The French Alpine experience is something that appeals to me incredibly as a nature lover, sports enthusiast and all-around bon vivant traveler. Now having this fantastic corner of France in my travel repertoire, I can say that it is one of the most beautiful places in Europe, if not the world to experience mountain majesty.
No matter what season of the year, there is always something to do. The sheer height of Mont Blanc just dominates the skyline in all the quaint mountain towns around its base. I arrived in summer (Chamonix is a world famous luxury ski resort town and I’m due back in winter) in order to hike the mountain trails in full view of the snow and glacier capped peaks.
In order to really get a feel for the local experience I booked an Airbnb. It is often a great call in Europe especially if you love to prepare your own meals and immerse yourself in the local culture of the place. The biggest challenge however can be coordinating an arrival time with the host between driving delays and lack of cell service along the route. Luckily, I arrived with no issues.
The town of Les Hauches sits at the base of Mont Blanc, Europe’s tallest peak and mornings were optimal for hiking because there was no cloud cover most days. Around noon and after the peak of Mont Blanc often gets obscured so best to hit the trails just before sunrise. The city center is walkable in just under ten minutes and it has everything one needs, a grocery store, gas station, information center and more outdoor gear shops than one can count.
Almost contrary to any other hiking location, the best views in Les Hauches are actually not by climbing up the slopes of Mount Blanc itself. First of all you won’t get very far until you hit glaciers and require technical gear for such a climb. The place to go is rather opposite, to the mountain on the other side of the valley. Here there are several options.
There is a running/cycling trail that connects all the little towns along the valley floor that is pretty active most of the day just a couple hundred meters above the local river. This is better for more or less level exercise. Look upwards and you have dozens of mountainside trails that offer climbs between an hour and five hours to reach the summit. You can start from the very bottom by the riverside or take some mountain roads partially up to public parking spots (get there early) to continue the 3-4 hour hikes that bring you to mountain refuges, peaks and alpine lakes all with uninhibited views of the Mount Blanc summit.