Summer in Chamonix

Chamonix, the new centre of the ice cream parlour?

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Although Chamonix is currently having one of its best early season for years with lifts open in November, its with fondness we look back at those warmer sunny days….

It’s always fun to ring the changes in a familiar area, but this was a trend we’d not anticipated. Stupid really as you always see ques for ice cream during summer evenings in the Market Square courtesy of this place.

Given our loathing of queuing we prefer the place on the Avenue Michael Crozier near the museum. This little place (Mer Des Glaces) is open winer and summer (well it would have to be with a name like that).

It was while walking towards the SNCF station on that same avenue that we spotted a few trendy looking stools outside a cafe. It then hit us that with this amount of ice cream parlours Chamonix has truly landed on the summer map for those other than hard-core outdoor types.

So we kept our eyes open when wandering around town and we were amazed how many more we saw.

Cote Macarons walking out of town towards the hotel Alpina.

Chez Rochford

And of course Chalet 4810 who converted from a rock shop into a patisserie a few years ago


These 6 are just of course the ‘tip if the iceberg’ as many of the restaurants make their own and are famed for such delicacies. A little hunt around identified our next door neighbour L’Impossible as a leader in this field.  The local speciality of Chestnut ice cream has even inspired famous chefs to create their own Mont Blanc.

Neither Facebook or Trip Advisor seems to have cottoned on yet though, so watch this space.

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Via Ferrata De Curalla, Passy, not for the faint hearted

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Having watched YouTube videos the night before it seemed like a good idea.

Also the single photo I saw of it from the lad’s trip earlier in the year looked spectacular. And the enthusiasm of a teenage daughter made it seem accessible.

The guidebook states that it is Europe’s best and most beautiful one. Supposedly it is the only via ferrata opposite Mont-Blanc. Total length is 400 meters, difficulty AD+ and you can make it in 1 1/2 hours. It also happens to be the closest to Chamonix town, bar the Mer Des Glace, and a few ladders dotted around the valley. 


The viaferrata was graded as AD+ which means just two grades harder then the easiest viaferrata in the grading system. It took me about 20mins longer than the estimated 90mins though, as I had an attack of the nerves a good few times. So I’m not convinced how accurate the grading system is. Saying that we were over taken once by those more competent than I. So maybe I’m not completely cut out for this kind of thing ( it’s the look of deep concentration on my face that gives it away!)?

It’s definitely a popular spot with plenty of parking and the opportunity to buy a drink and hire equipment or a guide if necessary. The walk up to the start is around 15mins and the descent from the end about 25mins.  It’s on the Plateau d’Assy, about a 20 mins drive down the valley.

Although I might be putting myself in the faint hearted category, my daughter went back and did it again later in the week. 

Teenage Chamonix summer holiday wish list

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So the kids have been here for the last 8 years, each one has not greeted with great enthusiasm due to the usual teenage malaise, and us being horrible parents of course.  This year is different though. We’re bringing a  friend; a teenage friend….  So good is this that it’s prompted positive anticipation and almost (just almost) excitement. This is providing we follow the suggested itinerary and leave them at home to go shopping should we hit the high mountains..

I’m not sure how representative this list is of the average teenage girl, but it might be useful as inspiration for others coming to Chamonix for a few weeks. For me it is actually a nice reprise of the things they enjoyed when they were younger and haven’t grown out of yet (3 are from an ever popular blog I did 6 years ago!)

  1. Hurtling down the slides of the municipal pool on the edge of Lake Geneva at Thonon
  2. Stand Up Paddle boarding on Lake Annecy.
  3. Taking the 3 person inflatable canoe to the lakes at Passy near Sallanches.
  4. Riding the slides at the Richard Bossons sports centre in the middle of town.
  5. Cycling up to the Les Chavants lake in Les Houches and stopping for an ice cream, both on the way up at the terrace next to the super market and at the cafe on the lake!
  6. Popping into the amusement park in town and doing the Luge de Ete.
  7. A day trip to Lake Geneva, again, this time to the Aqua Park, full of flumes and typical tourist things.

You may have spotted the water based theme, so we’re very much hoping for good weather.  

I’ll let you know how we get on. Maybe we’ll be able to swap a swim session for rafting perhaps? We have a teenager with us who is rather unfamiliar with the great outdoors, so it could be fun 😉

UTMB availability, sleeps 6, Aug 24th to 28th

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TDS 2013 going up to Petite St Bernard

Having visited the town during its peak week for many years, we’ve decide to give someone else  the opportunity to experience the buzz that is the UTMB.

There are lots of great family activities going on during the week, and some fantastic opportunities for seeing what endurance athletes can achieve.

The apartment that sleeps 6 is available from the Weds to the Sunday evening. More details and booking links can be found here.

Availability this year only, as he’s applying to enter again in 2017…

An old picture (as of course we have a new sofa), but it give you an idea.

