In 1920, the town council of Chamonix, then a quiet French community of 3,000 people, decided to change the municipality’s name to Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, thus forging an official link to the mountain, the highest in Western Europe, with a summit that soars 12,000 feet above the town center. The council’s goal was to prevent their Swiss neighbors from claiming the mountain’s glory, but there was really no need: It’s impossible when you’re in Chamonix to ignore the gargantuan, icy beauty that looms overhead. And, as in any good mountain resort town, the adrenaline rush promised by the surrounding slopes fuels a sense of revelry and indulgence in the valley below. Perhaps nowhere else is this dynamic so evident as in Chamonix, where you can wander through a landscape that feels as wild and harsh as the moon, then, half an hour later, soak in a Jacuzzi under the stars. Chamonix is a glorious place for visitors, especially in winter, when the town and its mountains are cloaked in snow. Professional climbers, weekend skiers, gourmands, night-life lovers, devoted adrenaline seekers — Chamonix welcomes them all with the classic French double kiss.
1) 3 p.m. Sea of ice
To understand Chamonix, you must get a sense of the immense scale of the landscape. So start your visit by catching a ride on the fire-engine-red Montenvers Train, which has been carting visitors 3,000 feet up into the Alpine wilds since the track was completed in 1909 (€32.50, or about $37, round trip). Emerge from the train and take in the expansive views over France’s longest and largest glacier, the Mer de Glace, an immense, frozen river that winds its way through the mountains at a pace of less than half an inch per hour. Explore the science and history of glaciers in the Glaciorium, a small, but excellent, museum that offers an alarming perspective on the planet’s warming climate (entry is included with your train ticket). Visitors can enter the belly of the glacier itself by touring the Mer de Glace ice cave, which is re-sculpted every year.
A popular shopping street in Chamonix.CreditAndrea Wyner for The New York Times
2) 5 p.m. Village wander
After catching the train back to Chamonix, spend an hour or two meandering through the busy town, which, after sunset, is decked out in twinkling lights for at least as long as the snow sticks around. Stop by the Maison de la Presse, a cozy bookstore near the town center, to stock up on route maps, ski guides and mountaineering literature in both French and English. Then do your last-minute shopping for ski gear at Snell Sports, or wander through the collection of chic Alpine-meets-Nordic furniture at the popular Cocktail Skandinave.
3. 7:30 p.m. Burger and beer
At Poco Loco, a favorite with the young, adrenaline-seeking crowd, place your order at the bar (in English, if you like; there’s a good chance your waiter hails from Britain) then head to the small seating area upstairs to find a spot among the kitschy diner posters, Christmas lights and empty soda cans that adorn the walls. Pair a blonde beer (€5.50) from the Brasserie du Mont-Blanc — brewed with water from local glaciers — with the restaurant’s eponymous burger: a generously portioned beef patty inside a freshly baked roll and topped with bacon, Emmental cheese, a special spicy sauce and French fries (yes, the fries are inside the bun). Cost: €9 for the normal size, €12 for the “big” version.
4) 8 a.m. A local breakfast
Join the hungry crowds at Aux Petits Gourmands, a popular, central bakery, to enjoy a cappuccino (€3.90) and a bite to eat before you head for the slopes. Indulge in the local specialty, the Croix de Savoie (€3.10, or €2.10 to take away), a cross-shaped brioche bun smothered in cream and topped with a generous sprinkling of vanilla-flavored sugar. Or linger over the classic French petit déjeuner (€13) — an array of breads and pastries served with chocolate spread and homemade jams.
5) 9 a.m. Saturday on the slopes
The Grands Montets may be Chamonix’s most famous skiing area, but if you have just a single day to spend on the pistes, then Brévent may be your best bet (€53 for an adult day pass; €45.10 for children under 15 and adults over 64). Here, on the south-facing slope that sits across the valley from Mont Blanc, you can enjoy the sunshine — and a dazzling vista of snow-covered summits — as you whiz down the hill. Brévent is excellent for intermediate skiers, but its steeper slopes have plenty to offer the more advanced. Thrillseekers can practice their jumps in the snow park, which is equipped with a massive “airbag” to soften landings.
