This post starts a series on hiking the high route (haute route) through the Alps from Chamonix, France to Zermatt, Switzerland as described in the Cicerone guidebook, “Chamonix to Zermatt: The Classic Walker’s Haute Route,” by Kev Reynolds. The mountainous route climbs and descends an average of 1000 meters a day over a 2 week itinerary, often on steep tracks and rewards with spectacular landscapes. No wonder it is often listed as one of the most scenic hikes in the world.
We generally followed Reynold’s recommended stages, though there are frequent alternatives listed, completing the 180k in 14 days.
Day 1 – Chamonix to Argentière:
Elevation Gain: 214 m
Time: 3 hours at a leisurely pace with photo stops
This is an easy first day meant for a late start after a flight or train trip. As we hadn’t hiked in a while we welcomed the short day to get back in the groove before tackling one of the route’s epic climbs.
The first hour of this hike, through Chamonix to Les Prax de Chamonix, is along the road or a track that parallels the road with a lot of traffic noise and not pleasant walking. In addition, the directions given in the Cicerone guide are confusing along this section with numerous turns, parking lot crossings and so forth. I would skip this part and take a bus from Chamonix Sud to Les Prax.
Once you get past Le Paradis des Prax, a refreshments stand outside of Les Prax, however, the trail follows a pretty stream. At Petit Balcon Sud, about half way between Chamonix and Argentière, the forest trail becomes easy to follow with frequent signs to Argentière. The wooded trail climbs a bit but mostly gently rolls up and down on a somewhat rocky track. Trees block most of the views but in good weather it’s a pleasant trail.
If you haven’t spent time in Chamonix, this busy sky town with fabulous views of Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps, is worth a visit. Don’t miss the nose bleed cable car ride to Aiguille du Midi with a connecting gondola over the Glacier du Géant to the Pointe Helbronner in Italy.
Sleeping and Dining in Argentière
Argentière is a ski town at the upper end of the Chamonix Valley.
We stayed at Le Hôtel Dahu and upgraded to a balcony room with mountain views.
The room is simple and clean with few frills or amenities but does have a hair dryer, soap and shampoo, and a great view.
The breakfast buffet is a cut above most hotels in this category with a nice selection of cured meats, cheeses, yogurt and cereal, a cook your own hard boiled egg station, good bread and little pastries including pain au chocolat. Coffee and juice are self-serve from a machine. All in all a bargain at 10 Euro.
We had a nice lunch at Le Bistrot du Dahu, the restaurant next door to the hotel, ordering two salads, one Montagnarde with meat, cheese and an egg yolk and the other smoked salmon with vegies.
After the successful lunch, we decided to try Dahu’s dinner menu in their tasteful modern wooded lodge feel dining room. Unfortunately dinner was a disappointment. The soups, a squash velouté and a French onion, were nicely done but the meal went downhill from there.
The lamb chops were cooked OK, but not the best cut with lots of fat and gristle and not flavorful. The small perch fillets were limp and greasy. However, the biggest miss was the accompaniment. Given a choice of fries, gratin or haricots verts we both ordered the green beans. The huge pile was way overcooked and served without any seasoning. It’s hard to believe such a mess could come out of a French kitchen. Thankfully the wine, a Côtes du Rhône, while not cheap, was excellent.
Service was friendly and attentive.
Getting to Chamonix
Geneva, Switzerland is the most convenient airport to Chamonix with an easy 1:15 hour bus ride connecting the two cities. We took the Swiss Tours bus that departs the Geneva bus station, a 7 minute walk from the train station, and drops you at the Chamonix Sud bus depot, a 10 minute walk through town to the start of the Cicerone route to Zermatt.
August 25, 2019
For links to all the posts in this series see the Chamonix to Zermatt page.