Every once in awhile, there’s a travel experience that really takes your breath away, but sometimes it means you have to ascend 3,842m – and face your fears – to be able to do it.
‘Why Geneva?’ A lot of people asked me this after I’d booked to go there last month on my first ever solo trip.
I had a total blast in the ‘Capital of Peace’, and while the Swiss city turned out to be the perfect place for my first ever independent adventure, it was actually a visit to the nearby French Alps which had really been calling out to me.
From Geneva to Chamonix
Being right by the French border, the journey from Geneva to Chamonix is a short one. I set off early on Sunday morning to join the tour I’d prebooked, and sat back for the hour coach ride into France. The scenery changed gradually as we left the city, and became ever more beautiful the closer we got to Chamonix. Mountains appeared on either sides of the road as if from nowhere, and shined in the sun like they were made of metal, giving just a taste of what was to come.
Despite the amazing scenery, I was feeling a bit nervous. Having a fear of heights and ascending a mountain doesn’t go hand in hand, and I’d been dreading the cable car ride I was about to take. I clutched the ticket in my pocket knowing full well I wasn’t going to let my irrational fear stop me from reaching the top – after all, I’m aware of how ridiculous it is to fear a cable car ride after I’d already boarded a plane to Switzerland.
Chamonix is a beautiful valley located in the foothills of the alps, and is well known as a popular ski resort. We arrived right outside of the Aiguille du Midi cable car station there, and headed inside to join the queue for the next trip.
I didn’t have to wait long, and soon spotted an empty carriage coming down towards us – the way it swayed in the wind already made me feel uneasy. I shuffled into the carriage among the crowd of 30 or so people, and stood strategically in the middle of everyone. Most people fought for the sides so they could make the most of the view, but as a wuss I kept my head down the entire way, and tried not to think about how far we were dangling off the ground. Despite my anxieties, I must admit the ride was luckily not as bad as I’d been preparing for – well, except for when we passed a supporting pillar which caused the whole carriage to rock, and shifted your stomach each time.
You need to get two separate cable cars to reach Aiguille du Midi, and with 15mins between each ride, I waited at the halfway point of Plan de l’Aiguille to rest and adjust to the altitude, instead of heading straight up. The air was already a little thinner here than on the ground, and the view already stunning.
The second leg of the journey took longer, but was smoother thanks to the lack of supporting pylons. The temperature drop was immediately noticeable as I exited the carriage into the network of tunnels which connected the area.
I walked in and found the mountain museum first, which showed off the different types of extreme sports that people come here to do, like base jumping, mountaineering and paragliding.
While the cable car will take you into the mountains, this is not actually the highest you can go. The peak of Aiguille du Midi is another short lift ride away, which is where I headed for next.
Located at a dizzying 3,842m above sea level, my breaths fell short and my footsteps slowed as I reached the panoramic viewing platform. The weather was absolutely perfect that day, and the sunshine lit up the blanket of untouched snow which covered the rocky peaks that stretched all the way to the horizon.
It felt so surreal to be standing on what felt like the top of the world. I grabbed hold of the handrails and looked over the edge back down to Chamonix which could barely be made out, and also spotted a small white plane flying far below where I stood.
Having now conquered my fear of the cable cars (at least on the way up), I had nothing to lose at this point and decided to join the queue for ‘Into the Void’, too. Included in your ticket price is also getting the chance to pose in a clear perspex box which hangs horrifyingly over the edge of the platform. I didn’t dare look down, and my body froze as soon as I stepped onto it, but I’m still proud that at least I did it!
What we’re all here to marvel at though is Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe. Aiguille du Midi is the closest you can get to it without having to climb, which many people come here to do.
Not only are we on the Swiss-Franc border, but it’s also on the corner of Italy. In fact, there’s a tunnel under the mountains which will take you right into it, and on a clear day like the one I had, you can also look out over the Swiss, French and Italian Alps all in one place.
It was incredible to stand so far above the clouds and look out at the snowy peaks – you really have to go there yourself to truly experience just how silent and still it was.
I could’ve stayed and gazed out for hours, but I had to grab a quick bite to eat at the Summit Cafe before heading back down to the ground – feeling a little braver this time around in the cable car.
Mer de Glace
I wasn’t sure what to expect from my next stop – after all, how could it stand up to Aiguille du Midi?
Located 1913m high, the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice) is the largest glacier in France, and one of the other most popular attractions in Chamonix. It can be reached by the Montenvers mountain train, which I sat on the left-hand side of to catch the view. The train travels so slowly along the side of the valley that I didn’t even notice how high up we’d gotten, until Chamonix once again faded away beneath us.
Before the train even came to a stop, the impressive view of the glacier presented itself. You know when the scenery is so beautiful that it doesn’t even look real? This place is like that.
The Mer de Glace is incredibly beautiful, but there’s also a quiet sadness about the place.
In recent decades, the glaciers here have melted away drastically, and continue to do so at a rate of about 5 metres each year. People used to come here for the vast ice caves which could be accessed in just a few paces, but it now takes a cable car and 370 steps to reach. It’s a sad reminder of the effect of global warming and climate change, and how much we can negatively impact the earth.
The ice-caves below are man-made, and need to be reconstructed every year as the glacier moves. I was disappointed to find out it was closed when I was there, but also somewhat relieved as it meant I didn’t have to face another cable car! If you travel in season, there’s also a restaurant which opens out right onto the terrace.
Overall, both of these stops are totally unmissable, and offer some of the most breathtaking scenery you’ll ever see. I knew that Aiguille du Midi would be worth facing my fears for, and I absolutely loved my time there – if I could just change one thing, it’d be to have more time in Chamonix.
Make sure you add this to your list!
Have you been to the alps before? Are you a wuss and scared of cable cars like me? Have you ever faced your fears while travelling? Tell me in the comments!
Need to know
- My tour from Geneva cost £140, and includes the cable car and train ticket
- Aiguille du Midi is not recommended for young children
- You’ll need to bring your passport if travelling from Geneva into France
- Swiss Francs aren’t accepted in Chamonix – you’ll need euros
- Dress appropriately – it’s cold up there!