French Odyssey Part 11 – Mountains & Chairlifts   5 comments

So our Provence adventures were over. After a fond and sad farewell to Francis and Laura at our home from home in Cotignac we set of for the first leg of our journey home. We were heading for Chamonix in the French Alps, a long all day drive of around 5 hours but a scenic one through the pre-alps mountains. Most noticeable thing on the journey was the temperature. From 37 degrees the previous day in Provence it dropped steadily as we drove north to a chilly 12 degrees when we stopped for a in-car feed at the Col de Grimone.


Col de Grimone

As we approached the Alps all the summits were swathed in cloud but I had high hopes that the weather was clearing. We arrived in Chamonix and checked into our hotel for the next couple of nights, the Hotel Excelsior one of the Logis de France chain. We headed into Chamonix for a meal and it was chaos, thousands of people everywhere and nowhere to park. Clearly there was some sort of event on which turned out to be the Ultra Tour de Mont Blanc. Basically it’s a fell race around the Tour de Mont Blanc long distance walk route. Jane has done this many years ago and it takes the average walker 10 days or so. These people were running it non-stop in between 26 and 48 hours. As we watched the finishers come in it was hard not to get wrapped up in the event and we cheered and clapped the finishers of the main event and some of the other events like a multi-day fell race that looked suicidally tough.

The skies looked to be clearing as we returned to our hotel so we went to bed fingers crossed for a decent day in the Alps the following day

Alpine mountaineering is where my heart is. In my younger days a summer holiday meant 2 weeks camping in an alpine village with a combination of walking and climbing high alpine mountains. I loved it. There is no greater feeling for me than standing on top of an alpine summit under a deep blue sky, with snow-capped peaks stretching away as far as the eye can see or sitting at a high alpine bivvy site surrounded by mountains and watching the sunset or sunrise. There is nothing like an alpine sunrise or sunset – it’s a time for silent reflection and just wonder at how awesome the natural world is. If I had the time I’d love to share some of those experiences through my blog. Perhaps one day I may scan my photos from those days and relive some memories, for now lets move on to a new one.

I woke early, too excited to sleep and peeped from behind the curtains. It was cloudless! D was awake and we went straight outside for a look. It was chilly but the sun was lighting up Mont Blanc as we wandered by the pool and we both couldn’t wait to get up high.


Aiguille du Midi and Mont Blanc from the hotel

It was clearly going to be storming day. I’d chosen a route to make use of the cable cars and chair lifts (expensive but worth it) so we could make the most of the day up in the sunshine. We took the cable car from Les Praz to La Flegere and then the chair-lift up to L’Index for a walk across to Lac Blanc and then back along the Grand Balcon Sud to Planpraz and back down to Chamonix. The kids love the lifts, like a fairground ride, especially the chairlifts (as a skier the novelty has worn off for me!).


Chairlift to L'Index

As we stepped off the chairlift at L’Index the view was quite simply breathtaking.


D, L and Mont Blanc


Aiguille Verte & Mer de Glace


Aiguille du Tour, Aiguille d'Argentiere, Aiguille de Chardonnet

The sky was deep blue and cloudless and in front of us the whole spread of the Chamonix alps, Mont Blanc, the Chamonix Aiguilles, the Grand Jorasses, Aiguille Verte and much more. Behind us the towering rock peaks of the Aiguilles Rouges. It was warm and perfect for walking but we sat and gazed at the peaks in absolute wonder. It was the perfect day. Spending a couple of days in the mountains was a gamble and I thanked whatever gods were smiling on me for our good fortune. I pointed out Mont Blanc du Tacul, my highest Alpine summit and the Aiguille du Tour smaller but one of my favourite ascents. I could sit and look at these views all day and I still gaze at my photos longingly. D loves walking but L is not so keen so I do feel a little frustrated that a family holiday in the alps isn’t really an option just now. What the view was telling me is that however I do it I need to get back and soon.


Mont Blanc and the Chamonix Aiguilles

The walk across to Lac Blanc takes you across typical alpine terrain of boulders, scree and rock but it’s a good path and easy to follow.


D & L on the path to Lac Blanc

Today it was a  day to take it easy and admire the scenery and the kids enjoyed the rocky scrambly parts.


Jane, L and D, Aiguilles Rouges in the background


Grandes Jorasses & Mer de Glace

Eventually the path meets the main one coming up from La Flegere and it was seriously busy. L wasn’t really enjoying the walking part so me and D headed up to Lac Blanc to take look leaving Jane and L with instructions to find us a decent stop for a picnic lunch. They did better than that and found the perfect spot on a shelf just off the path with a large flat boulder to laze on.


Lunch in the mountains

I had thought that Lac Blanc would be a good place to stop but it was crowded and noisy. Sitting in the warm sun, surrounded by snow-capped peaks stuffing my face with fresh bread, cheese and fruit I couldn’t have been happier. When I think back to the whole 3 weeks in France, THIS was my moment.


Life is good

Reluctantly we had to move on as we still had a few miles to walk to reach Planpraz for the last lift down to the valley. L was moving really slowly so I had  to carry her a few times. The Grand Balcon Sud is a sensational walk, traversing across the NW slopes of the Chamonix valley. Walking this direction (NE to SW) you have Mont Blanc in front of you all the way. As you pass La Flegere and start to head across towards Planpraz, it dips in and out of the trees creating some glorious vistas and situations.


D on the Grand Balcon Sud


Jane and L, Aiguille Verte behind


High above the Chamonix valley

We stopped about a third of the way along for an afternoon snack and it became clear that L wasn’t going to make it across to Planpraz in time for the last lift.


L and the Aiguille Verte

We decided to split up so Jane and D could enjoy the rest of the walk and me and L strolled back to La Flegere.


L on the Grand Balcon Sud

It was with great reluctance that we headed back down to Les Praz although we had a pleasant sit in the sunny park near the church before we headed off to collect Jane and D.


Les Praz

So how to finish off the perfect day? Back to the hotel for a swim in the outdoor pool under the gaze of snow-capped peaks.


Hotel Excelsior and Pool


Mountain Swimming

Perfect day? This one works for me!


5 responses to “French Odyssey Part 11 – Mountains & Chairlifts

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  1. stunning images, looks a fantastic location.
    Only just got around to having a quick look at your flickr.


  2. Just getting around to reading this now – having bookmarked it at the time to come back to. The Chamonix area seems to be a superb family-friendly area for walking. When our sons were young (a wee bit older than your two, (~9 -14) we visited the Swiss Alps for several long summer holidays. We camped in the valleys and would head up into the grassy alpine meadows each day by funicular, cable car and chair lifts – sometimes walking between villages and returning by bus. Like you, I recall the most wonderful lunches of bread, cheese and pates eaten beside a cool (or cold) alpine lake gazing at the snow-capped peaks.

    Ooh, I’d getting itchy feet again now…


    • When I was younger my summer holiday was always a 2 week trip to the Alps to climb mountains. Chamonix is a fantastic area with hundreds of family orientated walks to some superb spots so I’d love to take an extended holiday there and really get the kids into the Alpine life I used to love. As I said it was my favourite part of our long trip.

      My feet are permenantly itchy for the Alps 🙂


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