General Information About Chamonix
Chamonix-Mont-Blanc,[note 1] more commonly known as Chamonix[note 2] (formerly spelled Chamounix), is a commune in the Haute-Savoie département in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in south-eastern France. It was the site of the first Winter Olympics in 1924. The commune's population of around 8,900 ranks 1,089th within the country of France.
Situated near the massive peaks of the Aiguilles Rouges and most notably the Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix is one of the oldest ski resorts in France. The north side of the summit of Mont Blanc, and therefore the summit itself are part of the village of Chamonix. To the south side, the situation is different depending on the country. Italy considers that the border passes through the top. France considers that the boundary runs along the rocky Tournette under the summit cap, placing it entirely in French territory. The south side was in France, assigned to the commune of Saint-Gervais-les-Bains sharing the summit with its neighbor Chamonix. It is this situation "for France," which is found on the French IGN maps. The Chamonix commune is well known and loved by skiers and mountain enthusiasts of all types, and via the cable car lift to the Aiguille du Midi it is possible to access the world-famous off-piste skirun of the Vallée Blanche. With an area of 245 km2 (95 sq mi), Chamonix is the fourth largest commune in mainland France.
The ski resort of Chamonix France is a collection or commune of villages nestled along a valley which runs from Switzerland into France, and is dominated by the nearby Mont Blanc. Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, is the main town in this valley.
This brief orientation is important so you know where your intended accommodation is located relative to where you're likely to ski.
Remember, Chamonix is not is single centered resort, it is an entire valley. The main town of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc is about 2/3 way down the valley. Have a look at this orientation map and see how the resort and villages are well spread out.
It takes about an hour from one end of the valley to the other and commuting is essential at Cham.
The actual groomed regions are extensive but are located in 5 major different locations from the very top of the valley, at Le Tour to Les Houches at the other end, an hour's drive away.
In fact, it's better to get a grip on the local orientation prior to making your bookings for rooms. Each of these villages is close to a nearby ski region. The question you'd want answered is, Is this where you'd have the most fun skiing and if not, how convenient is it to get to where you'd like to ski?
Take for example, Vallorcine - it is the service town for the truly wonderful open ski bowl at Domaine de Balme, which is just perfect for beginners, blue intermediates and families.
Being on the outer fringes of the Chamonix France, accommodation is appropriately priced. But it is just incredibly inconvenient if you're a party person and a holiday for you means fun filled night life with loads of exciting skiing during the day. The night life happens in the main town and night buses are limited, so are you ok with the cost and time for commuting?
Back to Orientation
This is where Chamonix France is located close to the border of Italy and Switzerland Chamonix France is right on the border with Switzerland and Italy
On the one ticket, the Unlimited Mont Blanc Pass, you get to explore resorts in three countries with Courmayeur, the sister Italian resort 20 minutes away through the Mont Blanc Tunnel and Verbier, less than 2 hours drive from Cham.
Chamonix's Villages & Ski Region
At the northern end of the valley, is the village of Vallorcine. This is the town where the trains from Switzerland stop and passengers then change trains to get onto the trains that ply the Valley between Vallorcine and Servoz at the southern end.
For skiers (with a valid pass, of course), this train is free. The trains are hugely popular with skiers commuting between regions.
Traveling from one village to the next is easy and efficient with the buses and the train that ply the route along this valley. We favored the buses as they take you directly to the lifts, whereas there's a walk from the railway station to the lift terminal. Whilst it's only a short distance, it's absolute murder when walking in boots on icy paths and lugging skis, helmets and poles, let alone if you have to tow the kids as well.
The buses most commonly serve the village of Le Tour at one end of the Valley to Les Houches at the other.
Chamonix Culture and History
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, and a humble monastery. This community lived off animal husbandry and a sparse harvest of oats and rye.
Windham and Pococke explored the valley and visited the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice). The stories of their exploits, published in literary journals throughout Europe, started a craze to find out more about Chamonix.
Madame Coutterand opened the first guest house in 1770.
By 1783, celebrities such as Saussure, Goethe and Bourrit, had visited the valley and raised its profile. Around 1,500 visitors ventured to Chamonix each summer.
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 the 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, the hotel industry become the predominant economic power 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.
Between 1908 and 1910 Chamonix took on its present rhythm of winter and summer tourist seasons.
The Skiing in Chamonix Mont-Blanc
In 1924 Chamonix hosted the first Winter Olympic Games. Skiing was introduced in 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 Alpine Français' which organized a local winter sports competition.
The Cable Cars & 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.
Chamonix Nature and Wildlife Information
For centuries man made little impact on the mountains. All that changed in the last hundred years with summer and winter tourism. The growth of ski runs, cable cars, chair lifts, roads and hotels has put pressure on the ecological structure and balance. The explosion of tourism threatens many species that have a precarious existence in the mountain environment.
Chamonix Wildlife - Animals in the Chamonix MountainsChamonix Nature & WildlifeBaby Marmots in Merlet Animal ParkChamonix Geology and CrystalsEdelweiss
- Flower of the Alps
The Wildlife of Chamonix - Animals and Birds
Many different species of animals live in the mountains. Most of the mammals are herbivores, such as chamois, mountain hares and marmottes. Also a few foxes and lynx (very rare) can be found.
