January 26-30, 2022
Andy typically goes on at least one ski trip per year and, until recently, I have been able to avoid joining him on the slopes. I didn’t grow up skiing and don’t particularly enjoy being cold or centering a vacation around a sport, so I was perfectly content to pass up on spending a ton of money on something that I was unlikely to enjoy as much as, say…a big European trip. I started to run out of excuses during the pandemic when it was clear that a ski trip was going to be pretty much the only way we could travel during the winter and we ended up ringing in 2021 in Park City, Utah with a big group of friends — all of whom were extremely patient with me (the only beginner) despite being experienced skiers/snowboarders. After surviving ski school and the initial pains of learning to ski, I was determined to get my money’s worth for all the gear I now owned (and shipped to the UK) by going on at least a few ski trips while living in London.
We spent the last weekend of January in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, which is a resort area at the base of Mont Blanc (the highest peak in the Alps) in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of southeastern France and just across the borders of Switzerland and Italy. I found an excellent deal on British Airway flights to Geneva (the closest airport) and an Airbnb, and lift passes and rentals were considerably cheaper than in the U.S (~€67 per day and ~€25 per day, respectively) so it somehow ended up being relatively inexpensive trip despite Chamonix’s reputation as a rather posh area.
Our Airbnb was in Argentière, which sits ~8 km up the mountain from the town of Chamonix, and it was less than a five-minute walk to Les Grands Montets, the largest and most popular of the ~6 or so ski resorts in the Chamonix Valley. The location ended up being perfect and I would highly recommend staying in or around Argentière vs. Chamonix proper, which was incredibly crowded and was a lot more touristy than the surrounding towns. Argentière felt much more like a traditional alpine village and still had very nice options for bars and restaurants, in addition to being right by the entrance to one of the most diverse and challenging ski areas. The towns and resorts within the Chamonix Valley are all very well connected by a robust bus network and daytime routes are included in the price of ski lift passes. €2 covers the fare for the (delightfully named) Chamo’Nuit bus line that runs each night, so it was still extremely easy for us to go to dinner in Chamonix. Last but not least, SNCF (the state-owned railway) runs a local train service from Argentière to downtown Chamonix that snakes down the mountain through snow-covered pines and feels like an actual fairytale.
Despite Chamonix being a pretty challenging ski area (especially for a second-time skier like me), we had an absolutely fantastic trip. There were so many different resorts and ski areas open that we didn’t have to wait in line for any lifts, and the slopes weren’t really ever very crowded. It’s also just absolutely gorgeous to be truly surrounded by mountains everywhere we looked. Furthermore, the area is also well known for its traditional Savoyard cuisine (most of which involves some form of melted cheese) and takes a lot of pride in its history as one of the oldest ski resorts in Europe. We loved everything about our time in Chamonix, and are now very keen to visit other French ski areas next year.
If you’re planning a trip to Chamonix, click here to access and download my Google Maps list of saved locations. Bon voyage!
Food & Drink
- Hameau Albert 1er (Chamonix): On our last day, Andy skiied by himself while I spent most of the day at the five-star Hôtel Hameau Albert 1er in Chamonix. I booked the ‘relaxation package’, which included morning access to the spa followed by lunch at the Michelin-starred Hameau Albert 1er restaurant. Absolutely everything about my lunch experience was just divine. The service was impeccable, and each course of the set lunch menu was better than the last — especially when a gigantic cart of local cheeses was rolled out at the end of the meal by a server who selected a variety of exquisitely aged cheeses for me to sample.
- Boulangerie L’Al’Pain (Argentière): This bustling, charming bakery and café was only a 10-minute walk from our Airbnb and we came here for breakast every single morning — I even trekked over in the dark on our last morning to pick up pastries and coffee (and a loaf of fresh bread) before our shuttle picked us up at 7 AM. They had an excellent variety of dine-in options for both breakfast and lunch (including some inexpensive set menu options), and the selection of bread and pastries was impressive. Perhaps best of all, the staff were all extremely friendly and kept the long line moving very quickly.
