Travel: With so much to offer, Chamonix is a snow sports fan's paradise
Five resorts mixed with stunning views and the highest peak in the Alps all make Chamonix one of Europe's top ski resorts. It's a place you'll want to return to again and agein, writes Connla Young
NESTLED in the shadow of mighty Mont Blanc, Chamonix has a reputation for being one of the most scenic ski areas in Europe – and it’s not hard to see why.
A series of Alpine villages strung along the valley provide a gateway to almost 160km of the most perfectly groomed slopes in the Alps as well as practically unlimited off-piste action.
The area, right on the borders of France, Switzerland and Italy, has long been a prime destination for travellers and hosted the first winter Olympics in 1924. But its Alpine heritage runs much deeper than that. Mont Blanc, The White Mountain, was first conquered in 1786; ever since, the town has been a base for climbers determined to add their name to the mountain's often deadly history, as well as snow lovers searching for less dangerous thrills.
At just over an hour's drive from Geneva Airport, getting to this stunning region couldn’t be easier. Regular shuttle buses ferry thousands of snow seekers to and from the resort each day and, as with most things the Swiss have a hand in, the transfer tends to run like clockwork.
Chamonix combines the charm of Alpine village with the modern amenities of a first class global destination. It is the perfect place to unwind and soak up the aprés-ski buzz.
While some travellers base themselves in satellite villages, it’s well worth considering spending some of your stay in Chamonix itself. It offers a perfect launch pad for the district's five different ski areas and is a melting pot for snow heads from across the world.
It provides everything a traveller could wish for, from relaxed meals at atmospheric restaurants on the banks of the River Arve, to late night aprés action for the hardliners.
There is accommodation to suit all budgets – we stayed at La Grande Savoyarde apartments, a converted family home located just a short distance from the town centre. The accommodation has three large bedrooms, ideal for a family or large groups, and a master bedroom and large living room that both have sensational views of Mont Blanc.
Unlike some of Europe’s other better-known resorts, Chamonix’s ski areas are not linked but logistical problems are easily overcome with shuttle bus services. At peak times, these can be a tight squeeze, as weary skiers make their way between the stops –
patience and planning are key to conquering Chamonix.
Once on the slopes, the majesty of the Alps is laid bare. Chamonix has it all – off-piste and maintained ski areas that are the envy of Europe. While all ability levels are catered for, the groomed runs can often provoke and prod skiers to their limits, no matter how experienced they might be.
Challenging runs, off-piste powder and stunning scenery make it a Mecca for thrill seekers. The 20-kilometre Valley Blanche off-piste run is one of the longest in Europe and attracts serious skiers from all over the world.
We found ESF ski school to be in the top of their class when it came to putting winter holidaymakers through their paces. With a town centre office and daily pick up points, the school caters for all abilities. The English-speaking instructors are more than teachers – they take on the role of guide as you navigate your way through Chamonix’s resorts, each one offering a different experience.
Group lessons run until lunchtime, meaning that the afternoon provides plenty of opportunity to explore the ski areas at a more leisurely pace on your own.
If you want to be fully rewarded by the sights and experiences that Chamonix has to offer, the Argentière Glacier is not to be missed. Be prepared for some challenging terrain – but believe me, it's well worth it. The world-renowned glacier sits close to a small village that shares its name. The valley’s main road runs through the centre of the village, which is dominated by its baroque church.
Also in Argentière is the Hotel De La Couronne, from where you can get to the Grands Montets cable car by foot within 10 minutes. The hotel's location in the middle of the region makes it easily reached by free shuttle buses and with balcony views, it provides the perfect platform as the setting sun cloaks the nearby peaks in a blanket of colour.
There is no shortage of places to refuel after a muscle-busting day on the slopes. But for a special treat Les Cheserys Restaurant, next door to the Hotel De La Couronne and connected via the lounge, is worth a look.
A trip on Aiguille du Midi cable car is recommended – but only for those with a head for heights. From around 3,800 metres, spectacular views of the French, Swiss and Italian Alps will leave you feeling on top of the world – the perfect way to end a trip to a spectacular ski resort.
:: Transfers: Connla's transfers to and from Geneva airport were via Mountain Drop Off – mountaindropoffs.com
:: Accommodation: For details and prices of La Grande Savoyarde Chamonix self-catered apartments see jeandecham.com/rez-de-jardin-la-grande-savoyarde or lagrandesavoyarde.com. For Hotel De La Couronne details and prices see hotelcouronne.com
:: Equipment and lessons: Connla hired skis and boots from coquoz-sport-chamonix.sport
:: Ski lessons were booked at ESF ski school – see ski-school-chamonix.co.uk
:: Visit chamonix.com for further details and to check out snow reports for the region.