6) 1 p.m. Mountain lunch
Take a break from skiing at the Panoramic Restaurant, which sits at the top of the Brévent lift at an altitude of more than 8,000 feet. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations on its busiest days, so you might have to wait for a table — but the views from the small and sunny terrasse are worth the wait. Order the tartiflette, which, like most traditional food in this part of France, is a hearty and warming combination of potatoes, melted cheese and bacon — then strap your skis on for an afternoon back on the slopes. Lunch, about €25.
7) 5:30 p.m. Rest and relax
You’ll be sweaty and aching after a full day in ski gear, so make your next stop the Bachal Spa at Chamonix’s Hameau Albert Premier, a luxury hotel and restaurant complex that’s a short walk from the center of town. Sign up for a 75-minute hot stone massage (€140) or a 45-minute foot treatment (€55). Feel free to linger after your session is finished: Your appointment affords you two-hour access to the spa, which includes steam rooms, a fire-lit lounge area, and a small indoor rock climbing space.
8) 8 p.m. Finest dining
Swap your white robe for some evening wear, then wander across the Albert Premier’s manicured grounds to the hotel’s restaurant for an evening of alpine haute cuisine (mains from €54 to €90). The Albert Premier Restaurant, which has earned two Michelin stars for its creative interpretations of regional classics, recently came under the direction of the young chef Damien Leveau, who continues the restaurant’s tradition of celebrating the best local produce in time with the seasons. Indulge in the six-course Petite Fête Gourmande du Marché (€102, or €197 with wine), which often features vegetables and herbs from the garden outside, as well as fish from nearby mountain lakes.
9) 10 p.m. Music in the park
Sitting on the edge of a small green space near the middle of town, La Maison des Artistes serves as both a stylish venue for live music and a nursery of sorts for up-and-coming musicians. Founded by the songwriter and television personality André Manoukian — who used to be a judge on the French equivalent of “American Idol” — the Maison des Artistes offers weeklong residencies to promising musicians in genres ranging from bluegrass to jazz to Brazilian psycho-pop. The musicians take advantage of the on-site recording studio during the week before performing to a live audience in the Maison’s intimate performance space on Friday and Saturday evenings (free entry, cocktails €10 to €12).
10) 9 a.m. View from above
If you’re visiting in the new year, start your final day in Chamonix by taking the stomach-dropping cable car ride up to the top of the Aiguille du Midi, an icy, steep peak that hosts a cluster of buildings and walkways for visitors to explore (€61.50 round trip; closed for repairs until later this month). The cable car whisks you straight from the busy streets of Chamonix into one of the continent’s harshest and most beautiful landscapes. From the top of the lift, hardened mountaineers set off on expeditions to the summit of Mont Blanc and beyond. But no ice axes are required to tour the Aiguille du Midi complex where you can browse exhibits on the history of mountaineering and the geology of the Mont Blanc massif. Those feeling brave can walk through a glass-floored exhibit that dangles over a 3,000-foot drop.
11) 12 p.m. Parting pastry
Wander back through Chamonix’s bustling, pedestrian-only zone to Pie, an intimate spot that’s perfect for a quick, fresh lunch before you head out of town. Owned by the Paris-trained pastry chef Charles Guillaume and his wife Stéphanie, the restaurant features a rotating selection of tarts, both sweet and savory. Order the quiche of the day (€9.80), which comes with a lightly dressed salad, then enjoy a decadent hot chocolate embellished with chestnut cream (€5.90) for dessert.
Many hotels in Chamonix impose a three- or four-night minimum on stays during ski season, so be sure to call ahead. The Park Hotel Suisse and Spa, with its rooftop spa and cozy, chalet-inspired rooms, is one exception (double rooms starting from €309). Ask for a room with a view of Mont Blanc.
Apartment rentals are easy to find in Chamonix’s lively and walkable city center, where nightly rates for a one-bedroom range from €79 to about €160 on Airbnb.
For a quieter retreat, consider the Montenvers Refuge, accessible only by train in winter, where a bed in a 10-person dormitory starts at €85 per night, including dinner and breakfast. Private rooms are also available, starting from €250 per night for a double room, including dinner and breakfast for two.
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