The site of the first winter Olympics in 1924, Chamonix (pop. 10,000) is the ultimate ski town, with soaring mountains and the toughest slopes in the world. The town itself combines the dignity of Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest peak (4807m), with the exuberant spirit of energetic travelers.
TRANSPORTATION AND PRACTICAL INFORMATION. Trainsleaveav.de la Gare ( 04 50 53 12 98) for Annecy (2V6hr. 7 per day, ‚17); Geneva, Switzerland (212hr. 7 per day, ‚21); Lyon (4hr. 6 per day, ‚30); and Paris (6%hr. 9 per day, ‚50-70). Societe Alpes Transports buses (04 50 53 01 15) leave the train station for Annecy (214hr. daily, ‚15) and Geneva, Switzerland (l’Ahr. 2 per day, ‚29-32). Local buses (‚1.50) connect to ski slopes and hiking trails. From the station, follow av. Michel Croz, turn left on r. du Dr. Paccard, and take the first right to reach pl. de l’Eglise and the tourist office, 85 pl. du Triangle de l’Amitie. (04 50 53 00 24; www.chamonix.com. Open July-Aug. daily 8:30am-7:30pm; Sept.-June reduced hours.) Compagnie des Guides, in Maison de la Montagne facing the tourist office-leads ski trips and hikes. (04 50 53 00 88; www.cieguides-chamonix.com. Open Jan.-Mar. and July-Aug. daily 8:30am-noon and 3:30-7:30pm; Sept.-Dee. and Apr.-June reduced hours.) Access the Internet at Cybar, 80 r. des Moulins. ( 04 50 53 69 70. ‚1 per lOmin. Open daily llam-l:30am.) Postal Code: 74400.
ACCOMMODATIONS AND FOOD. Chamonix’s gites (mountain hostels) and dorms are cheap, but they fill up fast; call ahead. From the train station, walk down av. Michel Croz and take a right onto r. Joseph Vallot for the ijRed Mountain Lodge , 435 r. Joseph Vallot. The fun-loving, English-speaking staff keeps guests happy with plush furnishings, views of Mont Blanc, and frequent barbeques for ‚12. (04 50 53 94 97; fax 04 50 53 82 64. Reception 8am-noon and 5-7pm. Dorms ‚16; doubles ‚40, with bath ‚50; triples ‚6075.) Gite le Vagabond 0, 365 av. Ravanel le Rouge, near the town center, has a friendly atmosphere and a climbing wall. ( 04 50 53 15 43; firstname.lastname@example.org. Breakfast ‚5. Laundry ‚7.70. Internet ‚0.15 per min. Reception 8-10:30am. 4-to 8-bunk dorms ‚13. Credit card deposit. MCV. ) Turn left from the base of the Aiguille du Midi tdlepherique, continue past the main roundabout, and look right to camp at L’lle des Barrats O, on rte. des Pelerins. (fax 04 50 53 51 44. Reception July-Aug. daily 8am-10pm; May-June and Sept. 9am-noon and 4-7pm. Open Feb. to mid-Oct. Electricity ‚2.80. ‚5 per person, ‚4.60 per tent, ‚2 per car.) Restaurants in Chamonix cluster around the town center. Rue du Docteur Paccard is a good bet, as is rue des Moulins, which also boasts Chamonix’s most popular nightclubs and bars. Get groceries at Super U, 117 r. Joseph Vallot. (Open M-Sa 8:15am-7:30pm, Su 8:30am-noon.)
