Our Christmas trip ended with a five day stay in Chamonix at the foot of Mont Blanc in France. It’s rather easy to get there from Geneva, but I will supply a couple of pointers. If renting a car is on your radar in Switzerland, I would definitely recommend getting a car with GPS and first programming the location of the rental place so you can find your way back easily. We read countless blogs and pointers about renting cars and driving in Switzerland/France, and all of them seemed to agree that renting from the Swiss side is easier than the French side. We took that advice, but we still had difficulties finding where to go through the windy roads of Geneva.
I was absolutely thrilled to have a car again. I hadn’t driven in about a year and miss it dearly. Road trips are one of my favorite things because of the freedom of the open road. As soon as I got behind the wheel, it was like riding a bike. Well, riding a bike in shoulder-less, traffic-filled roads in a foreign country. Once we got out of Geneva, it got much easier to drive because we found the country. It took us about an hour to get to our cabin, and we didn’t have to stop at border patrol or anything of the like.
There were about two toll roads we had to go through that were cash only. So, there is another pointer about traveling through foreign lands (that and learning what traffic signs mean in other languages). But after just a mere hour of driving through the gorgeous scenery hugged by snowcapped mountains, we made it to the cabin. We stayed a mile outside of Chamonix downtown in a small cabin neighborhood. It was so quiet all we could hear were church bells and the creek behind us. It was incredible and so peaceful against the hustle and bustle of loud London.
The cabin was very small, but just enough for our needs for the week. We cranked the heaters and then headed out to see the small ski town. We thought we would take the car, but we never did it again as we got slapped with a €35 parking ticket. While we were disappointed, we took it as a wash since we got groceries for the week for about €20 and that included two bottles of wine and two bottles of beer. It was incredibly cheap! But we were still disappointed in the parking ticket. As if a small tourist town needs any more money.
The next day, after scouring the internet for things to do in town, we ventured to the Aiguille du Midi cable car that takes you to the top of Mont Blanc. Well, it wasn’t the very tip top, but it was still 12,000 ft in the air so we could get some extraordinary pictures. It was unbelievably cold up there with the dryness of the air and snow. My fingers and toes were completely frozen and coupled with the altitude adjustment, we were both a little nauseous and dizzy. But we didn’t let that keep us down as we marveled at the views of the mountain and the city below us.
One of the price breaks available was to get a ticket to the top and also catching a train to see the Mer de Glace or “Sea of Ice.” It turned into a race since the sun sets so early in Europe this time of year. We had to make it back down the mountain by 230p to catch the last train that guaranteed a return trip. We made it, but it was still a sprint to make it down to the glacier before 4p so we could get back to Chamonix without hiking or scaling mountains or sleeping in an igloo for the night.
We raced down the 400 steps fully aware that we would have to run back up the 400 steps in just a few minutes, but what we saw was completely worth it. It was a huge glacier that had tunnels carved through for people to walk through. It’s the longest glacier in France that will probably disappear within our lifetime. The speed of this moving ice scultpure is quite fast in the language of glaciers moving at 300 ft per year, which is impossible to see with the naked eye. It was stunning, and it didn’t feel that cold inside despite being surrounded by walls of ice. I loved walking out and seeing the view of the giant ice circle because I was envisioning James Bond through the gun viewfinder.
We managed to catch the second to last cable car and hopped on the second to last train back to city center. But we were thrilled that we basically ran up 400 steps without too much trouble after our altitude sickness that morning.
The next day, we hoped for snow. We really wanted to try skiing over Christmas, but luck was not with us. We didn’t have any snowfall leaving all of the safe and bunny routes closed. We wanted to save our collarbones from the advanced slopes, so instead, we hopped in the car for another road trip around the French countryside. I guess luck was actually with us because the day after we got back to London, Chamonix and the neighboring towns got a completely unprecedented snow drop causing about 15,000 people to be stranded not only in airports but in cars on the roads.
On my bucket list for years has been to travel through the French countryside and here, on a platter, I had it. We drove directly to Annecy, a small town about an hour outside Chamonix. It was an adorable place to go that had such picturesque views we could hardly believe it. Lake Annecy is the third largest lake in France and was so clear, we could see straight to the bottom. We packed a picnic and enjoyed our lunch al fresco looking over the beautiful water. We drove around the entire city a little more and stumbled upon a church at the top of a hill. I felt like I had stepped into a postcard as I stared at it against the blue skies.
From Annecy, we drove back to Chamonix going through tiny town after tiny town loving every single minute, until we got to the single lane windy roads. I was being tailgated by many French drivers, but in an effort to not crash, I took each turn like a grandmother much to their chagrin. Talk about nerve-wracking.
On Christmas Day, with still no sign of snow, we decided to go for a hike. Most of the hiking trails are closed in winter, which makes complete sense due to ice and treacherous terrain. But we were determined to do something on Christmas instead of just staring at the television. Jeff ran to the tourist office to get information and the woman looked at him like he was out of his mind to want to hike. So, she sent us to Servoz, a town about thirty minutes away. She directed us to see Lac Vert or the “Green Lake.” We parked the car and began our ascent. About halfway through our hike, I realized the woman in the tourist office was punishing us for our ambition or stupidity. We climbed about 1400ft to see this lake with barely any flat terrain. While each step was more beautiful than the last, I was not expecting to scale a mountain.
But if you want an in depth look into the countryside, that’s the way to go. It was an absolutely stunning hike to the top complete with many farms and secluded paths. We passed so many homes that had views that I would kill for. I could not imagine washing dishes with a panoramic view of Mont Blanc with nothing in the way but clouds and trees.
When we finally made it to the top, we were met with a filthy looking lake. We looked at each other like, seriously? We hiked all this way for this? But as we approached it, we realized it wasn’t filthy, it was crystal clear and also covered with ice! I have never seen an iced over lake, and it has to be one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. Every rock and stick we through onto it made a very science fiction-like sound as it bounced along the solid water. The other half of the lake was melted making a reflective view to take in which was beyond breathtaking. It was completely worth the hike up despite the pain and soreness we felt for the next several hours.
That night, we made our Christmas dinner while watching Jurassic Park and Goldeneye and thanked the thousands of stars above our heads for the perfect holiday spent together in the French Alps.