La verite existe au dela des montagnes. pour le trouver, il faut voyager – Ferdinand Oyono
The truth exists beyond mountains. To find it one must travel – Ferdinand Oyono
Situated at the meeting of borders of three nations namely, France, Switzerland, and Italy thrives a commune in the Haute-Savoie department in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of south-eastern France. Nicknamed ‘the capital of the extreme sports of Europe’ it is nestled cosily between the peaks of the Aiguilles Rouges and the remarkable Aiguille du Midi.
Safeguarded by the Aiguilles de Chamonix Mountain chain that offers spectacular scenery of the French Alps it boasts of the company of the ancient glacier sliding down from Mont Blanc. The cascading waterfalls and a sonorous river running through its length, entertain and fill it with the melody of nature. The blanket of pine trees that snuggles the magical slopes of the Mont Blanc coupled with blue skies splurges it with vivid colours.
Welcome to ‘idyllic’ Chamonix-Mont-Blanc valley (pronounced as ‘Sham-on-EE’).
Situated to the north of Mont Blanc, the most famous mountain of the French Alps and the highest point (4808) in Europe, it is actually an ensemble of 16 villages and hamlets. As a priory under Count of Genevois, the valley’s first mention can be found in 1091. As a humble hamlet, it was a far cry from today’s world-class, famous ski resort and mountaineering destination. It was in 1741 that two British aristocrats, William Windham and Richard Pocock, discovered this ‘sleeping’ town flagging off the Valle’s gradual rise to fame.
In 1770 Valley witnessed its first auberge (inn) open its door to travellers from far and wide. When Mont Blanc was scaled successfully for the first time in the year 1786, it was met with euphoria leading to a surge in mountaineering activities as well as interest in the pristine Alpine scenery. The year 1816 saw the grandeur of the Valley growing with the opening of the first luxury hotel. The valley rechristened itself from Chamonix to Chamonix-Mont-Blanc in 1916. Courtesy of improved roads and railway infrastructure, Chamonix-Mont-Blanc hosted the first-ever ‘Winter Olympics’ in 1924 staging its grand entry on the international level.
Cut to the present skiing, snowboarding, climbing, mountain biking, cycling, mountaineering, hiking, hand-gliding, forested trails, and adventure playgrounds for kids the Valley offers a number of leisurely pursuits. The Mont Blanc tunnel which was inaugurated in 1965 at Chamonix also makes this an important crossing point for tourists into and out of Italy. It is also easily accessible via the international airports of Lyon, Geneva, Turin, and Milan.
L’Arve (The Arve River)
The booming and rapidly flowing sparkling water of the Arve river makes its presence felt every step of the way across the length of Chamonix- Mont-Blanc under the town’s many idyllic bridges.
It is the left tributary of Rhone and is 108km long, 9km of which flows through Switzerland. It rises on the North-side of the Mont Blanc massif and is primarily snow-fed. It predominantly receives water from the Mer de Glace glacier (Sea of ice) apart from several other glaciers in the region. No wonder then that it heavily is silt-laden.
The river’s whirlpools and rapids are an open invitation to thrill-seekers. Easy-to-handle airboats are available for rent for the groups to navigate, paddle through the Class II rapids and feel the rush of adrenaline.
Let’s hit the pause button today and start our further exploration of the incredible destination tomorrow!
Click here for posts so far in the “Exploring l’Hexagone” series