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Chamonix in the northern French Alps has re-invented itself. The extensive makeover of the town centre continues; this and the extreme off-piste and challenging rock climbing now attracts a more glamorous skier and mountaineer. As a year-round working town there is a greater choice of shops, restaurants and bars than in other more seasonal ski resorts, with more designer stores and exclusive boutiques opening each year. Welcoming an international clientele, it is a popular choice with French, British and Scandinavian buyers. In recent years, efforts have been made to pedestrianise the town centre, which is now traffic-free and offers pleasant strolling along the river Arve.
Chamonix can claim to be the birthplace of mountaineering. Mountain tourists have been visiting the valley and villages of the Chamonix Valley since the 18th Century when a Genevois scientist offered a prize for the first ascent of Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain at 4,807m. Another highlight of Chamonix history came as host of the first Winter Olympics in 1924. Since then Chamonix has been a mecca for skiers and snowboarders ready to take on the challenges of the spectacular alpine terrain, and climbers in the summer months keen to test their skills on the many mountain peaks.
The town of Chamonix sits at 1,035m but the highest lift – the Aiguille du Midi tops out at 3,842m. The skiing from the top of the Aiguille du Midi, which starts with a walk down a nerve-testing arete, is off-piste – and take a guide as the terrain is glaciated. Few ski resorts can claim the same statistics as Chamonix; the pistes of the Grands Montets ski area run from as high as 3,300m altitude, down to 1,252m above the village of Argentiere – a muscle-aching vertical descent of over 2,000 metres!
Few other ski resorts boast such dramatic alpine scenery. Many of the peaks – or Aiguilles - are jagged and high, and the icy-blue splendour of the glaciers can be seen from the valley floor.
The Chamonix Valley offers a wide range of property options in varied locations. With a choice of different hamlets and villages, as well as the resort centre, buyers can choose between renovated farm properties, bespoke chalets or an apartment pied-à-terre. Thanks to its history, buyers can find apartments in beautiful Belle Epoque residences as well as in more contemporary developments. Away from the centre, it is possible to find a rustic “Savoie” farmhouse as well as new and old chalets.
Despite the obvious attractions of this established mountain destination property prices are still lower than in other renowned French ski resorts, like Courchevel and Val d'Isère. While few properties are ski-in, ski-out most enjoy panoramic views of the peaks of the Mont Blanc Massif. Moussoux, Les Nants, Les Bois and Les Praz are considered the most desirable areas, thanks to their proximity to the town centre, sunny aspect and easy access to skiing. More affordable homes can be found in Les Bossons and Taconnaz. The village of Les Houches offers a more laid-back choice with many families choosing to settle here; Argentière is also popular, with its proximity to skiing at the Grands Montets.
Chamonix's status as a working town with established schools and a good variety of year-round services makes it a realistic choice for relocation, supported by a permanent population of local French as well as expat families, who take advantage of the choice of 6 primary schools, plus a Montessori and 2 secondary schools in the valley.
The Chamonix Valley is home to a permanent population of 10,000 people – the list of nationalities reads like a UN convention - with inhabitants from France, Britain, Sweden, Australia and Spain among other countries.
The town continues to spend money on new public spaces, landscaping and road systems, while the Compagnie du Mont Blanc, who own and operate the lift systems and pistes, has an investment programme to improve the ski lifts and link ski areas.
Property prices are affordable compared to the glitzier ski resorts of Courchevel and Val d'Isere. Chamonix beats both hands-down as a year-round mountain base and there is greater potential for rental return most months of the year.
Chamonix is one of the easiest ski resorts to reach from Geneva airport as it is an straightforward 1 hour's drive by motorway from the airport. From December 2019, the new Leman Express will make it easier to get to Chamonix from Geneva airport by train. Thanks to the good rail and road connections Chamonix works as a weekend destination as well as for longer stays and a base for commuters to Geneva.
The pisted ski area in the Chamonix Valley totals 400km, split into the four areas of Brevent, Flegere, Grands Montets and Le Balme (Le Tour/Vallorcine) plus the ski area of Les Houches. With skiing as high as 3,300m, the ski season is long, often running into May. Season pass holders benefit from access to the lifts in the Italian ski resort of Courmayeur, plus ski days in Verbier and the ski resorts of the Haute Savoie.
The extent of the off-piste is mind-blowing and includes the world-famous Vallee Blanche off-piste descent over glaciated terrain from the top of the Aiguille du Midi. The Haute Route beings (or ends) in Chamonix so the valley is also a destination for ski-tourers.
Away from the slopes, there is plenty to do from ice-skating at the indoor and outdoor rinks to swimming and fitness at the Richard Bozon Sports Centre, indoor climbing in Les Houches to a cosy cinema for whiteout days.
Many people go to Chamonix for wintersports and end up staying because of the summer activities. The choice of sports is huge, from tennis to golf at the 18 hole Golf Club de Chamonix, from climbing in the valley or at altitude to testing mountain-bike descents.
Chamonix is one of the stops on the Tour du Mont Blanc, a hiking trail that passes through alpine scenery and mountain villages in Italy, Switzerland and France. It is also home to one of the world’s largest events in the trail-running calendar – the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc – a week long programme of races, with participants from around the world, which attracts trail-running superstars such as Kilian Jornet.
Shopaholics will be content all year round with a wealth of interesting shops – interior design, art galleries, bookshops and speciality food, souvenirs and the latest technical snow-sports clothing and hardware and even a Superdry store.
No visit to Chamonix is complete without a trip up to the infamous Aiguille du Midi at 3,842m altitude. On a clear day the 360 degree views include the Matterhorn in Switzerland. Test your nerve in the “Le Pas Dans Le Vide” (“Step Into The Void”) experience, a 2.5m glass cage suspended over a 1,000m drop. Another way to enjoy the stunning glacier scenery is to take a journey to the end of the Mer de Glace glacier on the Montenvers railway.
Chamonix also has an extensive programme of events, including the funky Cosmojazz festival, and Musilac (2019 will be the second year) in late April.
The infamous Folie Douce brand opened its first ski hotel in Chamonix at the end of 2018 (with more to follow in Serre Chevalier and Samoens. Taking over the old Club Med base in Chamonix, at the foot of the Savoy nursery slopes, the Folie Douce Hotel has space for 1,000 revellers - apres-ski on an epic scale. For something more mellow, head to the stylish QC Terme spa, a wellness retreat in the heart of Chamonix. and the company's first venutre outside of Italy. The Maison des Artistes created by Andre Manoukian, former judge from The Voice, France, offers free concerts by resident musicians in a funky environment.
Foodies are spoilt for choice with the variety of restaurants in Chamonix. While there is plenty of classic mountain cuisine on offer – fondue and raclette galore! - there are plenty of alternatives from Japanese to Mexican, Italian to French Haute Cuisine. Munchie, on Rue des Moulins, offers popular Asian-fusion (bookings are essential), while Monkey in Cham Sud caters well for vegetarians and vegans. For burgers head to the MBC, a Canadian-owned micro-brewery, the perennially popular MOO or the Rocky Pop Hotel in Les Houches. For gastronomic delights head to the Albert 1er restaurant (in the hotel of the same name) for its 2 Michelin star menu.
Argentière, Les Houches, St Gervais Les Bains, Megeve, Combloux, Les Contamines
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