Montenvers Mer de Glace
Step into the pages of history !
The Montenvers rack railway starts from Chamonix and, in 25 minutes and in total safety, climbs to an altitude of 1913 metres where it reaches the bottom of the Mer de Glace, France’s largest glacier (7km long, 200 m thick). This historic site marked the start of Alpine tourism in the 19th century and offers a panoramic view of famous peaks such as Les Drus (3754m) and the Grandes Jorasses (4208m).
The tour of the “Grotte de Glace” (Ice Cave) takes visitors into the very heart of the glacier. Re-sculpted every year, it describes the life of mountain people in the early 19th century. It can be entered either by a walk of around 20 minutes on a footpath, or by gondola lift.
Please note :
- there are 398 steps from the arrival of the gondola to the entrance to the cave.
- the Ice Cave and gondola have 2 periods of closure each year, one in the autumn and one in the spring, please check before your visit.
The “Galerie des Cristaux” (Crystals Gallery) with its collection of items from Mont Blanc is also included in the tour.
Hill-walks include the hike from Montenvers to Plan de l'Aiguille via the Grand Balcon Nord hill-walking trail and also the return descent down to Chamonix via the villages of Les Planards or Les Bois.
There are two choices for eating: either fast food at the railway station buffet or else a Savoie or traditional meal in the Grand Hôtel at Montenvers, a place full of history and authenticity built in 1880.
During the summer the hotel serves its original main purpose, i.e., accommodating mountaineers, travellers and adventurers, just as it did in the late 19th century. With its 9 rooms and its dormitory, it has retained the charm and simplicity of bygone days.
The biggest glacier in France
From Montenvers, everybody can reach the Mer de Glace which offers an extraordinary natural spectacle. With a surface area of 40 km2 and at 7 km long, the Mer de Glace is the biggest glacier in France. Its width varies between 700 and 1950 metres and on average the ice is 200 metres thick and can sometimes exceed 400 metres. The Mer de Glace advances at 90 metres per year, and at up to 130 metres in places! In summer, you can look down on the roped teams of mountaineers moving about the glacier on crampons.
Until the end of the 19th century, the Mer de Glace could be seen from Chamonix. Today, it has receded, living proof of the climate change that is affecting our planet.
The history of the little red train
At the dawn of the third millennium, this hundred-year-old train is demonstrating a sparkling vitality.
- 1908 : Inauguration of the line. The journey lasts 55 minutes.
- 1946 : At Montenvers, a cave is hollowed out of the glacier to allow tourists to explore the interior in complete safety and without a guide.
- 1953 : The line is electrified.
- 1960 : Construction of the gondola to take people down to the Mer de Glace from Montenvers.
- 1993 : Opening of the line in winter courtesy of the construction of a para-avalanche.
Organise your visit :
The journey on the train from Chamonix to the Montenvers site takes 25 minutes.
The total visit (including the Ice Cave) lasts 2 - 3 hours on average (including the train journey). However, it can be up to twice as long on peak days.