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Chamonix

Hotel Mercure Chamonix

Transport The midnight ferry from Dover and 3 drivers with a 20 minute stop for breakfast and the remainder of the stops being to re-fuel or change drivers led to an arrival time of 10am in Les Houches. Free parking is available adjacent to the main cable car. We hired skis from Intersport - the selection was moderate but a bit of negotiation led to a 10% discount.

A 4 hour lift pass was 25 euros - end of season prices.

Hotels

We stayed at the Mercure in Chamonix itself - booked through Expedia the cost was £392 for 3 people for 3 nights. The location could not be better - adjacent to the railway station and near some excellent bars - approx a minutes walk from the town centre. A triple room had one double bed and two sofa beds with a balcony and excellent shower. No coffee making facilities. A free car park is available but parking can be tricky and the car park is heavily pot holed. Breakfast was a massive 18 euros each - I would advise visiting a local bakery or Elevation 1904 mentioned below. A 3 euro tax per person was charged at check out.

Skiing

Le Tour

Predominantly blues and easy reds - suggest using the slope alongside Tete de Balme - a good pisted red - alongside and adjacent to Bechant Esserts is a huge south facing off-piste bowl. The gradient is gentle and the piste is easily accessible. Equally useful is the off piste adjacent to Aiguilette which ends at the restaurant. Excellent local fare in the restaurant.

I would rate the blue passing the Vallorcine telecabine as distinctly red in places.

Les Houches

The exhibition of memorabilia related to the Kandahar world cup course makes fascinating reading as you wait in line for the small cable car. Les Houches is a beginners area and other than the downhill course which is certainly not black, offers little challenge. The wide red at Plancerts allows fast carving - beware the vicious poma at the bottom !

Argentiere

Remember to turn right before you enter the village if driving from Chamonix. This ski area is for GOOD skiers - do not contemplate skiing here unless comfortable on reds. However, if an intermediate, do not be put off by its tough reputation - yes - the unpisted blacks are steep and bumpy but the reds are good challenging pistes. The final cable car to the glacier needs pre-booking in high season.

View from Elevation 1904 cafe/ bar

Shopping

Heading towards the centre of town with the railway station behind , there is an excellent poster and picture shop on the left selling reproductions of classic Chamonix posters - there is also a good selection of coffee table and other books on the Chamonix region. In April 2010, even with end of season discounts, I felt ski hardware was expensive.

The Saturday market is a traditional French market with lots of salami from Italy and good local cheese - we bought croissants from the local boulangerie - Au Pain d'Antan across the road and wandered around the market. Sadly nowhere seemed to serve coffee.

Restaurants and bars

Elevation 1904 opposite the railway station is a traditional French bar, popular with locals and ski bums. Breakfast is good - scrambled eggs on toast about 5 euros. Cafe au lait perfect. For Apres-ski , it is south facing and the draught beer is excellent.

Chambre Neuf opposite Elevation 1904 was busy immediately post skiing but really felt no different from a standard bar. The beer seemed full of gas and was too cold. I am told it perked up later on.

Le Terrasse on the river in one of the squares opposite the casino was lively with an excellent band starting ay 11pm. The beer was fairly awful. A widescreen TV upstairs caters for sports addicts.

Hotel Rhodedendron almost opposite the cable car at Flegere is south facing and busy immediately post skiing - an open fire inside beckons when it starts getting cold. The bar staff are friendly and good pizzas are available. Beer seemed slightly cheaper than Chamonix and better quality than the 2 bars mentioned above.

We found Le Sanjon in Chamonix a reasonable place to have supper - 5 Rue Ravanel-le rouge - head up the main drag past the ghastly 'Pub' and you will find it on the left. excellent croute as a starter and good tartiflette on the set menu - set between 17 and 24 euros excluding wine. House wine fairly ordinary but drinkable.

Casa Valerio - Rue du Lyret - is a bustling Italian restaurant. We didnt book and waited 30 minutes on a Sunday night - the pizza is superb - the restaurant has a certificate proclaiming itself the 5th best pizzeria in France - it really is good ! The house red is fine and the wine list extensive with many serious bottles! Next time I will book but I strongly suggest you visit this establishment - it is near the Irish bar heading parallel and south of the main street from the casino square.

'The Atmosphere' received a good report from someone we met in a bar.

View from Hotel Mercure Chamonix Central


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