Chamonix by way of Kandersteg

Old Jul 10th, 2024, 10:04 AM
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Chamonix by way of Kandersteg

I signed on to write a quick trip report of my overnight in Kandersteg and 4 nights in Chamonix and then I saw Adelaidean's trip report on France and Switzerland complete with detailed descriptions and photos. I warn readers that my report will not bring you the same satisfaction of feeling you are there, but I owe it as a thank you to those who answered my questions and I hope it can help with others planning similar trips.

It has been a few years since I took a solo trip from US to Europe so I was a little rusty in my planning and execution, but I had a great time . The highlight was the Panoramic Mont Blanc cable car.

I traveled by train (including cogwheel), bus, foot, gondola, cable car, and chairlift. I bought tickets from apps, machine and at the ticket counter (Switzerland + France) and paid cash on the local bus. My hosts gave me the local transport card paid for by tourist tax that gave free or discounted rides on some modes of transport. I planned to go in person to the Sud bus station in Chamonix to book my shuttle bus to the Geneva Airport but pouring rain convinced me I could choose and book online. I booked with Alpy because of the schedule and when later had a question experienced tremendous difficultly getting through by phone and no email response. So I went early to the bus station where the clerk said they sell tickets and can contact any of the other companies except Alpy. It all turned out OK but added some unnecessary stress.

I mostly used credit cards and forgot a couple of times about different currency starting in Switzerland to France to Switzerland; however I noticed a pay toilet in Martigny train station took either coin and I ran into people at bus stop in Chamonix wondering if the driver would take Swiss Francs, so I was not the only one.

I found the Chamonix app to be very useful and relied on it daily for various information. The Meteo weather forecast was the one on Chamonix app and others online. I compared actual conditions to their forecasts for a couple of days and chose the one that seemed most accurate at the time to choose a day to buy my Aiguille du Midi ticket--couldn't wait until day of to see the weather and expect to get a ticket especially with weather better in morning than afternoon. Weather alternated between intense rain/thunder and bright sunshine with periods of scattered clouds in between--but thankfully not the flooding experienced in another valley nor were my flights significantly affected by thunderstorm closures of airports.

I do a lot of picnicking and I had an AirBnB with kitchen in Chamonix so I mostly grocery shopped and cooked, but I did enjoy a terrace meal on Le Brevent and a plat du jour (excellent deal) at a restaurant in town.

In making final arrangements I remembered why last trip I chose Zermatt over Chamonix. Chamonix offers gorgeous mountains with lots of gondolas and trains, but limited easy to moderate walking and hiking. The focus is on mountain climbing and other serious mountain sports. Many trails above the valley were still snow covered with feet of sometimes slushy snow that made for tiring walks for my 67-year-old legs. But the views!!!!!


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Old Jul 10th, 2024, 10:56 AM
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That's a beautiful photo Kay2!
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Old Jul 10th, 2024, 11:18 AM
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Kandersteg

Kandersteg--

I flew into ZRH and wanted a first night for rest somewhere toward Chamonix via train with at most one change. I decided on Kandersteg. Flight was fine; quickly picked up a sandwich at cafe in airport (wider selection of choices in train station), bought ticket from machine and jumped on departing train. As we heading toward Thun the skies were clear and the views toward the Eiger and Jungfrau were gorgeous. If I had been using a rail pass, I might have jumped off and headed for the valley as I was uncertain if Kandersteg would be as lucky with the weather, but I was practical and stayed on the train, getting off with the Japanese tour group and walking past the horses being trained to the Belle Epoque Victoria hotel where my room wasn't ready.

