Exploring a destination, finding an alternative side to a town or city is a popular topic for this site. It seems appropriate therefore to tread off the beaten path in Chamonix, a town where I am well acquainted with the skiing and adventurous side.
Joining a photography tour with Teresa Kaufman a Canadian lady who now lives in the town provided the ideal opportunity. Teresa conducts several original tours throughout Chamonix including topics such as gastronomy or local villages. Some culminate in high tea at the Grand Hotel Des Alpes, which is fortunate, as I was staying there, the photography tour does.
The tour begins at the central Saint Michel Church and lasts between 2 or 3 hours. My companions for the tour were French and did not speak much English, the language of the tour was therefore inevitably Gallic, though Teresa did translate for me whenever possible.
Although described as a photography tour, the level is determined by the requirements of the group. Teresa quickly ascertains what the group are looking for but photography tips are generally not offered it is more about discovering alternative photography opportunities in Chamonix. Most attendees of the tour usually arrive with point and shoot compact cameras and sometimes even without a camera at all, essentially it is an alternative walking tour of the town.
The first couple of stops are a unisex hairdressers and an outdoor sports retailers. It’s important to look your best for a shopping expedition after all but it was certainly an unexpected start. The reason soon became clear however both buildings were originally palace hotels for which the town is famous for. They have restored murals on the ceilings or walls, quirky but the tone of the tour had been set.
We spent the next few hours weaving our way through the quieter areas of the town, navigating narrow snow covered paths above the town. We may have not discovered any mind blowing revelations but we did find some charming little surprises around a number of out of the way corners. All the while Teresa provided an entertaining commentary, a series of informative anecdotes which helped pass the time quickly.
After the splendour of the palace hotel buildings our guide led us on a meandering stroll, taking single track paths deep in snow. We witnessed grand chateaus and smaller alpine chalets, chimneys billowed dark clouds and the smell of woodsmoke was never seemed far away.
We found simple photography treats like woodstacks, more unusual ones such as Tibetan prayer flags or a Japanese tea room and numerous small huts known as mazots. These were originally built as storage sheds for grain and farming tools but now many are used as rental accommodation, our guide lives in an enlarged one apparently.
There are plenty of small surprises around Chamonix but eventually it was good to get back to the hotel and enjoy a hot drink and some sweet snacks in the warmth.
Most visitors to the town are looking for some adventure however sometimes the weather frowns on these activities. I prefer flat white coffee to flat white skiing so on a day when conditions are less than ideal this photography tour is highly recommended. It is certain this kind of tour will not suit everybody, it is not filled with adventure and does not provide any startling revelations about the town. However it is a pleasant and entertaining way to see a different side of the town below Mont Blanc.
Teresa is a lively, intelligent and informative guide, her business concept is quite original and deserves to be a success. It offers visitors a different perspective on the town and is another string in the Chamonix bow.