Celebrating 22 years!

Facebook YouTube
Instagram Twitter
Blog Photo galleries

Course base feature - Chamonix Mont Blanc
Welcome to the Icicle town tour of Chamonix. It's one of the key course bases we use in the Alps, and we get many requests from clients asking our favourite places to hang out, shop and visit. Here's our tour...

Until the year of 1786, when Mont Blanc was first ascended by Balmat and Paccard, the town of Chamonix was very small and isolated. The ascent of Mont Blanc soon made Chamonix a popular tourist location, and just over 200 years ago the railway track to the town was built. This facilitated the access to Chamonix for the tourists, and the town grew quickly. In 1924 the first ever winter Olympics were held in the town, and Chamonix really established itself as the Alpine capital. Each year ski and climbing world cup events are held in the town, as well as many famous sporting events, such as the Mont Blanc Ultra Trail.
"If you like Winter - if you like Winter so much that you like even the word
'Winter' - if you long for snow and are willing to work at whatever keeps you
in it, then sooner or later you come to Chamonix. That's just how it is."

Extract from the
novel 'Cham' by Jonathan Trigell
The town today
Many first time visitors are surprised how large the town is, as Chamonix is very different from 'twee' mountain resorts such as Zermatt and St Anton. You get the flavour that Chamonix is a working town, and there are as many visitors in the summer months as during the winter, which is rare in Alpine towns. The history of Mont Blanc dominates the town, and the names of Jacques Balmat, Dr Paccard, and Horace Benedict de Saussure, are used for roads, buildings, and square names. There are roughly 10,000 permanent residents of Chamonix, though this figure can treble when tourist numbers are added. As a town catering for 30,000 people, Chamonix boasts a sports centre, swimming pools, ice rinks, climbing walls, schools, the national Guide and Ski Instructor school, and literally hundreds of shops and bars.
The buildings are a mixture of old and new, but there are a lot of typical haute savoie (pronounced sav-waa) chalets and buildings, such as the Maison de Montagne and the Majestique, dotted around the town centre. This photo is of the central square, and on the right is the l'Arve river which flows through the middle of town. When you are in Chamonix, you will notice that the river changes colour as a result of the weather. Hot weather causes lots of glacial melt, and the water is chalky white. In cold conditions the water runs clear, and when it is rainy the water is brown.
Restaurants & Bars
As the population of Chamonix is so large in the peaks of season, it has a huge selection of places to eat and drink. Instead of providing a boring list of everywhere that is open, we have selected our favourites. Needless to say, we are in the mountains each day, so our focus is on good food in large quantities and cheap bars with great atmospheres.
Buck's Coffee, Avenue Aiguille du Midi
In the morning, this is the best cafe / bakery to head to for a coffee and croissant. There's free WiFi, and it's nicely decorated, and a great place to hang out. Across the road is the Fournil Chamoniard bakery, which is great for picking up a sandwich for your lunch.
Bighorn Bistro, Cham Sud
Run by American locals in Chamonix, the Bighorn is a great eclectic bistro, with good food, craft beers, and also home made bakery items for sale.Top tip: go there in the late afternoon, when the sun is hitting the square.
Beckett & Wilde, Irish bar
Located in the 'Sud' just around the corner from the course meeting point, this is a good locals bar, with Guiness on tap, and we often end up here on the last night of the courses. Free WiFi.
Monkey Bar, Seasonaires bar
The infamous seasonaires bar of Chamonix Sud, the Monkey also serves great bar food, burgers, & nachos. It's got a fairly young crowd, and there's a pool table, free WiFi and good coffee there too.
Caveau Restaurant
It may be hard to find (opposite the cimena, and below the Chinese restaurant), but it is worth searching for. Built in an old stone cellar, these pizzas and garlic bread with mozarella should not be missed. Good pastas too.
Micro Brasserie de Chamonix (MBC)
As you may have guessed from their logo, it is run by a crazy bunch of French Canadians. Living up to its name all the beer is brewed on-site. There are three key choices; Blonde (lager), Granite (bitter), & Drus (stout).

Jekyll Pub, food and bar
The only Irish bar in Chamonix, close to Chamonix Sud and the campsites. As well as good drinks, the food is very good. The bar is on three floors, though you are advised to book ahead if you wish to eat.

Munchies restaurant
Situated in the old cobbled Rue de Moulin (Mill Street), Munchies is a modern Scando-Asian fusion cuisine style restaurant. If you are looking to treat yourself to great food, this is one of the best places to head.

