2021 Edition: The Trail Runner’s Underground Guide to Chamonix

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Home to hundreds of kilometers of single track trails, vertiginous climbs, cozy mountain huts, and Europe’s premier trail races, Chamonix, France really is the world’s trail running capital.

But, what to do when you’re in town? Run the Alps polled our guides, staff, and other trail running friends in the valley to assemble this useful guide.

Where’s the best little-known trail run? Where’s the perfect spot to grab a healthy lunch? Where’s the place to escape the chaos of town for an afternoon? Here are a few ideas to get you started – a number of which are just a little off the beaten path. We hope it keeps you happy, healthy, and fully caffeinated during your time visiting our home base. Enjoy – and drop us a note or comment below if you have suggestions or updates for us– and while you’re wandering around town, check out our reviews of our favorite cafes in Chamonix!

Trail running along the Bossons Glacier, above Chalets des Pyramides and on the path to La Jonction. (Details below.) Chamonix, France. (Photo: PatitucciPhoto.)

But, where to run?

With hundreds of kilometers of trails in the Chamonix valley, it’s hard to know where to start. Problem solved– Run the Alps has curated a half dozen of our favorite, classic trail runs in the Chamonix valley, with our friends at FATMAP. The High Trail Runs of Chamonix is a public online guidebook complete with FATMAP’s beautiful mapping and advanced tools. Plus, the maps can be downloaded for online use. Check it out!

Trail running. Looking down to Chamonix from Tete aux Vent (Photo: Sam Hill)
Trail running on the Balcon Sud, one of the runs listed in Run the Alps’ FATMAP guide. (Photo: Sam Hill)

The Hub Chamonix: Trail runner digs 

If you’re a trail runner, The Hub Chamonix is the place to book a night. Okay, we’re very biased– Run the Alps is a partner in The Hub, and we use it for our self-guided guests who are looking to get to know the Chamonix trail running scene. What is it? Simple: a deluxe chalet located in a quiet neighborhood a 15-minute walk from Chamonix Sud. There are private rooms, a shared bunk space, large communal area– and outside is a large, secluded yard and (yes!) a hot tub.

People hanging out in large chalet living room.
Life at the The Hub Chamonix, post-run. (Courtesy Photo, The Hub Chamonix.)

The Hub Chamonix is overseen by two Community Managers who are both trail runners themselves. You’ll meet casual trail runners, pro athletes, and folks in the business of trail running. At the Hub, there’s gear from The North Face and Salomon to try out, equipment to borrow, and plenty of good ideas from the Community Managers and other trail runners passing through. In short, it’s a great place to get inspiration, information, rest and have a little fun while you’re trail running around the Chamonix valley.

Oh! And if you’re looking for some cool gear to wear, The Hub Chamonix offers a selection from Salomon athlete Martina Valmassoi’s Insane Inside caps, and the latest shirts, caps, socks and buffs from Run the Alps.

Passing through The Hub Chamonix, you’ll meet casual trail runners, pro athletes, and folks in the business of trail running. At The Hub, there’s gear from The North Face and Salomon to try out, other equipment to borrow, and plenty of good ideas from the Community Managers about where to run!

Escape from it all – right in town!
Getting a little overwhelmed by Chamonix’s sometimes hyper social scene? Just a minute above the St. Michel church are the Japanese Gardens, known as Les Jardins de Fujiyoshida. The quiet, well-maintained space is just 100 meters from the tourist office, but no one will find you. Head to the Tairraz Crystal Museum and you’re there. Bring a book!

Body repairs
Need a nagging hamstring or achilles worked on? Neil and the gang at La Clinique du Sport can help. Many of them are trail runners, too – Neil has run UTMB, and most of the other folks regularly drop into trail races around the region. Everyone there is active in one form or another!

Contemplating the next vert over café au lait at L’Atelier in Chamonix, France. (Photo: Kim Strom.)

Best people-watching location
That’s easy in Chamonix, but here’s our pick: L’Atelier Cafe. Hang out and watch the scene go by. There’s free wifi, and a really nice staff. (Say hi to Yohann for us!)

