Come along to an Instameet in Winchester

Winchester in early morning sunshine

Next Saturday, 12 August, at 4pm, talented local photographer Matt Savage and I are hosting an Instameet in Winchester, Hampshire. It’s one of a series of meet-ups of Instagram users taking place across the South West that day, organised by The Southern Collective. Similar events are taking place in Wells, Exeter and Cardiff, and on the Isle of Purbeck.

We’re meeting in front of the West Door of Winchester Cathedral and, after a quick group photo, we’ll take a leisurely stroll  for about an hour and a half around photogenic parts of the city, and the tranquil water meadows on the south side of the city. There might well be an ice cream van along the way; we’ll head off for a drink near the cathedral after the walk.

The event is completely free, so pull on some comfortable walking shoes, bring along your DSLR or just your smartphone, have fun and make friends with the people behind some of the profiles you follow.

If you’re a Facebook user, sign up for this event so you get a reminder in your news feed. To whet your appetite, I’ll be sharing images of Winchester on my Instagram travel feed, @3dbrenton, this week.

To recap: meet Matt and me at the West Front of Winchester Cathedral (Google Map) at 4pm next Saturday, 12 August – we’ll try to make ourselves obvious. See you there!

Learn more

La Sapinière Chamonix hotel review

Pink mountains

As I began this review, I have an awe-inspiring view of the Glacier des Bossons slithering down the thickly-wooded hillside beneath Mont Blanc. This is one of the best points of La Sapinière, where I stayed my wife and my parents for a week in July.

Run by Inghams, it’s a chalet-hotel – home from home for British tourists, all members of staff speaking English. Like a favourite pullover, it’s lived-in and well-loved, but slightly frayed at the seams. Wooden beams abound, and the décor is rather old-fashioned. This probably suited the mature clientèle present during our stay.

The west-facing frontage with red balconies, of the Chalet-Hotel La Sapinière in Chamonix.
The west-facing frontage of the Chalet-Hotel La Sapinière in Chamonix.
The rustic bar at La Sapinière, an Inghams chalet-hotel in Chamonix.
The rustic bar at La Sapinière, an Inghams chalet-hotel in Chamonix.
The dining room at La Sapinière, an Inghams chalet-hotel in Chamonix.

Our room

My wife, Rachel, and I had a double room on the first floor. It was clean but spartan, with wooden flooring. There was only electrical socket accessible; I was glad I brought a four-socket trailing gang lead with me. My bed creaked whenever I turned over, an issue I raised with Nathan, the hotel manager. The en-suite bathroom, however, was modern and well-appointed. Room servicing didn’t happen every day. Our balcony was a partitioned section of the roof above the bar and dining room. This actually suited me very well because I could vary the position of my camera tripod for dawn shots of Mont Blanc.

Summit of Mont Blanc lit by early morning sun
Early morning sun lights up Mont Blanc, the moon and cloud dispersing over Chamonix.

Food and drink

Meals were very good – and provided on an all-inclusive basis. Breakfast covers all tastes, including cereal, a full English, pastries and charcuterie. Packed lunches were available – ideal for walkers – and afternoon tea was great on the days when we returned early: cake, sandwiches and even soup was on offer. Aperitifs with amuse-bouches preceded dinner every night. We were allocated seats for the nightly three-course dinner, the aim being to encourage guests to mix by sitting at a different table each evening. This felt like an imposition on the first night; less so subsequently as we got to know fellow guests. Wine, also included in the package, certainly helped! Dishes ranged from confit de canard to baked cod and tartiflette.

Salami, parma ham, cheese, olives and watercress on a slate board
Salami, parma ham, cheese, olives and watercress on a slate board
Choux pastry in white bowl
A beautifully-presented choux pastry dessert
Tartiflette in white bowl
Mouthwatering tartiflette

WiFi

Wifi for guests was free, albeit unsecured and available only in the bar and dining room. I did, however, manage to get a weak signal in our room, directly above it.

The town

The hotel is in Rue Mummery, a five-minute walk from Chamonix town centre. The hub for tourism in the area, it’s pedestrianised, with lots of historic buildings and interesting shops. The ice-cold Arve, fed by mountain glaciers, tears through the centre, beneath bridges bedecked with flowers. This being summer, Chamonix is thronged with walkers, here to enjoy the many paths up and along the mountains that hem in the valley.

Flowers adorn railings above the River Arve in Chamonix, with Mont Blanc in the background.
Flowers adorn railings above the River Arve in Chamonix, with Mont Blanc in the background
Le National Bar & Brasserie in Chamonix.
Le National Bar & Brasserie in Chamonix
Floral border in Chamonix town centre
A border bursting with colour from dahlias and more in Chamonix town centre

Weather

As you can from my photos, we were very lucky with the weather during our stay. The first three days were blisteringly hot – over 30ºC – and increasingly humid. The heatwave broke with a couple of biblical thunderstorms; temperatures thereafter were more comfortable.