Poco Loco & Midnight Express
For a quick snack after a climb (or at 1am after a beers), Poco Loco & Midnight Express are virtually next door to each other on the high street, and are famed for their range of hot sandwiches and burgers. The top tip is the Cucaracha burger in Poco Loco where you can sit upstairs, or the Midnight baguette poulet frites.

Elevation & Chambre Neuf bars
Next to the train station in the town centre, these bars are opposite each other, and frequently have live music, especially on apres ski times. These bars are run by French and Scandanavians, and the bars are always lively. Open throughout year. Elevation also does good cooked breakfasts, for those hungover mornings....

Note: Be very careful where you choose to eat out or drink in Chamonix, as prices vary massively. All the places listed above are very competitively priced, but walk into the wrong place and you could be buying a ten pound pint of beer, or a twenty pound salad! Generally the centre of town is the most expensive.
Chamonix shops contrast massively, so don't be surprised to walk past the Chanel and Patagonia shops one minute and then bargain t-shirts, naff souvenirs, and stuffed toy shops the next. Alpine sport shops dominate the town centre, and there are tens of climbing equipment and ski shops to choose from. The main chain of outdoor shops is the Twinner 3S brand, two of which are a minute walk away from our Chamonix office. Other popular shops include the Tiarraz photography and poster shop on the road leading to the train station, and the Alpine Library bookshop (opposite Snells on the main pedestrian street) which sells a wide range of English language guidebooks as well as a huge range of Alpine maps. If you visit Chamonix from outside the EU, be sure to ask for the tax free shopping prices, or keep all your receipts to claim the tax back off your purchases as you leave France.
Views of Mont Blanc
Wherever you are in Chamonix, you only need to look up to see that you are surrounded by mountains. To to SW lies the main Mont Blanc massif, and from most places in town you can look up to the summit of Mont Blanc. Descending from the summit is the Bossons glacier, which is the largest icefall in Europe. It descends to within a few hundred metres from the valley floor. Directly above Chamonix on the opposite side to Mont Blanc are the Aiguilles Rouges (Red Needles) mountains, which get their name from the red granite rock that forms them. To the south lie the Aiguilles du Chamonix, which contain some of the most famous rock climbs in the Alps, such as the Charmoz Grepon traverse, the Fou, Blatiere, Peigne, Pelerins, and Aiguille de la Republique.
Weather & Seasons
The altitude of the town is 1030m, so almost exactly four kilometers beneath the summit of Mont Blanc. In the summer the snowline is roughly 3200m, though usually from December to March the snowline is lower than Chamonix, so the streets and roofs are covered in a blanket of snow. The differences between summer and winter are incredible, so pack your clothes carefully! In town in the summer months (June to September), you can usually walk around wearing shorts and a t-shirt and the temperatures can reach the mid to high thirties, but in winter the daytime temperature can be as low as minus fifteen in January or February, so wrap up warm. In the mountains the summer temperature is roughly minus ten on Mont Blanc in August, but take the wind chill factor into account. All visitors notice that even on a cold day in the Alps it rarely feels as cold as the UK. This is due to the air being a lot drier, and in Chamonix you are usually outside exercising, so don't get as cold.
Cable Cars
As far as ski or mountain resorts go, Chamonix is quite low at just over 1000m above sea level. However it is served by a very large range of cable cars and mountain railways, which enable you to access the high altitudes with great ease. The majority of lifts are owned by the Compagnie du Mont Blanc, and this monopoly has a clear impact on prices. A return ticket to the Aiguille du Midi costs about 43 Euros. Whilst the cable cars are not cheap, they do include some of the most spectacular routes in the world. The Aiguille du Midi is 3842m, and the twenty minute ride to its summit is worth every penny. In the winter season the Grand Montets is a favourite lift for skiers. The cable cars are very busy in season, and some start as early as 6am in the key months, but outside the busiest months (February, March, July, & August), the hours are slightly reduced, and out of season most are shut for repairs.
When to visit
As you will have seen from the 'Weather & Seasons' and 'Cable Cars' sections above, Chamonix has two key seasons; winter from mid December to mid April, and summer from mid June to mid September. Outside these months the weather is generally unstable (lots of cloud and rain), and most of the cable cars are closed for the seasonal maintenance. You will find cheap flights and accommodation during these off months, but should you decide to visit, don't be surprised if you find most shops and cable cars closed and have seven days of rain. You have been warned! During the main summer and winter seasons the weather is generally stable as anticyclonic (high pressure) conditions dominate.
Places of interest
Musee Alpin: It illustrates the history the Chamonix, including the first ascents of the local Alpine summits, life in the 19th Century, paintings & ski history.
Maison de la Montagne: In here is housed the high mountain office, where route information and maps are stored, as well as weather & avalanche offices.
Place Balmat : In this central square in town, you will find two statues. One has two characters; Balmat and de Saussure. The single figure statue is of Dr Paccard.
More Information? You should visit the award winning Chamonix Tourist Office in the centre of town for free leaflets and advice on all the tourist attractions mentioned here. Most of the staff speak English, and are very helpful. If you want to visit their web site, click on the following link: Chamonix Tourist Office Website.
Top 10 activities

1. Aiguille du Midi cable car. At a height of 3842m, this is the highest passenger cable car in the world, and offers great views of the Mont Blanc massif. There are several viewing platforms, shops and even a restaurant. Remember to wrap up warm.

