5 reasons why you should head to the French Alps this summer

mont blanc french alps

Do winter blues have you dreaming of a hiking holiday this summer? Here’s five reasons why the French Alps should be at the top of your list!

1) Best views in the Alps/the world?!

A small disclaimer – I live in Chamonix and so may be a little biased! However, there aren’t many places in the world where you can lie sunbathing in a lush alpine meadow, gazing up at 13000ft mountains. Yes, the French Alps are busier than other Alpine regions, but there’s a reason for that. The views of Mont Blanc are truly incredible.

mont blanc french alps
One of our guests relaxing at lunch time on the Grand Balcon Sud. Mont Blanc is in the background with Bossons Glacier feeding down from it towards the valley. Mont Blanc is largest mountain in Western Europe and the jewel in the crown of the french alps. Photo by Jennifer Stretton

2) Lift accessed hiking

The abundance of lift access hiking in the French Alps make it one of the premier summer hiking destinations in the world. In just a few minutes you can ascend from the valley floor to 6500ft. Rather than slogging uphill in the forest all day, you can enjoy the views on one of the many stunning balcony trails the region has to offer.

The second most famous balcony hike in the French Alps is the Grand Balcon Sud (the most famous is the Grand Balcon Nord – more on that later!) It traverses the south facing slopes of the Chamonix valley, with dramatic views of some of the tallest peaks in the Alps. The highlight of the walk is lunch at Lac Blanc – a picturesque Alpine Lake with views across the entire Mont Blanc Massif.

The Grand Balcon Sud is one of our guests’ favourite hikes on the Best of the French Alps and Tour du Mont Blanc tours.

Things to do in Chamonix number 5, hike to Lac Blanc
The Aiguille Verte and the Dru reflected in Lac Blanc. Photo credit: Oulianov Visit Alps

3) Discover the Mer de Glace

Tourists were first lured to the French Alps in the 1800s by tales of a mysterious river made of ice. The Mer de Glace (‘sea of ice’) is France’s longest glacier – 7km long and 400m deep in places. Two hundred years ago, Lords and Ladies had to journey up to the glacier on the back of donkeys. Since the construction of the Montenvers train in 1908, tourists have been treated to a more leisurely approach to the glacier.

The Montenvers train is a marvel of engineering. The cog railway takes you on a pleasant 30 minute journey from Chamonix Valley at 3395ft up to the historic Montenvers hotel (1880) at 6276ft. From here you will have breath taking views down onto the Mer de Glace and up at the North Faces of the Dru and Grand Jorasses.

mer de glace french alps
The Mer de Glace winds it’s way down from Mont Blanc towards Chamonix. It is the second largest glacier in the Alps, after the Aletsch glacier in Switzerland. Photo by Jennifer Stretton.

Enjoy the scenery with a coffee on the hotel terrace before taking the gondola down to the ‘Grotte de Glace’ – a cave tunnelled into the glacier.  

For the adventurous among you – the Grand Balcon Nord awaits! This awe-inspiring hike takes you from Montenvers along the north side of the Chamonix valley to the mid station of the Aiguille du Midi cable car.

The Grand Balcon Nord is another classic hike on our Best of the French Alps tour.

Grand Balcon Nord French Alps
Walking along the Grand Balcon Nord with the imposing North face of the Dru watching over us. In the height of summer, the trail is free of snow. This was late September 2017 and a small dusting of snow on the trail added to the ambience and adventure! Photo by Jennifer Stretton.

4) The food!

Whether it’s fine dining in a charming village or a rustic meal in a mountain refuge, you really can’t beat French cuisine! Coffee and croissants for breakfast, freshly baked baguettes for lunch and a hearty fondue for dinner – who can resist?

On many hikes in the French Alps it’s possible to plan your walk to stop at a mountain refuge for lunch. Look out for local specialities such as tartiflette (a cheese and potato dish) or myrtle berry pie. Myrtles are small blueberries that grow in abundance across the Alps in summer and most refuges sell their own home made pies that are to die for!

A very civilised lunch with a group at one of my favourite Alpine refuges – Refuge de Miage. They serve the best omlettes and salads I’ve ever eaten. And with a view onto the miage glacier! Life is tough in the French Alps! Photo by Jennifer Stretton.
Chalet Miage sits nestled into a little alpine pasture with views onto the Miage Glacier. It’s one of my favourite places to take guests on the Tour Du Mont Blanc. Photo by Jennifer Stretton.

5) Easy access

Many of the best hikes in the French Alps can be accessed from the abundant mountain resorts near Geneva airport. From Geneva airport there are plenty of transfer companies running cheap, regular shuttles. For example, Chamonix is just one hour from Geneva and costs less than 40 euros per person one way. Once you are in a resort it’s easy to access day hikes using public transport and the trails are generally very well marked.

What are you waiting for?

I hope I’ve inspired you to visit the French Alps this summer! If you have any questions – leave a comment in the box below and I’ll get back to you!

If you’re looking for a guided tour – why not check out our Best of The French Alps trip? This tour runs out of two superb hotels, so you don’t need to pack and unpack every day. Instead you can enjoy a more relaxed pace and really soak up the local culture. Each day a private transfer will take you to the trail head of the best hikes the region has to offer. You’ll discover the French Alps with an experienced guide and at night you’ll enjoy the comfort of a hotel and excellent local cuisine in select restaurants.

Jennifer Stretton
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