Chamonix: Winter's Natural Home
|MAN MEETS NATURE: The graceful village of Les Houches and the vertiginous Mont Blanc (Digital Visions)|
The easiest way to get to Chamonix is to fly to Geneva, Switzerland, and take one of the numerous shuttle buses that cover the 55-mile trip in a little more than an hour. Expect to pay about $35 to $60 per person for the bus ride, depending on how many people are in your group. One of those services, Cham-Van, uses portions of its profits to offset carbon emissions by investing in renewable energy projects, a great idea since glaciers in Chamonix—like most places—are retreating. Book online at www.cham-van.com or call the company's United Kingdom office at +18.104.22.168.6347.
Hotels in Chamonix vary from the low-budget "gites," or hostels, where rowdy Brits will keep you up all night, to the lovely wood-and-glass rooms at the Hotel Alpina, where 135 rooms all look out onto the Mont Blanc or Le Brévent and many, if not all, have balconies. The Alpina is located right downtown, opposite a bus stop that'll take you to the ski areas, and there's a great little bakery and grocery store right next door for stocking up on bread, cheese, and wine—the staples of any European adventure. Best of all, you won't go broke staying here, since rooms cost about $150 a night, sometimes less. (www.chamonixhotels.com/en/bmb/index.php; +33.450.53.5777)
The Chamonix Tourist Office, located on the Place du Triangle de l'Amitié, has a friendly English-speaking staff and can help you arrange hotels, transfers, guides, and maps. They also have free wireless Internet—but no outlets to plug your laptop into—making it a great spot to check email or call home using programs such as Skype. (www.chamonix.com; +33.450.53.0024)
Chamonix is home to the oldest mountain guiding service in the world, La Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix, founded in 1823. Michael Silitch, an American, often works for them, which is sometimes a great relief to English-speaking clients. He lives in Chamonix and can guide you around the ski areas, give lessons, and take you on cross-country ski tours or backcountry runs to suit your ability. Contact him through www.high-alpine.com or in France at +33.689.48.4118.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication