Although the Chamonix valley has been inhabited since the 11th century, its first recorded “tourist” visit was made by 2 Englishmen, William Windham & Richard Pococke, during the summer of 1741.
Word of their discovery soon spread and travellers, adventurers and scientist quickly followed in their footsteps.
The first Inn was completed in 1770 and Mt Blanc was finally conquered in 1786 by 2 local men, Jacque Balmat & Michel Paccard which cemented Chamonix’ reputation as the birthplace of mountaineering.
The real turning point for Chamonix however was the creation of road & rail links, which for the first time allowed less adventurous tourists to visit. The rail link, finished in 1901, allowed access for winter visitors and skiing moved from transport to recreation.
Mont Blanc may be the main attraction but Chamonix is also well know for other reasons:
Chamonix hosted the first ever Winter Olympic Games in 1924
The height of Mont Blanc varies from year to year depending on the depth of the summit’s snow cap, so no permanent elevation can be assigned to the mountain. However it is always 3m higher when measured by the Italian authorities!
It is twinned with 6 towns, including Davos in Switzerland and Aspen in Colorado
Chamonix has total area of 245 km2 making it the fourth largest commune in mainland France.
The ski scenes from James Bond film The World Is Not Enough were filmed in Chamonix.
An Air India flight crashed into Mont Blanc in 1966 taking all lives. The diplomatic bag that was on its way to the Geneva embassy turned at the bottom of the Bossons glacier in August 2012, 46 years later!
The Other Villages of Chamonix
Le Tour is a typical Savoyard village situated at the northern end of the valley on the Swiss border. It is a peaceful village with a ski area that is ideal for beginner and intermediate skiers as well as off-piste fans. There are also plenty of hikes and mountain bike trails in the summer. A great place to escape the hustle and bustle of life - a true alpine getaway.
Argentiére is at the foot of the Argentière Glacier and legendary peaks such as the Aiguille Verte and la Chardonnet. It is home of Grand Montet ski resort, a winter wonderland for those who enjoy off-piste and challenging terrain. Argentière also has an interesting architectural heritage and proudly displays its roots in the Savoyard Tradition and retains a lot of authentic French charm and has a beautiful unspoilt high street with patisseries, boulangeries and wine bars. It is also the home of the St Pierre Church built in 1726 which has a beautiful bell tower.
Charming and family friendly, it is a great location for a real Savoyard experience.
Les Praz de Chamonix
Les Praz is most well known for the Flegere lift and Chamonix golf course. It has a traditional village feel and is surrounded by forests and streams and has easy access to many walking trails. There are many chalet-style properties here as well as a number of good bars and restaurants. The chapel sits in the middle of the village and has a beautiful public garden and is a popular backdrop for wedding photos, although you can no longer get married there.
Le Regina, situated on the main route through Les Praz, was a prestigious hotel from the Belle Epoque period, it was built in 1906 by Marie Couttet. Now it is owned by the gendarmerie and is one the highest buildings in the surrounding area.
Les Bossons is a five minute drive from the centre of Chamonix on the way to Les Houches. It is fairly spread out and popular with families due to the location of the local school.
The village is situated opposite Les Bossons Glacier, the longest in Europe, with stunning views of Mont Blanc. At the top of the summer chair lift there is the Chalet du Glacier des Bossons where you can grab a beer and enjoy the scenery from the terrace. The lift also takes you to the start of the Pyramides and le Jonction hiking trails.
With around 3000 inhabitants, Les Houches sits at the entrance to the Chamonix valley.
Inhabited since the Gallic time, Les Houches is now a famous winter and summer sports location attracting large numbers every year.
It has a charming historical heritage that still maintains a lot of its traditional architecture and layout. It is also home for Les Houches School of Theoretical Physics and so is a draw for the academic as well as the athlete.
With the only slope approved for a World Cup Downhill in Haute Savoie, La Verte piste is an international focal point for downhill racing. The black run of 870 vertical metres and 3343 metres in length takes top skiers two minutes to ski down.
Chamonix Mont-Blanc as it is known today is a thriving mountain resort yet with more than 10,000 permanent residents in the valley it is a real living town with soul and character.