Need a Sports Massage?
Run the Alps works directly with two great people in town, Fran Waes and Scott Cornish. Both are certified, well-trained, and highly regarded to help you deal with aches and pains before or after that long run or race. You can contact Fran at +33 610 73 83 34 and Scott at +33 754 15 66 86. (Psst: Fran and Scott will offer discounts if you mention Run the Alps.)

Best beer in town
Head to Big Mountain Bar on Avenue Ravanel le Rouge. This excellent craft beer bar offers 12 beers on tap, eight of which are brewed by Big Mountain in the valley, plus a huge selection of other drinks. You can also get tasty platters, salads and pizzas if you’re in need of a quick bite.

Best tarts in town
You’ll need to run up 1100 meters to Refuge du Plan de l’Aiguille. But it’s worth it. Claude and his crew make a variety of pies fresh every day – apple, apricot, raspberry, blueberry, lemon, cherry, among others. While you’re there, say hi to their playful dog Belle for us. If you’re running, consider using the Vallée du Trail app and time yourself on Chamonix’s DIY race route.

Run the Alps’ Doug Mayer paying for some fresh ‘tartes myrtilles’, while one of the staff members at Refuge du Plan de l’Aiguille takes it (very) easy. (Photo: Jordan Carey.)

Quietest trail run
Escape from the crowds by running to Refuge Möede Antherne via the Brévent lift, or take the train to Le Buet and run via Col de Salenton. (Take in the 360-degree view from the summit of Le Buet, as an out and back, if weather permits.) Run down to Servoz after, and take the SNCF valley train back to town.

Best way to get around without a car
Here’s a secret: hitchhiking is really easy in the valley. There’s a good vibe in Chamonix valley that extends to getting rides when in need, too. (Proof: Run the Alps’ Doug Mayer was picked up within a few minutes this winter… by Chamonix Mayor Eric Fournier!) P.S. In French, it’s called “Faire Le Stop”.

Trail running beta
Check out the town’s trail running site, Vallée du Trail. There’s links to area races, suggested running routes, and updates on conditions. Run the Alps and FATMAP have also produced a small, free booklet listing popular trail runs around town. Copies are available at The Hub Chamonix, and often at Moody Coffee Roaster. Want a book? Grab Trail Running Chamonix and the Mont Blanc Region at any one of a number of locations in town.

Ian takes his roasting and brewing seriously. And it shows. (Photo: Doug Mayer.)

Must-have cup of coffee
Chamonix has no shortage of comfy cafes. But our very favorite spot in town is Moody: it’s got the best coffee around and delicious treats, and Ian and Georgina are always friendly, even on the busiest of days. It’s a cozy joint, which means seating is sometimes full, but you can always grab a cup to-go or hang out in the courtyard outside.

Our very favorite coffee spot in town is Moody: It’s got the best coffee around and delicious treats, and Ian and Georgina are always friendly, even on the busiest of days.

Best cafe to quietly work
Head to Galerie Café des Aiguilles on Rue des Moulins. There’s great food and coffee, beautiful art that changes every few months, and – always a priority these days – good wifi.

Join a run
Many of the shops in town offer free trail runs with their ambassadors. Run with Patagonia ambassador Chloë Lanthier or join a run with The North Face, Peak Performance, Arcteryx or others. Just drop into their stores and ask! The energetic Jana Gibalova organizes runs each week through Wild Trail Chamonix at no cost. It’s a great group and you’ll meet local runners and get more great insider information!

Best picnic spot
Spend the afternoon lounging in the sun and watching the paragliders land on Savoy field, the grassy meadow at the bottom of the Savoy Ski slope between Rue Joseph Vallot and Rue Mummery. On the way over, make sure to grab salads, wraps, or bowls from our favorite healthy lunch spot, Hibou Deli. (See below!)

Ela
When you’ve had enough fondu and raclette, head to the tiny Ela, where the hard-working staff churn out enormous quantities of super-healthy salads, wraps and more. (We recommend the falafel wrap!)

Get in some cross-training or a rainy-day workout
The Centre Sportif, just out of town towards Les Praz and not far from the market square called Place du Mont Blanc, is excellent value. There are indoor and outdoor pools (including a great water slide!), a weight room with treadmills and bikes, plus a sauna and steam room. Great for a rainy day when you want to burn some calories or a non-impact recovery session. Since the start of the COVID pandemic, regulations vary at the Centre Sportif, with the climbing wall closed, outdoor swimming closed, but most other facilities open on a limited basis. Please check with the Centre Sportif for up-to-date news.

