When the world’s highest climbing cable car brings you to the highest mountain in the Alps you know you are in for an amazing view. But maybe not this amazing.
The scene from the summit of Aiguilles de Chamonix, a jagged mountain high in the middle of the Mont Blanc massif, is the single most spectacular in the whole of the Alps. It might be the best mountain view that doesn’t involve hiking, flying or driving available anywhere.
Here’s how to make the trip:
The trip to the panoramic view atop the Alps starts in lovely, if touristy, Chamonix. The French town, which hosted the first winter Olympics in 1924, is perhaps the best base for exploring the Mount Blanc region. The trip to the top of Aiguille du Midi starts in the center of Chamonix; that’s where you get on the Aiguille du Midi cable car. (The name translates literally as “Needle of the South,” due to its position relative to the town).
After 20 minutes on said cable car you’ll be transported from 1,035 meters above sea level to a lofty 3,842m (12,604 ft). That’s the highest vertical ascent of any cable car on the planet. At the top you’ll notice a rather dramatic difference in your breathing, especially if you are making a day trip from Geneva (or similarly low altitude location).
One way to ease up to the higher altitude is to stop at Plan de l’Aiguille, the cable car’s half way station. Plan de l’Aiguille is at 2,317 meters and is the starting point for hikes of virtually all lengths and difficulty levels.
Once at the cable car’s top terminus, near the peak of Aiguilles de Chamonix, you’ll be at 3,842 meters. This being France, you’ll immediately come across a restaurant. The 3842 Restaurant (and associated gift shop) is one of those places built for exclusively tourists whose existence you’ll initially decry—Why did they have to put a large artificial building on a unique natural spot?!—and then later be secretly glad is there. The top of Aiguilles de Chamonix is cold, and windy, and there’s something calming and decedent about enjoying the view from behind an oversized window while sipping a glass of wine.
In any case, the 3842 Restaurant is not your final destination. Nor is the viewing platform above it. To complete your journey you must cross a short but precarious-looking bridge (see photo, below) and then take an elevator the final 42 meters up through solid rock.
Now you are at the top. The view across three countries is breathtaking, almost literally so. This is as close as you can get to Mount Blanc, western Europe’s highest mountain, without climbing it or crashing an airplane onto it. On a clear day, it is possible to see the Matterhorn, Monta Rosa and the Grand Combin from this vantage point.
There are all sorts of variations on the itinerary outlined above. There’s hiking, climbing and even paragliding to partake of en route. You can ski down from Aiguilles de Chamonix or walk from Plan d’Aiguille (the cable car mid stop) to the Montenvers Station and take the train back down to Chamonix. Consult a good guidebook for more info.
Whatever route you take, bring a great travel camera and enjoy the view. There’s no where else in the Alps like it!
Planning your trip
When: The cable car is open year round except for a period between early November and mid December. Severe weather and winds will force closures on specific days. Get the latest on the Aiguille du Midi website.
If you go: Bring warm, windproof, clothing. No matter how warm it might be in Chamonix town it is cold at the top of the cable car.
Family friendly? Aiguille du Midi authorities recommends against, but doesn’t expressly forbid, bringing children under three years old. To make the entire trip up and down at a leisurely pace takes three to five hours (depending on the crowds) so make sure your young’uns have stamina for it.
For your bookshelf: Tour of Mont Blanc: Complete two-way trekking guide
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