Magical Mont Blanc
Time for the third and final recap of our vacation in France! To close out our trip we stayed four nights in Chamonix and two nights in Geneva, Switzerland. So I’m including Geneva here as well.
After three nights in Paris and three nights in Megève, we drove to Chamonix. This Alpine ski resort is located at the foot of Mont Blanc, which sits on the border of France and Italy. Fun Fact 1: at 15,774 feet high, Mont Blanc stands as the tallest mountain in the Alps. Fun Fact 2: Chamonix hosted the first-ever Winter Olympics in 1924!
The weather was overcast and misty when we left Megève. Unfortunately, it didn’t clear up for the rest of the day so we didn’t have clear views of Mont Blanc on our drive. But we did experience great weather for a good chunk of our time there!
We checked in to our hotel, Hameau Albert 1er, and hotel staff showed us to our room. We booked a cute suite with a balcony and view of Mont Blanc (see above)…very well worth it!
Once we got settled, we headed to the main part of Chamonix and wandered around, marveling at its charm. The town was a lot busier than Megève and most of the shops and restaurants were open. I had found some dinner options online; pizza sounded great to us so we made our way to Boccalatte. I got the Bergère, a three cheese pizza with raclette, mozzarella, and chèvre. This pizza was exactly what I was in the mood for:
After dinner we ended up at a bar called Epsylon. We ended up chatting with three Americans who were motorcycling through the Alps together. We had a few drinks and a late night with these guys—it was a really good time. It’s interesting to meet folks you wouldn’t normally come into contact with at home. And I will say, after almost a week of my average attempts to communicate in French, it was so nice to converse freely in my native language. As an introvert, human interaction takes energy from me. On this trip I learned that trying to communicate in a language you’re not fluent in takes even more energy. Anyway, our first night in Chamonix was a late but really fun one.
Chamonix: Day Two
In the morning we went to our hotel breakfast buffet. As per usual, it was a really great spread. On offer were a variety of pastries, local jams, yogurt, cheeses, charcuterie, cereals, fresh juice, and more.
John went for a long solo hike, and I chilled out in the room researching local activities online. In the afternoon I went into town for an espresso and to do some shopping. The weather was absolutely perfect!
How freaking cute is this place?!
I couldn’t not take a selfie with Mont Blanc’s glacier behind me:
In the evening, we walked into town to figure out where to eat dinner and settled on La Potinière. I went all in on tomato and cheese on this trip and ordered a burrata with mint pesto and gazpacho. It was a departure from the usual tomato and burrata salad, and I liked it very much:
After dinner, I wanted to take a photo by this beautiful pink restaurant called Rose du Pont. I kept seeing people posing by it for photos; it seems to be an influencer destination. Whoever designed the place did a great job of creating an eye-catching spot:
We had a glass of wine in our very quiet hotel lobby bar, Quartz Bar, before going to bed. We were the only people there, possibly because it was a rainy night.
Chamonix: Day Three
Big activity day! This is when the adventuring really began for me on. The day before, John had bought us tickets for Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix’s major attraction. The experience is weather dependent because it involves cable cars, and the weather forecast was looking great. We had tickets for an 11:20am car, but we decided to add on to our day’s adventure.
After hotel breakfast, we walked uphill to the cable car station that would take us up to Le Brévent. This peak is across from Mont Blanc, so we figured it would be cool see Mont Blanc from afar. To reach Le Brévent without hiking up, you first take a 10 minute cable car ride up to Planpraz. Then you switch to a second cable car that takes a quick trip across the mountain range to Le Brévent. Below you can see our view ascending to Planpraz. In the photo, the cables for the car to Le Brévent are visible behind the gondola:
The view of Chamonix and Mont Blanc’s glacier from Planpraz was pretty awesome:
From Planpraz, we took the next cable car across to Le Brévent. The view grew obscured as we ascended into the clouds and mist. We hadn’t planned what to do when we arrived at the peak so we just began to wander. As we meandered, the mist began to clear. It felt surreal to be so high up…Le Brévent’s altitude is close to 8,300 feet! The vibe is extremely otherworldly up there.
We ended up starting to hike around, and John had the idea to hike back down to Planpraz and take the return cable car from there rather than take both cable cars down. The hike was pretty difficult for me, as it was steep, downhill, and rocky, with a lot of switchbacks. Fortunately we had borrowed hiking poles from our hotel, which REALLY came in handy on that downhill hike.