So, forgetting the rest, I made some quick exchanges between my pack and suitcase, then headed for the gondola to Oeschinensee. I took the gradual road counterclockwise along the wildflower fields down to the lake where clouds were starting to slide in. Another walker kindly left a bench above the lake just as I approached so I had a place to perch and eat my sandwich--until the light rain started. So I didn't dally along the lake or the waterfall but continued the circuit and found the climb up from the lake was steeper with rocks and roots (wasn't I planning to rest the first day?), but a rewarding view and a field of cows complete with bells resting at the top. Still, the little tram I saw on the road shuttling to/from the lake would have been welcome at that point. I spent the evening staring at the view from the hotel.


view was worth the climb

view from Kandersteg hotel

I awoke the next day to rain and heavy clouds that blocked any hint of mountains in any direction. So, I abandoned thoughts of valley walks or the Allmenalp and headed to the train station. We emerged from the tunnel into sunshine that would last until France. I enjoyed the announcements of "next station is...where during some times during the year one can visit..." with no promise of whether this is the right time of year. Very scenic with few people on the train so easy to shift from side to side to look at various views. I made all my connections and got off in Les Praz de Chamonix to walk 5 minutes to my AirBnB. Because the unit was empty the night before, the host said I could go in anytime, so I was able to settle in before the skies opened up and one of several deluges of the visit started.

Les Praz is tiny with few shops or restaurants but does have a train station, bus stops and Le Flegere gondola/L'Index lift. And my unit was a lot cheaper than staying in Chamonix. For some reason I kept thinking I entered the valley from the northwest so I should be going southeast to town but the valley runs northeast to southwest in that area. I was always turned around when picturing east/west/north/south, France/Switzerland/Italy in my mind or looking at the mountains.

Last edited by Kay2; Jul 10th, 2024 at 11:25 AM. Reason: mistake wording
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Old Jul 10th, 2024, 11:20 AM
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Originally Posted by Melnq8
That's a beautiful photo Kay2!
The panoramic gondola ride is amazing if the skies are clear.
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Old Jul 10th, 2024, 12:31 PM
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How timely Kay, I saw the signs for the train Martigny - Chamonix and noted that to investigate for future reference!
Appreciate all the details, logistics, timing, transport, etc.
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Old Jul 12th, 2024, 07:49 AM
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Chamonix

After reviewing the ticket options in Chamonix-Mont Blanc (individual tickets, day pass, multiday consecutive and nonconsecutive pass, advance discount, senior discount) I concluded that I would be unable to pick the "best" option. The uncertain weather meant booking multiple days in advance may result in wasted/unused tickets while waiting might mean few open times to book reservation for Aiguille du Midi and missing visibility. I didn't know how long I would spend at the top of mountains nor how long it would take to get from one to another in the same day. My priorities were Aiguille du Midi + panoramic cable car if open, Le Brevent, and Flegere/L'Index. The passes also include Monenvers-Mer de Glace, Tramway du Mont Blanc, Bossoms, plus something in Le Tour, Houches, and other areas. Grands Montets is still closed. The panoramic cable car costs extra. Aiguille du Midi and the Tramway require (if busy) free reservations. With a pass, you can make one reservation for each at a time, so with a 2-day pass you could reserve AdM for day 1 at 8:00am then after completing trip you could reserve again for later in same day or the next day or if cloudy at 8:00am you could cancel and reserve later in the day, if available. Same for Tramway (but is wasn't busy when I was there so they didn't require reservation). I found it reasonable to move between two or possibly even three on foot/bus/train if not hiking or dining from among AdM, Le Brevent, Monenvers, or Flegere.in one day, but the others were further away and could fit in at most two per day, I think.

I reserved AdM 2-3 days in advance at 9 or so (earliest available) on a day forecast for thinning clouds in morning and cloudy afternoon. My later backup day at that point had a sunnier forecast, but the forecasts were changing daily. I woke up to sunshine, ate breakfast, caught an early train, walked to the base--opening was delayed one hour (happened most every day I was there) so they were sending up the people from 7:30 reservations when I arrived (you get a group number with your reservation and a sign lights up with the group that can enter) so I was going to have to wait. I walked around taking some photos, found the toilets, and used the free wifi in the gift shop before sitting to people watch and listen to the advice the harried workers gave out from the Information Booth while I applied my sunblock. Finally an hour later than my reservation my group number appeared and we maneuvered around people blocking the entrance like at the airport gate to show our reservations and be put in holding chutes behind a tour group waiting again for our turn to scan our tickets and go into another chute that would lead us to the first of two gondolas to AdM. A quick change of gondolas and I was there!

