Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, or Chamonix as it is more widely known, is a town and commune at the foot of Mont Blanc. It is France's oldest ski resort and really came to prominence when the first Winter Olympics were held there in 1924.
The town is at an altitude of 1035 metres, and the River Arve runs through it as it does through the other hamlets and villages of the commune - Le Tour (1453m), Argentière (1252m), Les Tines and Les Praz (1060m) and Les Bossons (1012m). The population of the town is about 10,000, a population which is doubled by visitors during the winter and summer seasons.
Whilst skiing and snowboarding in the winter and Alpinist pursuits in the summer are the obvious attractions to Chamonix, there is also plenty to do in the town itself. Unlike modern resorts Chamonix existed well before skiing, let alone snowboarding, were even dreamt about, so there is a huge wealth of cultural and other activities to entertain visitors to the town.
There is a multitude of fabulous shops - Chanel, Napapijri, Patagonia and Helly Hansen to name but a few, and Chamonix is a gourmet's paradise boasting many superb restaurants including the Michelin starred Albert 1er.
Quite apart from this there is a cinema, a bowling alley, a casino, an ice rink, a modern sports centre with a pool, gym etc and tennis and squash courts. There is also a museum which gives a fascinating insight into the history of the valley in both geological and human terms. As in any self-respecting French town there is a bustling open-air market on Saturday mornings which offers a plentiful array of local produce, including some particularly wonderful cheeses! For a day’s pampering we now have a wonderful spa – QC Terme has opened their first spa outside Italy, situated on a 3000 sq metre plot in the centre of Chamonix and close to Chalet Valhalla. There are wonderful views from its infinity pool up towards the mountains and glaciers.
The 'Pas dans le Vide' or 'Step into the Void' is well worth a visit. It is in effect a glass platform, suspended at 3842m, from which the public can enjoy vertiginous views. It is included in the Aiguille du Midi lift pass. Take a virtual tour of the facilities at the top of L'Aiguille du Midi with this video from the Compagnie du Mont Blanc. Also the Guardian has some impressive pictures.
Chamonix is well placed for visiting other places of interest and not only in France - it is on the borders of Switzerland and Italy. Courmayeur is only a short drive away through the Mont Blanc tunnel and Geneva is a must for those needing a little retail therapy. There is also the Italian Pre Saint Didier spa with thermal baths just past Courmayeur, the Mont-Blanc Baths at St Gervais and there are more thermal baths in Switzerland at Leytron, beyond Martigny. Other nearby ski resorts to visit are Megève and St Gervais.