Queers On The Road #1 - Chamonix
On the long list of “things straight people never have to think about” the reaction they might get when they travel together is one. But for LGBTQ+ folk - from intrepid travellers to occasional city breakers - picking the destination, choosing the hotel, finding friendly bars and activities can be a minefield… “So that’s a twin room you wanted?”
To help our queer fam make informed decisions, we’ve started a new blog series: Queers On The Road. In the first installment, Char Binns takes a snow sports holiday to Chamonix, France.
I spend hours looking for holidays on the internet. If it wasn’t a dying profession I reckon I’d make a cracking Travel Agent. Every winter, when snow sports come to my mind, hours of research ensues; phone scrolling, price checking, flight comparisons, package deals. But for the third year in a row, in spite of all that effort and research, I’ve found myself back in Chamonix.
High in the French Alps, Chamonix-Mont-Blanc (to give its full name) is one of the outdoor sports capitals of the world. While I always end up there in the winter for snowboarding (alongside my partner who skies) in the summer the area is packed with hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers and climbers. There’s a potential adrenaline kick around every corner. Yet the town centre is a more sedate affair, packed with cute cafés, cosy restaurants and shopping boutiques. Its the kind of place you can mooch around and stop to sit in the sunshine at a spot next to the river, with the epic Mont-Blanc mountain range ever present in the near distance.
Let’s get back to the snow. Most visitors to Cham stay in or around the town centre where there is no direct access to the pistes, but an excellent complimentary bus system will shuttle you between the 10 different ski areas. Closest to town is Brévent-Flégère which is two smaller areas connected by cable car. The areas’ wide, south-facing slopes bask in sunshine when the weather is fine and you’ll find paragliders jumping from the edge of the mountain and floating back down to the valley all year round. With slopes to suit all abilities, and with a fab picnic area plus nice cafés, Brévent-Flégère rates as one of my all-time favourite places to hurtle down a mountain with a fiberglass board attached to my feet.
Snow sports tend to be inclusive and welcoming for LGBTQ+ folk, with champion skier Gus Kenworthy and pro-snowboarder Belle Brockhoff amongst those flying the flag for out and proud LGBTQ+ sports people. Meanwhile for us averagely sporting queer folk European Gay Ski Week has been going for over a decade and returns in 2019 from 23 - 30 March, in Les Arcs.
What about the Aprés Ski? Cham is packed with places to eat and drink, from fine dining to burger joints, from Champagne to shots of Jäger, there’s something to suit your taste and budget. If you’re after traditional food of the region, there are numerous kitsch looking places vying for tourist attention. Shun the bigger, louder places and head instead to the charming Bivouac Restaurant, where locals sit on stools overlooking the open kitchen and friendly staff bring enormous portions. Alpine food is heavy on meat and cheese, but don’t worry vegan readers there are some great spots for you too, including funky tex-mex place Monkey and surprisingly good Indian restaurant Annapurna.
If you need a day off the slopes, there are heaps of spas in and around the town. Funky hotel Le Refuge Des Aiglons offers non-guests access to its spa for under 20€ and has an outdoor hot tub with unspoiled views of the mountains. Or catch the cute old train up to the Mer de Glace, the largest glacier in France. You can even go inside it!
Snow sports aren’t cheap. We kept our costs down by staying just outside the city centre in Chamonix Sud, hiring a well-equipped studio apartment where we could cook for ourselves. Taking a packed-lunch up the mountain will save you at least 12€ a day.
When it comes to choosing where to stay I’m a fan of AirBnB but in attempt to weed out hosts who might not be LGBTQ+ friendly I’m clear to state my partner’s name in my profile and include a picture featuring the two of us. In the two years we’ve been travelling together, we’ve had nothing but positive AirBnB experiences. Sadly the site has a poor reputation for accommodating people of colour so if you’re not a fan I’d also recommend Purple Roofs, a long-standing gay travel website (some years ago I found an incredible gay-owned hotel in Venice through this site).
The French have a laissez-faire (literally, "let you do") attitude towards other peoples’ private lives, including their sexuality. In spite of its petit size Chamonix is a cosmopolitan place with influences from visitors and expats who come from around Europe, USA, Canada and Australasia. As such, it feels like a welcoming and safe place and I didn’t hesitate to hold my partner’s hand or kiss her in public, no matter where we were in town or on the piste.
Although when it comes to LGBTQ+ culture, Chamonix isn’t exactly a hub of queer activity. The one gay bar Le Tof didn’t open until 1am so I didn’t visit. With mixed reports online however, and suggestions that being the only late night option in town it is frequented more by straight people than a queer crowd, it seems I didn’t miss much.
Queers On The Road summary:
Chamonix is a charming and safe town that in open to LGBTQ+ folks, while offering amazing outdoor activities all year long.
Chamonix rated (max. score 5):
Queer ❄ ❄
Safety ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄
We rate our travel experience on 3 categories.
Queerness - how LGBTQ+ friendly, alternative, & diverse a place is.
Safety - how safe you feel to be openly queer, plus the general safety of a place.
Social - how easily you could find other LGBTQ+ folk to socialise with.
There are direct flights between Liverpool John Lennon Airport and Geneva daily with Easyjet, starting from as little as £25 each way. From Geneva Airport book a transfer on Easybus, Alpy Bus or Cham Express (around 50€ return). The transfer journey takes around 1 hour 20 minutes.