WE HIKING AND SKIING. Whether you’ve come to climb up the mountains or ski down them, you’re in for a challenge. Wherever you go, be cautious the mountains here are as wild and steep as they are beautiful. The Aiguille du Midi telpherique (cable car) offers a pricey, knuckle-whitening ascent over forests and snowy cliffs to a needlepoint peak at the top, revealing a fantastic panorama from 3842m. (04 50 53 40 00. ‚34.) Bring your passport to continue by gondola to Hel-bronner, Italy for views of three countries and the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc peaks; pack a picnic to eat on the glacier (May-Sept, round-trip ‚18). Chamonix has 350km of hiking; the tourist office has a map with departure points and estimated length for all trails, some of which are accessible by cable car, which can save time and energy. Hikes generally either head into the north, facing mountains with their jagged peaks and snow fields, or to the south, with wildflowers, blue lakes, and views of Mt. Blanc. Sunken in a valley, Chamonix is surrounded by mountains ideal for skiing. To the south, Le Tour-Col de Balme, above the village of Le Tour, is ideal for beginner and intermediate skiers ( 04 50 54 00 58. Day pass ‚25.) On the northern side of the valley, Les Grands Montets is the grande dame of Chamonix skiing, with advanced terrain and remodeled snowboarding facilities. ( 04 50 53 13 18. Day pass ‚32.)
With narrow cobblestone streets, winding canals, and a turreted castle, Annecy (pop. 50,000) appears more like a fairy-tale fabrication than a modem city. The Palais de I’lsle, located in the beautiful vielle ville, is a 13th-century chateau that served as a prison for Resistance fighters during World War II. (Open June-Sept. daily 10am-6pm; Oct.-May M and W-Su lOam-noon and 2-5pm. ‚3.10, students ‚0.80.) The shaded Jardins de I’Europe are the town’s pride and joy. Although it may be hard to tear yourself away from the charming city, Annecy’s Alpine forests boast excellent hiking and biking trails, and its clear, crystalline lake is a popular spot for windsurfing and kayaking, particularly along the free plage d’Albigny. One of the best hikes begins at the Basilique de la Visitation, near the hostel. An exquisite 16km scenic piste cyclable (bike route) hugs the lake along the eastern coast.
Trains arrive at pl. de la Gare from: Chamonix (2V6hr. 7 per day, ‚17); Grenoble (2hr. 12 per day, ‚15); Lyon (2hr. 9 per day, ‚18); Nice (7hr. 2 per day, ‚55); and Paris (4hr. 8 per day, ‚58-73). Autocars Frossard buses (04 50 45 73 90) leave from next to the station for Geneva, Switzerland. (IMhr. 6 per day, ‚9) and Lyon (S’ahr. 2 per day, ‚17). From the train station, take the underground passage to r. Vaugelas, go left and continue for four blocks, and enter the Bonlieu shopping mall to reach the tourist office, 1 r. Jean Jaures, in pl. de la Liberation. ( 04 50 45 00 33; www.lac-annecy.com. Open July-Aug. M-Sa 9am-6:30pm, Su 9am-12:30pm and l:45-6:30pm; Sept.-June daily 9am-12:30pm and l:45-6pm.) In summer, you can reach the clean and beautifully located iSAuberge de Jeunesse La Grande Jeanne (HI) O, on rte. de Semnoz, via the ligne d’ete (dir.: Semnoz) from the station (‚1); otherwise, take bus #1 (dir.: Marquisats) from the station to Hotel de Police, turn right on av. du Tresum, and follow signs pointing to Semnoz. ( 04 50 45 33 19; fax 04 50 52 77 52. Breakfast included. Sheets ‚2.70. Reception daily 8am-10pm. Dorms ‚13. AmExMCV.) Caring managers and spacious rooms await at Hotel Savoyard , 41 av. de Cran. From the train station, exit left, walk around the station on r. Brobigny to av. Berthollet, and turn left again on av. de Cran. (04 50 57 08 08. Breakfast ‚4. Open May-Oct. Singles and doubles ‚20, with bath ‚27-35; triples ‚2531-41; quads with bath ‚41.) Camping Belvedere , 8 rte. de Semnoz, is near the youth hostel. ( 04 50 45 48 30. Open mid-Apr. to mid-Oct. ‚13 for 2 people, tent, and car.) Place Ste-Claire has morning markets (Su, Tu and F 8am-noon) and some of the best restaurants in the city. A Monoprix supermarket fills the better part of pl. de Notre-Dame. (Open M-Sa 8:30am-7:30pm.) Postal Code: 74000.