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613km (381 miles) SE of Paris; 82km (51 miles) E of Annecy

At an altitude of 1,027m (3,369 ft.), Chamonix is the historic capital of Alpine skiing. This is the resort to choose if you're not a millionaire. Site of the first Winter Olympic Games, in 1924, Chamonix is in a valley almost at the junction of France, Italy, and Switzerland. Skiers the world over know its 20km (12-mile) Vallée Blanche run, one of the most rugged, and the longest, in Europe. With exceptional equipment -- gondolas, cable cars, and chairlifts -- Chamonix is among Europe's major sports resorts, attracting an international crowd with lots of English and Swedish skiers. Thrill seekers also flock here for mountain climbing and hang gliding. An old-fashioned mountain town, Chamonix has a breathtaking backdrop, Mont Blanc, western Europe's highest mountain at 4,734m (15,531 ft.).

The 11km (6 3/4-mile) Mont Blanc Tunnel (tel. 04-50-55-39-36, www.tunnelmb.net) has made Chamonix a major stop along one of Europe's busiest highways. The tunnel is the easiest way to the mountains to Italy; motorists stop here even if they aren't interested in skiing or mountain climbing. For vehicles originating in France, the round-trip toll for a car and its passengers is 42.40€ one-way, 53€ round-trip. The return half of the round-trip ticket must be used within 7 days of issue. For information, call tel. 04-50-55-55-00.

Chamonix sprawls in a narrow strip along both banks of the Arve River. Its casino, rail and bus stations, and most restaurants and nightlife are in the town center. Cable cars reach into the mountains from the town's edge. Locals refer to Les Praz, Les Bossons, Les Moussoux, Argentière, and Les Pélérins as satellite villages within greater Chamonix, though technically Chamonix refers to only a section around place de l'Eglise.