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3 Reasons to Visit Chamonix, France in the sunny off-season

By March 7, 2024March 19th, 20242 Comments

Listen, I get it, when someone mentions the French Alps, Chamonix’s reputation of ski suits and chair lifts easily comes to mind. In this regard, I’ve heard that Chamonix-Mont-Blanc will not disappoint. Located in France near the border with both Switzerland and Italy, this stunning mountain town is home to one of the most popular ski resorts in Europe. But if you haven’t taken the opportunity to explore this gem in late summer or early fall, you’re really missing out. These are my top 3 reasons that Chamonix is a must visit in the off-season.

Reason #1: Charming atmosphere and good food

Downtown—when cleared of snow—is everything a mountain town should be. The gorgeous French Alps in Chamonix are not too far from this area, where nineteenth century buildings line the labyrinth of streets—wrought iron balconies lining their upper floors and snow-covered peaks set as the backdrop. Bright pink flowers still adorn fences and balconies—and everywhere in between.

ryder eating in chamonix france

It’s a great place to let the kids walk freely, allowing yourself time to visit shops for souvenirs, wine, cheese, and bread. When we visited the downtown area, I brought an empty backpack to fill with fresh baked bread for breakfast the next morning—a strategy I highly suggest you implement as well!

Our favorite spot to eat in town was most definitely Joséphine, a traditional cafe with a distinctly old world feel. It can be hard to find something that the kids will eat every place we go, and in France, the menus can be particularly scary for them—but at Joséphine, there really was something for everyone.

The adults enjoyed some delicious fish and beef entrees while the kiddos opted for alternatives like grilled ham and cheese. We did, however, get a few of our kids to try foie gras for the first time—and it was a hit.

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From the appetizers to the dessert, everything served at Joséphine was stunning. But that should be a given, right? After all, it is France! 

We even had an amazing meal at the stunning Chalet Wapiti cooked by a personal chef. This location had so many rooms (perfect for a large group!), an amazing wrap around porch with a view of the mountains, a sauna, and a hot tub. I highly recommend it for group trips, summer or winter.

Reason #2: Train rides & Glacier views

If your focus is on the skiing in Chamonix, you may have missed the fact that it is also home to France’s largest glacier, Mer de Glace—or in English, Sea of Ice.

kids at glaciers in chamonix france

To visit this wonder, your day will start at the train depot in the downtown area where you’ll board—what appears to be—a very old train. The rack-and-pinion railway takes your group on a rickety ride through tunnels and up the mountainside to the site of Montenvers at an altitude of 1,913 meters. Your time on the train is scenic and lovely, but it’s only the beginning of your experience. Once you reach the top, it’s time to go back down…

We worry so you don't have to.

Board the gondola at Montenvers and take in more breathtaking views as you descend into the heart of the glacier. Once you’ve completed this leg of the trip, it’s time to hit the stairs. That’s right! Due to global warming, the glacier is in retreat, and you have 580 steps to tackle before you can gain entrance to the ice grotto. But when you get there, it’s definitely worth it. 

Put on your poncho because the ceiling is dripping! It’s a small price to pay for the opportunity to explore the ice tunnels together. Take your time reading the plaques and playing around—being inside a glacier is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing.

coaster in the alps of france

To get back to Chamonix, you do everything in reverse—stairs, gondola, train. It’s a pretty physical day, but if you have time when you return, be sure to hit up the Amusement Park at the base of the mountain. The Alpine Slide is not to be missed.

Reason #3: The towering French Alps Chamonix has Paragliding!

When the opportunity to go paragliding presented itself and my five-year-old insisted on going, I didn’t want to be left out. Being terrified of heights myself, running off the side of a mountain never occurred to me as a family-friendly activity for any vacation—but I was wrong. 

We worry so you don't have to.
kids hiking through alps in chamonix

After taking a short gondola ride up a mountain opposite the glacier, we put on our helmets, powered up the Go Pros, and attached ourselves to several very competent paragliders for our tandem descent. As my guide and I ran down a gentle slope, the wing caught the air and my feet were lifted off the ground as we rose. I sat back, attached to this man’s chest in what was essentially a baby carrier for grown ups, and took in Chamonix from above.

The trees and the homes below you appear like figures in a doll house or a Lego set, but the whole thing is quite surreal and—ultimately—quite peaceful. (Unless you consent for your guide to do the loopty loops, as my husband did, then the ride is a little wild.)

kid paragliding chamonix alps

Like the glacier visit, paragliding in the Alps is a once-in-a-lifetime type of thing and was the highlight of our trip to Chamonix for adults and children alike.

Mer de Glace, the shops, and even the Alpine Slide are all open year round—you can even paraglide in the winter. So why bother with Chamonix in the off season?

Chamonix shines in the off-season

In the stunning French Alps town of Chamonix, there’s so much to explore beyond the ski slopes. While the mountains are breathtaking in snow, don’t miss the distinct beauty of the region when flowers bloom and temperatures reach the high sixties to low seventies. Experience a plethora of unique activities amidst the charming atmosphere and delightful weather of Chamonix.

Shauna Armitage

Author Shauna Armitage

Shauna Armitage is a military spouse, mother of four, lover of Coca-Cola, and host of the Startup Renegades podcast, a raw conversation with powerhouse founders building amazing businesses. While Shauna is a marketer by trade, she is a traveler by choice and loves to explore the world with her family in tow. Connect with her on Instagram @shaunajarmitage

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