Montenvers Mer de Glace
Step into the pages of history !
It takes about twenty minutes to climb the 1,000 metres up to the Montenvers-Mer de Glace attraction. Simply hop on board the famous little red railway train. Time will stand still, and you’ll enjoy this vintage method of transport. The track climbs the mountainside running through the forest, tunnels cut through the rock and over viaducts. You enter the realm of the high mountains, and round the last bend you'll feel the magic : you've arrived at your destination at the foot of the famous Mer de Glace glacier, at an altitude of 1,913m.
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 430 steps from the arrival of 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.
History of the Site
1741 : the Englishmen Windham and Pocock are the first to visit the famous “ice-boxes” of the Chamonix Valley, they return alive to describe for the very first time what they named the Mer de Glace.
1805 : Chateaubriand, Alexandre Dumas draw inspiration from it and write eulogistic descriptions : “You are in the Arctic Ocean, beyond Greenland or New Zealand, on a polar sea…”
1880 : the Grand Hotel du Montenvers is open. This is the era when visitors are brought up to the site, at an altitude of 1,913 m, by mule or sedan chair.
1892 : the project to build a railway up to Montenvers is launched. It provokes fierce opposition amongst the people of Chamonix.
1905 : work begins.
1908 : the line opens as far as “Caillet”.
1909 : the steam train reaches its terminus, the Montenvers station, setting a new record of 55 minutes.
1946 : a new tourist attraction sees the light of day; a cave is excavated and laid out at the very heart of the glacier.
1954 : a world first for a rack railway - the line is electrified.
1960 : the gondola down to the Mer de Glace from Montenvers is installed.
1988 : the first gondola is replaced.
1993 : the line is opened in winter for the first time, thanks to the building of avalanche defences that make the line safe.
- 5141 m Length of track
- 871 m Height difference
- 14 à 20 km/h Speed
- 20 minutes Journey duration
- 152 m Viaduc
- 11 à 22 % Variation of the incline
- 2hrs 30mins Visit time (Given as an indication depending on visitor numbers)
Centenary Track Renovation (5min) - Work 2011-2023
Loïc Mermoud of the Compagnie du Mont-Blanc explains in detail (French commentary) the renovation over the next ten years of the mythical cogwheel train track which leads to the Mer de Glace.
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.
Not to be missed, this new space dedicated to glaciers. Sign of the climate changes of this century, the Montenvers site deserves a space reserved for glaciology. The Mer de Glace, its formation, its history, its future evolutions, this is what you’ll be able to discover in this interactive and educational space.
Temple de la nature
THE TEMPLE OF NATURE
Near the Montenvers Grand Hôtel, in this building (built in 1798) an innovative use of rear projection on glass, «the optical theatre» will allow you to immerge in the past and participate in discussions between artists and scientists who had a real passion for this place
Closed in winter
The Ice Cave
THE ICE CAVE
Admire the ice sculptures that trace the lives of XIXth century mountain folk. Access : 30 min via the trail, or 5 min with the gondola. Please note: 430 steps each way from the top of the gondola (not accessible in a wheelchair).
Organising your visit
- Train station terminus at 1913m
- Cable-car descent to the Mer de Glace
- Grand Hôtel du Montenvers
- The Temple of Nature
- Viewpoint overlooking the Glacier
- Gallery of Cristals
- If you are planning a trek with children, do not overestimate their ability and choose a suitable itinerary. Check the weather forecast, and take water, cereal bars, hats, sunglasses and sun cream.
- The descent to the ice cave is half in a cable-car, and half down steps (about 430). Consider this before going on this visit.
- Should you wish to spend a night in the Grand Hôtel du Montenvers, please book online on our website (from May 2014).
- 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.
- Children access : yes , from 12 months old.
- Elderly access : yes (difficult access to the ice cave - 430 steps).
- Disabled access (in wheelchair with accompanying person) : yes - indicate when buying your tickets. No access to the Ice Cave (400 steps). Access to Glaciorium and crystals gallery with accompanying persons.
- Toilets : Chamonix departure station, at the top in the Hotel du Montenvers and at the arrival station.
- Disabled toilets : yes , departure and arrival points, and in the Glaciorium during Summer.
- Parking : yes , free closeby (Parking Planards).
- Animals : Allowded (dogs kept on a leash.)