Showered with snow-dipped peaks, bullied by menacing glaciers, and littered with hiking trails, the resort of Chamonix is France's best base for alpine exploration. Chamonix's purpose in life has always been to dazzle visitors with some of Europe's top alpine thrills. If the weather's right, take Europe's ultimate cable-car ride to the 12,600-foot Aiguille du Midi.
At a Glance
▲▲▲ Aiguille du Midi Gondola The valley's most spectacular and popular lift, taking you to magnificent views at 12,600 feet. From here you can ride the cute télécabines over the Alps to the Italian border and back, take Chamonix's greatest hike to the Mer de Glace (from the halfway-up stop at Plan de l'Aiguille), or just enjoy the views.
▲▲▲ Train to Montenvers Cogwheel train to the Mer de Glace, an eight-mile-long glacier where you can walk inside the glacier, admire jagged mountain peaks, have lunch with a view (or sleep) at the Montenvers hotel, and hike to the Aiguille du Midi lift (though the hike is best done in the other direction).
▲▲▲ Le Brévent Gondola Second-most-spectacular lift from Chamonix, allowing access to the mountain range on the opposite side of the valley from Mont Blanc (closed late April–mid-June and Oct). Get off halfway at the Planpraz station for the Grand Balcon Sud hike to the La Flégère lift, or go all the way to Le Brévent for sky-high views and a restaurant.
▲▲▲ La Flégère Lift Starting point for hikes to Lac Blanc and to the Grand Balcon Sud trail back to Planpraz (on the Le Brévent gondola). Refuge-Hôtel La Flégère, at the station, offers drinks, snacks, and accommodations, all with a view.
Arve Riverbank Stroll Several trails allow a level walk or bike ride in the woods between Chamonix and Les Praz. See paragliders make dramatic landings and enjoy mountain views outside Chamonix to the sound of the Arve River.