Living Legend

The legend of this place has been going for over 250 years. The story began when the English pioneers of mountaneering reached the Chamonix valley in the middle of the 18th century and dropped their jaws at the breathtaking panorama topped by the tallest peak of the Alps. The story was spread further by adventurous English aristocrats who followed in the footsteps of the pioneers to take in the extraordinary setting – the deep valley surrounded by a jaggedy crown of glacier covered skyscraping mountains. The conquest of Mont Blanc in 1786 put Chamonix more firmly on the map and opened the gates of civilisation. Sheep herders’ huts as the only places to provide shelter were gradually replaced by inns and refuges and in 1816 Chamonix got its first posh hotel. Less than a hundred years later you could come all the way here by train and stay in over forty hotels including three art nouveau palaces with more than 100 luxury rooms. As early as 1909 two cog railways took tourists to greater heights to admire the glaciers from up close and marvel at the amazing views.

Where else should the first Winter Olympic Games take place than here? So in 1924 the legend strengthens further. Skiing becomes more fun with the help of lifts and by the turn of the 1920s and 1930s Chamonix is not only a Mecca of mountaneering but also a paradise for skiers.

In 1954 cablecar reaches the Aiguille du Midi (3842 m) and makes it the highest cablecar station in the World for two decades. Still occupying a prime position among Chamonix’s attractions it transports year in year out hundreds of thousands of tourists longing to see Mont Blanc like it was in the palm of their hand and tens of thousands of skiers who set off from the top on the World renowned 22 km freeride down La Vallée Blanche.

If the 18th century pioneers came to the valley today they wouldn’t believe their eyes. They would get picked up at Geneva airport and driven all the way to Chamonix in an hour. The Egratz viaduct rising from the valley bellow would probably make them feel dizzier than the mountain heights they were scaling when they first came here. The mountain which had struck them with awe has had a tunnel bored through it. The valley which was dotted with just a few tens of homesteads 250 years ago is now home to 15.000 residents and welcomes up to 100.000 visitors a day. Had it not been for the surrounding peaks, Chamonix – with its town houses adorned with wrought iron balconies – would feel like a busy spa town. The highstreet, lined with shops and boutiques with world renowned names above their doors, is busy come snow, rain or shine and the two villages at the opposite ends of the valley – les Houches at the soutwestern and Argentiere at the northeastern – get their fair share of visitor interest, too, being home to two of the best local skiing and hiking areas.

Wherever you look it’s all trees, slopes, peaks, needles. And quite a few glaciers… One day will be enough to get the panorama burnt into your visual memory. Whenever you’ll see it again – in a picture, a film or with your own eyes – you won’t hesitate. CHAMONIX!