Another great attraction in 🏔 Chamonix on many families’ list is the 🚂 Montenvers cog rail journey up to the ❄️ Mer de Glace glacier (France’s largest glacier, at around 7km long).
The 🚂 iconic red train will take you on a relaxing 20 minute journey (around 5km) up the mountainside, through 🌲 forests, viaducts and tunnels cut through the rock, and up to the glacier at 1,913m (an ascent of about 1000m).
[ note – children from the age of 12 months are allowed aboard, which makes this an accessible family outing ]
Montenvers departure station
The 🚉 departure station for the Montenvers train is just behind the Gare SNCF, and there is an 🚂 old locomotive for children to play on as they wait.
Montenvers train – a little history
Since the naming of the ❄️ Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice) by British explorers William Windham and Richard Pococke in the mid 18th century, tourists had been visiting the impressive glacier in increasing numbers. In the 19th century, the return journey would still take a whole day, even aided by mules, and so many tourists were content with visiting the tongue of the glacier (Le Glacier des Bois), which reached down to the valley floor.
🧓 famous visitors to the ❄️ Mer de Glace – Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, John Ruskin, Charles Dickens, Louis Pasteur, Napoléon lll and Eugénie . . .
It was hence only a matter of time before the idea to exploit this natural tourist attraction should evolve in the early 20th century. And so the idea for a 🚂 cog railway developed. Three years of construction ensued, and the 🚂 Montenvers train opened to the public in 1909.
🚂 La locomotive N°1 heading up to Les Planards . . .
« Légendaire Montenvers » – fresco by Collectif Chamshake
In September 2017 – next to the Montenvers departure station – 🎨 a fresco was completed . . . it was conceived and painted by Sow (of the Collectif Chamshake) and her two helpers, Djé and Andrien. On an exterior wall of what was an old warehouse, the mural tells the story of the discovery of the Montenvers glacier and the development of the coggle train, as well as depicting two important alpinists (Bonatti and Rebuffat) and a lady tourist from the 19th century, travelling up to the glacier by mule.
Watch 🎬 a video showing the progress of « Légendaire Montenvers » here:
Activities at Montenvers arrival station
There are 🗻 beautiful views from the arrival station, though a view upon the glacier is also a stark reminder to us of how much the glacier has receded this century.
You should leave yourself a good half day for the train journey and activities on offer at the arrival station, and if you want to have a leisurely walk or to hike, then leave yourself a full day.
Once at the arrival station, there are plenty of activities to keep the whole family entertained:
- 🖼 Glaciorium – an interactive and educational space highlighting the formation of the Mer de Glace, its history and its future evolution;
- ❄️ Ice Grotto – a 30 mins walk via a trail, or a 5 mins gondola ride (but still with 400 steps), takes you into the heart of the Mer de Glace glacier, where you will find ice sculptures / the grotto has to be carved out fresh every year, due to the glacier’s movement!
- 🎭 Temple of Nature – an optical theatre, with rear projection on glass, here stories are told by the scientists and artists who loved this nature spot;
[ note – do check opening hours of all of these attractions, as there are ❄️ seasonal changes! ]
Terminal Neige: Refuge du Montenvers
The newly renovated ☕️ Terminal Neige: Refuge du Montenvers (belonging to the Maisons et Hotels Sibuet label) was originally built in the 1880s and was then called the 🏨Grand Hôtel du Montenvers – its purpose was to accommodate (in comfort!) some of the early travellers and mountaineers who came to visit the legendary Mer de Glace glacier. The grand old hotel has been stylishly refurbished, retaining its original charm. You can stop for 🥃 warm or cool drink or snack in the restaurant, or you can even spend the 🛌 night in the hotel!
[ ⇒ for more information about the hotel, rooms, restaurants and events, see here ]
🏚 from hut to fancy hotel – first there was a simple shepherd’s hut next to the glacier, and this was gradually replaced with various more stable and comfortable incarnations for visitors to the Mer de Glace . . . until the 🏨 Grand Hôtel du Montenvers was built to accommodate tourists in relative luxury!
Other options for eating and drinking include the Restaurant Le Panoramique, with its view of the Mer de Glace, and the Bar des Glaciers.
🎄 Les Trains de Noêl du Montenvers
On the two weekends before🎄 Christmas, special Christmas trains are organised . . . with activities for children and presents from 🎅 Santa up at the arrival station (included in the price of the train journey).
Hikes from Montenvers
One 🥾 trail from ❄️ Montenvers Mer de Glace leads along the Grand Balcon Nord to the Plan du Midi, from where you can take the 🚠 cable-car back down to Chamonix.
There are also 🥾 several other trails leading back down to Chamonix. One of these is the trail via the lovely ☕️ Buvette des Mottets, where you can stop for a homemade tart! (this buvette also offers a “ nuit dans une bulle ” over the summer months – four transparent tents suspended from the trees!). Another trail takes you past the welcoming ☕️ Buvette de Caillet for homemade treats.
If visiting in ❄️ wintertime, then there are some well sign-posted snow-shoe circuits that leave from the Montenvers arrival station.
[ good to know: 🌈 Chamonix’s Parc d’Attractions and Luge Alpine Coaster are located near 🚉 the Montenvers departure station ]
2021: a new chapter for Montenvers Mer de Glace
- 🚡 a NEW télécabine de la Mer de Glace, ready for December 2023 – the aim of this is to do away with the 400 steps presently required to get to the Mer de Glace;
- 🧊 a « Glaciorium », ready for December 2024 – a centre to learn about climate change and glaciers/ the Centre International des Glaciers et du Climat ” invite chaque visiteur à une expérience immersive autour des glaciers et de leur histoire. Une vocation pédagogique afin d’accompagner le grand public et les scolaires à comprendre les phénomènes liés au réchauffement climatiques “;
address of departure station: 35 place de la Mer de Glace, 74400, Chamonix; tel: +33 (0)4 50 53 22 75; website: www.montblancnaturalresort.com for train time-table & current prices and here for Terminal Neige: Refuge du Montenvers;
🅿 parking: free parking opposite, at the Parking des Planards;
🗺 map of Montenvers Mer de Glace here;