Runcation: A Chamonix Running Holiday
Welcome to the first in our ‘runcation’ running holiday series. Here’s how to arrange a DIY Chamonix running holiday, to spend some days playing in the magnificent runner’s paradise in the French Alps.
Best time to visit Chamonix for running
Chamonix is famous for a lot of things, including being one of the most popular destinations in Europe for skiing and mountaineering (it hosted the first ever Winter Olympics in 1924). Oh yes, and a little race called the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc at the end of the summer.
You can run in Chamonix any time of year when there isn’t a significant amount of snow. We find early Autumn (September-time) is the best time to go if you want to minimize the possibility of snow on higher trail elevations. You also miss the peak summer tourist season, when it can get crowded, and a little too hot for running at times.
Weather and temperature in Chamonix (September-time)
In September, average temperatures range from 15-25 degrees Celsius. However, you’re in the mountains, and we have seen it as high as low-30s during the day, and drop to around 10 degrees at night in town (obviously it is likely to be much colder if you were in the mountains at night, rather than the town). There’s always the possibility of rain and storms, that’s part of the fun and adventure!
How to get to Chamonix in September
If you are hiring a car and can’t fly direct to Geneva, then it’s still easy to drive to from other cities in the region, with Turin, Italy, being the next-closest – although you’ll have to drive through the Mont Blanc tunnel (it goes UNDER Mont Blanc!), which can be expensive in tolls.
Once you land at Geneva airport, you have lots of options for getting to Chamonix, including shuttle buses, ChamExpress and AlpyBus, which take around 1h30. The train takes a lot longer but is do-able. Otherwise, hiring a car is easy at the airport and the roads are good to drive on.
Where to stay
If you have a car, you have more options, however if you’re using shared transport (eg the ChamExpress) to get to Chamonix, you’ll probably want to stay in Chamonix town, or Les Houches, further along the valley, as it will be easier to get around.
You have the choice of chalets, apartments or hotels. Our two favourite places to stay are:
- Renting a friend’s apartment in the Chamois Blanc apartment building, which is opposite one of the main bus stops and walking distance from the town centre. Staying somewhere like this can be great value and you have your own kitchen facilities, which helps make the most of your time and budget during your stay.
- Hotel Heliopic – right in the town at the base of the Aiguille du Midi gondola (which goes up to 3,842m!). This is a gorgeous new hotel, with decor I wanted to take home. While we would be priced out in peak seasons, if you go off-peak and book well in advance, then you can get a good rate on the room. Bookable through Cheapoair.
Places to eat in Chamonix
You’re spoilt for choice in Chamonix, although if you’re on a budget, it can be hard to find anything for a reasonable price that isn’t pizza or very cheesy 🙂
Having said that, there is a great pizza place on Rue des Moulins (Pizzeria des Moulins), as well as some other great eateries (Restaurant Le Cap-Horn is great for a fancier meal out). Otherwise, we choose to visit the supermarkets in town and stock up on essentials, for breakfast, snacks and dinner in on most days.
How to get around Chamonix
For when you don’t want to run, Chamonix offers a free bus to visitors. This runs the length of the valley and is great if you are running one way, and get tired or plan to do a one-way run and not a loop. Details here: Chamonix Transport.
Our favourite Chamonix running trails
It’s hard to pick favourites in Chamonix because everywhere is beautiful and offers something different…
- As a good starting point, the Petit Balcon Nord & Sud are great tree-lined paths (especially if it’s a wet day), and the Grand Balcon Nord & Sud offer some stunning views.
- Col Balme and the trails up to there offer great challenges and views, but are exposed so best on calm, dry days.
- Finally, it would be remiss not to mention the famous Vertical Kilometre’ route, which we have written more about in this post: Chamonix Vertical Kilometre.
My top tip would be to visit one of the bookstores in town, and pick up a detailed trail map, and possibly even a book on Chamonix trails. I would get a laminated map, and carry it with you on the trails, and study it before you go. There is a bookstore on Rue de Dr Paccard called ‘Press House’ which has a great section for browsing, inspiration and picking up essential maps and books. I once bumped into Anton Krupicka doing just that, a few days after UTMB!
Too many to count. The famous races are:
- UTMB (if you have the points and get a place in the lottery!)
- Marathon du Mont Blanc (which includes a 90k, marathon & ‘half’, plus the VKm)
Let us know in the comments section below if you’re planning a Chamonix trip, or if you’ve visited and have any more top tips for people looking to go!