I was brought to the charming resort town of Chamonix to attend the annual Mont Blanc Marathon. With a few days to spare I wanted to take advantage of the outdoor recreation that Chamonix is famed for. I was recommended the Grand Balcon du Sud (there is also a North version) to take in as much of the mountain scenery as possible. It turned out to be a great choice because the hike provides amazing views of the Mont Blanc mountain, lovely wildflower fields reminiscent of Heidi, and a fairly level walking path that most individuals can complete in about 2.5 hours.
Discovering the Grand Balcon du Sud
The Grand Balcon du Sud is a 6 km trail that connects two furnicular stations, the Planpraz and Le Flegere. Therefore, you can start at either ends of the path, but I highly recommend starting at Planpraz. The reason being it is more downhill than up when heading that direction. The downside is that the Mont Blanc is to your back as you walk away from it, requiring the occasional stop to see the view behind you. I was more than willing to go for a less strenuous hike and make some pit stops along the way for pictures.
Heading out of the Planpraz funicular follow the uphill path on the left, you should see a corded off area for parasailers on the left hand side. There will also be sign post just outside the station (see below) and you should follow the signs for Le Flegere. After that you should be good to go without worrying too much about getting lost or ending up on the wrong path. For the most part you can clearly see the path ahead of you and can anticipate what is coming next.
As I mentioned earlier the terrain is mostly flat and ever so lightly downhill for the majority of the trek. I will say that there is an initial uphill as you leave the station and about 70 minutes in, you have some old wooden stairs to climb, but the rest is fine. The terrain is also easy to walk with lots of dirt and gravel, except for about 2 spots where there are some larger boulders that you need to carefully walk through.
Now to the good stuff, the views. They are absolutely phenomenal ranging from the snowy white Mont Blanc to the aerial view of the city of Chamonix. I felt I needed to pinch myself because the scenery was surreal and almost like a movie being played in front of me. Don’t rush through, instead take the time to take in the breathtaking scenery throughout.
At the end of the trek at La Flegere station, I decided to take the additional funicular and ride up to L’Index at 2396m. What was enjoyable (and scary at the same time) is that the lift is an open chair. It makes getting pictures of the view pretty easy, but when the wind blows you may want to hold on tighter!
L’Index is popular with ice and rock climbers which come for the jagged faces of the mountains and snowy remnants. Yes, there was still some snow in parts at the top of the mountain but it’s not very cold in the summer. After snapping a few photos, I headed back down and took the funicular back to the bottom at Les Praz. For those interested in spending more time, there is a restaurant at Le Flegere with a great outdoor terrace.
Planning Your Hike
One of the logistical issues is how you will be heading back after trekking across the mountains. There is a bus the connects to Chamonix, but the schedule is very limited so be warned! If you have some energy left, there is a shady path that follows the river just at the back of Les Praz station and it brings you directly back to the downtown of Chamonix. Plan about 45 minutes for the walk in total.
Finally, you may want to explore different payment options for the hike and visiting the area in general. I got a multi-day pass for two non-consecutive days because it made the most sense for what I had planned. It also covers a number of different attractions which I wanted to see. For more information check out the local tourism website at: www.chamonix.com