As the site of the first Winter Olympics, Chamonix, France has had serious winter sports cred for over a century. Nestled on the Alpine border with Italy and Switzerland, Chamonix offers the charm of a small French town and easy access to some of Europe’s highest peaks all in one package. Plus, with its relaxed, vacation town vibe, locals are much more forgiving of English speakers than stuffy Paris.
Recently, Journy chatted with Kaisa Filppula, a New York-based software engineer who loves spending her winters on the slopes. Growing up in Helsinki, Finland, Filppula began skiing at just seven years old and has been visiting Chamonix every year since 2004—she even has an apartment there now! We asked for her insider tips on what to do on the mountain and in town, and she was happy to oblige.
On The Mountain
Filppula loves visiting Chamonix for its fantastic backcountry (or off-course) skiing. “Basically all the best freerider skiers go to Chamonix,” Filppula insists, “and it’s for a reason. The mountains there are bigger than elsewhere and there’s a lot of options—easier routes but also a lot of steep, hard ones that I will never do.” And making return trips to towns like Chamonix have benefits. Says Filppula, “the more you know the mountains, the more you can do.”
When the snow melts, the amazing backcountry ski routes give way to excellent hiking trails in the summer. The Grand Balcon Nord route offers spectacular views of the region and is easily accessible via cable car. Chamonix is also famous for its Via Ferrata courses—an Alpine system of mountain climbing assisted by metal ladders.
This crystal clear, mountaintop Lake fed by snowmelt and glaciers is a must see for hikers visiting Chamonix—the waters are beautiful and it offers an incredible view of the Mont Blanc summit in the distance.
1. La Calèche
After a tough day on the Alps, Filppula loves recharging at some of Chamonix’s best restaurants. Eateries in this small town lean traditional, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t inviting. Filppula craves La Calèche’s fondue and raclette après-ski. The homey space is decorated with antique skis and all the knick-knacks of that French grandmother you never had. Sure, it’s a little kitsch, but it’s also the perfect place to warm up.
2. La Tablée
This wood-paneled restaurant is an excellent purveyor of the local Savoyard cuisine, including some divine escargot. If that’s not your style, La Tablée is also one of the more vegetarian-friendly restaurants in town, and if you’re visiting in summer, take the opportunity to sit outside and enjoy the amazing Alpine views.
Located right on Chamonix’s main street, Aux Petit Gourmands is one of the best places in town to do a pre-ski carbo load with their incredibly flaky croissants—not to mention some of the richest hot chocolate you’ll find.
1. Cha Cha Cha
This mountainside wine bar is one of Filppula's favorite haunts in Chamonix. They have a substantial list of wines by the glass, but insiders know the best bet is to buy a bottle from their retail side and pay a small corkage fee. Just imagine yourself, relaxing, sipping a fine French vintage as you gaze up at Mont Blanc...and saving a few Euro while you do it? It’s almost too perfect.
2. Beer O’Clock
What sets Beer O’Clock apart? “You can actually pour the beer yourself and taste everything,” explains Filppula. And with some excellent pizzas on the menu, Beer O’Clock has become popular with both tourists and locals alike.
With all Chamonix has to offer, it’s easy to see why Filppula has been coming back year after year. Whether you visit in winter or summer, you’ll find the mountains are too amazing to pass up—and Journy can help build the perfect travel itinerary for you.