The Mont Blanc region comprises the Chamonix Valley, St Gervais / Les Contamines and Megève / Combloux. The Chamonix Valley's appeal can be summed up in two words: Mont Blanc. Europe's tallest mountain towers over the valley's towns and resorts, offering a constant snow-capped reminder as to why this is one of the most popular areas in the Alps. In contrast to Chamonix, the Megève valley is much more rounded and open and it's not hard to see why the upper crust of French society make it their winter home once they abandon the Riviera. Its charming towns are typically French, exuding old-fashioned charm with narrow streets, small squares and quaint stone and wood buildings. However, such allure is coupled with world-class facilities and the splendid luxury that make the Megève valley one of the premier Alpine destinations. The St Gervais and Les Contamines valley runs perpendicular to the neighbouring Chamonix valley on one side, and parallel to the valley of Megève on the other. The valley is accessed by St Gervais, and Les Contamines marks the end of the car accessible road, so benefits from no through traffic. Les Contamines has a ski area in its own right whereas St Gervais shares its skiing with Megève. St Gervais is comparable to a Victorian holiday town, with "Belle Époque" architecture and its own spa.
Chamonix town sits at the heart of the valley as one of the most famous destinations in France. A mecca for skiers, snowboarders, climbers and mountaineers, the town is also one of the largest resorts in the Alps with 22,250 guest beds, 130 restaurants and over 400 shops. Ever since the first Winter Olympic games were held in the town in 1924, it has been held in international esteem for the quality of its facilities, amenities and, of course, skiing. Such colourful history and traditions give it a unique vitality and character. Although traffic can be a problem getting into the town, the pedestrianised centre with its cobbled main street is attractive and full of life with bars, crêperies, hotels and shops. Not surprisingly, property prices are high, but there is a good selection of apartments available that can make a good base from which to enjoy the town's attractions and enjoy the wonderful mountain activities on offer.
Five kilometres from Chamonix itself, Les Houches is a small town that offers a cheaper alternative to its famous neighbour. Home to the famous 'Piste Verte' (despite its name, it is actually a black run with a descent of 870m over 3.3 KM) which regularly hosts World Cup downhill and slalom events, Les Houches also serves as the training ground for the French National Ski Team. However, whilst there is no doubting the quality of the skiing, it doesn't offer the same in terms of quantity as some of the other locations in the valley. There is a reasonable amount of individual chalets for sale.
Vallorcine, "the valley of the bears", is the last village in Chamonix's high valley before the Swiss border. This valley was for a long time off the Chamonix tourist route because it did not have an access road, ancient travellers having to go through the Col de Balme. Its position means that good snow is guaranteed and enables one to see the whole of the Chamonix valley. Consisting of wide pastures bordering the Swiss frontier, there is some excellent off-piste skiing on offer, whilst the recent addition of a new lift system means that you can now ski back into the village. There is a lovely, small village atmosphere with chalets representing the majority of the property options.
Le Tour is the last village in the valley and the highest place inhabited all the year round. In the last century, people going to Switzerland via the Col de Balme had to go through Le Tour. Since 1999, "Le Tour-Vallorcine" has become one and the same area. With the building of the Tête de Balme chairlift, the surface area suitable for skiing has increased from 250 to 500 hectares. Previously known for its gentle slopes and lack of crowds, many regular visitors to Chamonix are still not aware that this has opened up a major chunk of terrain, including the best tree skiing in the valley. Three new pistes are open in these new territories, giving enormous off-piste skiing possibilities on the Swiss side - routes which were known but difficult to get to, like the Combe des Jeurs or les Posettes, have now become great classics for experienced skiers.
Of all the resorts that make up the Chamonix valley, Argentière is where most advanced skiers head to when they arrive. Indeed for many, it's what they actually mean when they talk of the Chamonix domain. The Grands Montets offers some of the best and most difficult off-piste and black-piste skiing anywhere, with stunning scenery abounding. The village itself is quite small, although there are some good mountain restaurants and lively bars. The property mainly consists of chalets, but recent price rises mean that they can be expensive.
Historic and traditional Megève town sits unassumingly alongside Courchevel as the most prestigious of the French ski resorts. However, unlike Courchevel with its ostentatious glitz and glamour, Megève takes pride in a sophisticated and timeless charm that gives an almost aristocratic air to its paved (and heated!) streets. Nowhere is this traditional style and elegance exemplified more than in the annual Snow Polo masters event that the town hosts each January. It is also here where you will find some of the best facilities in the Alps, with a host of award-winning restaurants, a plentiful supply of stylish designer shops and even a bustling casino. With so much in the way of off-piste facilities, it is often easy to forget that Mégève also offers some very good skiing, with over 400 km of pleasant runs that are particularly attractive to beginners and less advanced skiers.
It was the stunning views of Mont Blanc that prompted Victor Hugo to proclaim Combloux the “pearl of the Alps, nestled in a jewel box of glaciers”. It is certainly an enviable setting, and it's not just the 360 degree view of the Mont-Blanc, Aiguilles Rouges and Aravis - as the first resort of the motorway, Combloux enjoys excellent access too. As well as a good range of facilities, the village church with its famous bulb steeple lends a certain charm and traditional feel to the town. However, these advantages haven`t gone unnoticed and prices have begun to rise for the town`s best property.
St Gervais - the main village is at the start of the valley. It has quick access to Chamonix and the main motorway to Geneva. Most residential areas are based in the village or along the valley floor.
Bionnassay, Champel and St Nicolas de Veroce are small hamlets on the valley sides, higher than the town. They offer picture postcard views and perfect tranquillity. However, consideration sometimes has to be given to winter access that may require 4x4 vehicles. As a result, property is unsurprisingly cheaper than in the main village location.
The other key area is Bettex, located next to the lifts. It comprises essentially hotels and apartments which are designed to cater for the holidaymaker. The area offers stunning views over to Mont Blanc and quick access to skiing, but the downside is the short drive to the centre of St Gervais.
I for you after views of Mont Blanc, then St Nicolas and the Bettex side are the best locations and benefit from morning sun.
Les Contamines is at the head of the valley and next to the nature reserve. It is a smaller village than St Gervais and tends to be much quieter out of season. One of the most desirable areas with mostly individually built chalets is La Frasse which is accessible from the centre of the village and benefits from a great sunny exposition. The other distinct spot is Le Lay, which has a grouping of holiday apartments right by the lifts.