It's quite an experience, using the mechanical means to go up and down the mountain, and to walk several meters inside the glacier (with the advantage of being the shortest of the three rides locally offered).
Standing for the family photo is mandatory, and, though in a worry not to get frozen kids, we had time enough to appreciate the effects of light through the glace.
It's a great idea for a day out... Behind the train station of Chamonix there's another little station - it's where the Montenvers mountain railway leaves from. It leads you up to the altitude of about 2000m a/s/l to a magical spot where you can see La Mer de glace, a 7 mk long and 1,2 km wide. You can walk down to it by following easy trails, visit the ice-cave (tacky) or the several small museums, or simply admire the panorama - right in front of you there's the Aiguille Verte (4 121m) and the Drus (3 754 m). A breathtaking sight!
First thing one morning before the clouds rolled in we walked to the small Montenvers train station and took the Montenvers train to the LeMer De Glace "Sea of Ice" (Frances largest glacier). It's a slow cog ride up to the glacier, the cog wheel train zig zags up the mountainside through snow covered pine trees, tunnels carved into the rocks and as we reach 1,000 metres we can clearly see Chamonix down below.Of course there are other ways of viewing the glacier by skiing down from another mountain or hiking however those ways are for the most experienced. In a world where everything is super fast this morning is slow and peaceful. The journey takes 20 minutes.
When we reach the top we walked out onto a terrace and there it was - the Glacier. Beautiful and disappearing. We visited the glacier the day after it snowed in Chamonix and the snow was deep and fresh, everyone on that cog wheel took advantage of it and were diving into it! (serious!)
We did not take the cable car down to the ice cave as it was closed. We did walk along the paths to the Grand hotel-restaurant du Montenvers (dates back to 1879). There is a cafe on the terrace with a floor to ceiling window perfect to take in the snow white glacier.
In Montenvers it is possible to get closer to the glacier, going down about 300 metres with a gondola. It is also possible to go into the innards of the Mer de Glace, thanks to a man-excavated grotto in the ice. This cave has to be re-excavated every year, because it’s in the nature of glaciers that they slowly move down.
If you want to go into the ice grotto, when you get out of the gondola you must go down a stairway of 350 steps. Which of course you must climb to get back after visiting the cave.
Inside the cave there are ice sculptures that represent pieces of furniture. There are no problems with walking on the ice, because the ground of the cave is carpeted.
The gondola ticket costs EUR 10, but a combination ticket of train and gondola is EUR 21.
There are several glaciers in the massif of the Mont Blanc, but none of them is a s big as the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice), which is the biggest glacier in France, with a surface area of 40 square Km. At its centre the ice is 120 metres thick.
The way to get a close view of this glacier is by catching a little train to Montenvers, where there are panoramic terraces (and a restaurant and a café as well). The view from here is wonderful beyond description.
While in Montenvers it is interesting to visit also the Crystal Gallery and the Alpine Fauna Musem. Entrance to both is free.
The train to Montenvers has its own station in Chamonix (Gare de Montenvers) a short way from the SNCF station. The return ticket costs EUR 17. If you want to add a gondola trip to get closer to the glacier (see next tip) the combination ticket costs EUR 21.
Take a from Montenvers station (behind the SNCF Chamonix Station). The mountain train takes you to Montenvers glacier in 20 minutes. You can go down by cable to a point where you can come very close to you. The view of mountains from Montenver's terrace
Just as in previous tips, the trip to the "Mer de Glace" can be done hiking.
If you don't like a stiff climb of 2h30, you may like to take the Montenvers train, one of the last rack and pinion trains in France.
From the station of Montenvers, the access to the Mer de Glace (= a glacier) can be done by gondola or on foot (it's a spectacular, but easy walk of 20 minutes).
The glacier is a special attraction, while there is an ice grotto inside, hewn from the very bowels of the glacier. The magic blue color of the inside walls and the sculped ice furnitures are an attraction, but not really extraordinary.
Once visited this spot, we hiked back down to Chamonix via the Mottets rocks. Not an easy path. Sometimes slippery . Make sure you have good boots and hiking sticks.
If you are adventurous, this might be something for you: sometimes the path is replaced by a ladder between two caverns.
On our way down, we crossed something called "Alpine tea room chalet" . I would call it a small pine wood cabin. Still, It was an idyllic place with lots of flowers. Too bad it was closed when we passed.
This hike down took us 2 hours.
I included a sunny and a rain photo. Both weathers have their charm :-)
I admit that the first time I saw the glacier I was a little disappointed because the final half seems like a road.The glace is covered with soil and stones.But there are a number of paths for hiking and it's wonderful if the weather is good.
