Charm-on-ee…The Cradle of Alpine Mountaineering

Chamonix: Post Hike Day One.

***The Tour du Mont Blanc is obviously not for everyone. But even for non-hikers, Sylvia and I very strongly recommend a visit (if you can afford one) to the two major cities on the Tour…The French Alpine outdoor hub of Chamonix, France, and its alter ego on the Italian side, Courmayeur.

We might be tempted to compare either of these cities to our very own neighbor city of Asheville, North Carolina…a place where mountains, culture and mountain lovers collide. Except the mountain there are far bigger, and the culture distinctly old world.

The following is an account of our last day in Chamonix after the conclusion of the Tour. For a description of Courmayeur…which we thought to be perhaps even that much better…see our TMB Rest Day One report.***

Following our brutial eleven hour descent into a rain-swathed Les Houches, it was tempting to simply lay in bed all morning doing absolutely nothing. It’s not like we hadn’t earned the rest. But doing so would cost us the opportunity to see the city of Chamonix.

IMG_5495
Views of Mont Blanc abound in Chamonix.

Bizarre as it seemed, we’d been in the Chamonix area for two weeks now, and part from some distant views of the place from a thousand or more feet up, we had not even seen the city yet. We were very eager to see what many consider one of the great outdoor meccas of the world…nothing less than the birthplace of Alpine Mountaineering itself.

The skies had cleared overnight, giving us glorious weather for doing the touristy stuff. We grabbed the shuttle bus for the ten minute ride into town, got off at the main bus terminal and started walking around. Though it was mid-morning when we arrived, the city seemed rather deserted. Many people had perhaps succumbed to the impulse to sleep in.

01ea5cf184f060094b5d7cbf1d49a2bcefc931cc78
Though somewhat touristy Chamonix retains much of its Alpine Chaaaaaam (as we say in Boston)

Not far from the bus station is the main cable car terminal connecting Chamonix to the upper regions of Mont Blanc. The Aiguille du Midi, is perhaps an even better viewpoint than Punta Hellbronner which we had visited from the Italian side. In fact, when the whole route is operating, you can take a dramatic cable car ride across the glacier to Hellbronner and then go via the Monte Bianco Skyway down to Courmayeur. But the connecting run across the mountain had been closed when we’d toured from the Italian side.

This might be something to keep in mind for the future…because, we’ve some unfinished business here.

We had brunch in a small café. Nearby, at an outdoor bar, a bunch college age Frenchman – no doubt hikers or climbers – were getting an early start on the weekend by singing off key songs. Brian didn’t really care who sang what, he just wanted food.

IMG_5448
May I please have a drink served in a mason jaaaaaaah?

IMG_5452

IMG_5453
Now, that’s what I’m talking about!

After eating we drifted through the streets of Chamonix for hours. There sure are a lot of outdoor outfitters here. Especially those geared toward mountain sports.

If you are a skier you will LOVE this place. And likely spend a ton of Euros here.
There are few better cities than this one to do the touristy stuff in. We found Chamonix very walkable and pleasant.

IMG_5467
Fu Fu Shopping commences

IMG_5463

01445e4f3799889bada06b065739e181457b77b678
Brian hurries away from a Coach boutique.

Sylvia was again disappointed not to see enough Salomon brand gear, especially new running shoes, and again lamented that we had not spent more time in the town of Les Contamines where we had ‘missed some great deals.’

IMG_5476
Fu Fu shopping is complete! Note the wedding ongoing in the church behind Sylvia (closeup below)

IMG_5477

Running straight through the center of Chamonix is the Arve River. It appeared to be near flood stage when we visited…though it was a bit late in the summer for snow melt, they’d had a lot of late season snow in the Alps that year, and that might explain why the river was still running so fast.

People were doing white water rafting right through the city center. A raft spun out and bumped the wall of the river basin right near the cafe we picked to sit and  have drinks.

IMG_5489
Better get control of that raft.
IMG_5512
Nothing pleases Sylvia like a good raft wipeout.
010a1b94ddbcf62050a4c9b3a69afd6d7ca4178efa
A southwestern medley.

Almost everywhere you go in Chamonix you can look up and see mountains. On the North side of the valley, Brevent – where we’d descended from the previous day – can’t be missed. For a few bucks one could take a cable car up there, but having done the self-service route, we declined.

And of course, there were plenty of views of ‘Our Buddy.’

IMG_5459
Brevent frowns down on Chamonix from above. Hard to believe just yesterday we walked down from right there.

IMG_5488

IMG_5458
Another view of our Buddy, Mont Blanc.

Though congested and somewhat touristy, the city still retains much of its old-world charm. You might even say it’s Charm-on-ee.

IMG_5486

IMG_5480

IMG_5498

IMG_5500

The French Alpine Club of Chamonix Headquarters is, not surprisingly, located here. They run the Refuges up on the mountain. Maybe, someday, Sylvia and I will take an excursion over the glacier to one of them.

IMG_5503

After wandering about the town for some time, window shopping, actual shopping, sampling the beer and wine, and noting many ‘good doors’ and ‘charming houses’ and ‘good boards and pieces of wood’ that Sylvia had to be dissuaded from taking with her, we returned to the bus station. Here, we learned that we had come within 15 minutes of once again missing the last bus back to our hotel.

Fortunately, we made it back in time to pack for the morning.

Tomorrow we would hop the train for the ride back to Paris, where we would spend four days sightseeing in the fabled city of light. This too would be an adventure, but we were both sad to be leaving our Buddy, Mont Blanc, behind.The next morning, as we waited for the train, Brian snapped this picture…our last look at our buddy.

01272fb33ce46259f6e8a972e54e4e8c8f449e1016
We were depressed to be leaving, but we’ll be back.
IMG_5516
The final shot of Our Buddy.

The last one, for now.

IMG_5469

Next: The City of Light

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s