Part of the trail down to Planpraz was closed due to construction so we had to take a detour. I did start to worry that we wouldn’t make it back in time to get across town for our Midi cable car time slot. But we did it! Here’s a slide show of some of my photos from our Brévent/Planpraz adventures:
The below photo shows the cable car up to Planpraz (from the bottom center up to the top right) as well as the cable car over to Brévent (from the top right over to the peak in the middle of the pic). After our adventure I could not stop looking up at this mountain and thinking, “we hiked all the way from there to there!!” I know that experienced hikers do this kind of thing all the time, but I could not wrap my head around the fact that I managed to do it too!
After that tiring hike (which took us around an hour but felt like forever), we had about a 15 minute walk across town to the Aiguille du Midi cable car station. Due to earlier weather, the cars were about 10 minutes delayed so we sat outside and waited to board. By this point in the morning the weather was absolutely perfect, and it seemed like everyone in town was taking advantage.
The cable car ride to Aiguille du Midi is not for the claustrophobic or those with a fear of heights. They pack 50 people into the cable car (assuming it’s busy), and it’s standing room only. Not fun…it reminded me of being on a super packed NYC subway at rush hour. You have to take two separate cars all the way to the top, but fortunately each leg of the trip only takes about 10 minutes. You can stop and hang out at the transfer point if you’d like; there’s a cafe and hiking trails you can take from there.
We transferred to the second car and went right on up. I managed to end up on the edge of the cable car, so I had incredible views that distracted me from anxiety about being squished sardine-like into a car suspended over a mountain. You can see a short video of our ascent in the cable car here.
Snow starts to appear as the second cable car ascends. That car has the distinction of holding the world record for the highest vertical ascent. So that’s pretty cool!
We spotted some people hiking up the mountain as the cable car neared the peak:
Once you get to the top, there’s a large terrace from which you can marvel at the views.
Mont Blanc selfie:
To get an even higher vantage point, you climb upstairs. I was definitely feeling the altitude there, which had to have been over 11,000 feet. Walking up the stairs was a bit of a chore, especially after the intense hike we had just done. At the top is a big building that contains a restaurant, restrooms, a souvenir shop, exhibits, and more. It is mind-blowing that humans have 1) figured out how to make cable cars to take people to the top of a mountain and 2) built a big structure at the top of said mountain. UNREAL.
Oh, but that’s not all. Underneath this rocky peak pictured below is an elevator that takes you up to the structure atop the peak.
So guess where we headed next…
We only had to wait a few minutes to ride the elevator up to the peak and experience this incredible vista:
Literally above the clouds:
I’m pretty positive I’ve never been at this high of an altitude in my entire 45 years. 12,602 feet!!!
The clouds were rolling in and out, and occasionally we’d get a good look at what I believe is Mont Blanc’s peak there behind us:
Also from the top viewing platform, you can do something called Step into the Void. It’s some kind of glass or Plexiglass box suspended over literal thin air:
We skipped this because holyshitnothankyou. Five photos above the one showing the box, you can see the box suspended off the side of the peak. NOOOOPE. I felt a little anxious being so high up even without stepping into the void.
At the top, we chatted with an American couple that we had ridden up in the elevator with. The man had just run an ultramarathon in the Alps. Intense!!
We returned to the main building below; I bought a couple souvenirs in the shop and we had a snack in the cafe. Then it was time for our ride back down—when you arrive at the top, they give you a return ticket for a car that leaves an hour and 40 minutes after your arrival. So they give you a good amount of time to explore everything on offer at the peak.
I’ll note that Aiguille du Midi tickets are expensive—around $200 USD for the both of us—but the experience was WELL worth it. You can spend around an additional $40 to take a cable car from the peak across the glaciers to the Italian side of the Alps, but you’re supposed to bring your passport because the car crosses a border, and we hadn’t thought to bring ours. That would have been a pretty cool add-on to the adventure.
After our return to earth, I was SO worn out and we still had about a 15 minute walk back to our hotel. But as I said, everything we did that day was incredibly worth it. For someone anxiety-prone like me, I was really happy with how I managed my feelings about getting around on multiple cable cars. It’s not a fear of heights so much as worry about the cable car getting stuck for hours or something like that. But I did it all with minimal anxiety, and it felt empowering to know that not only can I do things like this, I can enjoy the hell out of them!
