The moon shines on Mont Blanc. We can imagine climbers striving to reach the peak covered in eternal ice. Down in the valley, it’s a mild evening of a hot summer day. We are sitting in the garden of Chalet Tissieres.
The cosy B & B is right at the foot of Mont Blanc, the White Giant. Our window offers a view to a hay field lined with willow-herbs, and a blue valley.
Chamonix in France is undeniably one of the most famous destinations in the Alps which it owes largely to Mont Blanc (4807 m), the highest mountain in Europe.
Chamonix welcomes visitors from all corners of the world but we never felt like it was a tourist trap. We’ve hiked in Chamonix twice, in July 2015 and 2017. In July, it may not be as crowded as in August when people from Central and Southern Europe are on holiday.
The breakfast in our B & B is served in the living room with a traditional alpine atmosphere. The breakfast is simple and good: muesli, yogurt, baguette, eggs, ham, and cheese.
On the breakfast balcony, we are met with the best possible weather for the Alps: a clear blue sky. On mornings like these, it brings us real joy to pack our hiking kits.
In the garden, there are climbers testing their gear. The atmosphere is nearly devout. This will be a great hot day in the mountains.
We pack our swimwear like we do every time we go on a hike. We’ve checked the map for a trail that takes half a day, through the lakes Lac Blanc (2352 m) and Les Chéserys (2211 m).
In the mountains, we notice that Chéserys Lakes are better for swimming. In the water, we can admire the magical view over the valley to the sharp peaks of the Mont Blanc Region. The summit of Mont Blanc shines white in the sun. This view makes this lake trail one of the most popular hiking destinations in the region.
However, on this side of Chamonix Valley, the highest viewpoint is Le Brévent (2525 m) which can be reached by a cable car starting close to the town centre. Le Brévent offers a 360 degree panorama view to the whole are of mountains and valleys.
In spite of the magical mountain view, the hiking trails in Chamonix are not among our top favourites in the Alps.
Hiking in the Alps is, first and foremost, about experiencing beauty even though it is also physically hard to climb the slopes in thin air. At its best, the trail leaves from the valley, goes through a grand spruce forest, arrives on an alpine meadow filled with flowers, and then climbs a rocky mountain path to the highest point of the trail.
In many places, the trails in Chamonix are too barren and rocky for our liking. The slopes are often so steep that it doesn’t make sense to start the hike down in the valley. The steep slopes even make Chamonix Valley (1042 m) look a bit gloomy. To reach an open view of the mountains, you have to take the cable car to more than 2,000 metres.But still, Chamonix has its charm. The whole experience is made up of the village, the accommodation, the view, and the hiking trails.
The B & B Chalet Tissieres is a nice haven after a hot hike. The trees offer shelter from the afternoon sun. Our homely room is small but it has a nice private bathroom. The price is reasonable, 114 euros a night in July 2017.
In the evening, we drive about five kilometres to the centre of Chamonix to have dinner and to enjoy the atmosphere. The village is charming with its beautifully painted old stone buildings.
In our experience, Chamonix isn’t really the capital of French cuisine. After a few unsuccessful experiments, we find a restaurant called Elevation 1904. The atmosphere is enthusiastic, and they serve regular good food like Greek salad and BBQ chicken wings.
The next morning is clear again. It’s time to climb on “The Top of Europe”. The cable car goes higher than any other one in the world: to the peak Aiguille du Midi in 3,842 metres. The ride makes us dizzy, and the view at the end station takes our breath away with the snowy and icy mountains.
The impact of thin air is now clear: we’re out of breath after climbing a few steps on the stairs. Aiguille du Midi is an intermediate stopping point for those climbing Mont Blanc. Following them, you can catch a glimpse of the excitement and risks of mountain climbing.
However, we’re heading back down. We get off the cable car in Plan Aiguille (2317 m) , the starting point of a popular hiking trail, Grand Balcon Nord, that takes a few hours. We leave Mont Blanc behind and see the view to Chamonix Valley and the mountains of Aiguilles Rouges that dominate the other side of it.
We finish our hike in Montenvers (1913 m) with a view to the glacier Mer de Glace. Here, it’s obvious to see how fast the glaciers have shrunk in the Alps. From Montenvers, we can take the train to the village of Chamonix.
This is how hikers spend their days in the deep valley of Chamonix, under the blue sky, on the barren paths of the steep slopes, in the shadow of the sharp peaks.
Translated into English by Katja Juutistenaho. Original Finnish text by Tuomas Hyytinen and Mila Hyytinen.