Easily the most famous excursion in the Mont-Blanc/Chamonix area is the téléphérique to the Aiguille du Midi (3842m), one of the longest cable-car ascents in the world, rising 3000m above the valley floor in two extremely steep stages – anyone even remotely suffering from vertigo should forget about this particular excursion. Although the trip is absurdly expensive at €57 return, penny-pinching by buying a ticket only as far as the Plan du Midi (2310m) is a waste of money: go all the way or not at all. If you do go up, make the effort to be on your way before 9am, as the summits tend to cloud over towards midday, and huge crowds may force you to wait for hours if you try later. Take warm clothes – even on a summer’s day it’ll be below zero at the top – and sunblock is also advisable to protect against the glare off the snow.
The Aiguille is an exposed granite pinnacle on which a restaurant and the téléphérique dock are precariously balanced. Here, too, is an extraordinary new skywalk called Step into the Void, an all-glass box suspended some 1000m above empty space – an astonishing feat of engineering, this really is not for the faint-hearted. Even if you’re not willing to brave the skywalk (it’s included in the price of the cable car) the views up here are incredible. At your feet is the snowy plateau of the Col du Midi, with the glaciers of the Vallée Blanche and Géant sloping down the mountainside. From the Aiguille, the Three Monts climbing route takes mountaineers up the steep snowfield and exposed ridge to the summit of Mont Blanc with its final cap of ice. On the horizon lies rank upon rank of snow- and ice-capped monsters receding into the distance. Perhaps most impressive of all is the view from east to south, in which the Aiguille Verte, Triollet and the Jorasses, with the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa, form a cirque of needle-sharp peaks and sheer crags.