France

France Eiffel Tower by Tristan Nitot - WikipediaIn starting my exploration of France, I discovered that France and its worldwide territories encompass the largest economic zone in the world - with many islands and enclaves.

This expanse of land makes France rich with history, culture and amazing natural wonders.

I started my journey in the Alps region but planning to visit all the regions in the coming years.

For my readers in France and around the world, please feel free to tell me about your favorite places and your hometowns. I will be happy to post them here.

Chamonix Mon Blanc

Chamonix France - The Alps - Mon Blanc

Chamonix is the base camp for anyone wishing to explore the French Alps and the region in general. It sits at the base of Europe’s highest peak, Mon Blanc and at the intersection of France, Italy and Switzerland.

This unique location makes it a major tourist attraction with crowds swelling during the winter season and also in July and August. Read more here.

Annecy

Lake Annecy FranceWalking through the pedestrian-only streets or along the canals of this town, you get the feeling that you stepped back to medieval times. And as you follow some of the canals, you end up at a picturesque lake surrounded by mountains.

The city of Annecy started as a Roman settlement and later became home to the counts of Geneva in the 10th century. In 1400 it became home to the counts of Savoy and in 1860 it became the capital of  Haute-Savoie in France. Read more here.

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Annecy France

Annecy France by Dmitry A Mottl WikipediaWalking through the pedestrian-only streets or along the canals of this town, you get the feeling that you stepped back to medieval times. And as you follow some of the canals, you end up at a picturesque lake surrounded by mountains.

The city of Annecy started as a Roman settlement and later became home to the counts of Geneva in the 10th century. In 1400 it became home to the counts of Savoy and in 1860 it became the capital of  Haute-Savoie in France. Read more here.

Through the ages, the city’s inhabitants left their mark with huge castles and cathedrals, beautify canals and bridges and quaint medieval buildings.

Things to see and do around town

Old Town (La Vieille Ville)

Annecy France old townThe old part of Annecy straddles the Thiou River and encompasses many of the historic buildings and attractions listed below.

The Thiou River is the shortest river in Europe connecting Lake Annecy to the Fier River with beautiful cobblestone walkways and stone bridges.

All along the banks of this river and through side street into town you will find restaurants, sidewalk cafes and colorful buildings.

If you happen to be in town on Sunday, stop by the market in the morning where you can find great souvenirs and food.

Palais de l'Isle (Island Palace)

Annecy France Palais de l'Isle by Yves LC WikipediaA castle in the middle of the river. The building was used as a prison, asylum and a courthouse. It was demolished and rebuilt several times, but in 1900, the palace was classified as a historical monument, protecting from further deterioration.

Now the castle serves as an art and history museum with many engaging exhibits that tell the story of this building and the whole area.

Château d'Annecy (Castle Annecy)

Anncey France Thiou River to LakeAnother historic monument from the 12th century that serves as a museum now. After exploring the exhibits and towers, head to the courtyard (also called the terrace) for a great view of old town and the mountains.

Lake Annecy

This huge lake was formed 12,000 years ago when the Alp glaciers started to melt. It is considered the 3rd largest in France and well-known for its clean and clear waters.

The lakefront in Annecy is well maintained with Lake Annecy Francepedestrian walkways, gardens and marinas. During the summer it is a popular destination for swimming and water sports.

At any time, you can rent a boat or a paddle boat and enjoy the calm waters.

Across the lake, you can enjoy the view of green hills and mountains. If you drive around the lake you can visit several National Nature Reserves and Cascade d’Angon (waterfall).

Pont des Amours (Lovers Bridge)

Annecy Pont des Amours As you walk along the Thiou Canal toward Lake Annecy, you come across this bridge that crossed the canal as it opens into the lake.

Many lovers (and friends) cross this bridge nowadays a pose for amazing photos of the lake and the mountains in the backgrounds. But in older times, this bridge was used for love of a different kind.

Gardens of Europe

Also at the edge of the Thiou Canal as it merges into the lake, this tree-filled park as a popular destination for locals and visitors. You can enjoy a picnic, hike, bike or rent a boat.

As you walk through this peaceful park you will notice many statues commemorating historical figures like Napoleon III and some oddities like a sundial.

Outside of town

Annecy d'Angon waterfall by Mathias CombelleCascade d’Angon (Hike and Waterfall)

About 30 minutes away from Annecy you can find this nice hike through the wood towards the d’Angon waterfall.

Along the way, you will come across an amazing view of Lake Annecy from atop a hill. Way down you can gaze at the calm expanse of water and find a castle on a small island.

The hike is easy to moderate with some rough spots. As you walk to the fall you will cross several streams over wooden bridges.

Once you get to the waterfall, you can walk behind it through a protected path.

Roc de Chère National Nature Reserve

Annecy - Roc de Chère - by Semnoz - WikipediaThis is a great place to spend a day hiking or picnicking with the family. It has many trails with varying difficulty. Some are too steep and slippery, so be careful.

The trails are mostly shaded with many viewpoints along the trails and an excellent view of the lake at the summit.

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Chamonix Mon Blanc – France

Chamonix France - The Alps - Mon BlancBack when I was a teenager, my family embarked on an epic road trip from Kuwait to Spain and back. Every step of the way was a challenge and an adventure, but the highlight of the trip was passing through the French Alps. We entered the Mon-Blanc tunnel with sunny skies and warm weather on the Italian side and existed to gloomy weather and snow-covered slopes on the French side.

