Alpine Adventure : Chamonix
I arrive into Geneva to play the momentary 007. I don't have a Savile Row suit or alicence to kill but what I do have is the Aston MartinVBVantageS and that can make even the simplest bumpkin feel like Bond.
In the few hours on the twisty alpine roads around Geneva before I head to Chamonix the powerful Aston dissipates all jet lag as it roars around hairpins at ridiculous speeds and mashes me into the seat during straight-line acceleration. I suspect it also reverses my aging by a fewyears.I feel more alive than I have in weeks.
So when I bounce into the reception of Hotel Alpina in Chamonix l'm beaming as if l've sniffed laughing gas and my eyes, wide and bright,suggest that it was blended with
some other psychotropic substance. The receptionist warily checks me in.
After dumping my bags I go to the ski shop to hire my skiing equipment. Next morning the skiing is sheer terror. The Brevent-Flegere slope is foggy with nearly zero visibility.
I just can't keep it together and keep heading in random directions on skis that seem to have a mind of their own.Once the weather clears and visibility improves my skiing gets better.
Chamonix lies in the north western part of the Alps in a valley that is bordered by the Mont Blanc range to the south and the Aiguilles Rouges to the north.These mountains also provide ideal launch points and to this effect I have an appointment with Sandie Cochepain.Petite and pretty, she arrives looking like the hunchback of Notredame thanks to the huge sack on her back.
The Gondola takes us up to the 6,500ft-high Planpraz from where we hike up to a snowy cliff edge. As Sandie starts pulling out thin billowy nylon and a tangle of twine from her backpack, I look on with a growing sense of incredulity and trepidation.
"We are going to run off the cliff with that to keep us airborne?" I squawk. But Sandie is effervescent with enthusiasm."Just keep running as hard as you can''she tells me, eyes actually sparkling, as she harnesses us together.Once we're ready with the paraglider neatly laid out behind us she shouts"GO".We both run as hard as we can towards the edge of the cliff.I feel as if I've been daintily plucked by a giant hand.Within seconds we're riding a thermal and spiralling higher. Sandie is comfortably sitting behind me piloting the glider. She points out the MontBlanc and the Mer de Glace,which are the stars of Chamonix.
In 1741, two Englishmen wandered here to the small priory of Chamouni and stunned by the huge glacier that looked like a 'sea of ice'. Their writings about this little village drew
the English - the first tourists here.Even today Chamonix's largest chunk of visitors are English, which is why most hotels serve the whopping full English breakfast.
Mont Blanc was first conquered in 1786 by Chamonix locals Michel Paccard and Jacques Balmat and Jacques Balmat and by Horace-Benedict de Saussure, a doctor, in 1787.All three of them have their statues in town.
We fly for about 40 minutes before we gently touchdown in Chamonix.
This alpine hamlet that makes you want to do strenuous stuff is the epitome of mountain sport, ideal year round-snow or sun.Though skiing is big here-even the stained glass in Chamonix church depicts skiing scenes and the thrilling ski scene in "The World ls Not Enough" was actually filmed in Chamonix-trekking is very big in summer with single to multi-day treks in the Alps.
The pedestrian area in the centre is filled with lively pavement cafes during the day.Chamonix also boasts a lively night life. Tripping on an adrenaline buzz, people party really hard. The rue des Moulins by the riverside,in the centre of town, boasts a crowd of watering holes.
My buzz has made me ravenous and for dinner we head to the Michelin starred restaurant in the Auberge du Bois Prin, a stunningly located chalet with unrestricted views out at the Mont Blanc.Denis Carrier the chef and owner certainly deserves his star because the food is absolutely delectable.
The next morning the receptionist, still wary-informs me that Claire from Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix is waiting for me.She is there to guide me on a snowshoe trek.The guiding company she belongs to is the oldest in Chamonix. It was formed in 1821after a slew of deaths on the mountain in the early 1800s.It comprised of Chamonix locals thoroughly trained in mountain craft and first aid.This tradition continues today and the guides go through rigorous training. The first foreigner to be accepted as a guide was only in 1930. Even today foreigners are accepted only if there are no local applicants.
We trek through a valley that looks as if covered with whipped cream.The snow covered quaint cottages could easily belong to Red Riding Hood's granny and streams cut ribbons of green through the white.
For lunch we head to the little chalet of La Boerne in Trelechampsat the head of the Chamonix Valley. It is housed in a stone and wood building dating back to the 18th century.
The dining room has a low ceiling, an ancient fireplace and long trestle tables hewn from local wood.Fabien Stocco, the chef, is also an alpine guide. The meal he's cooked comprising ofTartiflette (potatoes, re blochon cheese, bacon and onions) and his grandmother's recipe of apple pie is delicious. I often ping
Fabien over Facebook for recipes.
That day's my last in Chamonix and as I leave this valley behind I know that I have been tempted enough to make a quick dash here again when I am in Geneva next.
Getting there: Air France flies daily direct from Mumbai and Delhi to Paris,from where there are regular connections to Geneva
What to do: To hire a supercar, go to www.eliterent.com; for paragliding visit www.lesailesdurnontblanc.com/ enjcontent/our-team-paraglidingschool-/es-ai/es-du-mont-blanc; for other activities go to www.chamonixguides.eu
For more information visit www.chamonix.comand in.rendez vousenfrance.com
Text by Rishad Saam Mehta