You can observe most of the native Chamonix animals in their natural habitat at the Merlet Animal Park in Les Houches.
There is a limited variety of birds but the sight of a royal eagle or a bearded vulture, with over 2m wingspans is a real reward for an ornithologist.
Reptiles such as snakes and lizards enjoy sunbathing on the warm rocks. Be careful, a few are venomous!
Little affected by the reduced oxygen levels, many insects live at high altitudes, in particular, butterflies.
Plant Life - Flora in Chamonix Mont-Blanc
From the bottom of the valleys to the highest peaks, a wide range of vegetation can be found. Deciduous trees low down, with spruce and larch a bit higher, and finally, conifers.
Above 2500m only a few hardy bushes survive, but algae can be found right up to the highest points.
In spring and summer, a large variety of flowers can be appreciated in the forests and mountain pastures.
Geology of the Alps
The French Alps cover about 35,000km² of the western Alpine chain. They form an arc from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean, 350km long with an average width of 100km. The highest point is the Mont-Blanc at 4,807m (15,770ft). The average altitude is 1,100m.
The characteristics of these young (everything is relative) mountains are strongly defined by the pinnacles, needles, enclosed valleys and long glaciers.
An extraordinary variety of rocks and minerals can be found, particularly in the Mt Blanc massif. Intense erosion, often assisted by man, continues to expose mineralogical and petro graphical treasures.
Amateur mineralogists find crystallized minerals, sedimentary rocks with fossils, volcanic and metamorphic rocks. Check the events calendar for the annual Mineral Fair in the summer. You can also check out the museum in the Espace Tairraz exhibition centre in Chamonix or up at the Montenvers Train station / Mer de Glace.
Chamonix Natural Reserves and Zoos
The easiest way to appreciate all of this plant and animal life is to visit to one of the zoos or nature reserves in the valley.
The Aiguilles Rouges nature reserve, the Marécottes zoo (Switzerland), Merlet Animal Park (a reserve of free-ranging mountain animals) or the St. Bernard breeding centre are the primary places. For more details on these, see our natural reserve and zoo page.
Typical Savoyarde Products & Traditional Food from Haute Savoie
Savoyard cooking, the typical food from Chamonix Mont-Blanc, is based on a staple diet of cheese and potatoes. Produced locally in summer and easy to store during the long winter months, and with a high calorific value, they make for a good human fuel source. With a little ingenuity, the Savoyards make it taste good too.
Don't miss the pleasure of the aperitif. Every evening, people gather around in Chamonix town center or Argentière to enjoy this french 'ritual'! Chamonix, Argentière, Les Houches, all have a lot of bars where you can enjoy 'Apero' time.
1 glass of Savoie white wine per person
200gr of cheese per person (half emmental, half beaufort)
1 clove of garlic
1 teaspoon of potato flour
1 glass of Kirsch liqueur
Cut the cheese into strips. Mix the potato flour into the kirsch. Rub the inside of the caquelon (special fondue saucepan) with the peeled garlic clove. Heat the wine: as soon as it starts to bubble add the cut cheese, stirring all the time with a wooden spoon. Add pepper. When the cheese has all melted, add the potato flour and kirsch mixture, mixing all the time. Your fondue is now ready! Put your piece of bread on the end of a long fork and dip it in. Don't forget to stir all the time. If anyone loses their bread in the fondue then traditionally they must buy a bottle of wine.
200gr of raclette cheese per person
potatos (small or new)
small pickled gherkins, and cocktail onions
a selection of ham and dried meats
Boil the potatos with their skins on. Let the cheese melt in front of the heat source, then scrape it off and pour it over the potatoes.
Eaten with accompanying pickles and meats
For this a special raclette grill is needed. These come in numerous shapes and sizes, from large ones that cook half a round cheese, to small ones that cook just the precut slices.
La Tartiflette, for 4 people
1 reblochon (cheese)
1 kg of potatos
250 gr bacon bits
salt and pepper
Melt the butter in a frying pan and fry the bacon bits, add the onions, chopped finely, fry with the potatoes. When the potatoes are nearly cooked, put them in a low oven proof dish with the bacon bits and onions then cover with the grated reblochon. Cook this in a very hot oven, until the cheese has melted and browned.
Serve with a green salad and a little Savoie dry white wine.
La Tarte aux Myrtilles (Bilberry tart)
500gr of flour
100gr of butter
1/2 glass of water
a pinch of salt
Make a hole in the center of the flour and pour in the water. Add the salt and butter. Mix the pastry with the end of your fingers, then your palms, role it out and place in a flan dish, pricking it with a fork. Cook the pastry until golden about 20 minutes. Lay the pre-poached bilberries on the pastry, a bit of jelly can be added to give it a shine.
Visit the Shops selling local produce in Chamonix Mont-Blanc: where to buy regional products from the Haute Savoie: the cheeses, the charcuterie, the wines.