Chamonix, where you will find our 3 luxury ski chalets, is probably best known as the skiing and alpine capital of the world. As a destination it has a reputation for the extreme and this, whilst undoubtedly true, can mask a wide array of sporting and leisure activities, peace and quiet, great nightlife, and superb scenery that can be enjoyed at whichever pace suits you. There really is something for everyone here.
The lively streets of Chamonix are colourful with a mix of sport shops, guide offices, restaurants, bars and cafes. Every Saturday morning the town hosts an outdoor market brimming with local crafts and produce. On bad weather days there is a cinema, a bowling alley, an ice rink, a large sports centre with a pool, gym and indoor climbing wall and numerous museums in which to while away the day.
Situated in the Haute-Savoie region of France, Chamonix is bordered by Switzerland and Italy and dominated by the incredible Aiguilles de Chamonix mountain chain which peaks at the top of Mont Blanc (4810m) – the highest in Western Europe. The local population of Chamonix numbers around 10 000 inhabitants but this figure swells to nearly ten times that with the influx of tourists, climbers, alpinists, backpackers, students and seasonnaires. There are two distinct seasons here: summer and winter, but the area is busy for most of the year.
Whilst the principal town is of the same name, ‘Chamonix’ is often used in reference to the whole valley, stretching over 28km from Le Fayet to Switzerland. It is, however, made up of several distinct and charming villages including Servoz, Les Houches, Les Bossons, Les Praz, Les Tines, Argentiere, Montroc, and at the top of the valley – Le Tour and Vallorcine.
How did it all start?
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. This community lived off raising livestock 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 1500 visitors ventured to Chamonix each summer.
Some More Firsts…
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 Mt-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, hoteliers became 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 seasons.
The Skiing in Chamonix Mont Blanc
In 1924 Chamonix hosted the first ever Winter Olympic Games.
Skiing was introduced into 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