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Via ferratas in spring: scarey views

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You have to look hard, but you can see a few small people climbing up the metal ladders. Great views in the mountains today!

103rd edition of the Tour De France circles Chamonix

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It was announced today, that among the highlights of the 2016 Tour De France are a brutal 183km eighth stage from Pau to Bagneres de Luchon, followed by a monumental day in Andorra, stage 17’s finish on the Emosson Dam in Switzerland and a penultimate stage from Megeve to Morzine, via some of the Alps’ most testing climbs.  Even Bourg-en-BresseSallanches and Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc, all sorts of places familiar to us.

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So it seems Chamonix is great place from which to watch next year’s TDF, so great in fact our place went a few days before the route was officially announced. A coincidence or an insider we wonder ? 🙂  

Today’s unveiling was greeted with great support by Chris Froome It’s such an amazing, special race. I’m still 30 years old and feel I have a lot left in my legs.… It suits me better than this year’s Tour,” he added, in reference to a course featuring two time trials that total 33.5 miles, compared to one short individual time trial in the 2015 race.

Full details of the the 21 stages can be found on the official website.

Va, va Froome!!!

Yvoire, a beautiful medieval village, but its neighbour Nernier is the forgotten pearl

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Having watched families galavanting on our favourite municipal lake in Passey, spurred on by our experience of SUP in Annecy earlier in the week, we promised the kids we’d buy them an inflatable canoe.  With it being a little late in the summer season the Decathlon in Salanches was bereft of them so we needed to head to a place with a larger water mass; Annemasse, on the shores of Lake Geneva.

Located on the south of the lake, within the French part of the shore near Thonon Le Bain , the journey was around an hour from Chamonix following the E25 down the valley through Bonneville. Annemasse itself had little to write home about, but it was close to the lake.  So we headed to a little medieval town I’d read about, 35 minutes away, Yvoire.   It was reported to be one of the most romantic small towns (population ca. 800) in France, 700 years old, packed with flowers and beautiful old buildings, such as the one below.

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Give its description as ‘romantic’ and we had the kids in tow, we didn’t rush straight there.  Instead, we followed signs to a place called Nernier, 2km from Yvoire, the hidden pearl of the lake. Nernier is such the poor relative of Yvoire, other than the restaurant shown below, there is very little you can find about Nerier written in English, which means the place is lovely and peaceful.

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So we were able to park the car for free and walk the 5 minutes to the small harbour and launch our new kayak for it’s maiden voyage. Marvellous.

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The lazy afternoon enabled me to wander around the village practically undisturbed, snapping way to my hearts content.

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Without bumping into hardly anyone, wandering past artists’ residences, with the cobbled streets to myself.

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Boating over, we continued on the last 2km to Yvoire our final destination.  It was also the final destination for many hundreds of other people, as you can see below, we certainly weren’t on our own.

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However, busy places are popular for a reason, as there was no doubt it was a pictersque medieval village with many beautiful views including the famous Yvoire castle. The large number of restaurants, cafés, boutiques, art galleries, studios, and souvenir shops were certainly buzzing and a testament to its appeal.

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We were glad we’d seen the award winning town, but for us, its small, peaceful neighbour, with its empty seats was the real find.

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Montreux Jazz festival is just over the (big) hill

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When we drive to Chamonix we seem to do a mini tour of Europe before hitting the valley.  Initially skirting the north of France, straight into Belgium, then Luxembourg, back into France, a tour through Switzerland and finally over the Col de Forclaz down into Chamonix.  Phew!  This globe trotting route is driven by the avoidance of peage and cheapness of diesel of course, but it does take you through some lovely places.

Once such place, on the edge of Lake Geneva as you come over the hill at Saint-Leiger La Chiesaz from Bern, just off the E27, is Montreux.  Admittedly, you can’t see much of the town from the road, but the whole vista is lovely and you can imagine how gorgeous it must be at the waters edge.

It wasn’t until the last year it dawned on me why the name on the sign kept jumping out.  After all there are many lovely areas on the banks of the lake, so why did that name keep rising to the top? Then, as if by magic, it was a trip to Majorca that caused the realisation for me.  The inflight magazine had an article about the legendary jazz festival held there…

Of course, the Montreux jazz festival and custodian a Freddy Mercury statue looking out over the lake.

Originally a pure jazz festival, it opened up in the 1970s but today presents artists of nearly every imaginable music style.  Today’s festival lasts about two weeks (having grown from its initial 3 days) and attracts an audience of more than 200,000 people.  The festival was originally held at the original Montreux Casino, which burned down in December 1971 during Frank Zappa’s performance which inspired Deep Purple’s penning of the infamous “Smoke on the Water”.

So it’s a place that has a latent place in your pop knowledge whether you know it or not.

