The Area

View from Garden

The Chamonix valley is the global epicentre for many mountain and adventure sport enthusiasts. Moving around the area, wincing on catching sight of a paraglider somersaulting or mountain bikers base jumping [link to YouTube] will support these opinions. “Hey, look kids someone climbing our polished kitchen worktop, only it is vertical and half a mile high.”

But wait, before hitting the highway hoping that you have not caught any of those germs there is more. More relaxed, more accessible, more normal. This stunning spot has just about the most intensly jagged peaks anywhere in the world caused by the meeting of tectonic plates. It is also a corner of Europe where different cultures meet. Temperate Europe meets the Mediterranean climate.

Lying around Mont Blanc there are 3 very different valleys, each fascinating, all easily accessible.

Arve Valley. France.

Running from Chamonix down to Geneva is the one firmly in the 21st century. Easy access via convenient budget airline serviced airports. Lots of tourist infrastructure, tip top lakeside beaches, massive supermarkets. The range of what is on offer in the Chamonix area of the valley is listed here.

Aosta valley. Italy.

Oh what a quirky place. Absolutely Italian but also French speaking unless you are in one of those valleys where they speak an ancient form of Schweitzer Deutsche.

The climate is more Mediterranean than anywhere else in the Alps. This can mean only one thing, wonderful local produce encompassing foods that need southern heat to grow along side those thriving in cooler climates just up the hill a bit. Same goes for the wine. Crisp whites, juicy ripe reds. Cuisine as good as anywhere else I have experienced in Italy.

Medieval towns, apparently at least one castle in every village, Roman ruins especially in Aosta city and Pont Saint Martin mean that just wandering around is pure delight. The Romans liked nothing better than a thermal spring bath. There are plenty still around offering great spas, though we have not yet visted the one in a cave where healing powers “come from the unusually high concentration of radio active gasses.” Once out of the main valley you will find the least developed part of the Alps.

Upper Rhone, Switzerland.

Orderly, neat, pricey but quality. Straight roads following the pattern set up by the Romans, vines in lines, ticketey boo orchards full of blossom but not at all boring. Hot springs that maybe better than those in Italy, wine so good the government seems to make it really difficult to sell abroad. Roman amphitheatre still in use (no, the lions are not still there, but you can watch cow fighting) and an art gallery with world class exhibitions. Being the most alpine of countries the culture and respect for the mountains is unrivaled. Watch hay fields being cut by hand, cows milked by hand for real and not for tourists.