I planned to check out the most crowded areas like the elevator to the 360 first, but just as I crossed the bridge they announced "The panoramic cable car is now open with no waiting." So I went to the ticket booth, paid even more money (senior discount) and got on the next tiny 3-gondola set for a private ride and one of the most amazing visual experiences of my life. I've already posted a photo of the gondolas passing opposite as we headed to Italy. We had fantastic views of the mountains, glaciers, crevasses, mountain climbers, and hikers far below. Occasionally the cars would slow/stop and we would be quietly suspended above the white expanse. The site says it is a 50-minute trip and it felt that long, but I didn't want it to end. We arrived to solid clouds in Italy so I took a quick look outside, used the facilities, and got back on a private cable car for the return trip. A few clouds were moving in, but the views were still amazing. I planned to see all parts of AdM but when I arrived the announcement was "If you did not receive a return gondola timed ticket when you came up, we recommend you immediately take a gondola down because those who arrived after you have timed tickets." The wait to go up the elevator to 360 was 20-30 minutes and clouds continued to move in so I thought, "It can't be better than what I just experienced", so I got on a gondola down. It was cloudy at the mid mountain station so I didn't stop for the hike to the lake, continuing to the valley with with plans to go to one of the other gondolas or lifts to continue my day.





I don't remember which other lifts and gondolas I went on which day (dazed by the beauty on the panoramic) so I will generalize about my other excursions.

I went up Le Brevent twice--once with some clouds and once mostly clear. The observation area at the top of the second lift is a construction zone so sightseers were picking their way around the station or going a ways down the snow covered hiking trail to finds spots to sit, take photos of Mont Blanc and watch the paragliders sailing in the valley. The snow was too deep with a soft top layer for casual walking but serious hikers were taking off on trails. The lower station was busy with lots of people sitting to enjoy the view, eating, and watching paragliders. On the clear visit, I ate at the outdoor cafe to ensure I slowed down and enjoyed the view. I was impressed by the trail runners running up the mountain under the gondola! I never saw the listed bus that was supposed to run from city centre to Le Brevent so I hoofed it uphill to the base each time.



I also made it up Flegere and L'Index twice, once with and once without clouds. Very convenient to my AirBnB. I really enjoyed the view on the clear visit. Same snow depths on the trails. Saw a few chamonix hiding behind some rocks, so got on the chairlift down for better view.


I had time and my pass so I headed to Monenvers-Mer de Glace where I just missed a train and had to wait. Unfortunately not a lot of food options nearby. By the time of next train, it was raining. By the time we reached the end, it was pouring. We only found out the gondola was closed when we saw a chain across the stairway leading down. So our options were to go in the gift shop, stand in the rain to look at the distant glacier or get in line in the rain with all the people coming off the mountains waiting for a train. Miserable. I wish they had told us they were closing the gondola and stairs before we got on the train. At least I had proper rain gear, but others were ill prepared with only an umbrella. FINALLY, they started running additional trains and the line moved enough we could at least stand under a roof but the crowd was cold, wet, and insistent they wouldn't miss the next train even though the staff were counting people into the corrals. Trains kept arriving with more tourists to join the queue to return. A few people were headed to the hotel at the top. Looked like a family event like a wedding.


Another mostly cloudy time I used the pass to take the train to Le Fayet for the Tramway du Mont Blanc knowing I would just be going for the ride, not the views. I thought maybe a lunch in town before the tramway or a stop at a promised cafe up the mountain. Interesting ride through the valley--saw the highway soaring over us and dreaded the ride on a bus to Geneva up there. The timing of the trains does not match the tramway, so I had to wait in Le Fayet both ways. One restaurant by the station and not interesting neighborhood to wander (it was Sunday, I think) so I waited. Tram ride was interesting with some views of the valley. It is running to Mont Lachat stop but I opted to get off one station short for promised cafe and toilets (it was cold and cloudy anyway and the schedule said later trains were optional. It was slow so I thought they might cut those trains and I would stuck for another hour.) The cafe was minimal but did offer hot food. The views were nice but not amazing. The trails looked interesting (though wide, deep puddles from the rain). I think one could do some pleasant hikes here with better knowledge of the hotels, cafes, trains, lifts, and trails than I had.