After an afternoon rest in the room, we headed to Rose du Pont for dinner. The place looked so cute and the menu looked good. We snagged a seat on their second level balcony overlooking the river, with a view of Mont Blanc. I ordered a well-deserved Negroni:
For dinner I went with my usual tomato and cheese. They had a burrata, tomato, and local fruit salad that came sprinkled with toasted pine nuts. Another slightly unusual take on the typical burrata and tomato dish, and I loved it!
Throughout dinner we got to watch the sky change over Mont Blanc, and it was magical:
Again, I couldn’t get over the fact that we had gone waaaaaayyyy up to the top just hours before.
The sunset colors hitting the mountain were impossible to peel my eyes from:
After dinner we went to an American/British-style dive called Bar’d Up and played a game of pool. This place was decked out in American movie artwork and had all kinds of fratty cocktails like Sex on the Beach and shots like Slippery Nipples. LOL…the place is 100% intended to attract young international travelers.
We had had a very active day, so after Bar’d Up it was time for bed!
Chamonix: Day Four
Time for another adventure day! That morning, I had continental breakfast delivered to the room because it was cheaper than the full buffet. The breakfast was a lot of food for one person, so John and I shared it. The tray included really good pastries and bread with jam and butter, plus yogurt, juice, and an espresso that I had ordered instead of coffee.
The day’s adventure involved taking a cogwheel train from the Montenvers station in Chamonix up to Mer de Glace—an Alpine valley glacier that’s the largest in France. Weather permitting, you can ride a gondola down to a set of 500 stairs that you walk down to reach a man-made ice cave. However, that morning was too windy for the gondola to operate. So if we wanted to see the ice cave, we had to hike our way down.
Before beginning our descent, we stopped in the Glaciorium, an exhibit about glaciers. Then we began our hike down, which took about 45 minutes. I regretted leaving our hiking poles in the hotel room, because they really would have come in handy on this steep hike. I was already quite sore from our hike the day before, so it wasn’t super easy for me. Not to mention, once we got to the bottom of the trail, we still had FIVE HUNDRED steps to go down to reach the ice cave. OOF. When we were about halfway down the stairs I filmed a video showing our trek, which you can watch here.
The weather was beautiful, though, and we didn’t see another soul on our hike down to the cave until we got close to its opening. So that was lovely. Along the hike down, there were signs showing the level of the glacier in certain years. The first sign was saw was 1890 and it was waaaay higher than where the glacier currently sits. Climate change, folks. Climate change.
Because this post is already so long, I’m dropping in a slide show of our ice cave adventure.
Once we had finished exploring the cave, we still had to walk back up those damn steps and then hike all the way back up to the train station. Christ. I was so tired, and it started to warm up on the hike back up. But I stripped off layers, drank water, and didn’t die.
What a cool experience that was! Although getting down to the cave (and back up) was a whole lot of physical activity for me, it was totally worth it. Not just to be able to go inside an ice cave, but also to learn that I’m capable of doing this type of activity…at a high altitude, no less.
After the train ride back to town, I rested in the room and John went out for another hike. I still wanted to look for a couple items in the pharmacies and realized they would be closed the next day (Sunday). So despite being worn out, I went out for a little shopping trip and bought a few things.
For dinner that evening we went to L’Hydromel and I had a nice flammekuechen (basically a thin flatbread) with cheese, onions, rocket, and candied tomatoes. We were both very tired, so we headed back to the hotel and called it an early night.
Chamonix: Final Morning/Travel to Geneva
We were sad to have to pack up and leave the French Alps…we had had such a fantastic time. At the same time, I was feeling ready to head home. On our last morning in Chamonix I ate my leftover flatbread to save a little money, and John got breakfast at a cafe. We walked around town and did some souvenir and gift shopping, and got ourselves some hiking poles for future adventures. Then, it was time to check out of the hotel and drive to Geneva.
The drive was only about an hour and fifteen minutes, and it was a beautiful, clear, sunny day. So we had amazing views of the Alps as we drove out of them. We checked in to Hotel President Wilson, just a block from Lake Geneva. This is a very nice hotel that we also used points for. And by very nice I mean luxury: Diptyque toiletries in the bathroom as well as Tom Ford fragrance and La Mer skin care boutiques in the lobby. And a Michelin-starred restaurant to boot. Ooh la la!
