The French Alps at Christmas This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

March 2, 2013
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The French Alps were not the sole destination of our entire trip, as we drove down from London to the snow covered mountains over the space of two days.

Staying for a night in Troyes after crossing the channel in the Eurostar, my family and I checked into a hotel positioned just off the street connecting us to the town square. Placing my bags heavily down on the hotel bed I peered through the mesh curtains covering the windows. There was nothing to be seen but the rugged brickwork of the building opposite, immersed in a halo of yellowed light as the streetlamps began flickering to life.

I staggered into the hallway, losing my balance after the door to my room swung violently back into place behind me. After spending a day cooped up in the back of a car my hair sat limply in a bun on top of my head, and my shoes were now misshapen after being crushed beneath the weight of three suitcases. It’s safe to say I was not looking my best.

The streets of Troyes were laden with Christmas lights entwined with the branches of wilting trees, whose light occasionally reflected off the patent shoes worn by women walking the pavements below. Everyone was dressed impeccably, with silver buttoned coats and patterned jeans upturned at the hem.

I couldn’t help but feel out of place of place as I took my seat at a rugged blue table inside the corner coffee shop.

Architecture within the café was rich with character, something I would never usually notice, particularly late at night and after having endured a nine hour drive across France.

Twisted columns chipped with cream paint supported the high ceilings, and a rout iron staircase led customers up to a raised platform home to several other makeshift tables.

The rest of the evening was enjoyed in a small pizzeria a few doors down from the hotel, serving an array of the largest pizzas I’ve ever encountered- each rolled out paper thin. It was on this pizza that I survived the rest of the following day, as reaching the food in crowded service stations jutting off each motorway was nearing impossible.

Nearing the quaint town of Chamonix along the bending roads built into the mountainsides is the highlight of the drive. The snow appears to thicken with every corner that’s passed, and the chalets begin to clutter across the landscape with red and white Christmas decorations cascading down their walls. Driving through a tunnel cut through the mountain is the final leg of the trip, and emerging from the other side reveals grounds covered in a gleaming blanket of white, inches thick.

The icy lane leading down to the town from the chalet follows alongside a river that continues to flow swiftly over the rocks below even in the coldest of temperatures. A small French bar in the centre of Chamonix was where we spent each morning, mindlessly people watching over our drinks as the floor boards begin creaking under the weight of snowboards balanced in the corners. We appeared to have hit a hot spot for snowboarders of all different kinds, and the tables surrounding us were filled with the colourful life of the locals. The benches by the broad glass windows were generally occupied by a couple with black hair, silver hoops pierced into their lips and dreadlocks tied back behind their head. They would simply stare at the television hoisted in the back corner of the café, gazing with what I can only assume complete awe at the snow sports competitions played across the screen.

When Christmas Eve arrived, we trailed leisurely down the pathway as the sun set behind the mountain tops until we reached the road connecting to the town centre. Lit with glowing lamps hooked beneath the overhanging roofs of shops and restaurants, the cobbled streets were subsequently immersed in shadows thrown from passers-by and trees growing from cracks in the pavement.

Walking through side alleys revealed the sound of music drifting through the open doors of a café that later wound its way down the into the town’s square. The tunes provided the perfect atmosphere to stand in the open door-ways of restaurants clutching a hot drink tightly between freezing hands, peering at the horizon as Christmas day slowly approaches.

After sitting huddled over bowls of spaghetti in the back of a bistro, we made our way back along the concrete and up towards the ice-covered lanes. Crossing the road my eyes were drawn towards a group of three young singers. A boy of about seventeen was hunched over a banjo resting tightly in his grasp, as his friend sat leaning against the wall strumming lightly on an acoustic guitar. The girl standing between them proceeded to sing angelically, the softened tones of her voice occasionally muffled beneath the sounds of her friends’ instruments. Her jumper bore the marks of multi-coloured shapes, with its collar upturned around her neck. The only reason I notice this is because amongst the greys and blacks worn by families in their evening best, the colours of her clothes stood out to me- particularly against the white brickwork behind.

I continued walking - now slightly in-step with the group’s music- until I reached the chalet and fumbled through the door with reddened hands from the cold. Sleeping that night was easy, despite the pale rays of moon-light shining with increased determination through the curtains covering the window, rays which eventually vanished in the early morning as I awoke.

Christmas day in Chamonix was glorious, with the atmosphere being similar to the night before and even the birds resting on tree branches appearing cheerful. Spending my hours locked away in the chalet enjoying the heat of the log burning fire was the perfect way to occupy the afternoon, with the ski slope adjacent to the lane rich with skiers- some possibly trying out Christmas gifts received earlier that morning. It baffles me how locals are out effortlessly drifting across the slopes for hours at a time even on Christmas day, but this is probably down to the fact that simply lying back on a sofa with a box of chocolates is how I engage my festive spirit.
Spending the holiday in the French Alps was an experience I would expect only to be read out of a fiction book, and beginning the drive back through the mountains provides the time to sit back and begin reminiscing about the last few days. Or, in my case, opening your third tin of chocolates and devouring it before reaching the first half hour of the journey.

Nevertheless, Christmas in Chamonix is something that will never be forgotten and, excuse the cliché, was surely an experience of a lifetime.

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