travel: why you need to add mont blanc to your bucket list

This post is slightly off piste for me (pardon the pun).

It’s less of a thoughtfully put together blog post (with whimsical photos to boot) and more of we-did-this-awesome-thing-and-these-are-my-cheesy-snaps-to-prove-it, kind of post. I couldn’t not blog about this – I just think it’s such an amazing thing to have on our doorstep (in Europe) and so this post was born. This could well be a bit like someone showing you their holiday snaps for the hundredth time but, stick with me if you want something really bloody cool to do on your next holiday.

During our trip to Annecy, France (more on that here), we were keen to revisit another memory from our first holiday to the area 14 years ago. Mont Blanc, or White Mountain as it’s also know, is the highest point in both the Alps and Europe. It sits in France, with it’s base in the ski town of Chamonix, not far from the Italian border. At over 15,000 feet above sea level, it’s impressive. With glaciers cascading down it’s sides, it’s just unbelievably high. No amount of mountain viewing in the UK can prepare you for it’s vastness – Snowdon is around 11,000 feet shy of Mont Blanc, to give you some context. In fact pop Snowdon’s 3,500 feet on top of Mont Blanc and you’ve pretty much got Kilimanjaro. It’s huge.

On our first visit, many years ago, we took two trips up Mont Blanc. To clarify, you get two cable cars to the Aiguille du Midi – a peak that is suitable for people to visit that sits at around 12,000 feet. We didn’t climb it – which of course you can do, but you need to be a mountaineer and seriously well trained. It takes around two days to climb and we saw a few groups ascending during our visit. The very thought of it makes me shudder, but hats off to them because that is one hell of a feat. Last time we visited, we went up on a cloudy day so returned a few days later to get a better glimpse of the view – you certainly wouldn’t want to do that now, with it costing around £60pp however. How things change – at the base of the cable cars there used to be nothing more than a cafe. Now it’s a whole area of town, with hundreds of tourists too! After an early start (Chamonix is around 1.5 hours drive from Annecy), and breakfast in the town, we joined the queue and after being warned of delays due to winds, we finally got in our cable car just after midday.

Sam was suitably petrified, and I kept my stories of cable car incidents to myself – the height doesn’t bother me but my very mild claustrophobia had to be kept in check, as boy do they cram you into the cars. You can stop halfway, which has a small cafe and a great view as you’d expect – if you think you’ll struggle with the altitude, it’s worth stopping here to acclimatise. We went straight onto the next car, to ensure we had time to do everything we wanted to at the top – it’s around a 20 minute trip in total. Once at the top, there’s viewing platforms in abundance, a cafe-come-restaurant, gift shop, various things to do (like the new ‘Step into the Void’, which you couldn’t pay me to walk on!). The view from the top is like something out of an airplane – you can look down onto the towns below, that look so small in the valleys, and out onto the enormous glaciers underneath you. The air is cold and the wind strong, so wrap up warm (even in August!). It’s scenery like I can’t explain – we kept commenting how the photos just don’t do it justice. Watching the climbers ascend the mountain side, in the snow, wind and with nothing but their backpacks – I was pretty wowed. You can also take smaller gondolas over to Italy, which we did last time we visited – another great trip to experience, travelling high above the thick snow below. We spent a good hour or so taking photos (and dragging Sam up steps he didn’t want to climb), before descending the 20 minutes in the cable cars back to Chamonix. The altitude does hit so be aware of that – heavy legs, forgetfulness and a bit of breathlessness, so be warned!

I can’t recommend visiting Mont Blanc enough – I touched on it in my Annecy post, just what a diverse place this area of France is to visit, and taking the day to visit Europe’s highest peak was a holiday highlight. In the nearby area, you can find cafes just metres from the glaciers, ski lifts to take you even closer or adult luges to whizz down the mountainside – the whole place is full of activities and breathtaking views, for kids and adults too. The alpine style houses really top it off for me – it’s like something out of a book, and visiting it in summer is just as beautiful as I imagine it to be in the snow too. Not to be missed!

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