Traveling to new places is my thing. I’m super great at picking out the perfect restaurant, finding memorable souvenirs, plotting out the must-see points, etc. Where I don’t flourish is getting outside of my box, and the idea of plummeting down the French Alps on a pair of slick skis had me about hiding under the covers. But, the hubs was so gung ho that I just couldn’t kill his spirit. It was kind of like that time I was talked into climbing Half Dome, or doing a Tough Mudder, or biking through vineyards in Beaune (okay that one wasn’t actually scary in all reality). Like those other crazy experiences I was coerced into by such dear friends, this ski trip was one for the books in the end, and I am eternally grateful that I channeled my inner adventurousness, bit the bullet, and did it.
Chamonix, one of the oldest ski resorts in France and site of the first Winter Olympics in 1924, is simply breathtaking. The town, full of charm and SO MUCH SNOW, was stocked with inviting restaurants, cozy bars and cute shops. Following a 5 am wake up, 75 minute flight and 90 minute transfer to the town, we spent the entire Thursday afternoon of our long weekend exploring the snowy streets.
After scoping out the potential lunch spots, the hubs opted for Poco Loco. Although the exterior doesn’t look like much, the interior oozed with charisma. We sipped beers while waiting for a spot upstairs and pondered over the sizable sandwich menu. It was absolutely scrumptious and I had to fight a burning desire to return each time we passed by for the remainder of the weekend.
By the time the hubs dragged me out of my Chamonix happy place, it was time to pick up our ski rentals. Things were getting real and it’s a good thing I’d had beer to calm my nerves*… We ran into a couple of characters (ie beverage over-indlugers) at the ski shop, and they ran into a couple of their colleagues who were [un]equally excited to see them (these people reappear later in the story). Fitted with equipment and free of the clingy couple, we made friends with the creeped out couple before heading back to Hôtel Le Morgane for a quick catnap.
Dinner at La Tablée was ideal for our first night. Local food, a sweet staff and delicious French wine made for a memorable meal. The creme brûlée in particular was obviously irresistible… I’m pretending to look embarrassed here.
Enamored by the snow, we played around for an hour marveling at the exponentiation accumulation. You’d never know we grew up in the snow belt or lived in Chicago!
Friday rolled in with serious cloud cover and relentless snowy skies- not good for skiing, who knew? Having no idea how to even get to the slopes, we reviewed our options with the receptionist. Les Houches, one of the five ski areas that our Mont-Blanc Unlimited Access Pass included, was the best option in terms of skiability. We attempted to take the bus there, but were fairly clueless about where we were going and almost ended up on the gondola going up to Aiguille du Midi, which seemed like the “hard core” ski area. At this point, I looked like Bridget Jones* amongst the real skiers who were walking with ease and managing to somehow not bobble all of their equipment around like me.
We safely assumed we’d missed the bus and walked back to the hotel to wait for the resident driver which seemed like a much better option- chauffeur to the slopes is more my style! A quick 10 minutes later, we crammed into the car with three Dubliners and Geoffry, the staff ski expert, ferried us over to the slopes. With no place to go but up, the hubs and I figured out how our electronic ski passes worked without looking too amateur and piled into the gondola. Things sure have changed in the last three years!The afternoon went off without too many hitches, aside from the hubs’ skis seeming to have sandpaper on the bottom. He doesn’t know it, but I secretly told the ski shop attendant to give him slow ones so he wouldn’t think I was such a wuss snow-plowing down the greens- just kidding, I didn’t, but I might next time.
By lunch time, I had upped my speed to about 5mph-wahoo! We stopped at Le Hors Pistes for pizza and beer which prevented me from about passing out from altitude sickness- eek!
After a couple more runs, we called it a day and cruised down the mountain to the bus stop. Having a mere semblance of an idea of how to get home, we followed the crowd and squeezed on the bus heading towards Chamonix, hoping for the best!
Our instincts were right and without too much trouble, we stumbled back from the bus stop that we stupidly couldn’t find earlier to the ski shop to get the hubs a new pair. We ran into the nice couple that was not excited to see the other weird couple the day before and chatted a bit about the day. This was a consistent thing in the town, strangers were chatty about where they skied and the conditions which was really fun to get in on. I quickly realized I had somehow managed to lose a pole on the walk back from the bus stop. How? I don’t know, maybe I was preoccupied thanking God for getting me safely through the day and for a hubs that carries my skis. I awkwardly robot-jogged back and found the sole pole stuck into the ground by some good Samaritan. Clearly, it was time for a beer (or four).
Freshly showered and excited for the night out, we made our way to Munchie, a highly acclaimed French/Scandanavian/Asian spot that sounded wonderful after a couple of “mountain food” meals. Exceeding expectations and with the best seat in the house, we deliberated over our next move and decided on, Berlucoquet, the cute wine bar near our hotel.
It’s a small town, and the hubs quickly identified the crazy couple we’d met at the ski shop propped up at the bar just behind us! Fortunately, they’d clearly had too many cocktails to remember us, but it was comically coincidental. Successfully avoiding eye contact, we sipped on a night cap and slept well after our day on the slopes.
On Saturday morning, the sun shone and it was STUNNING!! This was the first time we clearly saw the scenery and it was absolutely spectacular. We more causally liaised with the receptionist since we kind of knew what we were doing by day two, and were thrilled to find the Brévent-Flégère area open enough to be our destination for the day. Geoffry dropped us off and up the mountain we went, silly happy with the beautiful weather. It finally set in why we’d heard so many skiers grumbling about the conditions the day before…check out the cheesier smiles on day two versus one:
Taking it all in at the top, we buckled up our boots and set off for day two. Feeling more comfortable on skis but less so with my aching boot, I managed one run before having to plop down and wake up my sleepy foot. Fortunately, being able to see more than three feet in front of you like the previous day, the hubs occupied himself snapping panoramics and patiently waiting for me.
The next few hours were heavenly. Sunny skies, decent skiing by me, and sandpaper-free skis for the hubs made for an excellent afternoon. Covering the western part of Brévent to the eastern side of Flégère, we loved the wide open, long runs and the gondola passing us from one area to the other. Breaking for lunch, we by chance chose l’Adret and luckily only waited 20 minutes or so for a table. l’Adret was much more of a European après feel than the more cafeteria style spot we’d stopped at in Les Houches. Timing is everything and we happily sipped beers as the snow started falling once again.With time for a few more runs, we skied practically solo until the slopes closed due to the once again incessant snow.
I was almost a pro by this point (comfortably managing blues- wahoo!) and was not ready to call it quits. Reluctantly, we piled back into the gondola, saw our bus pulling up to the stop, and arrived just a short time later back in Chamonix.
All four poles and skis in tact, we returned our gear and floated through the town to pick up a few essentials (chocolates, the softest blanket ever from Le Dogue bleu Antiquités et Décoration Furnishing, and a retro Chamonix poster). Nothing feels better than walking around sans ski boots after a day on the slopes!
The hubs spotted the best little bar- L’Atelier, and we relaxed over wine for me, beer for him, and charcuterie to share. Saving just enough room for dinner, we later made our way to Chez Constant with a few less layers. Here, the escargot stole the show, topped with a thin, crispy layer of fried cheese.
Happily full of French wine, cheese, chocolate and snow, we slept quite well and were rocks, paper, scissoring to decide who got to cozy up under our new blanket in London by the next afternoon.
*Slightly dramatized to make you laugh 🙂
Note: I used Gehring Travel to plan this trip. Thrilled with the accommodations chosen, ski rentals/passes organized, and transportation arranged, I would highly recommend their services anytime you’re looking to coordinate a trip!