In need of speed?
The Centre Sportif also has a high quality athletics track, which is open for public use. Get in a quick speed session or finish your long run there with some strides. Just don’t be confused if your splits are a little quicker than usual – the track is only 300 meters.

The view from Aiguillette des Posettes. Is the Mont Blanc Marathon the most beautiful trail marathon in the world? (Photo: Gaetan Haugeard, courtesy of Mont Blanc Marathon/ Chamonix Club des Sports.)

Best little-known climb
Runners love to head straight up the famed “Kilomètre Vertical” when they get to Chamonix (and don’t get us wrong – we love the VK and are on it all the time!), but there are so many more trails to check out. Want a similar climb with far fewer people? Just a short bus or train ride to Montroc, you can climb the Aiguillette des Posettes. It’s steep in places, but has great footing, and the view at the top of the whole valley is stunning. Oh, and the Mont Blanc Marathon comes down this way, before its final climb to Flégère and Planpraz.

Best burgers in town
Everyone loves Poco Loco for its crazy ambiance– Chamonix’s smallest hole in the wall is so narrow, sometimes you wonder if it makes more sense to climb out of the second story window when it’s time to leave. But for the best burgers, our choice is Maison du Burger, on Rue du Docteur Paccard.  You’ll be overwhelmed by the menu choices, but you can relax and think about the options from their chairlift seats out front.

Best fine-dining splurge
For great local Savoyard cuisine, try La Calèche, or for something a bit more modern and intriguing, head to Run the Alps staff favorite, Bizes— a wonderfully cool restaurant in a quiet spot in town along the Arve river, with food prepared in a Josper oven.

Amusement Park Distraction
Got a kid… or a kid inside? Get your mind off of race week for a few hours at the Parc d’Attractions, Chamonix’s small amusement part just across from the Train du Montenvers Mer de Glace. Did someone say summer luge?!

There are plenty of other options, but Chamonix’s Vertical Kilometer is still pretty cool! (Photo: Doug Mayer.)

Best local ridge-line run
For a sweet high altitude ridge line run without hammering your quads with vertical, head on bus or train to Les Houches. Take the Bellevue lift up and coast along the ridge to the Prarion summit and back for several kms of smooth, quick terrain with stellar views.

Free museum entry
For a low-key afternoon, head up to the Col des Montets, the pass linking the Chamonix Valley and the Swiss Valais region. Grab a coffee in the Aiguilles Rouges chalet café and check out their botanical museum where you can learn about the local Alps flora and fauna – free of charge!

Must-see hotel
Take the train from Chamonix to Le Buet and explore the trail network around the Vallée Bérard. There’s a sweet trail (with plenty of opportunities for blueberry picking!) from the train station to the Refuge Pierre a Bérard, where you can enjoy a cup of coffee and a cake. On the way back, stop for a drink at Hotel Buet, an eccentric establishment that has been in the hands of the Chamel Family for over 130 years.

Little-bit-of-everything trail run
For a bit of everything you’d imagine an epic trail run to be – exposure, mini technical bits, views, undulating balcony, away from the crowds – check out Sentier des Gardes route right above Chamonix.

Best down home eatery
For delicious, satisfying, unpretentious dining, look no further than Bighorn Bistro and Bakery. They offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner with classic American dining that feels reminiscent of ski lodges you’d find in Big Sky or Jackson Hole. For US visitors, it’s a little piece of home on your European trail adventure in Chamonix!

Craft team runner David Laney takes in the view of Chamonix valley. (Photo: Robbie Britton.)

Best proper English breakfast
Refuel after a big morning on the mountain with options for a full English breakfast, burritos, smoothies, muffins, and cakes for a decent price at the Blue Bird Cafe in Chamonix Sud. Enjoy your food while listening to an eclectic music selection – including a lot of David Bowie. It’s easy to spot: located opposite the Aiguille du Midi Lift station.

