Travel France: Chamonix-Mont Blanc


One of the things that excited me the most about moving to Geneva was all the travel that we’d be able to do. Europe is so rich in places to visit and experience, but it’s difficult to get here from Western Canada. Usually if you do go, it’s for either a short time where you can either see many places superficially, or spending that time becoming familiar with one place only. But once you’re located in here, countries open up to you.

However, Z has been really busy getting settled in his job, I’ve been really busy getting settled in our house, and X is just plain really busy no matter what he’s doing. I was starting to get a little disappointed, as we’ve explored the surrounding countries less than I expected (although it hasn’t been four months, so clearly my expectations might be slightly aggressive). But we’re working on it, with more plans to visit nearby areas. We are located so that we can make day trips into Switzerland, France or Italy, without really having to stretch our time or budget. It’s quite fantastic.

To begin our new European adventures, we took advantage of a rainy Sunday to head into France, to Chamonix-Mont Blanc. Rainy Sundays in Geneva can be excruciating. Everything is closed. The city comes to an absolute halt on Sundays, but at least in sunny weather you can go to the park. So it seemed like the best time to head somewhere that might still welcome people wanting to explore a town on a Sunday.


We decided to avoid all the toll roads to get us there. French roads are fantastic, and the toll roads are pretty direct, but … driving a highway in one country is an awful lot like driving a highway in any other country. We tried this before, and while there would be the occasional comment of … oh look, there’s a castle on a hill, that would basically be it. No context or anything, just another castle spotted overside of the guardrail as we whizzed by.


Whereas when you’re toodling along on the backroads, you can say: oh look, there’s a castle on a mountain, and they actually go look at said castle. Much more pleasant. Also, the toll roads are fairly expensive. It’s a price I’m willing to pay when driving them, but it gives you a good idea as to how much it costs to build roads.

Chamonix is right close to the Mont Blanc tunnel, the long drivable tunnel that will take you to Italy. I cannot tell you how much I longed to just keep on going until we reached the other side! The fact that Italy is so attainable to us (about an hour drive from our house) is incredible to me. But we kept to the plan and took a left, into Chamonix.

I mentioned as we drove up that I expected Chamonix to be just like Banff, and was planning on being extremely disappointed if it wasn’t. Guess what … I was not disappointed. It was just like Banff, only bigger, and surrounded by many telespheriques (gondolas) heading to different mountain points. The charming French village seemed very like the charming faux-Swiss village of Banff, with touristy pubs and restaurants, lots of tours and the seasonal ski bums living the life of riley there year round. Only here the food is probably more authentic, and there is even a tour-train (there’s a lot of these I’ve noticed in Europe – although does Banff have one? I don’t ever recall seeing one.) X’s new adorable thing he does all the time is say: Choo Choo! like a train, so was very impressed by this larger version. Although to be honest, he pretty much points at any vehicle and says choo choo. I still think it’s adorable.


I should mention that it was also raining in Chamonix. We lucked out, though, as we managed to get there just as the skies were clearing slightly, squeezing out two hours of watery sunshine before it began to dump again. It was a little disappointing to not be able to see Mont Blanc’s famed peak on this particular trip, but since it’s easy enough to get back, we shrugged it off. The clouds made for some ominous vistas and atmospheric photos.


Our reason for heading there was obstensibly to check it out for visitors to our little abode in Geneva, to see what would make a good day trip (or overnight trip) for people staying with us. Practically, though, we were there for lunch. Our eye was caught by a restaurant serving mussels and frites, and there was no point looking anywhere else.


Restaurant La Moraine was the perfect place for our little family to stop. X ran around the comfortable digs, getting a little too comfortable for the wait-staff’s patience to be honest. He was mesmerized by a blue sleigh hung over the bar. It was warm, charming, and with the chilly rainy weather I could imagine coming in from a day of skiing to enjoy some hearty food (in my imagination, I’m allowed to be a skier, particularly in France). Z polished off the mussels and frites, but I decided I had to try the tartiflette. I made my own version of tartiflette a few weeks ago, and wanted to try the real deal. It was the perfect size, not too overwhelming, and I really enjoyed it, although I think my version was prettier.


Our other mission was to find some bread and olives, which made for some enjoyable browsing through delicatessen stores. This shop in particular caught Z’s eye, with it’s mouthwatering dried meat display. It was one of those places where you could happily buy everything there, just because it looks so nice.


After a few hours of wandering, it became time to head home, as is often the case when one of your travelers is 18 months old. We headed out, me in the backseat giving X a bottle. Although X decided to grab his bottle, shove me away, then spent 40 minutes sucking down air I swear to god just to drive me nuts. Now, if it had been a baby emergency (like, this kid needs to get home pronto!), we could have made the trip in 40 minutes on the highway. How crazy is it … Mont Blanc is actually quicker and easier to get to from my home in Geneva than Banff ever was from Calgary. As it was, X had his bottle and proceeded to take forever to fall asleep, so we meandered through France, looking at castles and churches and dreaming up new places to explore, before he finally drifted off … as is his way, ten minutes from home.


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