FRANCE: Chamonix – Mont Blanc
“Have you ever thrown a fistful of glitter in the air.” PINK
I am sitting at my window in Chamonix in the French Alps looking out over mountains taller than I could ever imagine mountains being. I have to bend sideways in my chair if I want to see their snow covered peaks lit up by the early morning light. My room in our cosy, ski chalet just above the village looks out over a scene that it is so beautiful it takes my breath away. I wonder what I have done to deserve such good fortune.
Often I spend my holidays by the sea, or preferably in the sea or under the sea. When I decided to come to France it was in part because I wanted to see awe-inspiring drop dead gorgeous mountains.
Eating fine French food, of course, was also high on my list of priorities.
But the truth is I actually had no expectations of France and, I imagine, she had few expectations of me.
Waking up this morning to the 5th day of Insight Tours’ Country Roads of France I have to say that every meal, indeed every morsel that has passed my lips so far, has been truly memorable.
Take last night’s dinner at a beautiful restaurant high in the mountains for example. We started with a glass of strawberry sparkling wine before a roaring open fire. For dinner I chose hearty traditional French Onion Soup. This was followed by tiny, thin pieces of meat cooked on a stone at the table and then the most perfect crème brulee – the caramelized top so delicate it melted on my tongue.
It was the perfect end to a day I will never forget. We arrived in Chamonix, close to the borders of Italy and Switzerland, around lunchtime. A bunch of us decided to ride the cable car to the summit of Aiguille du Midi which stands at 3842 metres or 12,602 feet.
There was no time to waste. After days of rain the sun was shining.
We knew that from the summit it is possible to see Mont Blanc, the grand-daddy of the Alps, right there in front of you. We also knew that today wasn’t going to be that day. The summit was wreathed in fog – but there is always hope that the fog, being fog, will suddenly lift and present you with a miracle.
This time it didn’t. But that didn’t matter because the ride itself was so spectacular. The photographs I took on that journey would not be out of place in National Geographic. It seemed wrong that so much beauty could be accessed with so little effort.
Environmentalist Edward Abbey was of the belief that in order to show our reverence for the beautiful, wild places of this world we should enter them on our knees. It was with that same same sense of awe that I approached these peaks.
There was more deep, perfectly smooth white snow on the mountain than I had ever seen in my life. Snow covered firs marched up the lower slopes then dropped away, replaced by jagged black rocks – we were well above the tree line and still we continued to climb. The incline was so steep we had to change cable cars at the halfway point, then make the final push for the summit on an elevator.
Even at the halfway point the altitude took its toll. I found my hands shaking, the ground seemed to shift under my feet, I was dizzy, and each breath hurt like the devil. How mountain climbers keep going under these conditions is a mystery. They have my admiration and respect.
After about 30 minutes we were at the summit looking at a blank white canvas. Occasionally a jagged peak would materialize from nowhere and then seconds later disappear back to wherever it came from. It was so quiet and still. A small black fluffed-up bird with a bright yellow beak observed us curiously.
As we stood at the top of the world it started to snow. But not snow like I have ever seen. The air was so dry at this altitude the tiny snowflakes fell as glitter all around us – the sun catching them and turning them to sparkling gold.
It was one of the most magical experiences of my life – and one that will stay with me always. My heart knows it was worth the journey to France just for that moment.