Article first published in Forbes Monaco September/October 2020 issue.
A 5-hour drive from Monaco, the world’s third most visited natural site is a breath of fresh air—no mask required.
At 4,810 meters, Mont Blanc is the highest peak in the French Alps and with the massif bordering Italy and Switzerland, you can brag about skiing in three countries over one weekend.
You’d be forgiven for thinking of the area as solely a winter destination, but this Mecca for outdoor lovers is open year round and depends heartily on tourism. With foreign markets generating 40% of overnight stays between May and October (the U.K. counts 90,000 overnights), the Chamonix- Mont-Blanc Valley economy has taken a Covid hit of nearly €220 million this year. And the extra €300 million in economic spinoffs typically from July through September is going to fall short also.
The Chamonix Valley Tourist Office hopes its summer incentive has helped develop a stronger French and family clientele over the long term. The Valley decided to inject €200,000 into the local economy by purchasing activities from resort partners and passing them along as free daily activities to tourists from across France and neighboring European markets.
Until August 28, any tourist staying in the Chamonix Valley and in possession of a guest card could sign up online for one of 20 free daily experiences, including guided hikes, adventure activities, e-mountain biking, water sports, pony rides, and paintball.
Many of the outings—for example, the guided visit of Merlet animal park, sophro-trek, heritage walks to the outlying villages, following animal tracks, foraging—were put on especially for the summer to encourage guests to do more with the resort's partners during their stay.
“The principle is to make our Valley even more attractive, whether our visitors are residing in a 5-star hotel, luxury chalet or camp site,” explains Nicolas Durochat, Director of the Chamonix Valley Tourist Office.
“The free program of activities offered our guests the opportunity to experience something unique and the appeal was as wide as the range of activities was varied. The feedback has been incredible, both from the guests and from the service providers point of view.”
Photo: Golf de Chamonix
While face masks are mandatory in many public spaces, the good news is that you don’t have to wear one when walking along the 350 kilometers of mountain trails where there is plenty of fresh air and wide open spaces. Masks with the Chamonix logo can be purchased at the Chamonix Valley Tourist Office boutique (€6).
Stop by the Saturday market from 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., where 100 stalls selling cheese, charcuterie, local produce, flowers and artisanal crafts sprawl across Place du Mont Blanc.
Photo: Salome Abria
SEEKING REFUGE LIKE PRESIDENT MACRON
In February, French president Emmanuel Macron made headlines when he slept at a “shelter” typically frequented by hikers, not heads of state. Then again, the Refuge du Montenvers in no ordinary retreat but rather a 19th-century luxury hotel tucked into the base of the spectacular Mer de Glace in Montenvers, above Chamonix, at 1913 meters altitude.
Photo: Refuge du Montenvers
Run by the Sibuets family, who have been managing luxury mountain hotels for 30 years, the property promotes “digital detox,” swapping your mobile phones for board games and books in the library, although the panoramic views outside will beckon your inner selfie. The Refuge du Montenvers was recently renovated and in addition to its original dormitory, you can choose from 16 super chic rooms and suites, with their own bathrooms. This is a legendary hotspot for hikers and can be accessed by a cogwheel train running to the center of Chamonix.
And just in case you’re worried you might be roughing it, ask yourself what other refuge restaurant would serve a Château Haut Brion, 1er Cru Classé, Pessac Leognan (2004) for €650?