As an avid mountain enthusiast, I had dreamed of visiting Chamonix from a very young age... Home to Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Europe at an 'impressive' 4800m, this ski town boasts quaint french architecture, amazing views and high prices. Given that I visited in summer I was there for the hiking not the skiing (which I one day hope to return to do) and I was outrageously spoilt for choice. I stayed for 3 nights in between weekends in Paris and Berlin and used the time to re-align myself with reality (haha!!) and sweat out all the partying. Despite it being one of the most expensive ski resorts in the world, I was able to spend as little as $6 a day which was just on my food as I was couchsurfing and hiking all day which was free!!
Where to stay
This is definitely the tricky part when coming to Chamonix on a budget. I got incredibly lucky and found a couchsurfer who was willing to host me for the entirety of my stay. In saying this, I fucking HATED IT and promised myself I would never couch surf again (something I will write about in another post) BUT it was free accommodation in Chamonix Sud (which is a perfect location) with a balcony that looked out over Mont Blanc. I spent as much time out of the apartment as possible, leaving early in the morning to go hiking, showering and then sitting in Mcdonalds on my laptop at night. It was a semi-grim existence but I got through it and I probably couldn't have had my time in the mountains if I hadn't couchsurfed.
There are plenty of campsites in Chamonix where you can pitch a tent and use the share cooking facilities and there is also a hostel somewhere in the town although you'll be looking at spending at least $35 a night for a bed in a dorm here. If you've got a bit more money to throw around there are also plenty of Airbnbs in the area! Click here for $35 off your first AirBnb booking.
Obviously, the number one thing to do in Chamonix in summer is HIKE. I came here with a bit of an idea of which trails I wanted to do but unsure as to whether they'd be accessible or possible given that I only wanted to do day hikes. Luckily it turned out that the trails in Chamonix are pretty straight forward AND all on Maps.me so apart from a few wrong turns, I had a very successful few days of hiking. Given the extent of tourism in this region, most of the hikes are connected with gondolas or chairlifts to get you up the bulk of the mountain but I call BULLSHIT. Not only does this defeat the purpose of going for a hike but also costs about 14 euro EACH WAY. Now, i'm not complaining that these structures exist because it actually meant that I had the entire trail to myself up to the point of the chairlift exit which meant I could play music as loud as I wanted and not get stuck behind slow walkers.
On the first and last day I hiked up to Lac Blanc which was a round trip of about 28km and is straight up on the way up and... straight down on the way down!!! with an altitude increase of about 1600m!!! I hiked this trail twice as on the first day it was cloudy and cold and I reached the lake only to find it covered in fog and far too cold to sit around and enjoy. Luckily the second time I attempted this hike the weather was SUBLIME (as you can see in my photos) and I spent a few hours around the glacial lake sunbathing, eating peaches and reading Shantaram. This trail, as before mentioned, is connected to a gondola so if you wish to cut out half the hike that snakes up through the forest then you can pay the 14 euros to get you there. Alternatively you could get the gondola up and then walk all the way back down to save yourself the climb and some money..? The trail does get considerably more busy after the gondola stop so be prepared to navigate your way around people on the path (or find your own route to the side). This hike is FREE if you walk the whole thing and is an amazing chance to spend time up in the alps with views spanning across Switzerland, France and Italy. Make sure if you are hiking the whole way up and back that you leave at around 7:30 am and bring PLENTY of food and water. ALSO do not forget sunscreen as the sunburn that I attained on my second time doing this walk was embarrassing. The start of this trail sit just outside Chamonix (reachable by foot) so don't worry about finding it, its easy!!!
The second hike I did, on the middle day of my stay was to Mer de Glace Glacier on the other side of Chamonix Valley. This hike again has many transport options, this time with a combination of train and gondola that can get you up to the main areas of attraction and views but the hike up is the best bit (almost) and again, ITS FREE. This hike was a little less challenging than Lac Blanc and was only 20km return (I think) although it was pretty steep on the way up. Once you're there, there are a collection of viewing platforms and you can walk into the glacier itself which is pretty groovy. There were a lot of tourists around so again, this isn't a hike to do if you're really into solitude, its more for the views and the convenience!!
How to get there
Despite its remote mountain location Chamonix is surprisingly easy to get to. Its connected to most major cities in France and Switzerland via Ouibus. I flew from Berlin into Geneva in Switzerland for $40 and then got a 2.5 hour Ouibus to Chamonix for $22. I then got another Ouibus to Paris via Lyon for $50 when I left Chamonix. I booked all these buses on goeuro.com (as I always do). I think there are other bus companies that run there too but Ouibus seemed to be the cheapest.
Chamonix itself is a beautiful town full of adventure sports and brimming with excited, fit and energetic people from all over the world. I loved walking around in the evenings and people watching while eating peaches. Nothing here is cheap so I never ate out and got all my food from the supermarket (there are several). On my last day, my bus to Paris wasn't until 3pm so I took myself on a picnic just outside the town. Given that its in a valley its quite easy to get yourself to a vantage point on a grassy slope without having to walk too far.