Road trip through Europe: Chamonix to Tübingen

Last summer, we did a 10 day road trip through parts of Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France. Our itinerary was: BerlinWeimarHeidelburgFreiburgLucerne Lake ComoLa-SpeziaCinque TerreBussana VecchiaMonacoÉzeGorges du VerdonMoustiers-Sainte-Marie – Valensole – Chamonix – TübingenSwäbisch HallBerlin

Mont Blanc was the only thing on my mind as we woke up early on Day 9 of our road trip. Would we see the White Mountain, or would it be covered in clouds? The weather forecast had been bad, but we awoke to blue skies and sunshine, though there were still a fair number of clouds swirling around the peaks. Already from where we were staying in Les Houches, we had a beautiful view of the mountain. So our wish had already come true.

Our Airbnb host had told us that if we wanted to go up the Aiguille du Midi cable car, which takes you to 3842m so that you can gaze upon Mont Blanc and have 360 degree views of the surrounding French, Swiss and Italian Alps, we should go early as the queues are very long. Our plan to leave early was however foiled by the other Airbnb guests in the house, who spent ages in the bathroom, and then by the long conversation between our friend and the hosts over breakfast (they all spoke French). By the time we arrived in Chamonix, the queue to the cable car was very long. We joined it nonetheless while our friend went off to wander around Chamonix (she’s not interested in mountains). However, after standing there a while, someone walked around announcing the waiting time, and it turned out that it was quite some hours. Disappointed, we realized that we wouldn’t be going up the cable car that day – we would finish to late to be able to complete the drive to that evening’s stop, Tübingen. Sorry Mont Blanc.

Despite the sunshine, we would not be heading up the cable car that day.

However, we found a plan B. Another option from Chamonix is to take a train of the Montenvers up to the Mer de Glace (sea of ice), the nearby glacier which is the biggest in France. We hotfooted it down to the train station (Gare du Montenvers) which is in the centre of Chamonix, bought a ticket, and joined the other people waiting at the train station. After some time, the mountain train appeared (a funicular train), and we hopped on, excited to be heading into the mountains.

Our view when we got to the top was, well, like this.

Unfortunately the clouds were still hanging around. We popped into the small museum by the viewing point and had a look at the crystals and rocks inside.

When we came out of the museum, the mists had started to lift.

Before our eyes, a beautiful vista opened up: the long, frozen glacier surrounded by blue, craggy peaks. At that moment we were very glad we’d come to see the glacier instead of going up the cable car, because we couldn’t imagine a more beautiful vista.

As the clouds dissipated, we hiked down to take a closer look at the glacier. We reached a metal ladder which you can climb down if you’re doing a proper glacier walk, but as we weren’t prepared for such an expedition, we just took some photos and then walked along the trail that leads down into the valley, where you can visit the ice cave. It’s also possible to take a cable car up and down.

Glaciers are large masses of ice, formed from compressed fallen snow that accumulates over many years when more snow falls than melts. Their slow movement has formed many landscapes. The meltwater from glaciers in the warmer months of the year is an important source of freshwater in mountainous regions.

As you walk down to the valley, you can see the height of the glacier at different years signposted. Since 1850, glaciers worldwide have been shrinking as the climate grows warmer. In contrast, between 1550 and 1850 there was a mini Ice Age, when the glaciers grew each year. As we walked down, we could see how the melting of glaciers has accelerated in the last years, since the difference in height between each year grew larger and larger.

At the bottom of the walk, you can visit an ice cave that has been cut into the glacier. Apparently they remake the cave every year because the glacier moves about 70m every year. We found it a bit strange that they cut into a glacier that they are trying to preserve, but maybe they’ve figured out that’s how much it melts every year anyway. The ice cave was very crowded inside, as everyone wants to see the blue ice. Glacial ice is blue because it is made up of densely packed molecules of water, which absorb some red light.

After visiting the cave we walked back up the numerous steps to the cable car that would take us back to the train station. We admired the beautiful views once more, and then headed back on the train to Chamonix to meet up with our friend. We thought she may have been bored waiting in the town, but in fact she said she had enjoyed a lovely morning walking around and visiting the local market. We all had a quick bite to eat together, before heading to the car for the next phase of our road trip.

Back to Chamonix

Now we had to drive through the mountains to Switzerland, then across Switzerland into Germany. It wasn’t long before we had crossed the French Alps into Switzerland. The mountain views along the way were great.

Hello again Switzerland

Eventually we left the mountains behind and passed Lake Geneva. We drove and drove through Switzerland, stopping for a break at a rest stop in Gruyère, where of course we couldn’t resist picking up some Gruyère cheese. That’s one of the pros of a road trip, you can pick up whatever you like along the way and put it in the car.

After a lot of driving (it’s about 5.5 hours from Chamonix to Tübingen), we arrived in Tübingen in the evening. We’d chosen Tübingen as a stopover because I’d been there once before and knew how pretty it was, and neither of the other two had visited it previously. We went for dinner by the river and then an evening walk around the town, and although the other two were too tired to fully enjoy it, they agreed that it’s a very pretty town. We felt a bit down that it was the last night of our road trip, our holiday was coming to an end, and that the majority of our big adventures were behind us, since the following day we would just be driving through Germany back towards Berlin. But as they say, all things must come to an end.


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