Every day a different ambience, from alpine France to sophisticated Switzerland and historic Italy. The raw beauty of Mont Blanc with its immense glaciers, serene Lake Geneva and medieval Annecy are inspirational.
Selected departures May to September 2017
Fly to Geneva or take the Eurostar and TGV highspeed train to Annecy, then transfer to the iconic mountain town of Chamonix.
There’s nothing quite like that first gulp of crisp Alpine air, but arrival is also a feast for the eyes – above is snow-capped, glacier-strewn Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest peak at 4,810 metres (15,780 feet). We stay seven nights at either the Hotel Les Aiglons or Hotel Mercure Centre Chamonix, both rated four star with superb views of Mont Blanc. Included are breakfast, two dinners in your hotel and two in local restaurants.
Fortified by buttery croissants and rich coffee, our exploration of this glorious region begins by boarding the narrow gauge ‘rack’ railway ascending nearly 900 metres (3,000 feet) from the valley floor to Montenvers' alpine meadows. Climbing through pine-scented forests, across viaducts, over meltwater streams and through cavernous tunnels, a sense of anticipation mounts … then the tip of Europe’s longest glacier appears. Seven kilometres of Mont Blanc’s ice and snow converge here, forming the “Mer de Glace” (‘Sea of Ice’).
Should you wish you can take a cable car for the spectacular ride towards the glacier surface. A cave is carved into the ice and touching its sides you really understand why glaciers promote so much erosion,while the adjacent Glaciorum is a fascinating exhibition explaining the processes of glaciation. Don’t forget to look out for Nutcrackers and Black Woodpeckers, deer, mountain goats and perhaps an Ibex. This afternoon is free to explore Chamonix.
More glorious views as we drive to charming Annecy, where our guided walk reveals the fascinating history of this medieval lakeside town. There’s a real sense of ‘getting away from it all’ as we stroll amongst pastel-coloured, flower-bedecked houses, through twisting alleys alongside narrow canals, and admire the magnificent turrets and towers of its 12th-century castle, which was once the court of the Counts of Geneva. Annecy has many welcoming cafes and restaurants, but for lunch perhaps picnic on local cheeses, hams and patés by the turquoise waters of Lake Annecy, said to be Europe’s purest lake.
After a lake cruise, look out as we journey home for the red and white Savoyard Cross flags and “Savoie Libre” messages painted on the valley sides – reminders that this passionately independent region only became French in 1860.
Heading high – then even higher – to a land of snowcapped summits with jagged, iron-red pinnacles. We are on a cable car whisking you over 3,842 metres (12,568 feet) to the top of the Aiguille du Midi, towering above almost every other surrounding mountain. The upper section of the ride spans almost a vertical mile above the tumbling ice of the Pelerins glacier and the rock face of the Aiguille itself – note the climbers making the ascent the hard way. In fact, this is Europe’s highest point without climbing yourself!
Marvel at adjacent Mont Blanc, the surrounding French, Swiss, Italian Alps and, on a clear day, the Matterhorn, and Monte Rosa 80 kilometres distant. You can lunch at Europe’s highest restaurant, too, but there is one surprise left: ‘step into the void’ – a walk onto a clear glass floor hanging high above the rocks below!
A change of style as we travel to Lake Geneva. First, we discover one of the ‘most beautiful villages in France’ – 14th-century Yvoire. Wonderfully picturesque, it is dominated by a turreted castle and onion-shaped church steeple, but also boasts a tangle of alleys lined with balconied houses billowing with wisteria displays.
Nearby is the spa town of Evian Les Bains, where in the 19th century its waters were held to be a ‘cure all’ for kidneys – this was big news due to the French fascination with wine and cognac! These medicinal qualities made Evian Les Bains one of the Belle Epoque’s most fashionable destinations for socialites and royalty, including Marcel Proust, the Aga Khan and George V. The world first film-makers, the Lumiere brothers, built a classic example of grandiose spa architecture here, now hosting cultural exhibitions, but the jewel in Evian’s crown is its Art Nouveau Promenade. Take a stroll along here, then take the water, filtered through the Alps for 15 years, at the Source Cachat.
