Mont Blanc, beautiful giant of France

Mont Blanc, beautiful giant of France
The majestic Mont Blanc (above) attracts not only sightseers but also daredevils who ski down its snow-covered slopes.
PHOTO: Asnah Ahmad

While many travellers are familiar with the Swiss Alps and peaks such as the Jungfrau and the Matterhorn, few non-climbers have the majestic-but-overshadowed French counterpart on their bucket list.

Mont Blanc, which translates to "white mountain", is the highest peak in western Europe.

The summit, at 4,810m, is covered in snow and ice all year round. It is popular among mountaineers, who are challenged to conquer it.

An average of 20,000 people climb the mountain each year.

You can make your way to Mont Blanc from France, Switzerland or Italy.

I chose the route from Geneva, and it took me just a bus ride across the border.

Mont Blanc is accessible from the famous ski resort of Chamonix, a picturesque little town with historic churches and charming, understated inns.

From here, all you have to do is look up and you can see the beautiful rocky giant. Regardless of where you stand, once you enter the valley, its white peak will immediately catch your eye.

The best time to go depends on what you hope to do.

The summer months (between mid-June and September) are the best times to go trekking and climbing, given the low probability of rain.

October and November are not great for hiking as daylight is short, and the weather gets more unpredictable.

Even if you are not a serious climber and don't want to scale Mont Blanc, the French Alps offer numerous opportunities to enjoy your day in the clouds.

You can hike through its natural parks, admire the beautiful lakes or visit the thermal baths for some much-needed warmth.

The gateway to Mont Blanc is via the Aiguille du Midi cable car ride.

At 3,842m, it is the closest you can get to the summit of Mont Blanc without hiking or climbing.

The cable cars are not just for skiers to make their first ascent. Many tourists take the 20-minute ride up the mountain just to marvel at the landscape and mountain view.

The cable cars, introduced more than half a century ago, are spacious and can accommodate quite a few people at any one time.

As Mont Blanc overlooks the French, Swiss and Italian Alps, the view on the way up is nothing short of spectacular.

On a clear summer day, you can even spot climbers making their way down from the summit.

Once you reach the disembarkation point, you can celebrate your arrival at the aptly-named Le 3842 Restaurant, the highest dining experience in Europe.

From there, make your way to the open terraces to get an exceptional 360-degree view of the alps.

A lift takes you to the summit terrace, where you will have a clear view of the majestic Mont Blanc.

If you are brave enough, you can "step into the void", enter a room where three of the walls, the floor and ceiling are glass.

It juts out from the uppermost terrace to give visitors that feeling of being suspended in the clouds.

LAKE VIEW

The Mont Blanc area also has numerous lakes at altitudes between 2,000m and 2,500m. If you go walking around them, seeing the reflection of the mountains in the crystal-clear water makes the pain from your aching feet worthwhile.

There is also a tour of the Grotte de Glace, or the ice cave.

You need to sign up for this as only certified guides can take you, to the very heart of the glacier where the ice is re-sculpted every year.

Access to the ice cave is either on foot for 20 minutes or by a gondola lift - walking shoes are highly recommended.

Part of the tour includes an exhibition at the Montenvers Mer de Glace, where the evolution of the glaciers over the centuries is explained in detail.

Your tour ends with a viewing at The Temple, where you embark on a visual trip to the past.

The complete tour, including the ice cave and travelling time, takes two to three hours - which can easily double during peak periods.

tnp@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on April 7, 2017.
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