Best trendy eatery
When it comes to trendy food and drink in Chamonix, look no further than Caphorn Restaurant and the adjacent Bar du Moulin. Tucked away right next to the river, both venues offer a stunning view of the Mont Blanc glacier with top-tier Asian-French inspired plates and cocktails in a kitsch-y atmosphere.

Best Glacier Viewpoint
Hike or run up, and then up some more, to La Jonction. It’s the meeting point of the Bossons and Tacconaz glaciers, and is a remarkable, wild-feeling location high on Mont Blanc. On the way up or down, drop by the little Chalet des Pyramides refuge for a drink, or lunch.

The best glacier viewpoint? Hike or run up to La Jonction. It’s the meeting point of the Bossons and Tacconaz glaciers in a remarkable, wild-feeling location high on Mont Blanc.

Escape the buzz of Chamonix in Saint Gervais
Chamonix’s quiet neighbor, and the town that actually owns Mont Blanc, Saint Gervais should be on every trail-runner’s must-see list. Some describe it as the town Chamonix used to be 50 years ago – it has a very French heart at its center, with a charming main square buzzing with cozy cafes and restaurants. It also has a strong trail-running culture – it’s the second major stop on the UTMB!

And while you’re in Saint Gervais…
Make sure to check out Ferme de Cupelin, a charming converted farmhouse hotel, and one of the best restaurants around. The owners, Olivia and Romain, put on an incredible standard of cuisine that’s served in the cozy hillside dining room overlooking Saint Gervais and Mont Blanc. The food is delicate, flavorsome and clearly pushing for a Michelin star.

A few miscellaneous trail running tips
Some of the best running in Chamonix – is a bit outside of town, farther afield in the Chamonix valley! Get away from the crowds and check out the trails around Servoz, or plan a route back to Chamonix via Flatière or Brévent. Up in Le Tour and Montroc, run the Peclerey loop above the historic Le Planet residence, or the quiet trails on the side of the Aiguilette des Possettes. If the weather is bad, head to the Petit Balcon Sud or Petit Balcon Nord, both sheltered in the forest. There are loops of a variety of distances you can do under the cover of the trees. Don’t forget you can run point-to-point and get the train back to Chamonix from down the valley – or even over in Switzerland!

… And when you are running
Here’s our secret to trail running in Chamonix: We never run. At least, never uphill. Take solace in the fact that you can hit a sub 1-hour Vertical Kilomètre with determined hiking!

Special thanks to our contributors: Alister Bignell, Robbie Britton, Simon Conroy, Jen Dickinson, Emily Geldard, Misha Gopaul from Fatmap, Simon James of Run the Wild, Julia Maxwell, Doug Mayer, Charley Radcliffe of The North Face/Chamonix, the crew at The Hub Chamonix, and Giles Ruck.

5 thoughts on “2021 Edition: The Trail Runner’s Underground Guide to Chamonix

  1. I just got back from Chamonix and loved it. I’m a trail runner from NZ and next year would like to run around Mont Blanc (MTB) When will your website have the 2019 dates for the guided 7 day Mont Blanc tour?
    Wish I had seen this site when there. I didn’t know anything!

    • Hi Tracy! We are accepting bookings now– drop us a note via the web site and we can give you dates for a specific trip of interest. The dates are essentially the same, adjusted just by the change in the calendar. (We start the trips on the same day of the week.) We’ll update the site right after the close of or last trip, in about ten days. Thanks for you interest, and sorry we missed you in Chamonix!

  2. Thanks so much for this article. Every question I’ve had about the area has basically been answered! Looking forward to our running holiday this late Spring.

  3. This info is so helpful! Question- do I need to plan a few days to adjust to the elevation in Chamonix? Is elevation sickness common among runners coming from other (flat) places?

    • Hi Andrea, There is no need to take time to adjust to elevation here– town is at 1,000 meters, or about 3300 feet. I actually live up in Montroc, at about 1400 meters, and it’s still not noticeable here. About the only place you’ll notice the altitude, without hitting glacier or doing technical climbing, and while staying in this region, might be the very high point of the Tour du Mont Blanc, Grand Col Ferret, which gets up to around 2,540 meters, or about 8,500 feet. But, you’re just there for a few minutes– and it’s barely noticeable for most folks.

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