When most people think of Chamonix and the surrounding area, they naturally think of winter sports. Skiing, snowboarding, mountaineering etc. Whilst Chamonix is definitely one of the premier ski resorts in the French Alps – perhaps even Europe – it is equally a fantastic summer holiday destination. You can enjoy some great road cycling in Chamonix and this part of the French Alps. Chamonix is located close to a number of mountain passes which are easily accessible – even across the border into Switzerland. When you aren't riding the bike there are also loads of other activities to keep you and non cycling travelling companions occupied as well.
On this page you will find practical information for planning a holiday to Chamonix from where to stay, how to get there, routes to ride as well as other activities to discover.
Like most alpine towns Chamonix is well located in the centre of the valley. There are a number of road cycling route options around Chamonix for you to explore. Head north and you will venture up the Col des Montets, and then further on into Switzerland. There you can choose to ride the Col de la Forclaz and enjoy a magic, long descent to Martigny. Head west and you have the Col des Aravis to tackle or the switchback climb of the Plaine Joux. Or perhaps you would like the challenge of taking on what some consider to be Europe's hardest cyclo-sportif – the Tour de Mont Blanc. The link below lists out a number of cycling routes which are all possible to take on from the Chamonix Valley.
Geneva is the largest city and the natural gateway to this area of the French Alps. It is well connected by air as well as regular rail services with onwards connections to to the area. Rome2rio.com is an excellent site to help plan your trip to the Chamonix Valley. Simply enter your start and end points and it will tell you the different options available, cost range and timetable.
Air – The closest airport is Geneva which is only 80km / 50 miles away. The airport has great transport connections as well for hire cars, rail and shuttle bus services too.
Geneva airport also has many large airlines flying in and out directly. There are other smaller airports nearby however these are catering to the winter market and do not necessarily operate year round. Depending on the time of year you travel, this is something to keep in mind.
Rail – There is a train station at Chamonix which makes it accessible from a number of larger cities such as Geneva or Annecy. However, the journey times to Chamonix via rail are far longer than other public transport options such as buses so bear this in mind. The travel time from Annecy to Chamonix on a train is 2hr 45mins and from Geneva Airport is 3hrs 40mins.
Road – The main Autoroute to the area from Geneva airport is the A40. Travel time via this route will take approximately 1 hour. If you are travelling from Paris you can expect the trip to take just under 6 hours.
We recommend reviewing the route planning tool on the ViaMichelin website which will also indicate any tolls along the route as well as fuel stations.
Bus -There are regular bus services operating to Chamonix from most main transport hubs. From Geneva airport a shuttle bus to Chamonix will take approximately 1hr 30mins. Click here for direct links to the coach service operator.
Cycling friendly accommodation in the Chamonix Valley
The majority of accommodation available in the Chamonix valley is heavily geared towards the winter ski market and so there is an abundance of chalet style offerings. In the warmer months there are many providers who cater well to cyclists visiting the area. The table below lists out places which are listed as 'cycling friendly'. Typically this means they offer dedicated storage facilities for bikes, bike hire, as well as perhaps meal packages which cater for cyclists. That said, most providers of accommodation in France are amenable to those on a cycling holiday so we encourage you to look at all options regardless of what is listed below.
There are plenty of other options available to you if this style of accommodation is not what you are after. To help you plan we have provided links to a number of booking sites so you can see what is available. Have a look at our page on French accommodation types if you are not sure what is available.
There are no shortage of places to eat and drink in the area and we generally turn to tripadvisor.com to look at options for restaurants and cafés or just take a punt on a place that looks nice and busy and is open and serving food. We have yet to be disappointed.
There are a number of Farmers markets in the region that are worth checking out if you have the time. Here you will find lots of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as local cheeses, small goods, seafood and meats. Be aware the majority of the markets listed below are open only in the mornings and many are closed on Mondays.
