On a clear day, the nearby Jura range and the equally close Alps are easily visible from Geneva, giving the skyline a scenic backdrop. Such views were far too tempting for me to resist, and whilst it would have been simpler to make a short trip to one of the closest peaks, I decided instead to travel a little further and venture at least some of way up Mont Blanc.
Getting to Europe’s highest point from the city is a relatively simple matter. It starts with a bus ride to Chamonix, which almost immediately involves a frontier passport check, an unusual prospect in modern day Western Europe. Having crossed the border, the motorway is soon abandoned, and the pretty Savoy countryside that the smaller roads wind through proved to be a fine appetiser for what is to come later.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the tall steep slopes that are all around, the French village is very obviously a major ski resort rather than an idyllic rural settlement. Therefore, heading straight for the cable car seemed like a very good idea. The first stage of the two-part trip is up to a midway transfer point from where the buildings below already looked tiny and the views across to the opposite Aiguille Rouge massif were really quite lovely. Meanwhile, the next leg was fairly nerve wracking, ascending incredibly steeply and at times quite close to the sheer rock face before finally terminating at around 12,500 feet, which really is about as high as it is possible to go without doing some serious mountaineering.
Unfortunately, the January day was typically bad in terms of weather, and thick cloud shrouded the viewing platform at the top, which meant that there was absolutely no chance of seeing the spectacular panoramas that should be available from such an elevated position. In fact, the combination of the lack of visibility and a temperature approaching zero degrees Fahrenheit sent me rapidly retreating to the café, whilst at the same time pondering that the excursion might have been better undertaken during the summer months!
Having decided not to traverse the summit and descend into Italy, but instead to proceed back to the valley floor, it became apparent that the small settlement made up for a relative lack of charm by showing itself to be a good place to refuel, thanks to the numerous eateries that provide sustenance to the huge number of holidaymakers that stay in the vicinity. All kinds of food are available, but my choice on the day was to sample some regional cuisine at Le Sanjon, which has a cosy interior that is a nicely rustic contrast to the busy streets immediately outside. The selection of dishes on the menu was equally traditional, and included an excellent raclette, which arrived on an unusual and old-fashioned coal filled implement that is used for melting the cheese.
Following the hearty lunch, the afternoon involved catching a cog wheeled train that travels through a pine forest to a station overlooking the largest glacier in France, where the main attraction is a cave carved annually and also fully furnished from the solid ice. Whilst perhaps not overly impressive, the unusually lit interior can be quite interesting to see, but more intriguing personally was observing the distance between each of the yearly openings from above, which illustrates the consistent creeping movement of the appropriately named Sea of Ice.