Getting here

We flew with EasyJet from Gatwick to Geneva. Our outward flight left on time the return flight was delayed by 20 minutes by a missing passenger. Geneva airport, where there were far too few people on duty at the security-scanning stage, felt more chaotic than Gatwick, where passport control had actually been automated, in the style of self-scanning supermarket checkouts.

VERDICT

La Sapinière is a good base for hikers and skiers in due season. As general sightseers, we also enjoyed our stay, and everything Chamonix and the surrounding area had to offer. Although the hotel would benefit from refurbishment, the views it offers across Chamonix are virtually second-to-none. As a photographer, I would highly recommend it.

On holiday in Chamonix? Four excursion ideas for you

Cable car against mountain backdrop

In summer, Chamonix is a very popular destination for walkers. It’s also a good base for exploring the surrounding area. Here are four day-trips by public transport that my family and I enjoyed – and one that I suggest is no longer worth your while.

Brevent

I’m fond of saying that the view of the mountain is better than the view from it. So here’s the exception: seeing other mountains at altitude from the top of the one you’re currently on takes some beating. This was my experience on the first day of our stay, when we took a cable car up Le Brévent, which offers a fantastic view of the Mont Blanc range.

Mont Blanc massif under clear blue skies with red paraglider beneath
A paraglider in the skies over Chamonix enjoying crystal-clear views of the Mont-Blanc massif.
Jagged mountains with valley beneath
Looking north-east along the Chamonix Valley from Brévent
View across mountains under blue skies towards distant valley
Looking north-west from Brévent into the lower Arve valley

Brévent web page

L’Aiguille du Midi

Like an eagle’s nest next to Mont Blanc, this is reached by two cable cars. The second isn’t for the faint-hearted.

Cable car at bottom of descent from iconic mountain L'Aiguille du Midi
A cable car nears the second-leg base station of the Téléphérique de L’Aiguille du Midi after a long and truly vertiginous descent.

Under clear skies, the 360° views are fantastic. The air was also noticeably thinner.

Aiguille du Midi web page

Martigny by train

Martigny is a town situated at the crook of a 90° bend in the River Rhône. There isn’t too much to see there, but the journey by train is very enjoyable. Our hotel provided us with the Chamonix Valley Carte d’hôte (guest card), which gave us free train and bus travel as far east as Vallorcine. The onward return journey aboard the Mont Blanc Express, costs €36 to travel about 25km, including a vertiginous rack-and-pinion final descent into the Rhône Valley.

Road beneath avalanche shelter in deep wooded gorge
A road hugs the side of the Trient gorge, Switzerland
Roads, a railway line and a wide river form s-curves in a valley
Roads, a railway line and the river curve around the Rhône Valley near Vernayaz, Switzerland

Mont Blanc Express website (only provided in French)

Vertic’Alp d’Emosson

This is a three-stage ascent to a dam in the mountains, right on the Franco-Swiss border. It would be the ideal location for an action sequence in a spy movie. The first was a funicular railway that made a near-vertical 700-metre ascent:

Carriage on very steep funicular railway
Carriages pass on the funicular railway –
the steepest in the world – that’s the first stage of Verticalp d’Emosson.

The second was a mile-long train journey:

Miniature train with red carriages on the side of a mountain
The miniature railway that snakes around a mountain to the base of the Barrage d’Emosson.

The third was quirkier still:

Little red carriage on funicular railway
‘Le Minifunic’, the third stage of the climb to the Barrage d’Emosson, high above the Vallée du Trient, on the Franco-Swiss border.

From the top, the views were stunning:

Mountain valley beneath broken cloud
Looking across the Vallée du Trient towards Mont Blanc.
High dam built into mountain
The 180-metre high Barrage d’Emosson, right up in the mountains on the border between France and Switzerland.

At €40 for an adult to get up and down the mountain, it wasn’t cheap but we very much enjoyed it as the final treat in our week-long stay.

Vertic’Alp d Emosson website

Mer de Glace

And so to the trip I don’t recommend if you’re expecting a stunning view of a huge glacier. The sea of ice is now barely a sorry trickle as viewed from the station at Montenvers. The Glacier de Bossons, clearly visible from Chamonix, is more impressive.

Tail of glacier in steep rocky valley
The much-shrunken Mer de Glace, from Montenvers

The journey is worth taking only if a walk in the Alps is your plan or if you have the Mont Blanc MultiPass. We used this to  visit Brevent and L’Aiguille du Midi, as well as the Mer de Glace. Although expensive, it was much better value for money than paying individually for each attraction.

Mer de Glace web page

 

I hope you find my suggestions useful. In my next post, I’ll tell you about where we stayed. If you’ve visited any of these attractions, or you’d like to share your own suggestions, please do so in the comments below. I look forward to hearing from you.