Chamonix in Summertime: A Three Day Itinerary
4,808 meters. 15,777 feet. Half of Everest. The highest peak in the Alps and Western Europe.
That's the Mont Blanc for you. And I got to visit it in June! Although many people flock to the French Alps for skiing and other winter sports in the colder months, the region is still a must-see in the warmer ones for its delicious food, stunning views and great shopping. Read on for my recommendations on what to do during a three-day trip to Chamonix, France in the summer.
Let me know in the comments if you've been before, and what you did differently!
My boyfriend, J. and I left Mulhouse at around 10 a.m. After having to turn around because J. forgot his wallet and eventually buying a vignette for Switzerland (40 euros), we were finally on our way. We decided to drive through la Suisse because the route from Mulhouse to Chamonix through France would have been a good 2.5 hours longer!
It turned out to be a good and a bad choice. Driving through the Swiss Alps was absolutely stunning, but things quickly soured when we realized that we absolutely did not have enough gas to make the last 30-odd hilly kilometers. Thus, we worriedly backtracked to the nearest gas station, re-crossing the Swiss border and slowing to respect the customs officers – a rookie move. Chosen for a thorough random border check, we had to hand over our papers, turn out our pockets and let the douaniers root through our suitcases for 20 minutes. All that for a half-tank of gas.
Finally, around 3:30 p.m., we arrived at the Plan B Hotel in Chamonix, a trendy and friendly 3-star hotel that I booked for ~215 euros on Hotels.com (2 nights). We quickly settled in and went straight to ask the hotel staff for recommendations before heading out to explore the center of town. It was only a short 5-minute walk to the main drag!
Despite the rainy weather, we walked up and down the central avenue, stopping in shops and admiring the views and the foggy glimpse of the Mont Blanc, staking out restaurants to try. Several drizzly photo shoots later, we dropped anchor at L'Hydromel, a newly opened and already bustling bar with a wide selection of hydromels and some good-looking tapas. I got a tasty Basil Smash cocktail with coriander gin, St. Germain, cucumber, basil, lime and agave syrup (12.50 euros).
At 7 p.m., we headed to our dinner reservation at Le Sérac, recommended by our hotel. Seeing as we were in the Alps and the weather was chilly and damp, there was only one thing to be done. Eat raclette. Alongside a carafe of red wine and a beer for J., we dug into the hefty hunk of cheese hanging on the medieval torture device that heats the raclette until it's soft enough to slip and slide onto your potatoes (and brings a deep red color to the diners' cheeks). Let me quickly explain the anatomy of a perfect bite: a tender chunk of boiled potato, a ribbon of charcuterie, a generous sliver of cornichon, a shake of salt and pepper, and a blanket of raclette to top it all off. Thank me later. Plus desserts (café gourmand and an affogato), the whole dinner cost around 80 euros and two tickets restos.
Full to the brim, we meandered back to the hotel and decided to check out the chic bar and – ready for this? – mini bowling alley in the lobby (4 euros for a game). I sipped on a gin and kiwi cocktail (9 euros) and lost to J. before we finally went to sleep, exhausted, with the window open to let the cool air and sounds of the mountain in.
A big day ahead, we were out the door by 9 a.m., armed with puffer jackets and thick socks. Although it was early June, the tops of the Alps were still dusted with a layer of white snow, and we were heading up to the very top.
To fuel our journey, we stopped at a coffee and chocolate café, shop and roastery, (is this a word?) that had been packed yesterday afternoon. Shoukâ, while pricey, did not disappoint. It was tough to choose between the mouthwatering cupcakes (cupcakes in France!), breads, cookies, viennoiseries and more, but eventually I landed on a fromage blanc with granola and a mango coulis, alongside a flavorful caffe frappé (12 euros).
Well-fed, we headed off to our 10:30 a.m. reservation at the Téléphérique de l'Aiguille du Midi, or the cable cars that lead you precariously up to the Aiguille du Midi summit, which, at 3,842 meters, offers a prime-time view of the Mont Blanc (67 euros per person). Crammed into the cable car with a dozen loud Aussie skiiers, we craned our necks to see the buildings of Chamonix recede into Lego blocks and the white-capped peaks of the Alps loom larger and larger above us. After a heart-stopping moment at the base of the pointy Aiguille (Needle), where the cable car started moving vertically, like a terrifying elevator, we debarked and began to explore. It was foggy and dense, but for five miraculous minutes, the skies cleared and the Mont Blanc was unencumbered. Just enough time for a few pictures!
One gorgeous descent later, I maneuvered J. to a burger place I had discovered on the internet, a whimsically decorated joint called Poco Loco (they have veggie burgers, paninis and crêpes, too!). Let me tell you – I have never eaten a bigger burger. I think there was some sort of mix-up, because they gave me a double decker, two patties with a whole-ass hash brown inside (9.5 euros). One of the better burgers I've tasted, despite its largesse! It tasted fresh and artisanal, if I can say that without making myself want to gag. Tasty onion rings, too.
Exhausted from our day on the mountain, we stopped back at the hotel for a midday nap before venturing out again around 5 p.m. for souvenir shopping and ice cream in town (I got passion fruit and green apple). We then grabbed a seat at the Big Mountain Brewing Co., a Colorado-inspired name if I ever heard it, for apéro. As I made my way through a mountain of olives, I sipped a raspberry sour beer, while J. had a New England IPA. It was pretty good!
After a heart-wrenching discovery that the Mexican restaurant I wanted to go to (Monkey) was mysteriously closed, we wandered around a bit aimlessly before perching on barstools at La Fabrica for an enormous focaccia sandwich and a pizza on a crêpe. Solid. And off to bed early like a pair of vieux...
Today was our traveling day (I know, already?), so we woke up leisurely, checked out out of the hotel and made a beeline back to Shoukâ, where I sprung for a raspberry coconut cupcake (a tad dense) and a stellar iced matcha. You don't really get this kind of stuff in Mulhouse, so we made the most of it while we could.
We spent our final morning doing a bit more shopping and exploring the town for the last time, buying some gifts for friends and family back home. Before we left, I had discovered a cute little restaurant with an adorable terrace that sold gourmet hot dogs, so I dragged J. there to grab a bite before we set off. However, unfortunately, my Mexican dog from Cool Cats (amazing name) was meh and messy, and I had waited at least 45 minutes for my food only for an intern to give it to another guest and chase him down through the centre-ville streets. Sad to end on a disappointing experience, but the lingering glow of the Mont Blanc kept my spirits high nonetheless. I will say that Chamonix is a god-send if you don't speak much French, because at least 75% of the population seemed to be British, American or Australian...
We left town at 1 p.m. and ending up stopping off at the beautiful Montreux, near Lausanne, for a soda by the lake. Finally, cursing Swiss traffic, we arrived back in Alsace around 6 p.m. No border trouble this time ;)
I hope you enjoyed this read and stumbled upon some good recommendations for Chamonix! As you can tell, we mostly ate and shopped and took photos during our trip, but of course, if you're more active than I am, there's plenty to do and see and scale in and around town.
All in all, for 3 days, I ended up paying around 180 euros (a very round number, excluding gas and making guesses on souvenirs and other things I forgot – plus, J. paid for the hotel with chèques vacances!). Reasonable for a séjour in the Alps! What do you think?