Before 1997 I had never had a holiday
abroad, apart from the odd short break in France and Jersey. I have been
to southern Ireland for a week but I don't really class that as being
A good friend, Pete, (who I know from pantos as he is the lighting director) invited me to go on hols with himself, Ian and another pal called Shane (more about him in the bowling section) down to Chamonix in the French Alps for 10 days in 1997. I jumped at the chance. I have also been back there in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2003.
Pete is an avid fan of railways (both models and the real thing) and has been down to the French Alps region nearly 20 times, organising the trip so that train travel is used for much of the journeys. He used to take his mother before she passed away and now invites people like me. The photos below are from my summer holidays there. I have not put online any of the 2003 photos as a lot of the area has already been covered by the previous years photos (plus I haven't got a lot of room left on this webspace!!)
Chamonix (or Chamonix-Mont-Blanc) in in the Haute-Savoie area of France, on the border with both Switzerland and Italy, and it is easy to pop over the borders into these countries. After taking a cross channel ferry, the train journeys down to Chamonix are excellent. It has to be said that SNCF - the train company of France - is much better than the privatised network that services the UK, in terms of reliability, punctuality, cleanliness, comfort and overall operation. The TGV (Train de Grand Vitesse) whisks you across France much faster than Britain's Inter City 125s. We have stopped off in Grenoble and Avignon before using local train services to get to Chamonix - which uses wonderful old but clean electric trains to climb up to the Chamonix valley at over 1000m - they are trying to replace these old trains with modern ones which Pete thinks is a real shame as they lack the character of the old ones.
In 1997 we actually stayed in a hotel in Le Fayet-les Bains, approximately 20 kilometres south-west of Chamonix and took the old trains to the town. From 1999 onwards we stayed in a hotel in Chamonix itself (the Hotel Pointe Isabelle) to save on travelling costs.
There is lots and lots to do in the area and many places to see using either the excellent cable-car and chair-lift system or trains (including rack and pinion railways to climb up to spectacular scenery).
Some of the places to see are as follows - see map of the region at
Le Nid D'Aigle (the Eagles Nest) - you take a rack and pinion railway called the TMB (Tramway du Mont Blanc) which winds its way out of Le Fayet up to the Bionnassay glacier at 2400 metres (it can be a bit nippy there, even in the summer). Spectacular views to be had. PHOTOS AT THE EAGLES NEST
Bellevue - this sits halfway up the TMB railway and is the starting point for many off-road mountain bike trails, ranging from quite easy to very difficult. We rode a couple of these trails during our 1999 hols. Good fun, but can be tricky! You can hire mountain bikes and take them up in a cable car to Bellevue. PHOTOS OF THE TMB
The Bosson Glacier - this is the largest ice fall in Europe, and is incredibly steep and gloriously white. A chair-lift takes you up to see this wonderful sight. It was the site of a horrific Air India plane crash on the summit of Mont Blanc in the 1950s. One of the planes wheels took more than 20 years to travel to the bottom of the glacier, which is on view to the public.
Mer de Glace (sea of ice) - another glacier reached by a long and winding rack railway (Chemin de Fer, Montenvers). Each year a chamber is carved in the glacier so that the public can actually go inside and see what it is like. Stunning views to be had.
Aiguille du Midi & the Vallee Blanche - a cable car takes you from Chamonix up to 3842 metres (really quite cold) to the Aiguille du Midi - the views from here on a clear day are just breathtaking and have to be seen to be believed. From there you can cross the Vallee Blanche in tiny cable cars and then down into Italy. You could travel back to Chamonix the same way or get on a coach taking you through the impressive Mont-Blanc Road Tunnel (which was closed on March 24, 1999, when a Belgian truck carrying margarine and flour broke out into flames, trapping dozens of cars. Death toll was at least 42. It opened several years later after major structural repair and installation of escape routes should another disaster occur in the tunnel).
The Barrage d'Emosson (Emosson Dam) - a spectacular structure in Switzerland, just a short train journey from Chamonix. After taking a ride in a 'tin box' tram which is hauled up a steep incline (see photos in this section!) you can actually walk across this dam and look at the reservoir and peer over the edge to see a long way down to the valley!
Aiguille des Grands Montets - take a cable car up to here and you can actually walk on a glacier and play in snow during the summer!!!
There are many other sights to be seen in the area, including Mont
Blanc itself - the highest mountain in Europe at 4807 metres. It is a holiday
thoroughly recommended if you are the type of person that likes the outdoors,
and it is a good place to ski in the winter as well - which I haven't done
yet, but you never know!
Another place I was sad to leave on each occasion, but I know I will be back there soon.
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Links to Chamonix & TGV on the
www.chamonix.com (in French only*)
www.sncf.fr/indexe.htm (includes TGV services)
*why not try AltaVista's translation web page at babel.altavista.com
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