Mer de Glace is the 2nd largest glacier in the Alps. It is 14km long, 1800m wide and approx 400m deep. Every year it moves 45m at the edges and up to as much as 90m in the middle.
In the 17th century, the Mer de Glace reached the bottom of the valley burying and destrying everything in it's wake.
Between 1897 and 1908 a cogwheel rail line was built which has helped make Mer de Glace (Sea of ice) into a tourist attraction. There is avolanche-proofing over parts of the tracks.
THE GROTTE DE LA MER DE GLACE - This is, as it's name suggests, an ice cave. Inside the temperature is around -2 to -5C. Due to the movement of the glacier the cave is carved anew each year (takes just over 3 months) and this has been happening since 1946. As you go down to the cave - look at where the previous years opening is and you'll get an idea of how much the glacier is moving.
Inside you will probably get the chance to get a "tacky tourist photo" taken with a St. Bernard (unimaginatively called "Beethoven"!).
The Mer de Glace is a glacier located on the northern slopes of Mont Blanc.
It is 7km long and about 200 m deep which makes it the second longest glacier in the Alps.
A cog wheel train will take you up to the nearest station from Chamonix and from there you can easily walk to the ice cave.
What a nice idea of introducing the public to a Glacier.
Every year, a cave is burried in the Glacier and it's open to the public and accessible from the train. On the way, we can see Chamonix getting smaller and smaller down the mountain. From the top of the mountain, a teleferic is taking us down to the entrence. The ice is so blue!! The cave is not deep and there is a Stinky St-Bernard (bernadin dog) waiting at the end to take a picture (of course, you have to pay... but they would have payed me to picture with this dog!!)
Walking the cave, i could here the cracking ice from the mooving Glacier... from very very fare and very very deep uper the mountain... beautyfull!
The Montenvers Railway, first completed in 1909, takes you from Chamonix along a windy, tree lined and sometimes steep 5.1 km (20 minute) route to the Hotel de Montenvers station (6,276 ft/1 913m). From here you can take a gondola (or take the path during the summer) down to the Mer de Glace, the second largest glacier in the Alps. My favorite part of Montenvers was La Grotte de Glace, or Ice Grotto, essentially an ice cave which has been freshly carved out each year for the past 50 years. The deep blue glow of the glacial walls is remarkable, and after all, where else will you be able to step foot INSIDE of a glacier? Also, near the station there a free Alpine Museum with plenty of, well, stuffed wildlife.
Cost: about 20 euro for round trip train ticket + Grotte de Glace gondola
Time: at least 2 hours, more if you choose to hike back
Bottomline: Nice landscapes, unique experience, worthwhile if your budget allows
One thing that adds to the beauty of the whole place, though it looks a little bit strange, is the glacier of the 'mer de glace'. It seems to be situated in the middle of nowhere but it is so amazing. I stood opposite it with a perfect view, it was quite funny, because if I moved a little to the right, it looked like the glacier was smoke coming out of one of the villas!! When I was looking at it, I began to ponder...everything!! About nature mainly, and how cool it would be to relocate to Chamonix. Strange how a glacier river can do that to someone...
We had real bad wheater and where not allowed into the ice caves, so you will have to read others tips for info on this item. But there are other sites to see as well (even on bad weather):
- Crystal gallery
- Temple to nature
- Alpine fauna museum
- Grand hotel-Restaurant
Do take a look in the Grand hotel and let you guide to the upper floors where you can see the rooms and have a look at "old" and new pictures about the history of the hotel, the area and the Mont Blanc.
It's even possible to sleep in the hotel. In your own room or in the "gite".
Hiking on the Mer de Glace is a very interesting experience if you have never been on a glacier before.
Be sure to go prepared - this means crampons, ice axes, harness, ropes and with knowledge of crevasse rescue techniques! (Or hire a mountain guide).
Beautiful hikes are accessible from here, to reach the Grand Jorasse, the Dru and other famous mountains in the Alps.
Comfy mountain refuges such as the Couvercle Hut can be booked in advance for accomodations, or you can bivvy outdoors.
See further details under Sports tips and photos in the Travelogue section.
Recommend a mountain guide take you if you have no experience, as inexperienced people can and do die on this glacier every year.
A list of qualified guides can be found on the link below on the Chamonix.net website.
You will need to negotiate several ladders to get down. Where there are 2 ladders side by side one set is for ascending and one is for descending - don't muck up the system or you will be glared at or yelled at (likely by me! :-)