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47 0 0 0 13 6. Now, luxurious lodges and warm-weather activities are helping showcase their summer-time appeal. Wait, where do I put my feet? Around us blew a soft breeze. A green valley lay far below. Beyond it, a patchwork of forests and fields rolled away into the distance. And between my shoes was a sheer drop of slick limestone, with no apparent footholds.
The few who know Chamonix in the United States are mostly die-hard adventure types. Home to Mont Blanc, Europe’s tallest summit, this village in the French Alps hosted the first Winter Olympics in 1924 and has been a world capital for cold-weather sports ever since. But if any leisure industry is threatened by climate change, it’s winter sports. Just across the border in Switzerland, the ski season is a month shorter than it was four decades ago.
The Mont Blanc glacier is retreating at a record pace. Winter towns, from Whistler, British Columbia, to St. Moritz, Switzerland, are investing in what the industry calls “weather-independent attractions. I never considered myself an alpinist.
I love mountains, and being around them brings me a sense of peace. But I’d rather read about a polar expedition than take one myself. About a decade ago, when my wife, Rachel, and I were living in Paris, I started to hear from friends that Chamonix had a more bucolic, less extreme side. They talked about fields stuffed with wildflowers. It became a dream of mine to see the Alps in summer. Rachel and I now live in one of Los Angeles’s densely settled urban canyons.
There came a moment, last summer, when we had both been working too much. It had been years since we’d taken a trip together, just the two of us. So we decided to do it, setting off for the airport with the mind-set of a pair of 19th-century tuberculosis patients, hopeful that a dose of restrained mountain activity would do us good. Chamonix is part of France’s Haute-Savoie region, which borders both Switzerland and Italy. At Geneva Airport, a British shuttle driver met us by the baggage claim.
The summers are my favorite time of year,” he said. We’d decided to ease into the region by spending two nights in Megève, a quiet village about 45 minutes west of Chamonix. Megève represents the area’s more rural side. It’s a wealthy ski-resort town, dotted with farms, chalets, and the occasional designer boutique. Sometimes when I can’t sleep I like to picture a European breakfast. There’s just something soothing about a big spread of muesli and charcuterie and five kinds of yogurt. On our first morning, our jet lag got us up early — to encounter the breakfast of my dreams.
Before we’d left for France, I’d spoken with the American novelist Pam Houston. She codirects the Mont Blanc Writing Workshop, a local English-language seminar that runs for two weeks each summer. What’s so particularly wonderful about Chamonix as a place to go hiking is the ski lifts,” she told me. Many of the resorts run their gondolas and lifts in the summer because the terminals connect with popular trekking paths. Following the concierge’s instructions, Rachel and I rode the Télécabine du Jaillet, a tiny gondola made for two, up into the hills. I had been worried about my orienteering skills, but there were signposts everywhere. One moment the trail would lead us through a meadow, then into a forest, then out again into the open countryside, looking out over an entire valley.