Chamonix

View From Aiguille du Midi

Why Did We Go?

A one-day break between arriving in Geneva and departing on a four-day bus trip around southern Switzerland gave us an opportunity to go somewhere outside the city.  We considered staying in Geneva and seeing the sights, but between the first afternoon, and the bus trip, these were mostly covered.  There are several trips available, but we chose Chamonix, as the town seemed to have the most to offer.  Fantastic mountain views, cable car rides, cog railway, glacier and ice cave grotto.  Of course, there was the town itself.

How Did We Get There?

We opted to take a bus, as other means of transport were not available to us.  If you wanted, car hire and drive would give you more flexibility, especially if you had more time and wanted to explore more.  We only had the one day between arriving and leaving on a four-day trip around Switzerland.

Chamonix Tour
Chamonix Tour

The Bus Trip

The 90-minute trip is quite scenic and passes through some lovely countryside.  Unfortunately, the trip does not have the time for photo stops.  If you want these, drive yourself.  The guide was quite entertaining and provided some useful advice, on both Chamonix and Geneva.  Apart from the journey there and back and the first cable car ride, we had very little interaction with the other passengers.  There was a lunch option available and if you chose that you would see other guests, but we decided to explore and find our own lunch.

Aiguille du Midi

The first activity when we arrived was the cable car to the summit of the Aiguille du Midi.  Tickets were organised by the guide.  All available room is used in the cable car.  If you like your personal space, there was none here.  If you wanted to take photos on the way up, only the lucky few next to the windows stood a chance.  But don’t worry, the views from the summit are better.

View From Aiguille du Midi
View From Aiguille du Midi
View From Aiguille du Midi
View From Aiguille du Midi

Once you leave the cable car, you get to experience the fantastic views and the cold.  We were please we brought winter jackets. Even though it was mid-summer, there was still snow on the ground up here.  There are protected walkways around the outside, which give some great views.  There are also some sections of exposed walkway, memorably the bridge over a chasm. Higher up, there are exposed platforms providing 360-degree views, if the weather is good.  On the day we visited, the weather closed in, so our views were mostly clouds.External Covered Walkways Aiguille du MidiExternal Covered Walkways Aiguille du Midi

Bridge at Aiguille du Midi
Bridge at Aiguille du Midi

Part of the experience is climbing several staircases.  This allows you to experience the lack of oxygen at this altitude.  There are some signs and displays explaining this.  It is surprising how light-headed you get after on a few flights of stairs.

Montenvers

To get to Montenvers, you board a cute little cog-train at the local station.  The trip up is very scenic and there are plenty of views for some photos.  At the top, there is a café and restaurant if you want a snack.

Montenvers Cog Railway
Montenvers Cog Railway

We walked a bit further along to get some views of the Mer De Glace and then took the 400-step pathway to the bottom.  This many steps sounds a lot, but there are many places to stop to catch your breath and unless you are super fit, everyone stopped regularly, particularly on the way back up.

At the bottom, is a carved ice grotto, which is amazing and make the whole  climb worth the effort.  Inside are many ice sculptures and the whole scene is  lit with blue light.  All very surreal.

Montenvers Ice Grotto
Montenvers Ice Grotto

Chamonix

Between our two activities, we had very little time to explore the village.  There were many places to eat, and we grabbed a snack at one, and some drinks at a pub before we departed.  But really, we were not there for the village, mainly to see mountains and a glacier.

What Did We Think?

Having our own transport might have enabled us to stop along the way and take in the scenery of the Arve Valley a little better, but the bus made everything convenient.  We were taken to our destination and dropped back to central Geneva, with no fuss.

The views ae spectacular and the Ice Grotto memorable.  Even with the super-squishy cable car, it was a fantastic day.

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Champagne Region

Vineyards in the Champagne District

Why Did We Go?

We knew very little about the Champagne Region, or the history and making of Champagne. We thought a small bus trip, with a limited number of passengers and a dedicated driver-guide would be a great option. We were not disappointed. The other four passengers were great company and we all got along well. The driver was excellent and kept us entertained with commentary, while not over doing it as some are prone to do.

The Bus Trip

We were picked up at our hotel at 7am, which was very convenient. The drive to Rheims took about ninety minutes through some very scenic countryside. Arriving early in Rheims, we went straight to the Cathedral Notre Dame.

Champagne Region Tour
Champagne Region Tour

Rheims.

The front of the Rheims Notre Dame Cathedral was undergoing restoration work when we arrived. This is always disappointing for a visitor, but necessary for the long-term preservation of great monuments. The interior was magnificent as expected and we spent an hour looking around and the rose stained-glass windows are worth the visit themselves.

Rheims Notre-Dame Cathedral
Rheims Notre-Dame Cathedral
Rose Stained Glass Windows in Notre Dame Cathedral
Rose Stained Glass Windows in Notre Dame Cathedral
Rose Stained Glass Windows in Notre Dame Cathedral
Rose Stained Glass Windows in Notre Dame Cathedral

Moet Chandon

From Rheims we drove 30 minutes to Epernay to see the Moet Chandon cellars. The tour through the cellars was amazing. The sheer volume of champagne here is amazing. The guide took us on a walk through the underground cellars explain the champagne process as we went.
On finishing the tour, we were given a glass each to sample, along with the opportunity to buy more from the gift shop, along with a range of other branded souvenirs. After this, we had lunch, which was provided by the tour company, before driving to one of Moet-Chandon’s vineyards to see the vines.

Don Perignon Statue at Moet-Chandon
Don Perignon Statue at Moet-Chandon
Vineyards in the Champagne District
Vineyards in the Champagne District

Avernay Val D’Or

As a contrast to the huge production at Moet-Chandon, we drove to Maison Gabriel Pagin Fils Estate 15 minutes’ drive away in Avernay Val D’Or. This is a small family operation. The tasting here was a much more informal affair, although still as tasty. The contrast was even more apparent when we saw the storage cellar and production rooms. It was several times smaller, but all the more impressive, because of the family connections that still run the business and harvest grapes from their own vineyards.

Chatillon Sur Marne

Our final stop for the day was thirty minutes away in Chatillon Sur Marne. Here we saw C Michalet Champagne. This was a total contrast to the previous two operations. The tasting was done in the owner’s house, around a small intimate table. Absolutely fabulous. The champagne was excellent and the hospitality first-rate. This was the high-light of the day’s tours.

As an excellent aside from the tasting, while the owners were setting up we wandered around the town and found a huge statue of Pope Urban II staring out over the Marne River. We also looked over the local Notre Dame church. The church was very nice, especially considering it’s not on the tourist trail and a working church with a local congregation.

Pope Urban II Statue in Chatillon Sur Marne
Pope Urban II Statue in Chatillon Sur Marne

What Did We Think?

The whole day was an excellent experience, from the guide, the other passengers and everywhere we visited. From the magnificence of Rheims Cathedral, to the Avernay Val D’Or church and Moet-Chandon to C Michalet, we had a great day. Taking a guided small party bus tour was a great idea. We were taken to places promptly, without having to worry about driving and could sample the champagne, without having to worry about consuming too much.