Chamonix, the first ever host of the winter Olympics, is a town known in winter as a ski resort par excellence and in summer as a place with jaw dropping views of the alps from the various cable cars dotting the valley. Well, this was autumn and at this time the only cable car which was operational was the legendary Aiguille du Midi. All the rest are on their break after taking thousands of tourists up the slopes in the peak summer season. The advantage of this is that you get superb rates at the hotels ( only half are functional, rest are boarded up till winter) and you have the pleasant pedestrian part of town and the restaurants to yourselves. More importantly there are very few people going on the Aiguille du Midi making for a pleasant and quiet mountain top experience, that’s how mountains should be experienced.
We reached Chamonix Gare Routiere ( Bus Stop – French showboating again) which is just outside the Gare ( Train Station). Our hotel was a 5 min walk from here along a fairly quiet main road. Following previously stored google maps route to the hotel we reached what we thought was hotel entrance which actually turned out to be the back entrance of the hotel!! So much for the accuracy of google maps. We had booked a Superior room at the Hotel Faucigny, again a small boutique hotel ( means no elevators!) in the heart of the pedestrian area of Chamonix. The superior room has a balcony which has views of Mont Blanc and Aiguille du Midi without leaving the room. As it was off season we got this for half the usual rate which is a steal. The hotel also offers free tea, coffee and cake / biscuits in their lounge ( walls lined with travel books!!) throughout the day which is always a good thing.
We freshened up and took our customary photos from the balcony and left to explore the town centre. The town cathedral, a small but beautiful place located next door to our hotel was the first stop. As is common with cathedrals, it is a dimly lit peaceful place which is tastefully decorated and we sat in the pews for a few minutes. As we wanted to take the first cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi we walked to the cable car station to know the exact route and exactly what time it starts operating so that we don’t waste any time in the morning. We returned to the hotel, buying take away sandwiches and baked alpine desserts ( filled with pecans) as dinner.
Next morning we were ready to go to the highlight of our entire trip, the Cable car ( technically cars as we have to change cars at midpoint) up the Aiguille du Midi. We got the tickets quickly and queued up ( very short one) for the first cable car up. Most of the people in the cable car were mountaineers who were going up Mont Blanc from the station on top. The ride up is a quick one and we gained altitude very quickly. The cable car swings like a pendulum when it reaches a support tower, enough for some people in the cable car to start screaming. We didn’t waste time at the first stop and straight away ascended to the top in the second cable car. We have been up cable cars before but this is just a beast of a cable car. On top the station has various viewing galleries at different levels giving a 360 degrees view of the Alps. To see the icy peaks ( Mont Blanc and company) and the glacier ( Mer de Glace – Sea of Ice) from such close quarters is a thrilling experience. There are no words adequate to describe the sheer beauty of the view from top so I am just going to post photos.
It was bitterly cold on top ( – 3 degrees celcius) but you tend to forget all that when you see such beauty in front of your eyes. We explored all the galleries and just stood around looking at all the peaks on view. Took lots of photos and did the “Step into the void” which is a transparent glass box hanging out of the cliff wall with the glacier some hundred feet below, a photo opportunity not to be missed. After spending more than a couple of hours on top we started on our descent down. We stopped at the mid point and visited the coffee and souvenir shop. Drinking coffee with such a view is a pleasure worth spending on once every few years.
As is typical of me I spotted a yellow billed chough, a hardy high altitude black bird and pursued it down a trail till I got a good photo. As a bonus I got some good photos of the Chamonix Valley as well. We descended down to the town happy that we got a clear sunny day on top.
By evening the valley fog descended into the valley and got thicker and thicker and by next day morning you could not tell that there are mountains and a glacier so close by. There were quite a few small birds in the vicinity of our hotel and the bad weather meant they got my undivided attention and I got a lot of decent bird photos. It was drizzling as well from late afternoon onwards and we decided to utilise the free sauna and jacuzzi services that our hotel offered. We would never have gotten the chance to do either things had it been a clear day. So I guess everything happens for the best. The jacuzzi session ensured a peaceful night’s sleep. Our last night in Chamonix. Sigh!!
I would certainly like to return to this part of the world and it is right up there as one of my best travel memories till date.
See you next time for a journey through the City of Light.
Till then . Au Revoir!!
Brrrrrrrrrr. I’m feeling really cold in mumbai after reading this. I need a warm cup of coffee stat.