- La Maison Carrier (Chamonix): The Hôtel Hameau Albert 1er also operates a more traditional (and less pricey) Alpine restaurant, which is where we had dinner on Friday night. The restaurant is housed in a reconstructed Savoyard farmhouse facing Mont-Blanc and serves local cuisine in a rustic atmosphere complete with wood-paneled walls, gingham tablecloths, and racks of lamb and suckling pig slowly spit-roasting over an open fire. Le Maison Carrier has been awarded a “Bib Gourmand” by the Michelin Guide, and for good reason — the menu de la maison was only €35 and the classic country cuisine was exactly what we needed after a long day of skiing.
- La P’tite Verte (Argentière): We were able to walk in on a Thursday night and get a table fairly quickly at this quaint and cheerful Savoyard restaurant on the main road in Argentière, and I’m so glad we did. It was extremely cozy and had a very friendly atmosphere, and we thoroughly enjoyed our first true fondue experience.
- Le Monchu (Chamonix): This popular restaurant in downtown Chamonix is located right by the casino in a rustic, terraced building with plenty of roaring fires. It’s known for its traditional menu of Savoyard specialties like fondue, raclette, tartiflette, and pierrade, which is a form of barbecue where you get thin slices of meat to cook yourself on a heated stone at your table alongside sauces, peppers, and onions, and a baked potato. It was fun to try something a bit different, but the restaurant itself wasn’t anything too special.
- The Office (Argentière): The exterior of this lively bar and restaurant in the heart of Argentière looks incredibly unassuming (and even a little grungy), but it’s quite a different experience once you walk inside. The interior is surprisingly light and spacious, with lots of comfortable seating and an excellent selection of cocktails, French wine, and imported spirits. The food menu offers a lot of great and non-traditional options for small plates, including decent tacos.
- Prarion 1860 Hotel Restaurant (Les Houches): The 360-degree views of Mont-Blanc from this traditional Savoyard restaurant are simply incredible. The hotel and its restaurant have been open for nearly 100 years at the top of the slopes in Les Houches, above the village of Saint-Gervais, and thankfully it’s very easy to ski to from Le Prarion cable car (~200m).
- Le Spot de Lognan (Les Grands Montets): Excellent place for a midday snack and beers (or, because it’s France, remarkably decent wine) on the Lognan plateau in Les Grands Montets. It can only be accessed by skiing down a blue or red run from the top of the Plan Joran ski lift, which was a trying experience for me…to say the least.
Activities & Attractions
- Les Grands Montets: Our Airbnb was just outside the largest and most popular ski resort in the Chamonix Valley. The resort is HUGE (~2000m of skiable terrain) and there were so many on- and off-piste options for skiers of all levels, as well as several excellent ski-in restaurants. However, it was probably not the best place to start for a beginner skier like me — it’s really steep and the few green and blue runs are pretty narrow, so I basically just fell down the mountain for most of the afternoon. It was beautiful, though!
- Les Houches: After a challenging day at Les Grands Montets, we decided to spend the next day at Les Houches, a charming mountain village near the southwest entrance to the Chamonix Valley that is surrounded by old, wooden Savoyard farmhouses and directly underneath Mont Blanc itself. The resort has nearly 70km of wooded slopes and contains the biggest single area of prepared runs in the \valley, which makes it much more ideal for beginners (AKA me). We had an absolutely fantastic day here, and I made it down several beautiful blue runs without falling. The views of Mont Blanc were incredible.
- Le Bachal Spa at Hôtel Hameau Albert 1er: The ‘relaxation package’ I booked for myself at the Hôtel Hameau Albert 1er on our last day included morning access to Le Bachal spa and wellness center. The sauna and steam rooms were lovely, but I spent most of the morning reading in my fluffy robe by the Mont Blanc-facing indoor swimming pool and hot tubs. There were only a few other people around me, so it was an incredibly peaceful way to wind down and relax after a few strenuous days of skiing.