Having checked out this year’s lineup, it’s also somewhere worth a day trip or two, given that its only about a 2 hour drive from Chamonix. Confirmed artists include The Chemical Brothers, Emeli Sandé, John Legend, Sinéad O’Connor, Lady Gaga, George Ezra, Paolo Nutini, Hudson Mohawke, Portishead, Lionel Ritchie, Dub Inc, Lenny Kravitz, George Benson, Baxter Dury, The Kooks, Lilly and The Pricks, Hot Chip and many others.  Some concerts are free (as are the 8pm jam sessions), even though most venues charge.

The most is also made of the beautiful location’s assets with jazz boats sailing at designated times round the lake with jazz, blues and swing bands performing on board.

Unfortunately with it falling just before the school holidays (3rd to 18th July) its doesn’t work for us yet.  There will be other years though I’m sure.

The 2015 programme and booking details can be found here.

Other ideas for day trips from Chamonix are on this link, should you, like us not be there at the right time.

The teenage cycle routes for those who loath exercise

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We’ve got to that stage of having young teenagers….. :-/  Short walks aren’t much of a challenge (even though the suggestion of them is received with grunts of distain) so we are at that strange stage when some of the kids activities still have an appeal, or at least the promise of an ice cream (provided you’ve estimated the right number of ascent stretches!) almost warrants the whining and you feel you’ve done your good parent bit and at least got them to exercise for an hour or so.  So we thought we’d share with you the two routes we took.

Route 1: to Plan Praz.

This is the trip they requested based on memories of good times on zip wires and canoes in cold water.

The bit from our apartment is a little hairy as you cross the main road RN205 in order to circumnavigate the town centre to avoid hundreds or tourists, but once you are on it, it has a marked cycle path.  After you’ve crossed the railway line,  it’s specifically sign posts you on to a green cycle route which brings you to Bois du Bouchet (the main hang gliding landing site and skate park).  From there the route is off the roads and you can add extra distance by putting in a lap of the woods near Les Bois.  Even doing that though its still only 5.5 M if you chose not to enter the park from the direction of Les Tines higher up the valley than Les Praz, shorter if you decide not to put the woodland loop in.

So it was quite a useful gentle ascent up the valley to get the kids used to cycling again, and of course it had plentiful refreshments available. It was also a hand experiment to see if the dog could cope with running along side a bike too.

The Garmin route  out is available should you want to down load it. Ignore the 40 min time element of it though as we stopped for a bit.

And here is the return route quicker at just over 20 mins.

Bois du Bouchet cycling with the dog

Route 2: Les Houches, Les Chavants.

Now this one was a little further with quite a bit more climbing involved, but it still only took us 41mins to get up there, including a few stretches of pushing bikes up hills with the accompanying whining.  Admittedly, the last time the girls cycled up there one was in a bike trailer and the other on the back of a tag along, but they were vaguely familiar with our end destination given it was at the bottom of the Prarion ski lift.

cycling les houches

So this route went down the valley on the Promenade de L’Arve (the path that takes the UTMB runners out of Chamonix, and TDS runners back in), going past the old horse riding place and past Les Houches train station, before going onto Les Houches village itself. Then you more gently meander up the village more gently to Lake des Chavants.

The area itself has a small rock climbing face, pony trecking and an ariel adventure park.  Perhaps the most important part for our kids though was the new Guingette des Chavants cafe though, fully equipped with crepes, pop etc. plus cider for the adults.  The building itself is marvellously contemporary and offers you the opportunity to regain your breath whilst sitting over the water listening to the fountain and watching a little fishing or rock climbing.

 les houches cafe

After refreshments, the journey back down the hill, through Les Bossons felt a lot quicker, as can be seen on the garmin route of our nearly 11 mile round trip.

So bear with it we say and make then earn their tea 🙂

Celebrating the indian summer; Chamonix off season

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Chamonix off season?  Girls weekend break, what to do?  No problem, it was the last weekend of September, so we’d managed to hit town when the lifts were still open (just), so the the iconic sights could be seen.  A trip up the Aiguille du Midi and Mer de Glace was a must, even a chance visit from the donkeys at Plan du Aiguille was had, how they got up there I don’t know.

Chamonix off season

The weather was fantastic and made ideal flying weather for the paragliders and hang gliders, presenting a fantastic sight in the air above the valley.  Some were even brave enough to jump off the Vallee Blanche.

Paragliding off the Vallee Blanch

Before we ascended up the big mountain we meandered around the Saturday market, sampling the nougat, drinking the coffee and of course taking take to visit to a patisserie.

Chamonix Saturday market

And of course, in the evening we had to top the day off with cocktails and a traditional Savoyard meal.

Cocktails for the girls

 

So I’m pleased to say we found plenty of things to do that didn’t involve extreme sports or involve excessive walking. – And that was just the first day of the weekend. Although I must say, those mountains looked sooo inviting in the autumn sunshine, I’d not have objected to a lengthy stroll at all.  Funny how you can miss your dog sometimes!!