If it’s your first visit to Chamonix in winter, here’s my top five picks.
1. The Aiguille du Midi
This is the top of my summer list too – as one of France’s most popular attractions, it is hardly a secret. But it’s popular for a reason – a truly incredible experience…mind-bending scenery extends in every direction. It’s worth getting up early for, the clarity of early morning is spectacular. Remember in winter it can be very, very cold! Bring warm clothes, a hat, scarf, gloves, wear thick socks etc. It has indoor areas too, including the glass box photo-opportunity of “Step Into The Void”, but you want to be able to explore the exterior terraces.
If you’re here to ski, you can look into skiing the Vallée Blanche, a world-famous 20km off-piste route which starts from here, and a highlight of any ski or snowboard trip. If this isn’t for you, it’s still worth a look through the exit for a dramatic view of the ridge.
Even if you don’t want to do the Vallee Blanche, it’s worth taking a day off from skiing to visit the Aiguille du Midi. It really is incomparable.
More pics and some tips, here.
Booking info, prices etc on the lift company site – https://www.montblancnaturalresort.com
2. The Montenvers Railway
The Montenvers railway leaves from its own station near the main train station – it’s the level crossing you go over as you enter Chamonix. The line winds up the side of the valley to a stunning viewpoint over the Mer De Glace, directly opposite the Dru. The ride up through the snowy trees looking down at the valley is lovely.
See if you can spot the chalet : as the train goes through the arched gallery, look for the place where the railway crosses the river. The awe-inspiring scenery at the top is truly astonishing.
The Ice Cave is promoted as the big attraction here. I will be honest and say I’m not so keen on it, it’s a long way down, a lot of steps, and I find it a bit downbeat. However! It’s important in its way and it’s an experience to see the glacier.
More enjoyable, I think, are the short snowshoe trails to do are worthwhile to get away from the crowds at the station – sometimes you don’t need snowshoes as they are well trodden.vYou can usually walk to a marked point with a lovely view of the train crossing the viaduct, it takes around 5-10 minutes and is a nice way to experience the peace of the site without the crowds. Do keep to the path! Walking up behind the hotel towards Forbes Signal may or may not be possible in winter. From 2022 – 2025 there are large cranes working on the refurbishment of the site and depending on conditions you may or may not be able to get past them.
There’s a small exhibition of crystals which are very beautiful, an interesting glacier exhibits, a cafe which is nothing special, and an upmarket and historic hotel – stylish but priced accordingly – which can be nice for a drink. Dogs are welcome on the railway, but should always be on leads around Montenvers, there are very large cliffs in the area.
Available as a joint one-day ticket with the Midi (one day MBU) which is a very good deal. You can easily do one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Check the forecast! In general I recommend the Midi for the morning, lunch in Chamonix, and then Montenvers for the afternoon. Booking info, prices etc on the lift company site – https://www.montblancnaturalresort.com
3. Take the lifts
The infrastructure of lifts giving fast access to the high mountain is a huge part of Chamonix’s appeal. Skiing and snowboarding are the best known of course, but there’s also marked snowshoe tracks at most of the areas, so you can enjoy the crisp air and spectacular views at a slower pace. All of the lifts except Grands Montets are open to pedestrians. Have lunch facing Mont Blanc at the Panoramique restaurant at Brevent – I think this is by far the best of the high lift station restaurants. Snowshoe to the Swiss border – an easy marked path of about a kilometre from the top of Le Tour.
Or take it up a gear with an unforgettable tandem paragliding flight over the valley!
4. Escape the lifts
Explore a more peaceful side of the valley with winter walks on marked trails directly from the chalet, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing. You can start all of these pretty much from our entrance, depending on conditions of course.
5. Savoyarde food in a cosy restaurant
Raclette or fondu always taste best in a high mountain restaurant or a warm and welcoming refuge.
Where to have it: Cafe Comptoir does a wonderful fondu with Armagnac and Cremerie de Glacier Argentiere is also very good. It is difficult to get wrong though, you are pretty safe having it anywhere! The farmer’s co-op on the corner of Place du Mont-Blanc does high quality grated cheese mixes to make your own.
Toasted with a raclette machine and available in many different kinds – I recommend the smoked (fumé) and with mustard grains (au moutarde). Restaurants don’t generally do these varieties but as we have both fondue and raclette machines at the chalet you can try several kinds. Served with potatoes in a special wooden bucket, charcuterie, cornichons and salad (which I presume is to make you feel better) it’s an easy and fun dinner.
Where to have it: Raclette is really impossible to get wrong so wherever you like the look of is fine. Special mention to Le Monchu who have the traditional hot live coal raclette machines (check if you want to try this. I am always amazed it’s still legal) or do your own at the chalet.
Cheese on toast like you’ve never known! A slice of bread is soaked in white wine & cheese sauce, and then baked with a variety of extras such as egg, lardons, spinach, morels or tomatoes.
Where to have it: It is available in most Savoyarde places, but the Cremerie du Glacier in Argentiere is the undisputed queen of the Croûte with an enormous choice. I like the Arbate with truffle, chestnut and honey. Le Chapeau does a lovely Croûte also.
This satisfying dish of potatoes, bacon, white wine and cream, baked with a whole Reblochon sliced on top was invented in the 70s to sell more Reblochon. Whether it was based on a traditional recipe or not remains shrouded in mystery but it is hugely and deservedly popular. You do need to earn it though! Ideal for after (or before) a big day’s skiing or walking. I don’t generally make it at home because the amounts of cream and butter that go in are terrifying.
Where to have it: You can get it pretty much everywhere, it’s reliably good in most places, but it’s a lot of fun to have at the Panoramique restaurant at Brevent.
I am not above picking out the bacon bits, stricter veggies can have the Reblotin at Cremerie du Glacier in Argentiere.
For a more upmarket take on Savoyarde traditions I highly recommend Maison Carrier in Chamonix or , as above, Cafe Comptoir in Vallorcine.