We left Morocco pleasantly surprised with our experience but also excited to get back into our European comfort zone, leaving Tangier on a half-empty plane in which Lauren and I both got entire rows to ourselves, back to Milan.
We rented a car to drive north from Milan up to Chamonix on the French-Italian border in the French Alps. Renting a car turned out to be an even better idea then we had originally thought as it gave us the opportunity to stop at so many different places on the way that we never would have been able to see taking a train or bus. It really made the trip that much more special.
The drive to Chamonix began as a fairly boring trip through northwest Italy as we made our way west through the flat Po River Valley with the Alps teasing us on our right-hand side. A couple hours later, we arrived at the Aosta Valley, the smallest and least populated region in Italy, which is bordered by France on the west and Switzerland in the north. The valley is the beginning of the incredible Western Alps which contains the highest mountains in all of Europe, including Mont Blanc near where Chamonix is located.
Before leaving Italy, we stopped at a market in a little town called Pont-Saint-Martin and bought a little cooler and some lunch meat for sandwiches for our trip through the Alps, another great idea as Switzerland is one of the top five most expensive countries in the world. That little blue cooler would end up saving us hundreds of dollars on food throughout our time in the Alpine region, though I may have to stay from sandwiches for the next couple of months.
We continued along the Aosta Valley, the Dora Baltea River leading us deeper into the alps while the numerous medieval castles and fortified houses atop the adjacent hills served as beacons urging us forward. Though on a normal day we would have stopped to see these manmade treasures, we were much more concerned with the natural sights our drive had already promised us so we did not stop to see any close-up. Speaking of manmade, one oft-overlooked side effect of driving through mountains is the inevitable need to make tunnels, which costs money, which is paid for by…yup, you guessed it, toll roads. So imagine our pain when we paid the equivalent of 100 USD in tolls before we had even entered France. Ouch.
The tree covered mountains in the Aosta Valley gave way to amazing snow-capped mountains near France and we entered the country through the Mont Blanc Tunnel, our wallets considerably less full. Upon entering France, we took a steep zig-zag route down the mountain and into the famous resort town of Chamonix.
Chamonix is a stereotypical Alpine mountain town which sits at the foot of Mont Blanc in the French Alps. The resort town is largely famous for hosting the First Winter Olympic games in 1924 when it consisted of only five sports! As you would expect from the first host of the Winter Olympics, the town is known for its winter sports, skiing being the most popular, as well as hiking. Due to its popularity with winter sports, visiting in late May meant it was the off-season for tourism and the town was relatively empty.
Chamonix is situated near the massive mountains which make up the Aiguilles Rouges Mountian Range. The tallest of which is Aiguille du Midi which was situated just outside our balcony at the hotel we stayed at. The mountain is able to be climbed using a cable car, as are many of the other peaks that surround the town. We got unlucky planning our ride up the cable car due to cloudy weather at the top of the mountain, but the best part about being in the Alps is knowing there are always plenty more mountains to see and we chalked it up as a loss. It helped knowing there were plenty more mountain cable cars to take in Switzerland, two of which we would eventually take, meaning we did not miss out on as much as we had once thought.
Though unable to spend time in the mountains due to our time constraints in France, we spent some memorable time in and around the town center, befriending one of the bar owners at a local Irish pub and having one of the best meals we have had on our trip at a little restaurant on the town’s high street. We left the next day, a little disappointed at not making it up a mountain but encouraged by the views we had been shown on our brief foray into the Alps. Little did we know, the sights that we saw in and around the French Alps would pale in comparison to what we would eventually find after crossing the border into Switzerland.
Though already a wonderful experience in the Alps, our next week would be filled with some of the most mind-blowingly amazing things we have seen on our entire trip so be sure to check out my next post as we make our way through Switzerland with a quick pit stop into the tiny country of Liechtenstein!