I got an opportunity to visit Geneva for week in early September 2001 when my employer nominated me to attend the a five-day executive programme on Modern Fixed Income Securities Market conducted by International Centre for Financial Asset Management and Engineering (FAME). Since the programme was from Monday to Friday and I had a Sunday afternoon flight to Frankfurt, I was left with only one day (Saturday) to go for a sightseeing tour around Geneva. Being interested in mountains, I chose a day tour to Chamonix-Mont Blanc among other day trips. I booked the tour with Key Tours@ CF 88, the cost of Geneva-Chamonix-Geneva bus journey.
The place where executive programme was held
Since the Executive Programme was being held in an one story house located inside Parc Mon Repos along the Geneva lake front, where there are other couple of parks located, I could spend most of the time walking in the park during lunch recess and taking a longer walk along the lake front after the end of the day’s programme. In one of the nights, FAME hosted a cocktail and dinner for the participants of the Programme at Hotel La Rotisserie du Lac. As I was enjoying the French cuisine, it came to me as a pleasant surprise when the chef personally served me boiled rice and some vegetables saying that he had prepared specially for me after he was told that one of the participants was an Indian. On the last day of my programme on Friday which got over by 5.00 p.m., I took a 2-hour conducted tour of Geneva country side. Since the sun light faded early in September, I could see only some places of the country side during the day light which included a wine yard and some castles as the rest of the tour spilled over the night.
Flower garden in one of the lake front parks
Boats in Lake Geneva
The next day, I got into the tour bus at the bus station which arrived at the schedule time of 8.30 a.m. The bus had already carried some tourists directly from Geneva International Airport at 8.00 a.m. The guide checked our passports before entraining the bus as Chamonix was in France. I had schagen visa taken from German embassy in India as such and I needed to visit first the schengen visa issuing country before visiting any of the other schengen countries. But the fact that I was allowed to get in to the tour bus would indicate that for the limited purpose of day excursion to Chamonix, my Swiss visa was enough. After moving through Geneva in slow pace, the bus got into expressway. The 88 kms drive between Geneva and Chamonix was covered in 1 hour and 30 minutes with a small halt at the immigration check point before entering France. The Immigration official got into the bus and had cursory glances at all the passengers and their baggages before giving green signal to cross the check point.
It was drizzling when our bus reached Chamonix (1037m) at around 10.00 a.m. The booking office for gondolas/cable cars for Aiguille du Midi ( for the view of Mont Blanc) was within the walking distance from the bus stop. There was already a long queue for the cable car tickets. The cloudy weather deterred a few of the tourists from our bus from proceeding to Aiguille du Midi and instead decided to spent time in Chamonix. After all there was no point in spending so much money for cable car rides when there was no certainty about the clear view of Mont Blanc and the glaciers. If the weather turned bad, even the cable cars to Aiguille du Midi and the lift to Observation Platform could be suspended. An elderly British couple of Indian origin who were ahead of me in the queue pointed out that his London-Geneva-London flight by Easy Jet cost him less than the cost of trip to Geneva-Chamonix-Mont Blanc-Geneva.
Having come all the way, I decided to take a chance so the elderly British couple, to go ahead with the cable car rides to Aiguille du Midi. It took about 15 minutes for our turn to come for buying tickets and another 15 minutes to get the first stage cable car. The first cable car took about 10 minutes over the tree lines and meadows to take us to an intermediate platform from where we shifted to another cable car for Aiguilles du Midi (3840m). The second cable car ride of 10 minutes was more scenic as well as adventurous. The car lifted almost in a steep gradient with high speed over glaciers by which time the cloud had cleared. Some of the tourists in the cable car screamed as it came very near the mountain side with a great speed, thinking that the cable car was going to hit the mountain. Actually, the cable car lifted up as it came towards the mountain side but the speed at which it ran gave an impression that it was about to hit the mountain.
View of Alps from cable car
As we got down from the cable car, the entire surrounding was full of snow and glacier. As we reached the Observation Platform, we had a panoramic view of Alps with Mont Blanc (4810m) in front of us. In fact, Mont Blanc summit is located at a point where boundaries of France, Switzerland and Italy converge. Although it was a stunning scenes in front of us to enjoy, the weather was extremely cold with strong breeze blowing across though sun was out in full. I could see some skiers were on the glaciers. I was so excited on being surrounded from glaciers all the sides with Mont Blanc in front of me that I talked to my wife on my mobile saying that I was speaking from the top of the Europe.
There was one more Observation Platform located below the ‘Needle Rock’ which seemed to be on a little higher elevation but I did not venture for that as I did not think that the perspective will change much of viewing Alps with glaciers from that platform. There were some restaurants in Aiguille du Midi but at that altitude they were bound to be costly ones. Those who wish to travel to Italy can take a separate cable car view Mont Blanc from that side and continue the trip to Italian Alps.
Mont Blanc massif seen from Observation Platform
Mont Blanc (4810m)
After spending about 1 hour around Aiguille du Midi, we return to Chamonix by 1.00 p.m. The elderly British couple who were with me took me to a typical French restaurant for lunch after which we had about 2 hours to explore Chamonix. Since the sun was out, it was pleasant to take a long walk covering the main town, country houses, hill slopes and the market place. Chamonix is the base village for adventure sports though out the year – climbing, trekking, skiing, and paragliding. The place has majestic old buildings, traditional houses, lots of open spaces.
Chamonix Railway Station
Typical houses in Chamonix
Alps' view from one of the streets of Chamonix
Me at a startinf point of Chamonix Trolley Tour
The main street scenes in Chamonix
Though the trip was a costly one even in European standard, I was more than happy that I chose this trip. In a single day, I spent time in a charming village of Chamonix, had rides on cable cars to gain height from 1000m to 3800m in about 30 minutes, was in front of Mont Blanc and the French Alps surrounded by glaciers and back to the side of the lake in Geneva.
All pictures by the author.