To us, Chamonix seemed a strange town. It’s surprisingly un-French.
As you stroll along the streets we couldn’t help being aware of how much English was spoken around us. Tourists from around the world come here. For them English, if not their first language, it is their second language. Shopkeepers tend to automatically speak to you in English rather than French. It was quite a relief to have our days at Plateau d’Assy or Martigny & speak French once more.
These days tourism has to be the main business in the town. There are some very posh shops, Chanel for example. In my youth skiing was the sport of the wealthy &, to some extent, I think it still remains so. Chamonix is about skiing, along with mountaineering & paragliding. It is the mountaineering that tends to be epitomised in the town’s sculptures.
|Pointing to Mont Blanc|
On one of our trips into the town centre, our ears were attracted by the sound of an organ playing Bach & so we visited the church, the Église St Michel. The organist seemed to play most days we soon discovered.
|Eglise St Michel|
We also soon discovered that many of the attractions had closed for the season. Many of the ski lifts stopped working mid-September. I had contemplated going on the Montenvers Railway up to the Mer de Glace glacier. However, that was closed for maintenance & repairs. The Espace Mémoire Marcel Wibault, a small art gallery specialising in mountain paintings also closed by the time we’d got ourselves settled to explore the town. We tried the Musée de la Mémoire et de Patrimonie – closed again.
Chamonix was certainly the place to buy outdoor clothing suitable for hiking, skiing or mountaineering. Every other shop seemed to sell them.
For me, one of the great charms of Chamonix was the number of painted buildings. The trompe-d’œil effects were sometimes quite spectacular. They certainly gave a jollity to the place.
|The back of the cinema|
I also love the way the River Arve winds its way through the town. As a result there are numerous flower bedecked bridges. The water of the river is surprisingly soapy green in colour. It’s not that it’s polluted but rather as though there are some chemicals & silt being washed down from the surrounding mountains.
|One of the many bridges over the River Arve|
Many of the roads are named after famous mountaineers. The one in particular that struck me was the Rue Whymper which instantly recalled to my mind the film starring Michael Rennie in which he, as Whymper, conquered the Matterhorn. Many years ago I did some research on the many British mountaineers who have honed their skills in the Lake District Fells & who caused mountaineering these days to be regarded as a sport. The most famous must be Sir Chris Bonnington who has scaled Mount Everest.
Chamonix is an interesting place, especially if you are sports minded, be it skiing, mountaineering, paragliding, or simply hiking. However, I doubt we will be returning as there didn’t seem much to do for wheelchair users, though some of those sports did have facilities for disabled people.