Today we encounter Europe’s longest tunnel – 11km under Mont Blanc itself – emerging in Italy. It’s astonishing that a short journey can result in such a change in people, style and climate, let alone the language and overall culture. We arrive at little-known Aosta, a remarkable mix of ancient culture and yet more spectacular scenery. It name derives from Augustus Praetoria and we have a guided walk of the Romans’ extensive legacies here, including an amphitheatre and an arch that originally formed the town’s entrance and incredibly still retains some of its original marble façade.
Today we drive through the Mont Blanc range, winding down the many hairpins to the fledgling River Rhone, before crossing into Switzerland to Chateau Chillon on Lake Geneva – inspiration for Byron’s “Prisoner of Chillon”. Almost perfectly preserved, this medieval castle is Switzerland’s most visited monument with a host of original features, including coats of arms, iron fireplaces and much of the original wooden structure and interior decoration. This being Switzerland, the castle’s medieval clock still works!
Driving though pretty Montreux, we also call at stately Lausanne for stunning views across the lake, crisscrossed by paddle steamers with giant Swiss flags billowing from their sterns, to the towering Alps opposite. There’s time to wander along the scenic promenade, watch the world go by from a fin de siècle café or perhaps visit the outstanding Museum of the Olympics, before returning to Chamonix.
Return to Geneva or Annecy for your homeward journey after an awe-inspiring holiday.
Rising in a great wall of granite and schist between France, Switzerland and Italy, the glorious, awe inspiring beauty of the Alps attracted Europe’s first “tourists” almost three centuries ago.
Chamonix nestles amongst the sweet scented pine forests at the foot of mighty Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest peak. From here you will discover a perfectly blended, unrivalled variety of landscapes, historic towns, stunning ice blue lakes and twisting mountain roads with amazing views of some of the world’s most spectacular scenery. You will be awestruck by the sheer scale of immense glaciers. Drive through the Mont Blanc tunnel to stunning Aosta boasting some of northern Italy’s finest Roman remains. Stroll around photogenic Annecy, famed for its lovely medieval castle and picturesque canals. Lake Geneva’s shoreline is studded with elegant “Belle Epoque” towns like Evian, haunt of the rich and famous and source of the eponymous water, and Yvoire, the quintessential medieval lakeside village. The finale of this excellent tour takes us over the mountains from Chamonix to Lake Geneva’s stunning Swiss Riviera, scaling seemingly impossible mountain roads with extraordinary panoramic views, to gorgeous Lausanne. Not forgetting the wonderful medieval castle of Chateau Chillon, immortalized by Byron and resplendent on its lakeside outcrop just crying out to be explored.
Chamonix retains a delightful alpine atmosphere, full of tiny bistro’s offering the wholesome regional specialities that have fueled the hardy locals for centuries. Visitors here are guests in a natural theatre, with countless simple pleasures to savour. Take a walk or cable car for outstanding views as the sun slowly sinks. As the light fades with shadows climbing the mountainside you are treated to one of nature’s most beautiful spectacles. The gradual tinting of the peaks in the wonderful rose coloured hue of the sunset is a magical natural light show to behold.
The price of this holiday is per person, based on 2 people sharing a twin room. The price includes return flights, 7 nights in a 4 star accommodation with breakfast and two dinners in your hotel plus two in local restaurants. All tours as mentioned, the Aiguille du Midi cable car, Montenvers cog railway to the Mer de Glace, guided walk of Annecy, guided walk of Aosta and a Guided tour of Chateau de Chillon.
An increasing number of you want to stretch your legs whilst away so you may want to join a complimentary walk today. It’s not arduous, though it is best to have light walking shoes or good trainers.
Our walk starts from Chamonix and we will follow the route of the Petit Balcon Sud which runs all along the south side of the Aiguilles Rouges mountain range. Chamonix is located right in the middle; we walk through the Balcon towards the local village of Les Gaillands. The mountain views on route are stunning and our local walking guide will tell us all we need to know about the area, its history and the flora and fauna. Arriving at Les Gaillands you can relax and take in the breath taking views of Aiguilles de Chamonix and Glacier des Bossons - the glacier that runs down to the valley from the peak of Mont Blanc and the two small lakes. We then return by foot to Chamonix on an easy flat road.
It’s a superb, leisurely trip but places are strictly limited and must be pre-booked. This is not bookable online so please contact our reservations department for more information or to book.
Please note: This walk is around 4 miles and the day on which the walk takes place is usually day 2 (afternoon), although this will be confirmed by your tour manager in-resort.