Mountains loom large almost everywhere you look in Chamonix. Skiers and sightseers are launched by cable car to heights of 3842m on the Mont Blanc massif, while the glacial void of La Vallée Blanche – one of Europe's most fêted off-piste adventures – beckons to the brave. Skiers and boarders have a choice of pistes along the valley, while in summer the same lifts access hiking and biking trails.
Chamonix has a long history as a winter-sports hub. Rediscovered as a tourist destination by Brits William Windham and Richard Pococke in 1741, Chamonix hosted the first ever Winter Olympics in 1924.
For all the desolate beauty of the mountains, downtown Chamonix hums with life. Streets are lined with Michelin-starred restaurants, sports gear stores and some of the French Alps' fanciest hotels. And if you do the nightlife justice, it'll exhaust you as much as the mountains.