It was on the Wednesday of this week that I spontaneously decided I was going to take a trip to Chamonix on the Saturday. Something about getting stuck into the mountains, without signal and social media, really appealed to me. So I went ahead and booked the hotel. Alone. And it actually turned out to be one of the best trips I’ve ever had.
Don’t get me wrong; a few years ago, I would never have gone for a weekend in a foreign city alone. I would have waited and waited for the right time for my boyfriend or my friends, and the right time would never have materialised. I would have resented my (ex) boyfriend for not wanting to do the things I wanted, and would have felt frustrated by spending all my weekends in London/Cambridge.
But at some point, I realised that waiting for the perfect moment is the easiest way to ensure it never actually comes. Cheesy, but true: life is too precious to let it happen to you rather than going out and chasing it.
And there are benefits of traveling alone. You can be completely spontaneous with travel plans; I changed both my outbound and return journeys to extend my trip. You can selfishly pursue the activities and style of travel that please you; which, for me, involves wandering around for an extra 10 minutes to find a special restaurant rather than going for the first one you see (loads of people would HATE this when hungry!). Waiters and bartenders tend to be really nice to you, and you might get some free drinks out of it. Similarly, other travelers are more likely to strike up a conversation; I met a lovely Scottish couple on my way to the cable car this weekend, and they gave me loads of ideas for future travels! But most importantly, travelling alone allows you to really spend time with yourself and clear your mind. If you don’t often take time for yourself, then you might find that solo travel offers a great opportunity to actually figure out what you want and how you feel about different things. If nothing else, it’s character building.
Anyhow, back to Chamonix. I’d heard a lot about this little French town, but mainly as a base for skiing in winter. What I didn’t realise was just how much character it has in summer too. The main attraction for me was the hiking; I’m not a very skilled hiker, but I’d read that you could see some really beautiful spots within 2 hours walk of the cable cars that left Chamonix. I pretty soon realised that was an understatement; you’re hit by natural beauty the whole time you’re in Chamonix, and you don’t have to walk far from the cable car for breathtaking views.
The hike I ended up doing was from La Flegere cable car to Lac Blanc, a lake known for it’s vivid turquoise waters. Unfortunately, as it was only the start of the summer season in Chamonix (early June) the mountain was covered in snow still, and the lake completely frozen over. Nevertheless, the hike was still completely worthwhile, with a 1.5-2 hour ascent characterised by the huge mountains visible on the other side of the town. It was the first time on a hike where I truly appreciated the journey as much as the destination; despite the fact that I was completely unprepared for the thick snow (I waded through tit in running trainers), and didn’t pack enough food, as google told me that there was a cafe at the end point.
I’d love to go back in summer when the lake is melted and vivid blue. All of the hikers on the way up and down were super friendly, the route itself wasn’t too busy… and it was impossible not to feel a little thrill in my heart whenever I looked up to see such awesome mountain peaks.
Post-hike I was starving, and pretty much stumbled into the first place in the town centre with decent Google reviews. La Calèche serves “traditional” regional cuisine, and was perfect, warming comfort food after spending half the day up in the mountains. I started with snails, went on to a traditional dish based around wild mushrooms, pasta and smoked sausage (REALLY good) and finished with tiramisu. If you only ate in one place in Chamonix, and were looking for a taste of local cuisine, this is where I’d recommend.
That said, the culinary highlight of the trip was a little Italian place called Casa Valeria. There’s no wonder this place has won awards for its food because this pizza was absolutely PERFECT. I’d go as far as to say it was the best pizza I’ve ever had outside of Italy, and I’m definitely going to go there again when I’m next in Chamonix.
The third and final place I LOVED to eat at in Chamonix was actually my hotel. Which is pretty understandable given just how great of a spot Alpina Eclectic is. What I LOVED was that the restaurant there offered gourmet quality fish with mass-dining portion sizes. Check out the volume of gravlax in the starter below. The tuna steak that followed was also triple the usual portion size for that quality and price.
The buffet breakfast was a stand out, too. I was really surprised to see that it was comparable (in terms of choice and quality) to the hotels I stayed at in Bali, rather than any others I’ve visited in Europe. Just check out what I ended up fuelling up on pre-hike.
And there was so, SO much more. Freshly prepared pancakes and eggs, sausages, bacon, mushrooms, quiche, pastries, breads, and juices. All of this was made extra special by the fact that you could enjoy it with a gorgeous view of the mountains. In fact, the reason I booked Alpina Eclectic was that every single balcony bedroom offered a view just like this one.Plus, the sauna, hammam and jacuzzis all had that viewpoint too.. pretty relaxing, right? I think it’ll be even more special when the town is dusted in snow at Christmas…
It’s safe to say that Chamonix is a bucket list destination, and I’ll be hitting it again when ski season hits (maybe sooner…?). I can’t wait to wander through the cobbled streets all wrapped up warm, with a mulled wine in my hand.
That said, it wouldn’t be fair to close this post without mentioning the one downside of Chamonix, which you might have already heard about. That is the price of staying there. I was fairly flexible budget-wise for this trip, given that I had some travel benefits from work. However, I still gasped when I saw how much a room at the hotel would cost during an off-peak weekend. And that’s not even starting on the meals, which ranged from 9 euros (very cheap) to 30 euros (not!) for a main. Most glasses of wine seemed to cost upwards of 7 euros. Compared to some beautiful nearby locations in France, this was not cheap!
On the other hand, my return journey with Ouibus was under 40 euros return, with air conditioning, WiFi and charging stations… so if you’re based in Geneva or somewhere with super cheap flights to Geneva (sometimes this is the case for London!) you might make back what you spend on a good hotel in travel costs.
Have any of you visited Chamonix before? What did you think; is it worth the price?