Chamonix with Kids: I know my blog is technically about the Gal Pals headed to Paris and France, but several of my pals are taking upcoming trips to France with children and it made me nostalgic about the trip to Paris and Chamonix/Les Houches/Argentiere with my own two boys. Just have to share the story…
The plan: Head to France with a couple of energetic boys and my husband to meet up with the awesome Genest family who have four amazing, adorable, energetic boys of their own. The Genest’s are French so they took care of renting the house in Les Houches which is near Chamonix. The Genest’s also had some friends with kids who would be in the house with us. If memory serves correctly, I believe we were 19 total! Gal Pal Marie-Charlotte can verify and chime in on that number – and I sadly can’t remember the exact names of the places we did activities at so perhaps she can comment on those below and provide details for my readers!
We took the train from Paris to Chamonix and rented a car and made our way quite easily to Les Houches where the Genest family was happily awaiting our arrival! The car was the size of a Mini Cooper and was the largest on the lot so my advice to you is to pack light. We had a washer/dryer in the house so I could have taken way less and been okay. The house was in the valley of the Alps near the famous Mont Blanc. Breathtaking views, charming village, great local people and easy access to plenty of kid friendly activities made this the perfect home away from home for our group.
You can rent a house and car in this area very reasonably; just be aware that the houses are more rustic without too many amenities. However, what it lacked in modern conveniences, it made up for in location and charm! It was really a good experience for our children (and us) to be in a more modest place where there were no showers, just bathtubs and hot water was in short supply. Run the dishwasher and no one showers for a while. 19 people simply would not, could not expect to get clean all at once with warm water – even here in the US at my house! The house was perfect for our large group – indoor ping pong table, nice green space for outdoor grilling and plenty of nice comfortable beds for the whole gang.
Close by Les Houches was a rappelling center where we took the kids on some zip line trails. There was a restriction on heights – so the little ones could not do this, but close by there was also an Alpine slide to keep them entertained.
Trekking trails were plentiful and clearly marked for people who were not familiar with the area. All ages in our group were able to go on the trails and enjoy the incredible views of Mont Blanc. One word of caution for American’s travelling with children to do these types of excursions – we are used to the “liability factor” where signs point to all parts of real or possible danger and hire people to monitor the attractions for safety purposes. France is much more liberal about letting people make their own way – makes for a refreshing way to explore, but please make sure that your kids are right with you at all times. My oldest son, who is quite an adventurer and risk taker, almost went off a cliff right in front of us since there were no barriers blocking this free fall. Literally it took years off my husband and my life!
In Chamonix, there are great places to see and things to do. It’s very beautiful and reminds you of a Swiss village with an emphasis on German architecture. Since Chamonix was home to the 1924 Winter Olympics you will find historical references everywhere. The poster art from that particular Olympic year is very famous and collectors of these pieces will be overjoyed at seeing these around town. There are charming hotels and B&B’s in the heart of Chamonix, if you want a “sure thing” and I recommend using any hotel in the Best Western chain as they are locally run and usually very American friendly!
I wish I could remember the name of the church Pascal took us to high up into the mountains. It was part of a monastery and the mass we attended involved parking down below it and hiking up to the breathtaking views from both inside and outside the church. Mass seemed so much more spiritual delivered in French with the incense burning and the huge glass windows that displayed the magnificent majesty of the French Alps right in front of you. God truly does love France and I do too!
Alas, it was time to say good-bye to our new and old French friends and head back to Paris via train. When we arrived at the Hotel Belloy, our boys (who back then hated to shower – found them unnecessary and a waste of time) jumped into the shower readily and had to be pulled out after several minutes. Proving that we take the little things for granted in life, something as simple as a stand up shower with unlimited hot water, was one of the highlights of Paris for the boys. Just kidding – it was the ferris wheel and the Hall of Paintings in the Louvre!