I walked through the woods from Les Praz to Chamonix in the rain. It was OK but not an amazing walk--because of a construction detour I managed to double the time required but I passed by several local restaurants that looked interesting. Chamonix was crowded with tourists on the main shopping streets and in the plazas. Groceries were packed at the end of the day. There seemed to be a wide variety of restaurants, lots of ice cream and crepes, several bakeries. Plenty of souvenir shops, outdoor equipment shops, and a bookstore.

I was a little disappointed in communication. The gondolas and lifts were opening late most days but that information wasn't posted online until after the scheduled opening. There was no instruction about what to do if your reservation was after the opening time. The Montenvers staff should have more quickly communicated to the base that the gondola was closing and there should be some information once people alight from the train. I felt sorry for the people in the gift shop trying to handle the crowd. But I found that most of the workers were doing their best at the train station, AdM, tramway, etc. The chairlift and gondola operators were not very attentive. I saw/heard panicked running and shouting several times were riders didn't raise their foot rest or were jumping on/off to take their photos.

The changeable weather was a challenge. Twice a day sun block wasn't enough some days and I forgot top of index fingers and thumbs after handwashing. Ouch.
My backpack was getting very wet so I put a trash bag I had over it (yeah, really trashy) and I needed the pack to haul my raincoat, waterproof pants, and hat between downpours. There aren't many indoor activities in the area for those rainy days so I just slogged on. It would be nice to hike some of the trails if less snow.

The trains and buses ranged from empty to packed depending on day of the week and early closing of gondolas and lifts due to weather. The local tourist tax card provides free train within limits and reduced price bus tickets online. The passes include free bus and free train to Le Fayet. While walking was free, my feet were glad anytime I paid 2 euros cash for a bus ride. It was easy for me to take the bus to the Sud station to catch a shuttle to GVA and my onward (weather delayed) flight that provided me with an aerial parting cloudy view of the Alps as we headed east.
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Old Jul 12th, 2024, 07:51 AM
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Adelaidean,

After seeing your simultaneous trip report, I thought, "I could have spent a day in Martigny as a layover if I hadn't been trying to beat the rain."

The train passed by apricot orchards in the area bursting with fruit. I was happy to find them in the grocery in Chamonix.
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Old Jul 12th, 2024, 04:47 PM
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Kay2, i swear I typed a reply but somehow it disappeared!

When were you there? I feel so bad that you had some really terrible weather! Was this trip for 5 nights only (seem a long way to fly, assuming you live in the US)? Did you end up getting a Multiday pass? I didn't realize the trick about making reservations for AdM. I agree they aren't great with updating their website or app with latest information. I am glad you got to go on the Mont Blanc panoramic gondola

You brought up Zermatt, would you say the view from AdM is better than Klein Matterhorn? I was so blown away by the view on top of AdM. Ive been to Zermatt (just the town) but not up the mountain nor done any hiking there. We were only in Chamonix for 3 days and did the biggies, but there still seem to be a lot more we could explore. OTOH, like you said, most of the hikes in Chamonix are pretty major/long hikes however. So just thinking about next time when we want to return to the Alps, should we head to Zermatt instead?

I was also intrigued by the station announcements on the Mont Blanc Express train, thinking to myself... oooh that sounds interesting, i'd love to explore that. There's even a Marconi museum in one of those small towns. I kind of wish there are guidebooks that have more details about the surrounding areas, not just laser focus on Chamonix itself.
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Old Jul 14th, 2024, 01:14 PM
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Kay, really helpful detail, and between yours, and yk’s, I’ve been collecting ideas, many thanks.

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