About the French Alps
A large part of the impressive European Alps are in France. The Alp-region is beautiful and known for it’s many opportunities for outdoor sports. The Alp region is one of the areas that receives the most tourists in all of Europe, so there are many facilities and services in place to accommodate visitors.
The largest town in the French Alps is Chamonix, located at the base of Europe’s highest mountain, glacier-covered Mont Blanc. Although Pompe and I have toured many regions of the Alps, we have spent the majority of our time in the Chamonix valley.
Chamonix receives enormous amounts of visitors during the peak-season, which is around Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the school-holidays in February, Easter and July to August.
Although Chamonix is beautiful, there are so many amazing mountain-destinations in the French Alps that are less crowded. We highly recommend looking into other destinations, especially if you can’t go outside peak-season.
General Attitude and Regulation
The general attitude towards dogs is great in the Alp region of France. To the rural French, dogs are a part of life, and one is welcome to bring them along almost everywhere one goes.
The locals believe in freedom for dogs and bring them along to a wide variety of events. You see happy dogs with their owners on the hiking trails, off-leash on the streets in the small towns, and in bars during the evenings.
One thing we find a bit bizarre, however, is that people who don’t know me or my dog regularly gave him food, often from their picnic or restaurant tables. This can obviously crash any training you may have done to make your dog not beg for human’s food.
Like in most other countries, the law stipulates that one must pick up after your dog and keep your dog on a leash. However, the French can be quite rebellious from time to time (as history has shown us many times). One way in which you notice the rebellion gene is that the laws relating to dogs are not widely followed.
Very few locals seem to pick up after their dogs, whether they are on a leash or not. The authorities try to encourage people to do the right thing by providing free dog-poop bags in dispensers all over Chamonix and other towns. But still, this doesn’t seem reason enough for many dog owners to pick up after their dogs. I have to say, it is truly disgusting to witness the entire winter’s harvest of dog-poop appear in the early spring when the snow melts.
Although many French, especially the ones who live in big cities, keep their dogs on leashes, many don’t.
Where Dogs are Welcome
Dogs are welcome in many places in the French Alps, including restaurants and shops. Only on some types of public transportation may you have a problem bringing your dog.
Dogs are welcome in most restaurants, even in the high-end ones. We certainly appreciated this as it opens up the possibility to enjoy cozy and relaxing indoor evening meals while traveling with your dog.
After the lovely time spent with my dog in the restaurants of the French Alps, I really had to ask myself what the many restaurant owners in the rest of the world are scared of when they ban dogs form coming along with their owners. We never saw any problems with dogs in the French restaurants. The dogs stayed calm near their owners and other guests regularly came up to them to give them joyful pets and cuddles.
As you, as a dog owner probably already know, the ambiance in a group of people changes a little when there are one or a few dogs around. People become more relaxed, personal and tolerant of each other. Our experience was that the same happened in the French restaurants, which has got to be good for the business of the restaurants…
Go Frenchies for your dog-friendly restaurant policies and culture in general!
Dogs are welcome in most shops except supermarkets and bakeries. Your dog is not even welcome in bakeries where everything is behind counter. We were told that is because it’s against the countries’ hygiene laws.
Dogs are allowed on local busses and trains in the Chamonix-valley. However, they are not always allowed on long-distance busses; for instance on the ones that go to Geneva, Switzerland.
You will also have a problem getting to and from the airport in Switzerland as the popular transfer services don’t allow dogs, not even if they are in their air-travel box. Your options are getting a ride through a ride-sharing service such as BlaBla Car, or taking the train to Geneva and sorting out a multi-transfer trip to Chamonix from there.
There are lots of things you can do with your dog in the French Alps. In fact, it would make more sense to write what you can’t do with your dog in the French Alps than what you can do.
Hiking and Sight Seeing
Many ski-lifts run during the summer months and take hikers, bikers and sight-seers up the steep mountainsides. Although dogs are usually allowed onto the cable-cars during the summer, they are not allowed onto all cable-cars, especially ones that go to high altitude and/or glaciers. Make sure to contact the tourist office before you plan on using a particular ski-lift to ensure that your dog can come with you.
Dogs love the mountains! It’s truly heart-warming to see how happy they are when out discovering the steep slopes, and it’s amazing how well they get around on steeps. If the path/rock-section is too steep to climb, dogs usually find ways around it.
We have seen people bring their dogs on very steep hikes. Some hikes in the mountains of France are so steep that the mountain authorities bolt metal ladders into the rock in sections that are too steep to ascend and descend safely. The dog owners we saw on these trails had harnesses for their dogs so they could lift them up and down the ladders if their dogs didn’t find a way around the tricky parts.
Make sure to read the maps carefully before you set out. Dogs are not allowed in national parks, and around places like Chamonix there are several such parks. However, there are also many areas where dogs are allowed, so it won’t be a problem to enjoy many different hikes with your dog.
The French have an impressive amount of mountain huts dotted around the areas of the Alps that can’t be accessed by car. Some are not staffed, but many have guardians and chefs. Hikers are welcome to stay overnight in bunk-rooms and are served delicious 3-course meals and can even buy alcoholic drinks. Many of the ‘Refuges’, as they are referred to, accept dogs and the dogs usually get a warm blanket to sleep on.
Pompe and I stayed in our first mountain Refuge together in Chamonix, the outdoor sports-hub of the Alps, located in a narrow valley.
Pompe needed to go out to do his thing in the middle of the night, so I let him outside. But he must have found something scary, because he started barking frantically, as he does when he is scared. I rushed out to see what the threat was, just to find him barking at the glowing snake-like string of lights that the town of Chamonix made up 1,000 meters below us.
Snow-Shoeing and Ski-Touring
The winter-equivalent to hiking is, of course, snow-shoeing. The tourist offices usually have good information on show-shoeing routes in the quiet and beautiful back-country.
For those who have the equipment and snow-safety knowledge to do this strenuous sport, ski-touring is truly amazing, and I have never seen Pompe happier. He bounced up and down in the snow like a rabbit, tirelessly setting off snow-ball after snow-ball that he chased down the mountain.
Of course, there is the option to hire guides and equipment for both snow-shoeing and ski-touring. Apart from ensuring your safety, a guide will save you time planning. There are countless guide services in Chamonix, the main one is Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix; however, they are not the cheapest guides and they have a reputation for not being the most friendly guides in the Alps.
There is a Facebook group called Cham Dog Share. Dog meet-ups are regularly organized through this group. Anyone who wants to join is welcome to simply show up during one of the meet-ups that usually take place on an open field near Chamonix. The dogs have a blast, running around and playing with each other, while the owners stand around chatting and sharing dog-tips.
Or, may we suggest that you do what many French do? Just let your dog off-leash in a calm area and let your dog find his own friends. Of course, all humans won’t like this, but the dogs sure love it.