Many years ago, in my tenth grade French class, we were given an assignment to create a travel brochure for any French-speaking locale of our choosing. My decision was based on a place that, as a snowboarder and lover of all things winter, I perceived to be the most glamorous, magical winter wonderland I could find. It was Chamonix, France.  At the time it was a far away place, an unrealistic destination for a person like me to ever visit. It was clearly a hotspot for the rich and famous, not to mention, it was almost 6,000 miles away. But hey, I could dream!

Fast forward several years, and you’ll find me working the winter seasons in the Swiss Alps as a nurse and ski/snowboard instructor. Lucky me! It took me, however, five seasons of coming back and forth to Switzerland, before I was finally able to fulfil my childhood dream and visit Chamonix. Perhaps, subconsciously, I didn’t want my fascination and glamorization of “Cham” to be foiled by finally seeing it in person… Still, the right pieces had finally fallen into place: living in a little village called Leysin, I am now only one and a half hours away, I had access to a vehicle, and in tow my partner in crime.


With coffee tumbler in hand, a hearty packed lunch, my camera, and an excitement that could hardly be contained, we jumped in the van and chased the sun rise over the mountains into France. I was on my way. It would be the epitome of all mountain villages. The drive was full of anticipation for how beautiful Chamonix would be, and with each twist and turn of the road, the glimpses of sunny, majestic, snow-capped peaks did not fail me.

Chamonix is probably best known as a winter-time ski destination, but my first encounter with it was in autumn. One of the best ways to take in the views in Chamonix during this time of year is to venture on a hike. A friend of mine recommended a particular trailhead, and we decided to set off from there. We climbed for about five hours, from Col de Montets (elevation 1,461 m/4,793 ft) up to Lac Blanc (elevation 2,352 m/ 7,717 ft).

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The beginning of the hike was quite steep making it difficult to focus on anything else beside our breath and every next step. We soldiered on and came to find that the rest of the hike revealed the most profound panoramas of the Aiguilles Rouges peaks, several awe-inspiring glaciers, and Mont Blanc (the highest mountain in the Alps and in the European Union). The hike was not terribly strenuous despite our 30-something-year old legs, but I was definitely sore for a few days! When we reached Lac Blanc, a quick bask against a sunny boulder, accompanied by the Mars bar I still had stowed away at the bottom of my backpack, made for the ultimate rewards.

With trembling calf muscles and empty water bottles, we made our way down the mountain and back to the car, even spotting a couple of baby ibex on the way. High five to us! The trail that we conquered was only one of the many incredible hiking trails that Chamonix boasts, which include the Haute Route, taking up to 12 days to complete and stretching all the way to Zermatt, Switzerland, home of the iconic Matterhorn. This plethora of routes to choose from can become a dilemma when you are contemplating where to start, but as far as the views are concerned, I’d say the Col de Montets to Lac Blanc trail is a perfect introduction to Chamonix!


Since it was September, after the summer season and before the snowfall, the gorgeous restaurant at the Lac Blanc was temporarily closed. I can only imagine how glorious it would be to enjoy a Vin Chaud (hot wine) and a tasty raclette from the deck of that restaurant after a long morning of skiing. In the Haute-Savoie region of France where Chamonix-Mont Blanc is located, Raclette (cheese on potatoes with pickled gherkin and onion), as well as specialties, like Savoyarde Fondue and La Tartiflette, are staple meals, and not to be missed! You can find these calorific delicacies not only in the high mountain restaurants but down in the village of Chamonix as well.

After we checked into our rented cottage, we made our way into the colorful village. It is tucked cozily in the valley under the careful watch of the eminent peaks on either side. The cafés, restaurants, boutiques and string lights lining the streets are quintessentially charming and inviting, even to the non-six-digit figure-making individuals such as myself. It was perfect. And I was perfectly happy that after all these years, Chamonix was not just a wonderful disillusion; it had proved to be as magical as I had once imagined.


Even if you don’t ski, snowboard, hike, bike, or mountain climb there is plenty to explore within the village itself. Rent some ice skates and hit the rink with a loved one, learn about the development of Chamonix and its glaciers at the Musée Alpin Museum, shop for those fur ear muffs you’ve always wanted, or catch a French flick at Le Cinéma Vox de Chamonix (don’t worry, they show films in English too!). For an afternoon pick-me-up, we grabbed a café noisette and a French macaron at Pie, a cozy café located within heart of the village. You will be so comfortable in this hamlet in the Alps that you may then find yourself wandering over to the local agence immobilière to innocently “check the prices” on properties in the area.

*This is a guest post by LeighAnn Braatz.