French and Sports in Chamonix!
The French commune of Chamonix sits higher than the tallest mountain in England, yet the gargantuan French-Swiss Alps tower over it still, making it a fantastic base from which to go skiing or boarding in the winter and enjoy biking, climbing and many other outdoor sports in the summer.
I visited Chamonix in the winter and could not recommend it enough! If I could go back every year I would. Very close to the town centre, within easy reach by public transport are several different resorts and slopes that cater from the complete beginner (me!) to much more advanced winter sports specialists.
Our first afternoon was on the slopes of Le Tour, just 2 miles up the valley from Chamonix. At the time I was there, the main ski area was home to 11 blue runs, 9 red and 1 black. There is also a fairly new ski lift which opens up the ski area greatly. For the more adventurous there are also excellent off-piste opportunities close by. The free bus from Chamonix is the best way to get to Le Tour, but there is also plenty of parking right at the foot of the first cable car. This takes you to a restaurant and plateau with fantastic views and a chance to sunbath if you’re lucky; from there you can go even further up the mountain for longer runs. Why not take the idyllic off-piste run through the trees right down to the train station at Vallorcine? After an aprés-ski drink at the station bar a scenic (and cheap!) train ride back into the valley is a great way to finish off the day.
As you are undoubtedly aware, the highest peak in the Chamonix valley is Mont Blanc! To get closer to the top you can travel up the unforgettable Aiguille du Midi (literally translated as “needle of midday”) cable car, which leaves from the centre of Chamonix straight up the side of the mountain. This 3842m summit was home to the world’s highest cable car for over two decades and still holds the record for the world’s highest vertical ascent in any cable car. It is certainly the best way to view the summit of Mont Blanc and surrounding Alps and valleys without having to climb the whole way yourself!
The Aiguille du Midi cable car is also the starting point for the world’s longest organised ski run. Called Vallee Blanche the run takes you from over 3800 metres down in to Chamonix, spread over a massive 22km! Whilst not the steepest or most challenging run it is undeniably the longest with breathtaking views all along the way. Your nerves are tested at the very start, not due to a climb, but rather the descent on foot, to the start of the run. Leaving the Aiguille de Midi summit you need to walk very steadily down onto the glacier with just a humble rope to guide you and a precipitous drop either side. Icy and sometimes crowded; it certainly gets the heart racing before the start of an unforgettable adventure!
Eating out in Chamonix after a day of beautiful skiing or boarding is heaven. All tastes and budgets are catered for, but whatever you do you must try some of the famous burgers before you leave. Ask anyone who has been to Chamonix and they will tell you that a sandwich from the grungy café-bar Poco Loco is compulsory. A huge bap stuffed with 2 burgers, chips, salad and special sauce does a great refuelling job on the move. If you would like to sit down and enjoy the tastiest steak burger in town, whilst listening to excellent live music and drinking in-house brewed French-Canadian beer, then there’s the one and only MBC – Micro Brasserie de Chamonix. Make sure you book in person and be prepared to wait for your food – but it is certainly worth it!
I can’t wait to go back and experience the beautiful scenery, fresh air, sport opportunities and French culture to the fullest. What better way to combine all of these then on a French language course in Chamonix? Our school offers group and private tuition with shared or private apartment accommodation. It is recommended that you book early for the winter season – especially if you require a place to stay whilst studying French.