Why modern day Chamonix is a versatile choice for adventure enthusiasts.
My kind of place: Chamonix, France
The ghosts of climbers past haunt a historical town at the base of Mont Blanc, western Europe's highest mountain. The domed summit is frequently hidden under a cloud cap, but the revelation of tangled razor peaks and glittering ice is all the more imposing for the delay. Despite its rugged aspect, the Chamonix Valley has slopes for all levels of skiers and boarders. Le Tour, at the head of the valley, is as mellow as any beginner could want, while Les Houches, at the bottom, is prime intermediate territory with trees to provide visibility in bad weather. In between, Argentiere is the expert choice while Chamonix itself is the gateway to the Vallée Blanche, Europe's most compelling introduction to glacier adventure.
A comfortable bed
With no shortage of choice in an area that embraced tourism in the 19th century, deciding where to stay is a question of personal priorities. The Hotel le Hameau Albert 1er (www.hameaualbert.fr; 0033 450 530509), part of the Relais & Chateaux portfolio, has 36 individually designed rooms. The Bachal Spa is state of the art and Chef Pierre Maillet's food in the Albert Ier restaurant is the best in the valley, a verdict confirmed by two Michelin stars. Doubles are €195-545 (Dh 934-2611), lunch €38-68 (Dh182-326), dinner €80-139.50 (Dh383-670). At the other end of the spectrum, generations of hard core skiers have embraced La Couronne (www.hotelcouronee.com, 0033 450 540002), a back to basics billet that can be found on Argentiere's main street. Doubles €56-101 (Dh268-484).
For downtown buzz, check into the sophisticated Grand Hotel des Alpes (www.grandhoteldesalpes.com, 0033 450 553 780), a boutique with 27 rooms and three suites in the heart of Chamonix's lively pedestrian zone. The public rooms are seductively Italian, with the deep sofas in luxurious salons overlooking the River Arve. The complimentary après ski buffet is a meal in itself. Doubles €215-600 (Dh1,030-2,875).
In addition to the Chamonix valley, the Mont Blanc Unlimited pass (www.chamonix.com; 0033 450 532 275) includes the neighbouring resorts of Courmayeur in Italy and Verbier in Switzerland. With 400km of groomed pistes and 100 lifts on a single ticket, there's no excuse for not skiing or boarding until you drop.
Six days €266 (Dh1,275), family (two adults and one child between four and 15) €758 (Dh3,632), concessions (4-15 and 65+) €226 (Dh1,083).
Meet the locals
Pascal Payot is a goat farmer, with three billies and 60 breeding females on his farm in Les Houches. Saanen goats, originally from the Swiss valley of the same name, are the largest in the dairy business. In summer, they enjoy alpine pastures rehabilitated by Pascal after decades of neglect but in winter and spring, they're in residence to receive their fans. Nicknamed "living marshmallows" for their size and gentle disposition, they love to show off their kids, especially to children on petting missions. Farm visits Monday, Wednesday and Friday to Sunday at 3.30; €7 (Dh34) with tea and tastings (www.lafermeapayot.com; 0033 687 417157).
Book a table
Mickey Bourdillat, previously chef at the Albert 1er, has already won his first Michelin star at Le Bistrot in the Morgane Hotel in Chamonix Sud (www.morgane-hotel-chamonix.com, 0033 450 535 764). His talent for inventive blending underpins subtly mixed French and Italian flavours and his two-course lunch is Cham's number one bargain €17 (Dh81) (three courses menu €42 [Dh201], five courses menu €68 [Dh326], lobster menu €80 [Dh383], filet of duck des Dombes or seared tuna €19 [Dh91]).
Bourdillat is also involved in Cafe de l'Avre (www.cafe-arve.com , 0033 450 535 857), a newcomer but already well established on the gastro trail. It uses produce sourced from the Mont Blanc region. Minimalist furnishings and a prime location on the river bank provide an impressive showcase for dishes devised by Bourdillat's partner, Julien Binet, formerly of Ducasse in Paris (cafe menu, three courses, €24 [Dh115], with cheese €29 [Dh139], Discovery menu, five courses, €40 [Dh192]).
Anyone in need of a break from rich French cuisine should head for Satsuki (www.satsuki.eu; 0033 40 532 199), an unpretentious Japanese cafe serving fresh sushi and sashimi with no frills attached. Sushi plates from €16 (Dh77).
Established as a family butcher by Andre Minie in 1959, Les Saveurs des Alpes (www.saveurdesalpes.com, 0033 450 531 327) has expanded into a showcase for all things succulently Savoyarde. Think delicatessen as well as meat, but you'll have to get past the Aladdin's cave of the window display first. Around the corner on rue Joseph Vallot, spotlights illuminate enticing towers of macaroons in vibrant pinks, greens and yellows in Cafe Macarons. Buy them to take home or eat them over a coffee in the salon. Chocolates and cakes made on site are also available if you have a sweet tooth.
What to avoid
Although the Chamonix bus is included on the Mont Blanc Unlimited pass, the service is slow and extremely crowded at peak times. With the exception of Chamonix itself, parking is easy so hiring a car is recommended.
Even if you're not buying furniture or artwork, Artisanat les Racine provides the pleasure of watching a true craftsman at work. Florent Dunand makes bespoke pieces inspired by nature in wood and metal in his workshop in Les Houches (www.lesracines.com, 0033 608 990 989).
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