The belvederes accessible from Chamonix by cable car or mountain railway are famous. For information, contact the Compagnie du Mont-Blanc, 35 place de la Mer de Glace (tel. 04-50-53-22-75).
In town, you can board a cable car for the Aiguille du Midi and on to Italy -- a harrowing full-day journey. The first stage, a 9-minute run to the Plan des Aiguilles at an altitude of 2,263m (7,425 ft.), isn't so alarming. But the second stage, to the Aiguille du Midi station at 3,781m (12,405 ft.), may make your heart leap, especially when the car rises 600m (1,970 ft.) between towers. At the summit, you'll be about 100m (328 ft.) from Mont Blanc's peak. You'll have a commanding view of the aiguilles of Chamonix and Vallée Blanche, the largest glacier in Europe (15km/9 1/3 miles long and 6km/3 3/4 miles wide), and of the Jura and the French, Swiss, and Italian Alps.
You leave the tram station along a chasm-spanning narrow bridge leading to the third cable car and the glacial fields beyond. Or you can end your journey at Aiguille du Midi and return to Chamonix; this excursion takes half a day. Generally, the cable cars operate year-round: in summer daily 7am to 5pm, leaving at least every 10 minutes, and in winter daily 8:30am to 3:30pm, leaving every 10 minutes. The first stage, to Plan de L'Aiguille, costs 13€ round-trip. The complete round-trip from Chamonix to Aiguille du Midi goes for 40€.
You then cross over high mountains and pass jagged needles of rock and ice bathed in dazzling light. The final trip to Pointe Helbronner, Italy -- at 3,407m (11,178 ft.) -- does not require a passport if you want to leave the station and descend on two more cable cars to the village of Courmayeur. From there, you can go to nearby Entrèves to dine at La Maison de Filippo (tel. 01-65-86-97-97; www.lamaison.com), a "chalet of gluttony." The round-trip from Chamonix to Pointe Helbronner is 60€; the cable car operates from mid-May to mid-October only.
Another cableway takes you up to Le Brévent, at 2,485m (8,153 ft.). From here, you'll have a first-rate view of Mont Blanc and the Aiguilles de Chamonix. The round-trip excursion takes about 1 1/2 hours. Cable cars operate year-round from 8am to 5pm. Summer departures are at least every 15 minutes. A round-trip costs 23€.
Another journey takes you to Le Montenvers (tel. 04-50-53-12-54), at 1,883m (6,178 ft.). Access is not by cable car but on a cog railway known as the Train Montenvers-Mer de Glace. It departs from the Gare Montenvers-Mer de Glace, behind Chamonix's Gare SNCF, near the center of town. At the end of the run, you'll have a view of the 6.5km-long (4-mile) mer de glace ("sea of ice," or glacier). Immediately east of the glacier, Aiguille du Dru is a rock climb notorious for its difficulty. The trip takes 1 1/2 hours, including a return by rail. Departures are 8am to 6pm in summer, until 4:30pm in the off season; service usually operates year-round. The round-trip fare is 23€.
You can also visit a cave, La Grotte de Glace, hollowed out of the mer de glace; a cable car connects it with the resort of Montenvers, and the trip takes 3 minutes. The train, cable car, and visit to the cave cost 23€.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.