Above the Clouds in the French Alps ~ Chamonix

On a rainy day we left Beaune for Annecy, where the terrain along the way changed from fields and rolling hills to forest-covered mountains and cascading waterfalls.  There was not a room to be found in this crowded, difficult to navigate city and we were becoming a bit concerned this might be the case in Chamonix as well (our next planned stop).

I quickly got online and grabbed the last two rooms at Le Faucigny Hotel in Chamonix, perhaps two of the few remaining rooms to be found in the town.  Seems our lack of luck in Annecy was to be our good fortune in Chamonix, as we had the most amazing experience above the clouds in this little town.  Le Faucigny was a beautiful little boutique hotel with a Scandinavian feel.  A scrumptious breakfast spread was laid out each morning, with tea and cakes served in the afternoon.

Chamonix, the largest of five villages at the base of Mont Blanc, is the sister city to Aspen, CO.  We had researched hikes earlier so knew which trails we hoped to explore.  Since our first day in Chamonix was a bit overcast, we decided to stroll the town, do the Riverbank Walk, and visit the tourist information office for hiking maps and info on the gondolas and lifts.

All hikes we were interested in required a lift up into the mountains.  Sadly, two of the lifts and the cogwheel train had already closed for the season, so strike two hikes off our list.  But the Aiguille du Midi lift, one of Europe’s most popular, was still running.  All hope was not lost. 🙂

Refuge at P
Refuge Plan de l’Aiguille, along our hike, serves up great meals and knockout views on the patio.

Before leaving on our European adventure we had read about a gondola ride from Chamonix over to Helbronner Point, an Italian border station.  In a gondola built for four, you glide silently for 40 minutes over glaciers and snow-capped peaks into Italy.  It sounded fabulous but unfortunately this lift had closed the previous week due to an “incident”.  And we learned that incidents of this nature are not so uncommon.  It seemed that high winds crossed the cables, stranding 110 people over the glacier.  French and Italian workers were able to rescue all but 33, who spent a cold night dangling over the mountains.  Yikes!

The next day still looked a bit grey but the sun was shining above the clouds so we walked to the gondola and purchased tickets.  Our plan was to get off the lift midway and switch to another gondola that took us up to the tower at Aiguille du Midi, 12,6oo feet above the floor of the valley.

Drop-dead gorgeous scenery enveloped us as we stepped off the gondola, high above the clouds.  Stately Mount Blanc, standing at 15,771′, was on display, as well as the Swiss Matterhorn in the distance.  We could see Chamonix far below, as well as Plan l’Aiguille du Midi, halfway down the mountain.

Once we breathed in the views from the platform we hurried over to the Pas dans de Vidi, where we “stepped into the void”.  Stepping into a 5-sided glass case, and looking down into the abyss, 3,000′ of snowy emptiness greets you.  I loved it!  

The glacier as seen from Le Signal
The glacier as seen from Le Signal

From here it was back into the gondola, where we glided halfway down the mountain to Plan l’Aiguille du Midi, hopped on the Grand Balcon Nord trail to Le Signal, overlooking a beautiful glacier and more heart stopping views.  Along the way we heard a noise like a small jet and saw a very fast-moving object zip by us, a base jumper.  He looked like a giant orange flying squirrel doing a fly by as he rapidly headed to the fields of Chamonix far below.  This past June we learned that a man flying solo died before he made it to the landing field, when he flew into bad weather.

Our time in Chamonix was marked by so many remarkable moments.  Terry and I both agreed that this would be an area to visit again, as the hiking trails are so abundant, many at higher elevations.  We soaked in some of the most exhilarating views we have ever experienced.