The MBFF family members are regular visitors to 💦 Lac Vert in Plaine-Joux (Passy), and a visit a couple of🍂 autumns ago reminded me that I should write an article exclusively about this lovely alpine lake!
A visit here is a great family day out: a short walk, with fun wooden walkways and some scrambling too, boulders to climb, 🌲 trees and 🏔 snowy mountain peaks reflected in the shallow green waters of the lake, and magnificent views of 🏔 the Massif du Mont-Blanc!
An ethereal green mountain lake, 💦 Lac Vert is fed by underwater sources and it is protected by the tall pine trees (reflected in all their glory in the shallow waters of the lake) surrounding it. The lake has been classified a natural site since 1909 (you are not allowed to swim, litter, 🏕 camp or 🔥 light fires) and wooden passerelles were put in place by the ONF (Office National des Forêts), to protect (and prevent further damage to) the borders of the lake.
💦 Lac Vert’s transparent waters allow you to observe the bottom of the lake, with the accumulation of trees and vegetation; this, and the presence of blue algae, give the lake its mesmerising emerald green colour.
A little history . . .
In the 15th century, the Dérochoir landslide blocked the course of the 💦 Arve river and the village of Servoz down below was flooded . . . this natural disaster also produced the 💦 Lac Vert. Another huge landslide in 1751 deposited the huge boulders that you see today half-submerged in, and around, the small natural lake.
And a legend . . .
According to a legend told by the abbé André Vuillermoz in the book Le Chamois Blanc et le Lac Vert, on certain full moon ❄️ winter nights, it is possible to see 🦌 a moving a white chamois on the frozen lake; a chamois who had been killed a long time before by a Chamonix huntsman. After the death of the chamois, the good Dame de la Montagne (the Lady of the Mountain) appeared and shed an emerald green tear (like those emeralds found deep in the glaciers) into the 💦 Lac Vert. This tear covered the body of the chamois and gave the lake its unique colour.
And also, if you look very, very carefully, you might just see 🗡 Excalibur rising from the waters (several scenes of the TV series Kaamelott were filmed at the Lac Vert).
At the very least, you should be able to spot some 🐟 fish and vegetation!
A family visit to Lac Vert – some top tips!
🎒 baby-carriers & baby backpacks – are de rigueur here! Buggies are NOT an option for a clamber around this small mountain lake (though you can fairly easily walk down from Plaine-Joux with a buggy, along the paved road; it’s quite a steep walk back though!), as there are enormous 🌲 tree roots and boulders and the sentier is very narrow in parts!
🍏 picnic spots – in the summertime, there are plenty of shady flat spots to lay out picnic blankets, some (new) benches and picnic tables, and plenty of great boulders too! On an autumn visit, I saw an older couple enjoying their sandwiches, happily sat facing the autumn sun, on the other side of the lake;
💦 be watchful – with toddlers and small children, as there are plenty of spots where they could fall in lake! The passerelles are often slippery and some of the rocks sharp. Perhaps take along some spare clothes for little ones? (note: sometimes in autumn, the wooden walkways are sometimes submerged!);
🧗♂️ bouldering & scrambling – those devastating landslides left some pretty fabulous boulders for older children to climb!
[ DISCLAIMER: again, be watchful! Our little scrambler – the one in the photo below – headed off without an adult this summer (obviously against our rules!), and he slipped off a rock and hit his head; we called the pompiers and he was taken to hospital for stitches!) – a very scary experience! ]
🐟 wildlife – look out for fish in the lake (fishing is permitted, with a special licence), dragon-flies and 🦅 birds of prey overhead . . .
✨ NEW for 2020 – a little wooden jetty, where you can picnic or watch the fish!
