Thursday, 09 August 2018 07:41

Package holidays with a difference - Chamonix adventures for everyone

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What’s not to like about Chamonix or Cham as it is affectionately known and it holds plenty of good memories for me as a hard core mountain climbing and skiing base. So joining an Inghams Summer Chamonix Adventure Holiday was a pleasant contrast to suffering above Cham on the slopes of Mont Blanc in a blizzard.

I could enjoy the delights of Cham from the comfort of Inghams own hotel La Sapiniere with one of the best views in the Valley. The hotel is a very short stroll from downtown Cham and yet feels refreshingly away from the hustle and bustle with delightful, friendly enthusiastic staff and good food. The Chef usually announces the evening meal with a not to be missed entertaining bonhomie during pre-dinner canapes and drinks.

On the first evening we had a guided tour of Chamonix, there’s a lot of interesting history and intrigue about the area as well as the first ascent of Mont Blanc, which dominates the town and Valley.

Chamonix church

photo: © MyOutdoors

Chamonix is stuffed with excellent restaurants and Bars and is mostly pedestrianised since my first visits last century, i.e. over 18 years ago. It is always good to try your French, but English is widely spoken.

First morning the Adventures began with a trip up the Aiguille du Midi telepherique (cable car). This spectacular ride takes you 2800m above Chamonix into the abode of mountain climbers. The summit is at 3842m and you can feel the altitude, certainly after climbing steps you may gasp, or feel weak in the thinner air. The views are superlative – a nearly 3000m drop back down to Chamonix and a direct view across to Mont Blanc and even the Matterhorn on the Swiss Italian border in the far distance.

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photo: © Alan Hinkes

You can marvel at mountain climbers leaving to attempt the surrounding peaks or photograph them finishing up a ridge onto the viewing platform, you really feel like you are amongst it, like a mountaineer. I could have spent all day up here watching the views change as the clouds billowed up, it really is a must visit place. If you like being brave, try stepping into the void, which is a glass room with a glass floor over a big drop to the glacier below, not for the faint hearted.

Chamonix step into the void

photo: © MyOutdoors

It’s all go on an Inghams adventure and the afternoon excitement was to be tandem paragliding or parapenting as the French call it. The sky above Cham is often scattered with brightly coloured parachute canopies, tantalising you to have a go. It is not as dangerous as you might imagine, paragliding is a safe established sport and we had experienced pilots from Evolution2 who fly several times most days.

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photo: © Alan Hinkes

You could say that the pleasure far exceeds the effort. It’s a short ride up in a cable car above Chamonix, you are strapped in front of your pilot, you take off and soar like a bird high above the valley, skimming mountain ridges, waving at trekkers and trying not to squeal with delight. OK a lot of people do squeal. It’s a fab experience and you come into land in front of the La Sapiniere, which is perfect for tea, cake and medals, or even a beer on the sunny terrace.

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photo: © Alan Hinkes

Another Chamonix classic trip is to take the Montenvers cog railway built in 1909 up to the Mer de Glace glacier.

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photo: © Alan Hinkes

The view is a physical geographer’s paradise, a river of ice snaking its way through jagged rocky peaks. A descent down steps on to the glacier is possible and I would recommend the experience of going inside the glacier. A tunnel has been excavated into the ice making a sparking, refreshingly cold ice grotto. The tunnels are lit with electric lights and even a carpet on the floor – if you step off the carpet you will slide and go head over heels – the ice is very cold and slippery.

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photo: © Alan Hinkes

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photo: © Alan Hinkes

Before going back on the train visit the newly refurbished Montenvers Hotel, which was opened in 1880 and used to be a climbers refuge. It would be a magic place to spend the night.

Was it serendipity that our next adventure was white water rafting in the meltwaters of the Mer de Glace? The Arveyron flows from the snout of the glacier into the Arve, its absolutely icy water at only 3C is fast flowing and opaque with granite rock flour from the glacier. It flows through Chamonix town centre and you feel like a hero as you paddle by the restaurants and cheering bystanders on the bridges. If only they knew the fun and buzz you were having in the rapids as the rubber boat is bucked wildly about. I couldn’t keep the smile off my face; mind you I was glad I didn’t get ditched into the freezing water.

 

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photos: © Amadine Elie

Trail biking as I call it was our next adventure. Normally I would use a standard mountain type bike, but for this mini expedition through the woods we hired electric bikes from Intersport with fat tyres. E-bikes make it all pleasure and less pain, once you have tried one you will be converted. Steep hills are a breeze, as if your Dad is giving you a push – if you remember them childhood days.

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photo: © Alan Hinkes

The extra oommphh means you can concentrate on more technical ground, like dodging over tree roots and the fat tyres help too. The Chamonix valley seems to have been made for off road biking through the pine trees and open clearings with the usual spectacular mountain views and well-appointed cafes.

For those that want a quick short fast fix try the luge, which is a sledge ride on a steel rail down the hillside above Chamonix.

If you want to be adventurous with beer there is the excellent MBC bar which has been brewing its own draught beer for over 15 years, it is a micro-brewery with the tanks behind the bar.

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photo: © Alan Hinkes

Now a new craft brewery The Big Mountain Brewing Co has been opened by a British climber, producing draught, bottles and cans. If you are an adventurous beer aficionado there is something new for you to sample.

But don’t forget the wine in Inghams Hotel La Sapiniere is excellent and their draught beer, savoured on the terrace watching the Alpenglow as the sun sets over Mont Blanc and the Bossons Glacier, turning it orange like molten lava makes a lasting unique memory.

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photo: © Alan Hinkes

In the last 20 years Chamonix has changed, building on its reputation for adventure, but without losing its character. The mix of languages and accents filling the streets and bars give thatfeel of being on holiday and there's been massive investment in summer adventures. While anyone visiting Cham can pick and mix adventures day by day it can be a bit pot-luck as you're competing for spaces with every Tom, Dick and Heinrich and that's where Inghams come in. With their own hotel, La Sapiniere in the heart of Chamonix the company have really plugged in to the summer adventure options and offer the chance to pre-book adventure days as part of your package holiday. There's a lot to do and see in Chamonix in summer but if you're in the Adventure Capital of Europe there's no excuse not to try something new and make real lasting memories. The great thing about the selection of adventures Inghams have chosen is they're accessible to pretty much anyone from young to old and you can try them out in bite sized chunks.

There is so much fun to be had in Chamonix and I will be back for more adventures soon.

Inghams offers a seven-night stay on a catered basis (including buffet breakfasts, packed lunches, afternoon tea and cake and evening meals with complimentary wine for six days) at the three-diamond Hotel La Sapinière in Chamonix, France, from £470 per person in August / September 2018. Price includes return flights and airport transfers. To book, visit www.inghams.co.uk/lakes-mountains-holidaysor call 01483 791 116.

For more information on the resort, visit: www.chamonix.com.