Lake Geneva is very pretty, and all the boats gave us San Diego vibes:
For dinner that evening, John found a Middle Eastern takeout joint called Saj Eat that was walking distance from our hotel. We had quickly learned just how expensive Geneva is, and by this point we were kind of tired of the whole “going out for dinner” thing. So we decided to do something casual and affordable.
While we were waiting for our food, I went over to the nearby train station to see if I could exchange our Euros for Swiss Francs. I hadn’t realized that Switzerland uses a different currency, and we needed Swiss coins for tipping. Whoopsie! No luck there, but we were able to exchange money at our hotel later.
Our wraps were tasty and way more affordable than going out for a fancier meal. I had a falafel wrap and John had a meat wrap. We sat in a little square near the lake and ate our wraps, then wandered through a flea market that was set up along the waterfront. Then we got a drink at a lakeside cafe called Glacier du Soleil Movempick. After that we moved to FloorTwo Bar at the Fairmont Grand Hotel because they had a second floor terrace overlooking the lake. We didn’t see as much of a sunset as we had hoped for, but it was still lovely to watch the sky change colors.
On the terrace we each had a pricey, small Old Fashioned and snacked on free truffle potato chips. I forgot to mention that every bar on our trip included nice snacks with drinks, often olives or chips. We didn’t want to spend one million more Swiss Francs on drinks, so after that we went back to our hotel and took advantage of a complimentary welcome drink in the lobby bar. There was a man there who was celebrating his 75th birthday, and we learned that he has been living in the hotel for 13 years. !!! What even is this man’s life?!
Final Full Vacation Day
The last full day of our trip turned out to be overcast and rainy for most of the day. It was only a semi-bummer though, because we hadn’t made any plans in Geneva and had booked a couple days there to wind our trip down. We had talked about driving to a lake town in the French Alps called Annecy, but we scrapped that idea due to the weather. Also, we just wanted to relax.
We had a really nice breakfast at our hotel buffet…I think they had my favorite buffet of the whole trip. There was an even wider variety of items, and I especially enjoyed eating labneh sprinkled with za’atar.
We spent most of our last vacation day just hanging out in the room. I went out to browse pharmacies, but it was so rainy that my shoes and socks got soaked quickly, even though I had an umbrella. I ventured out a second time for an espresso and grabbed John a sandwich for lunch, and got soaked again.
Fortunately, the weather eventually cleared up and became perfect for exploring. We decided to stroll around the lake over to Old Town. Here we are with the Jet d’Eau behind us:
And we passed by L’Horloge Fleurie (the flower clock):
Wandering Old Town was fun—it’s so charming!
More wanderings in Old Town Geneva:
We set about trying to find a place to eat dinner that wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg, and found an Italian place called La Cantinella that was situated on a quiet street a little above the bustling shopping district. This spot ended up being ideal for the final dinner of our vacation.
John had a really good lasagna, and I ate what was probably my favorite tomato and cheese dish of the entire trip…just a simple, very flavorful caprese salad:
We walked back to our hotel and admired Lake Geneva in the dark. I find it interesting that most of the big buildings in Old Town have giant neon brand signs atop them…lots of luxury brands, especially watchmakers. Like Rolex, of course.
Geneva is a very unique city and I’m curious about the people who live and work there. The United Nations is located there so I’m sure there are probably lots of diplomats and such who either live in Geneva or spend a lot of time there for work.
The next morning, we had time to eat one last hotel breakfast before we had to return our rental car on the French side of the Geneva airport and then catch our flight on the Swiss side. And we got a glimpse of the United Nations on our drive to the airport:
Our nine-hour flight back to Dulles felt long but went smoothly. Our Timeshifter app had told us to sleep the whole way home, but I find it hard to sleep for more than an hour at a time on planes. So I mostly just watched 80’s movies on the return flight.
I didn’t adhere closely to the Timeshifter recommendations for our return, and I definitely felt jet lagged for two or three days afterward. We did a better job of taking the app’s recommendations for our flight to Paris, and I do think it helped. So I would recommend the app if you have international travel; just make sure to stick as closely to the plan as possible!
Overall, we had an absolutely fantastic vacation. I was very glad to come home to our cats, our house, and my routine, but we had such incredible experiences. I’m so grateful that we were able to take this trip! It’s been fun reliving our trip while writing these recap posts.
Thanks so much for reading; I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about all of our adventures in France and Geneva!