[ good to know: during the school holidays, there are often activities organised by the Réserve Naturelle de Passy / check FB page for updates ]
If you prefer a warm interior (or sunny terrace!), you may prefer a restaurant option over a picnic. Here are some options:
☕️ Le Restaurant du Lac Vert – is right next to the 💦 Lac Vert, so it is the obvious choice! It has a newly-built terrace, with fabulous views of the Mont-Blanc Massif / 🗓 opening dates: now also open in autumn and winter (do check opening dates and hours!);
address: 1600 chemin des Parchets / tel: 06 48 34 49 99; FB page;
☕️ Le Refuge Le Châtelet d’Ayères – is accessible on foot over both summer and winter seasons (and with snow-shoes);
address: route du Châtelet / tel: 06 60 81 37 82; FB page;
☕️ La Bergerie (Plaine-Joux) – a firm favourite chez MBFF on a ski day! And it is pretty much open year-round at the weekend (but still check opening hours!);
🥾 boucle (loop) around the lake – for young ones, a 20 to 30mins jaunt around the lake should suffice . . . 🐟 fish to spot, and perhaps the odd person 🎣 fishing, maybe a 🦅 bird of prey overhead . . . rocks to scramble over, wooden walkways . . .
🥾 Plaine-Joux to Lac Vert boucle – this is a walking and ❄️ snow-shoe route (and you can extend it to the Refuge du Châtelet d’Ayeres) / about 1h30 walking and 4km;
✨ NEW since 2019 / 2020 ! – you can now get to 💦 Lac Vert via the old ancienne route du Lac Vert, starting at 🌁 the Passerelle Himalayenne. This bridge is a marvel of engineering and a visit in itself! Our boys LOVE it and we have now visited serveral times!
[ ⇒ to read the MBFF article about our visits, see here ]
[ ⇒ for ❄️ snow-shoe routes, see section below . . . ]
An 🍁 autumn visit to Lac Vert
💦 Lac Vert is stunning at any time of the year, but it really comes alive in 🍁 autumn, when the 🍂 golden leaves of the trees can be seen reflected in its shallow emerald green water, or underfoot!
A ❄️ winter visit to Lac Vert
A ❄️ winter visit to 💦 Lac Vert will offer a different experience – ❄️ snow carpeting the forest and crunching underfoot, perhaps snow frosting the trees, a frozen lake . . .
There are ❄️ several snow-shoe routes, and these are outlined on pink signs:
- ❄️ boucle de la Côte (above Le Mont and Servoz) au Lac Vert;
- ❄️ boucle du Lac Vert;
- ❄️ boucle du Barmus;
The 🥾 boucle du Barmus, as experienced by MBFF:
Here is are a couple of amazing 📷 aerial drone photos of Lac Vert from young Chamonix photographer and drone operator 📷 Doytcheva, who captures this beautiful valley from the sky (FB page and print shop): one capturing mid-autumn, mid-winter scene and one a winter scene!
A 🍃 summer visit to Lac Vert
🍃 Summertime 🍃 is when the 💦 Lac Vert’s emerald green colour is at its sharpest! It is truly magical, with the reflections of 🌲🌲🌲 green trees in the green water enhancing the whole green experience!
Summertime is also when 💦 Lac Vert is at its busiest, but you’ll still find some quiet spots of a picnic!
As seen from above, captured by Doytcheva . . .
Further family activities nearby
Unless you opt to do a longer walk, a visit to 💦 Lac Vert is at most a half-day affair, allowing for other activities if you have a willing group! You have plenty of options in Plaine-Joux and Plateau d’Assy!
Plaine-Joux – you may decide to park here, in which case you’ll have plenty of choices! During the warmer months (before Passy Plaine-Joux turns into a family ski resort!), there is plenty of space to run around and to kick a ball, watch the parapentes taking off on a clear day . . . or you could visit the 🦌 Maison de la Réserve Naturelle de Passy or have a go on the 🌲 accrobranches ® Accro’Cimes (FB page here).
🌻 Le Jardin des Cimes – on the drive from Plaine-Joux to Plateau d’Assy, you will pass this delightful alpine garden (🗓 open end of May until end of September). This magical spot is a firm favourite chez MBFF; read more about it here;
⛰ Plateau d’Assy – if you drive back down to the valley floor through Plateau d’Assy, then you can’t miss the 🏥 1930s tuberculosis sanitoriums: huge and often garishly coloured buildings on bends of the road (these are the ones still in use), and then on the plateau itself you’ll see many that are in a state of total or half-abandon . . . Plateau d’Assy is a fascinating place, rich in both ⛑ medical and also 🖼 art history, and it is worth exploring!
