Running with Julia: Aiguille du Midi

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The Aiguille du Midi is Chamonix’s most popular tourist attaction – a fantastic cable car right up to the world of ice and snow near the summit of Mont Blanc.  At the top, you have viewing platforms, restaurants, the thrilling “step into the void”, and even a gondola over the glacier to Point Helbronner on the Italian side.  It’s worth the trip.

I’m typically not one for tourist attractions. But I loved the Aiguille du Midi!

Chamonix Aiguille du Midi cable car

The cable car to Aiguille du Midi starts right from Chamonix.

Really, I’m not a big fan of touristy attractions.  This is especially true in a place like Chamonix, where I’d much rather be out on a scenic hike or enjoying a croissant and café au lait in a cozy café than braving long lines and crowded tours.  That said, taking the tram up to the Aiguille du Midi – a look-out point perched on a high peak overlooking the Mont Blanc glaciers – was one of the coolest day trips I’ve experienced in the Alps so far.

The Aiguille du Midi is super popular; it gets nearly half a million visitors per year and is the second most visited site in France (after the Eiffel Tower, of course).  It’s perhaps the coolest way to get up into the peaks surrounding Mont Blanc without doing any hiking or climbing – a welcome change of pace for my rest day in Chamonix.  In my experience, the Midi lives up to the hype without feeling like a typical “tourist attraction.”    Here are three main reasons why:

Mountaineers climb the slopes of Augille du Midi with sights set possibly on climbing to the top of Europe, Mont Blanc.

1. The ride up is a thrill of it’s own

Rising from 1,035 meters to 3,777 meters (12,392 feet) up, the ride up to the Midi is the highest vertical ascent cable car in the world.  It gains over 2,700 meters (nearly 9,000 feet) in under 20 minutes to a summit.   The ride felt like a two-for-one experience: it doubled as both a panoramic view and as a roller coaster.  I’d been up some pretty scenic gondolas, lifts, and trains so far in Chamonix, but nothing comes close to the feeling of being swept up the clouds and delivered onto a platform that is built into the edge of the cliff.  I loved the adrenaline rush from the quick ascent, but if you’re sensitive to motion sickness, you might feel a bit queasy.

2. The views are unbelievable

As I stood on the drawbridge between the Midi’s two main balconies, it felt like I had walked into a 360-degree green screen.  The views from every direction on the clear day I was there were really that striking.  From the upper platform, I had a full view of the city of Chamonix, the Mont Blanc glacier felt close enough to touch, and the distant mountain peaks leading toward the Swiss border looked endless. Looking out to the other side of the platform, I watched mountaineers with metal crampons on their boots carefully make their way to the Midi summit along a narrow ridge.   I could have easily spent another hour or more relaxing on the platform, listening to music through my ear-buds, and enjoying the views.  Everywhere I looked, there was more to take in.  I’m definitely happy to have had a pair of sunglasses and a hat though – the UV exposure at over 12,000 feet altitude is no joke!

Feeling swept away in the clouds at the top of the Augille du Midi.

3.  The architecture is as impressive as the sights

While waiting to board the tram, I expected to be impressed by the views of the natural beauty of Mont Blanc, and the surrounding peaks.  I wasn’t, however, expecting to be so blown away by the actual architectural feat of the platform itself. My first thought after stepping out of the tram and onto the first main outlook was: ‘How in the world did they build this?”  The Midi is perched on the edge of the peak, with swirling clouds and sheer drops surrounding me from all directions.  From the main platform, I took a short lift up an extra 65 meters to the summit terrace where I waited in line to stand within a 2.5-meter lookout box made of glass.  I’m not one to be afraid of heights, but standing in the box – which the Midi calls “a step into the void” gave me goose-bumps.

The view from the upper lookout of Aiguille du Midi showing one of Mont Blanc many glaciers pouring from its summit.

Overall, the Midi is far and away the most unique “tourist attraction” I’ve visited anywhere in the world. I haven’t been anywhere else that has combined such crazy impressive architecture with the natural beauty of the mountains.  The ability to watch skilled mountaineers climbing up the ridge just a few feet away from the lift made the experience even more surreal.  It was a reminder of what an incredibly special place Chamonix is: where the mountains are considered the ultimate playground and can be enjoyed in different ways on different days.  Some days, that means a multi-hour hike or climb, but others, it means taking advantage of experiences like the Aiguille du Midi, where you can get high into the mountain air by simply taking the lift, relaxing, and enjoying the view.

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