2. The Montenvers mountain railway gives access to the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice) Glacier, with spectacular views of the Grandes Jorasses and the Dru / Aiguille Verte massif. The glacier also has an ice cave and crystal gallery to look around.
3. Gaillands: a famous rock climbing crag on the edge of town, by woods and lakes. 4. Arve: the river that runs through Chamonix town is famed for its hydroglisse & rafting. 5. Mountain Biking: you can hire good bikes in town, and get lift passes for many runs down. 6. Canyoning: there are several good gorges in the region for canyoning days in summer.
7. Paragliding: you can opt for tandem flights from a variety of cable car stations in the valley. 8. Helicopter Flights: there are flights available from £80pp, and you can fly over Mont Blanc. 9. Vallee Blanche: hire a Guide for the day and descend the world famous off piste route. 10. Snow Shoeing: in the winter months, this enables you to walk in some remote areas.
Sightseeing nearby
Chamonix is situated within a half hour drive of either Switzerland and Italy, so if you have some time to spare, this section offers some advice on sightseeing in all three countries within a 1-2 hour drive of Chamonix.

Le Brevent - excellent view of the massif including the Aiguille du Midi & Mont Blanc.

Lac Blanc & Flegere - view of the Mer de Glace and summits of Verte & Jorasses.

Aiguilles Rouges - nature reserve centre at Col des Montets, and good trekking paths.

Musee des Mines d'Argent - silver mining museum of the history running up to 1908.

Gorges de la Diosaz - the gorge of the Diosaz contains waterfalls and via ferrata.

Notre Dame de la Gorge - chapel, built in 1707, at the heart of a wooded valley.
Courmayeur - Italy's answer to Chamonix, on the south facing side of Mont Blanc.

Val Ferret - here there are many good walks on sections of the Tour du Mont Blanc.

Val Veny - the glaciers from the south side of the massif almost reach the valley floor.

Val de Cogne - most famous in winter for the huge range of ice climbing routes that form.

Macaby - a huge rock climb (with path up the back) to reach a ruined monastery on top.

Dalle de l'Amone - a huge slab, that is good rock climbing in the dryest summer months.

Martigny - an old Roman town, surrounded by vineyards, and containing a very well preserved amphitheatre, a sculpture park, and some very famous art galleries.

Emmoson - this dam was famed for the Bond film Goldeneye, where the opening scene involved a bungy jump from the top. Good walks around both lakes.

Dinosaurs - above the higher Emmoson lake there is a rock where many hundreds of dinosaur footprints have been clearly preserved. About a three hour walk total.
Key travel pages links
Icicle course accommodation

Travel to Chamonix from UK

How to book a course

Find our Windermere office
Our Windermere town tour
Chamonix town map
Popular links
Press & media
Films & videos
Photo gallery
Our published articles
Chamonix trail running book
This award-winning book on trail running routes in the Chamonix and Mont Blanc region was written by Kingsley, our lead trail running guide. You can even buy author signed copies from our shop...
Latest news from Icicle
Any further questions?
A key part of choosing a company is being able to come and talk about your plans with an experienced course advisor face to face. In an increasingly virtual world, we know our clients value speaking to real people, getting open and honest advice. The vast majority of our clients are British, and our office and outdoor store is based in Windermere in the English Lake District.

Get in contact to arrange a meeting, and come in for a coffee to discuss your course in person with a trip advisor. Many people opt for this service, and it is an integral part of what we offer, as we are keen to ensure that you are prepared as possible, and that you select a course that is suitable for you. It makes it easier and more enjoyable for you and us, if you are on the right trip.

Facebook Icicle Instagram Twitter Icicle
Online & Lake District mountain store - quick links; technical kit | clothing | accessories | books & maps
conditions|privacy|sitemap|copyright © 2022 Icicle, Church Street, Windermere, Lake District, LA23 1AQ
Icicle logo is the registered trademark ® of Icicle Mountaineering|UK company 413 6635. VAT 770 137 933