Few sights are as remarkable as Mont Blanc, the highest mountain peak in Europe. In the shadow of this majestic mountain’s snow-capped peak is Chamonix, or Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, an alpine village that’s a mecca to skiers from all over the world. The abundance of snow is great for winter sports, as evidenced by its hosting of the 1924 Winter Olympics. Whether you’re a beginner or a professional skier, Chamonix is suited to winter sports enthusiasts of all skill levels.
Apart from the snow, what makes Chamonix a must-visit destination is the natural sights. Mont-Blanc happens to be the Alps’ highest peak. Visitors are encouraged to take the climb to the top that, even though strenuous, is possible with the help of guides. After getting to the top, climbers can experience the breathtaking views and scenery of the region. Thibaut de Roux, the former Global Head of Markets at HSBC, is a frequent visitor to Chamonix, having spent winter and summer there for the past 20 years.
Between the 11th and 14th centuries, Chamonix was part of the historical territory governed by the House of Savoy. This territory was shared between three countries (Italy, France and Switzerland), with the House of Savoy being the longest surviving royal house at the time. Not much was known about the region until 1744 when a visiting party published an account of their experience.
The early 19th century witnessed a growth in tourism to Chamonix, leading to the establishment of an association to regulate access to the slopes. This association – the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix – held a monopoly over providing guidance to the mountain until 1892, when the French government stepped in and instituted new requirements for guides. From then on, the increase in tourism was aided by national and international initiatives, and collectively, tourism helped maintain the local community.
In 1921, the Chamonix town council lobbied for the change in name to Chamonix-Mont-Blanc. The name change was intentional as the council hoped to keep the region’s neighbours (the Swiss) from claiming the name of the mountain. The Compagnie, on the other hand, continued to exist, but as an association of local guides who would develop into noted mountaineers. It is through the Compagnie that mountain tourism became popularised in Chamonix and beyond.
Enjoying the Mountain
During winter, the Chamonix Valley is a top attraction for snowboarders and skiers who love to take on the descents. Both beginners and experienced skiers can learn at their own pace thanks to the variety of skiing areas available. More than just winter sports, the area is also famous for facilitating other leisure activities such as hiking, paragliding and mountaineering.
Hikers who want to experience the valley, whether for the first time or just for fun, are encouraged to try it. All through the year, mechanical lifts provide access to peaks ranging from 2,000 metres to almost 4,000 metres. Thanks to the lifts, climbs that typically took days can be done in a relatively short time.
For visitors looking to spend some time in the mountain, hiking through it doesn’t have to be a nerve-wracking experience. Some of the more interesting trails to consider include the Lyskamm traverse, the La Meije traverse and the Aiguille du Chardonnet. The latter is a 3-day trip that takes climbers to the iconic peak.
UNESCO World Heritage Status
The Mont Blanc’s popularity among tourists and importance to the three countries has seen a bid put forward to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to make the mountain a UNESCO World Heritage site. Achieving this status is valuable to the area as it ensures international recognition. Additionally, it will bring together the local and regional authorities, thereby improving cooperation and focusing development on the area’s society, economy and environment.
The bid is the result of efforts by the Mont Blanc Transboundary Conference and is the culmination of years of projects and cooperation to lay the groundwork for meeting its requirements.