chamonixtrekking.com
"I'd say Chamonix in summer. Everyone should see the Alpine wild flowers once in their life."