Nestled in the heart of the French Alps and hailed as the birthplace of modern mountaineering, Chamonix has an inexplicable draw to anyone with a love of the great outdoors. We sent writer Jane Cooksey to experience the new summer excursions offered by Inghams
The town is overlooked by the magnificent Mont Blanc (‘The White Mountain’). At 4,809m, it is the highest peak in Europe, and more than 20.000 climbers reach the summit every year.
The first ascent of Mont Blanc was by Jacque Balmat, a Savoyard mountain guide who was born in the valley in the summer of 1786, accompanied by Doctor Michel-Gabrial Paccard. Marie Paradis, a ‘poor maidservant’, was the first woman to summit in July 1808. The first winter ascent was also by a woman, Isabella Charlet-Straton, in January 1876.
Being a keen mountaineer and climber, and having visited Chamonix many times in the winter, including summiting Mont Blanc via Mont Tacul and Mont Maudit, I was interested to discover what other activities were on offer in the summer months, and I was not disappointed.
Inghams have launched an exciting range of summer excursions, and I joined a small group to try them out. I have often seen the colourful paragliders soaring high in the air over the snow-capped peaks, and wished I could be up there. Now it was going to become a reality.
A professional local outdoor specialist company called Evo2, sourced by Inghams, made us feel immediately at ease. Before we knew it, we were up the mountain via a cable car, strapped in and running off the top of the mountain. There are no words to describe the pure exhilaration of being so high in the clouds with the world literally at your feet. We cruised over mountain ridges, waved to climbers and chamois, and floated over the town before gently landing in the field next to our hotel.
The white-water rafting was also pretty adrenalin charged, as the water levels are higher and faster in the summer due to snow melt in the mountains, so we had anticipated plenty of swirling rapids and churning waves.
The River Arve flows through the centre of Chamonix, so our raft, which was quickly filled with soaking, screaming individuals being thrust in and out of churning pools and steep drops, made quite a spectacle for the well-dressed lunching tourists in the riverside restaurants. Again, the outdoor specialist company sourced by Inghams was Evo2, and they made us feel totally safe, with a safety lecture before we took to the raft.
The Compagnie des Guides was founded in 1821 to escort visitors on to the glacier after arriving on the backs of mules at Montenvers. This has now been replaced by a train, and as the popularity of winter sports grew, so did the number of lifts. We had a knowledgeable local guide for our excursion on the Montenvers train, with fabulous views.
At the top we were greeted with spectacular views of the Mer de Glace (Sea of ice), the largest glacier in France, at 7km long and 200m deep. The magnificence of the surrounding peaks, including the mythical Aiguille des Drus and the Grande Jorasses, is breathtaking. We then took a small cable car down to a platform with steps leading to a man-made ice grotto, which has been cut into the glacier and is filled with ice sculptures and caves. We then visited the Montenvers Hotel, which was built in 1880 to accommodate the first mountaineers and travellers. An extensive renovation was completed in June 2017. A long list of famous people have stayed in the hotel, including Lord Byron and Alexandre Dumas, with rooms named after them. All are individually furnished in keeping with mountain traditions and steeped in history. The views from the hotel are simply stunning, and an overnight stay here is a must.
Chamonix today boasts the highest cable-car in Europe, the Aiguille du Midi, at 3,842m above sea level. We took a ride to take in the panoramic views, which include the French, Swiss and Italian Alps and, of course, the magnificent Mont Blanc in all its snow-capped splendour. We also visited the Glass Cube. Built in 2013, the glass room is suspended off the side of the mountain. Enter it, and you feel like you are stepping into the void.
After another excellent night and meal in the comfortable three-diamond Hotel La Sapinière, which has unsurpassed views of the Bossons glacier and Mont Blanc from the bedroom balcony, we went E-biking.
I have always been somewhat sceptical of E-biking, thinking it is a bit of a cheat, but how wrong I was! It is a fantastic way to see more and go a further. Our guide took us on a wonderful mountain bike tour with steep, rugged hills and stunning scenery, which on a normal mountain bike would have been horrendous, and especially in the heat.
The Inghams summer package has been researched and put together extremely well, and offers something for everyone in one of the most beautiful areas of Europe, and I for one will most certainly be going back.
Mountain Magic from £121 per person. Enjoy three half-days of adventure, including white-water rafting, gentle hiking and guided biking.
Ice, Air & Rapids from £260 per person. Experience big thrills with white-water rafting in Italy, tandem paragliding and a Mer de Glace glacier hike (for two-and-a-half days).
Inghams offers a seven-night stay on a catered basis (including buffet breakfasts, packed lunches, afternoon tea and cake and evening meals with complimentary wine for six days) at the three-diamond Hotel La Sapinière in Chamonix, France, from £470 per person in August/September 2018. Price includes return flights and airport transfers. To book, visit www.inghams.co.uk/lakes-mountains-holidays or call 01483 791 116.
For more information on the resort, visit www.chamonix.com
Main image | White-water rafting on the River Arve, which flows through the centre of Chamonix | © Amandine ELIE