Times for the four markets are:
1 Argentiere – Sunday mornings from 08:00 – 13:00 (July and August only)
2 Chamonix– Saturday mornings from 07:00 – 13:00.
3 Les Houches – Monday mornings (school holidays only) 0800 – 12-00.
4 Sallanches – Saturday mornings from 08:00 – 13:00.
Every region in France has is culinary specialities and the Haute Savoie is no different. In this department the hero of many dishes of course is cheese. Indeed hundreds of cheese wheels can be found on display at many of the weekly market stalls. Whether it be fondue, raclette or tartiflette, cheese is definitely a main feature and you will find these hearty dishes on display at many of the local eateries.
Arnaud 25 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)
Listed below are just of the famous regional dishes to look out for.
Raclette – The hero of this dish is the raclette cheese which is melted over a special raclette grill before being scraped over potatoes, pickles and lardons. A real hearty mountain dish!
Tartiflette – More cheese! This time it is Reblechon. Combined with potatoes, onions and bacon this meal is very typical of the area.
Brioche de Saint Genix – A sweet brioche with which incorporates pink pralines throughout.
There are several options for cycle hire in the Chamonix Valley. Whilst the majority of stores are heavily geared towards mountain biking, there are hire options available for road bikes as well as e-bikes. Our table below lists out the cycle hire options as well as identifying whether you can book your bike rental online.
If you are looking to hire a bike for your cycling holiday we would recommend getting in touch directly with the hire shop and arranging this in advance of your holiday. This will avoid the disappointment of missing out on a rental due to popular demand.
Another tip is to make sure the bike you hire is equipped with gearing which will allow you to climb the mountains with a greater level of comfort. Most road bikes for hire will now come with compact gearing to allow for this, but it is best to be certain!
Chamonix is a town used to catering to a huge influx of tourists each winter ski season. As such there are quite a lot of options when it comes to accommodation. Whether you are after a self contained rental apartment, a hotel or a lodge there is something to suit all travellers at every budget point. For a holiday in this area you can choose to stay centrally in Chamonix itself, however any of the smaller villages along the Chamonix Valley are also great options. A lot will come down on whether or not you want to be close to the village itself as well as restaurants, bars and cafes, or if you'd prefer to be away from the busy centre and hence choose a base further down the valley.
To help you decide, we have outlined some of the best options for holiday bases in the Chamonix valley below.
Of course the number one option is Chamonix itself. Here you will find you are never too far from the action. The resort itself is turning into a year round destination and is a hive of activity. There are numerous hotels, restaurants, bars, bakeries, cafes and retail stores as well as supermarkets. You will find accommodation to suit every budget as well.
Tiia Monto / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0
Located at the beginning of the Chamonix Valley the village of Les Houches has much to offer. Whilst not as busy as Chamonix itself, there are still plenty of options for accommodation as well as dining options too. Les Houches also has a reputation as being more family friendly as well.
Tiia Monto / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
Located just 13minutes from Chamonix is the village of Argentière. As with all villages along this valley, it is surrounded by the peaks of the Mont Blanc Massif. In winter Argentière is well connected to the ski resort area of the Grand Montets where it is connected by cable car. In Summer it is popular with outdoor enthusiasts such as hikers who are taking on the GR5 walk. Once again there are numerous options for accommodation as well as restaurants, bars and cafes.
8 top Activities & attractions to discover on your holiday in the Chamonix Valley
Whether you want to spend some time off the bikes or have family members that are not keen cyclists there are plenty of things to do around this area. Included below are just some of our suggestions. This is by no means an exhaustive list and there is bound to be something here to please everyone.
This area of the French Alps is extremely popular with hikers. Each year thousands of people make their way to this area to hike all or part of the Mont Blanc Trail. The whole trail takes experienced hikers anywhere from 7 – 10 days to complete. From the Chamonix Valley you are able to easily gain access to the trail and walk sections of this yourself. There are options for guided walks as well as self guided and the trails are very well signposted. Walking on these mountain trails certainly gives you a very different perspective and appreciation of the grand scale of these mountain peaks.
One of the most popular day hikes in this area departs from the Plan d'Aiguille. This is the mid station point of the Cable Car which runs all the way to the top of the Aiguille du Midi. From here you can begin your hike and work your way across the trails all the way to the Mer du Glace cable cars and Montenvers train. The train departs regularly and will take you back to the village centre in Chamonix.
