Day 3 was my favorite day of the road trip around Europe thus far. We stopped at 3 different awesome French Alp towns. All 3 of which hosted a Winter Olympics. Chamonix in 1924; Albertville in 1992; and Grenoble in 1968. I love going to skiing towns in the summer. Here are some highlights and photos of day 3.
I had always wanted to visit Chamonix or Chamonix-Mont-Blanc as it is technically named. It hosted the first Winter Olympics in 1924 and was also a site for the James Bond film, ‘The World is Not Enough’. That aside, it is one of Europe’s oldest ski resorts and was supposed to be a beautiful place with two massive cable cars with stunning views. Chamonix did not disappoint.
As you drive into Chamonix you cannot help but be floored by Mont Blanc, Western Europe’s highest mountain. It’s massive panorama as you come in gets you amped to visit Chamonix and see this behemoth close up.
Once in the venerable old ski town, you can choose between a few different cable cars for even better views of Chamonix and especially of Mont Blanc. We chose to do the Brevent cable car up to about 2000 meters for great views of the Chamonix Valley and across the valley views of Mont Blanc. Afterwards we drove over to Aiguille du Midi for what was the best cable car I’ve ever been on.
Aiguille du Midi takes you up to a height on 3842 meters or nearly 13,000 feet right to the edge of Mont Blanc for unbelievable views of the entire valley and even into Italy. It was spectacular. Words cannot really describe how awesome it was and I was floored by how cool it was.
The cable car alone; which took 20+ minutes to get up was great, but then there are multi-leveled viewing platforms. This also included a 66-meter elevator within a rock at the top of the peak. It was an engineering marvel in addition to a viewing marvel. It is included in your ticket if you buy the expensive multi-pass ticket which gets you onto all cable cars and some other attractions in town.
Oxygen levels are low so you have to take it slow going from the ground to nearly 13,000 feet. We saw some people get sick but the fresh mountain air is enough to get you over that. I was actually just told yesterday after the fact that Sir Richard Branson was climbing Mont Blanc yesterday when we were up at Aiguille du Midi. We saw a bunch of climbers but I have no idea if one was him or not. Regardless, Chamonix is awesome and I can’t wait to visit again some time…next time it’ll be in winter because I cannot imagine the views.
Albertville had always stuck out in my head as a strange place because I remember as a kid when it was announced that it would host the 1992 Winter Olympic Games. I had never heard of it and couldn’t even find it on a map. So as the 1992 games came and went, Albertville was the center of the world for 16 days. I remember those games best for Kristi Yamaguchi winning the women’s individual gold medal in figure skating. That said, the legacy left by the Olympics is mixed in present day Albertville.
The Olympic Stadium has basically been reduced to nothing, and now hosts a track and field venue and is open to the public to ride bikes, jog or whatever. The seating capacity has been reduced to about 1000 or so and the stadium is seemingly falling apart. I was shocked as I went in yesterday. The ice skating hall across the street is now a regular rink for locals to enjoy and the Olympic flame now sits outside it.
There is also a 1992 Olympic Museum in town that isn’t very good but it sits within the cute little old town of Albertville. However, I believe I only thought it was cute because it hosted an Olympics and if it hadn’t had that distinction, I wouldn’t have paid it any mind. The town itself was just OK and quite small. Neighboring towns we passed through on the drive in were much nicer. I couldn’t believe Albertville hosted an Olympic Games and I still can’t writing this.
You can’t even buy any Olympic memorabilia from the 1992 games. There are no souvenir tee shirts, no posters, nothing. You can see a scattering of 1992 Olympic logos around town for pictures but nothing you can take home. I don’t know if there is a licensing agreement with the IOC or something but I found that strange, especially given how recent the games were held there. That is the town’s legacy and I can guarantee you, the Olympics in their current state of media madness, will never be in a small alpine village like Albertville again.
I first heard of Grenoble, France when I was a kid in mid 1980’s because that was where WWF wrestler Andre the Giant was from. I remember my dad also telling me that was also where the 1968 Winter Olympics were held. So if you’re an Olympics and sports nut like I am and you happen to be in the area, you visit Grenoble.
Grenoble is a very nice city. I don’t have too much to say about it more than that really. There is a very pleasant downtown with a nice park and some great parliamentary buildings. The top site in town is La Bastille, which is gotten to by taking cool cable car balls up to it. I actually didn’t go up because we were there late in the afternoon for a few hours and just walked around town and we had to get to Lyon last night.
The 1968 Olympics help to really modernize the town. It got an airport and really helped with infrastructure and of course notoriety. Those Olympics also featured Frenchman Jean-Claude Killy winning 3 gold medals and of course American figure skater Peggy Fleming winning her own which really helped the popularity of the Winter Olympics in the United States.
The other cool thing about Grenoble, which has become a great college town, is that anywhere you are in town, if you look up, you’ll see high alpine peaks surrounding the town. It is very cool and a nice place to be. Nothing spectacular but very pleasant.