- 🏥 medical history – in the 1930s, to deal with the thousands of cases of tuberculosis in France, Plateau d’Assy was chosen as the prime location to build 🏥 a dozen sanitoriums. This location in Passy was chosen because: its altitude of between 1000m and 1350m kept it above the fog of the valley, the air was dry and it had a sun-exposed midday orientation, temperatures were never extreme, it was protected from the wind by the dominant rock faces of the Fiz mountain chain, it was in the heart of the forest, with drinking water available. . . and – perhaps most importantly – its location was fairly isolated from local inhabitants (to prevent the spread of tuberculosis), and yet it was still near a 🚉 train station, for the access of patients . . . Once the plateau was chosen, prominent architects like Henri Jacques Le Même and Pol Abraham designed the sanitoriums, which would then host thousands of patients with tuburculosis. As tuberculosis affected both rich and poor, there was even a luxury sanitorium reserved for the very wealthy, with suites and fine dining – 🏨 the Grand Hôtel du Mont-Blanc. Famous people who spent time at the sanitoriums include: 🧬 Marie Curie, who died in 1934 at the Sancellemoz sanitorium, and 🎵 Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, who recovered from the disease, but whose wife Katya and daughter Ludmila both died from their infection. Advances in medicine and the development of effective antibiotics in the treatment of tuberculosis rendered these sanitoriums obsolete by the 1960s. Known locally as 🛳 paquebots (large passenger ships), these sanitoriums were then largely converted into: rehabilitation & re-education centres, a holiday centre (the salmon pink Guébriant), and some were converted into apartments. The future for the recently abandoned sanitoriums is uncertain;
[ good to know – ℹ️ Passy Tourisme organises guided tours of the sanitoriums and ⛪ the church, and there is a good leaflet available a the Tourist Office too ]
⇒ more information – read this 📝 fascinating article in Le Temps by journalist Christian Lecomte, for more information about the sanitoriums, their history and their uncertain future . . .
- 🖼 art history – around the sanitoriums, family hotels, shops and restaurants opened to accommodate visiting families . . . and the tuberculosis patients and their families needed a church, and hence in 1937, ⛪ Notre-Dame-de-Toute-Grâce, « l’église des malades », was built. This quirky church is well worth a visit. It was made famous by the work of several renowned artists: the façade’s mosaic was created by painter and ceramist Fernand Léger; Georges Braque added a bronze tabernacle and Marc Chagall a baptistery. You’ll also see some unique sculptures gracing bends in the road on the drive from Passy to Plateau d’Assy.
🚘 by car – you can access 💦 Lac Vert via the main route from Plateau d’Assy, bringing you to Plaine-Joux / or you can use the less-frequented Servoz route (in wintertime, on certain days, even the main route to Plaine-Joux can be challenging with winter tyres; we one had to turn back!) / in summertime, you are no longer alloed to park at Lac Vert; instead you can take a navette from Plaine-joux (or walk) / or now, you can park at the wooden totems and walk up via the ancienne route du Lac Vert, crossing the Himalayan suspension bridge (currently being repaired!);
🚵♂️ by bike – for road-biking families, for a good workout, you can head up to Plaine-Joux on the road from Passy! VTT enthusiasts love the route through the 🌲 forest for the way back down to the valley in Chedde! (watch this video for a dizzying glimpse of a descent!) / now you can use the ancienne route du Lac Vert, crossing the Himalayan suspension bridge;
🥾 on foot – there are plenty of walking paths and snow-shoe routes, taking you up to 💦 Lac Vert . . . (see above for Passerelle Himalayenne option);
You can 🚘 park at Plaine-Joux, where there is ample space, or you can continue to drive down to 💦 Lac Vert and park there (limited space) – note: NOT in the winter ski season and NO LONGER in summer – in summer, you’ll have to park at Plaine-Joux, as you are no longer allowed to park at Lac Vert!) / or park at the wooden totems in Plateau d’Assy, for the walk across the Passerelle Himalayenne (1hour hike);