Weekend In The French Alps

This past weekend we stayed at a beautiful mountain chalet, Les Campanules, in Les Houches near Chamonix in the French Alps. We were close enough to Chamonix for all of the activities, but had a quiet place to relax. On the outside Les Campanules looks quaint and traditional, but the inside was a surprise of what could be called rustic mountain chic. Our room was simple, but the public lounge areas were amazing. The hotel was a great find and inexpensive.

We arrived in the late afternoon to sunny views of Mount Blanc, but it was too late to go up on the Aiguille Du Midi tram in Chamonix. The next morning there were clouds around the peak, but we decided to take the tram nyway for the experience (how often can you ride a tram to 12,602 feet) and for the views – while they lasted on the way up.

Views of the valley and surrounding peaks were stunning up to the first stop. There we were told the top was fogged in and there would not be much to see if we continued on. We had come this far and weren’t about to stop. We decided to continue up even if there was fog with zero visibility. We expected to see nothing, but didn’t expect the eery feeling of the swirling fog and the silence. What was astounding to me, was that even with no visibility people were preparing to go hiking, while others would suddenly appear out of no where, walking out of the dense fog at the trailhead. To me this was crazy – icy trails, sheer drop offs and no visibility. It would have been great to see the incredible views from the top, but in the fog it was also an experience we’ll never forget.

Our tram ticket included a cog train up to the Mer de Glacé, the largest glacier in France. Leaving from Chamonix, it takes the vintage red train about 30 minutes to climb 1000 meters to the glacier and hotel located near the station. The train goes through forest and tunnels cut into the rock. At the station is a large viewing area, restaurant and gondola down to the glacier. Nearby is the historic Grand Hotel  du Montenvers, which opened in 1880, when visitors were brought up to the site by mule or sedan chair.