Fast-forward several decades and I am back to this beautiful region of France to spend a full week exploring and experiencing the Alps.

Chamonix Mon Blanc

Chamonix France - TownChamonix is the base camp for anyone wishing to explore the French Alps and the region in general. It sits at the base of Europe’s highest peak, Mon Blanc and at the intersection of France, Italy and Switzerland.

This unique location makes it a major tourist attraction with crowds swelling during the winter season and also in July and August.

Tip: Chamonix also describes the whole valley under the slopes of Mon Blanc, so if you are booking a trip this town be very specific about the name.

During other months of the year, this becomes a sleepy town with fewer crowds and fewer activities, but it is still worth a visit.

I arrived in October so I experienced the town in a more leisurely fashion. I was still able to find things to do without having to fight the crowds.

Mon Blanc Massif

Chamonix France - View from Aiguille du Midi Cable Car You can see those majestic snow-covered peaks from many places in town. At a height of 15,777 ft, it is considered that highest in the Alps and the highest west of Russia’s Caucasus.

Chamonix is at an elevation of 3,396 ft, so the mountain towers above town for an additional 12,000 ft. That makes for a breathtaking view. But to really experience this awesome beauty, you must climb to the top.

Tip: Most shops and restaurants close from noon to 3 PM. If you don’t plan your lunch ahead, you may go hungry for several hours. Some ethnic restaurants like Turkish or Chinese remain open.

During the winter months, skiers take the cable cars to reach the best ski slopes. The same lifts take hikers to some challenging trails during the summer.

Aiguille du Midi Cable Car

This cable car takes the rider to a height of 12392 ft in 20 minutes. The elevation is so high Chamonix France - Aiguille du Midi Cable Car - Paraglidingthat even in summer the temps might be below freezing at the top.

There is a stop mid-way with great views of Chamonix down below, hiking trails and a plateau used to launch Paragliders. Once launched, the gliders can hover for a long time riding the currents like hawks.

Those thrill seekers carry their parasails in large bags in the cable car. It can get very crowded in the cabin.

Tip: The cars go up every 15 minutes. If you happen to be going up with a large group if paragliders, wait for the next car.

After this mid-way stop, you can continue on to the top platform riding the second longest single vertical span in the world.

As you climb, air pressure and temperature are dropping. You better have your winter clothes with you.

Tip: Sunglasses or ski glasses are highly recommended due to the snow glare and the high UV levels.

At the top, you can enjoy the views from the protection of the building or you can use a tunnel to venture out onto an ice ridge heading towards a glacier.

If you dare, you can walk into the Glass Skywalk called “Step into the Void”. It is a thrill to feel suspended above the snow-covered slopes. It is the closest thing to flying but without the risk.

Strolling through town

Chamonix France - TownChamonix managed to retain the charm of an old French town in spite of the great tourist influx. During our visit, we parked at the “Aiguille du Midi Cable Car” and walked down “Avenue De l’Aiguille du Midi” over a bridge and right on to “Rue du Docteur Paccard”. It is a pedestrian-only stretch with many shops, restaurants and beautiful buildings.

Along the way you can find some good places to grab some souvenirs, dine at a French café or bakery, or visit a sporting goods store to buy items you forgot to pack.

Tip: Most places you want to visit in Chamonix are a short walk from the town center, but if you are tired or not near the town center, you can hop on the free shuttles “Le Mulet” serving the town center. The minibusses pass by every 10 to 15 minutes and circle around downtown.

During your stroll, you can visit the Alpine Museum to learn about the history of the valley and skiing. Or for a more intriguing exhibit, go to the Museum of Mer de Glass to see ice sculptures that get recreated every year.

For some live music, public events or just people watching, head to the town square “Place Balmat”. This is also close to the Chamonix casino, the post office and a movie theater.

If you need additional information about the Chamonix valley, visit the tourist office, which located close to the town square “Place Balmat” or go to the Chamonix website here.

Mer de Glace

If you ever wanted to explore a glacier and an ice cave, this one is easy to get to from Chamonix France - The Alps - Mer De Glace - Glacier - from WikipediaChamonix. Just ride the Montenvers Railway “Chemin de fer du Montenvers” from Chamonix to the glacier.

The train climbs up from Chamonix to Montenvers passing through several bridges and tunnels. Along the way you can enjoy beautiful forest and mountain views.

When you reach Montenvers you will ride a cable car to the glacier. But if you want to see the ice cave, you will need to climb down 415 steps. It is worth the effort but might be too much for young children or the elderly.

Other attractions in Chamonix

Paragliding: Even if you don’t have any experience, you can go Paragliding with an expert. Several outfitters offer tandem flights over Chamonix.

Amusement Park “Parc de loisirs de Chamonix”: Spend some time with the family trying the fun rides. The luge ride is very popular with young and old.

Chamonix Casino: If you are really dying to waste some money while in the Alps, then go to this small Casino. It has some older slot machines and the elegant architecture is worth a look.

Hiking: When the snows recede, the ski lifts become hiker’s lifts. Take one of those cable cars to the top of the mountain and explore the many hiking trails. For more info about hiking trails in the valley and the mountains go to this interactive guide where you can pick the difficulty, points of interest and length of hikes.

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