Photo by Sam Marx on Unsplash
For those looking for a different view of the Chamonix Valley, the glaciers and Mont Blanc perhaps you'd like to take to the air on a paragliding flight? There are a number of operators offering tandem flights. These take off from the Aiguille du Midi mid station, offering up magnificent vistas straight from the launch.
If you still want that aerial view but aren't as keen on paragliding then perhaps a scenic flight on a helicopter could be the answer instead?
The Mer de Glace is the largest Glacier in France at almost 7km in length. It is also one of the main tourist attractions in the Chamonix Valley. You can access the Glacier via the Montenvers Train which departs from Chamonix regularly throughout the day. Access to the Gondola is also available via the hiking trail. This provides you with an alternative to taking the train from Chamonix village.
Once at the train terminus you will then take a gondola and some 430 stairs to the base of the glacier itself.
At different points on the stairs there are signs which show just how much the glacier has receded over time. At its current rate the Mer de Glace glacier is retreating approximately 70metres annually.
Each year once the winter season has passed an ice cave is dug into the glacier and sculptures are formed in the ice as well.
More information about this activity can be found here.
Garrondo, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
For those with a good head for heights a visit to the Chamonix Valley is not complete without a trip to the Aiguille du Midi. A cable car journey will take you from the centre of Chamonix Village right up to the viewing platform at the Aiguille du Midi. You will be at an altitude of 3,842m / 12,604ft, and have the most commanding views of the entire Chamonix Valley, as well as Mont Blanc.
Once there you have options to walk out onto separate viewing platforms, including an option to 'step into the void' where you walk out onto an area with a clear glass floor. If you are one to suffer from vertigo you may give this a miss!
It certainly goes without saying that a trip to the Aiguille du Midi is one of the premier attractions. With an estimated half a million visitors making the journey each year, you can expect long queues during the peak season. It certainly pays to book your tickets early. More information can be found here.
The cable car ride to the Aiguille du Midi is an attraction in itself. The whole journey from the village to the very top will take approximately 20 mins. There is a stop at the Plan du Aiguille mid station. From here you can watch Paraglider's launching as you wait to board the cable car which will take you all the way to the top.
You really need to marvel at the engineering feat which has gone into building the Aiguille du Midi. It is also unique in being the highest mountain peak which can be reached by an aerial lift system.
Loic Faucon, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
It of course comes as no surprise that the Chamonix Valley attracts many alpinists. Whether it is mountaineering, indoor rock climbing, ice fall climbing or bouldering, there is lots to choose from.
The Chamonix Valley has 4 indoor climbing walls which are accessible year round. The climbing wall located at Les Houches is regarded to be the best and offers up over 100 different possible routes to tackle.
Ice fall climbing is also very popular with over 200 routes available in ten different locations around Chamonix. Equipment for ice climbing is also readily available for hire. For beginners the best ice fall climbing is from Argentiére.
You can also choose to be guided on your alpine expeditions and there are even climbing courses which you are able to participate in . Typically these cater for those at beginner and intermediate levels.
If you are after something which is a little more relaxing then a trip on the Mont Blanc Express may just be for you. This scenic train trip travels through the Chamonix Valley before dropping down into Switzerland and arriving in Martigny. Trains run regularly throughout the day and are very popular. During the trip you will be treated to some stunning mountain views all from the warmth and comfort of the train carriage!
AndrewvdBK at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Tiia Monto, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
There are a few high alpine lakes which you can choose to trek to including Lac Blanc. This lake is framed beautifully by the surrounding high peaks and on a still day offers picture perfect views. The hike to the lake is accessible from June through to late October (dates dependant on snowfalls) and is one of the most popular day activities in Summer. You will traverse almost 900m / 2,950ft in elevation gain and you can expect the return trip to take approximately 5 hours. We suggest departing early with a view of enjoying a picnic lunch by the lake.
We have included some useful web sites to help you see what is on offer and plan your trip.
Viator.com – book a range of tours and attractions before you leave home
Chamonix tourism– includes lots of information about the Chamonix Valley. This also includes handy information such as road conditions and weather reports.
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