Last weekend was the first official weekend of 🍁 autumn, and MBFF had a super adventure: we were invited to test out 🚃 VerticAlp Emosson ! We had the most gloriously ☀️ sunny day to experience this phenomenal feat of engineering, which also has a rich history. I would say that 🍂 autumn – before closure for the season on 20th October 2019 – is the best season to visit: the summer crowds have dispersed, it’s not too hot, you’ll see the rusty hues on ⛰ the mountain slopes opposite, and you’ll experience the warm autumn light, perfect for 📷 photography . . . Whether you have non-walking family members visiting, or you are simply looking for a superb family day out, MBFF highly recommends 🚃 VerticAlp Emosson !
Located in 🇨🇭 Valais (Switzerland), on the Franco-Swiss border between 🇨🇭 Martigny (CH) and 🇫🇷 Chamonix (FR), 🚃 VerticAlp Emosson opened in 2015, after a couple of years of renovation and rejuvenation from its old standing as the 🚃 Parc d’Attraction de Châtelard . . . So what exactly is this attraction? It is 3 unique rail installations (a 2-cabin funicular, a panoramic little train and a mini funicular), which take you from the valley floor up to the 💦 Barrage d’Emosson (a hydroelectric dam) at 1965m. And it is one of the most vertiginous tourist attractions in 🇨🇭 Switzerland, with a rail incline of 87% on the first funicular.
I had already visited the 💦 Barrage & Lac d’Emosson on several occasions before last weekend’s family outing:
- I had hiked to see the 🦕 dinosaur prints and spent a night in the Refuge de Loriaz;
- I had headed there a couple of times en voiture to admire the views during different seasons (I had even made a ⛄️ snowman with my then 2-year old in October!);
BUT, up until last Saturday, I had NEVER had the pleasure to access the dam via the incredible 🚃 VerticAlp Emosson! I was so glad to be able to share this new experience en famille. The whole family loved our adventure, and the WOW factor is most definitely there with this attraction, that I can confirm!
A little history
1919 – the 🚃 Barberine funicular was built by Chemins de Fer Fédéraux Suisses to transport the necessary material (and workers!) up to construct the 💦 Barrage de Barberine (the dam was completed in 1925, and the funicular was conserved for maintenance purposes and for safety checks). Today, this rail segment is the same as the one of a century ago, but the funicular is brand new as of 2015, as the previous one no longer fit the norms of l’Office Fédéral des Transports (OFT);
1969 until 1975 – these years heralded the impressive engineering work on the 💦 Barrage d’Émosson, located on the col de la Gueulaz. This formidable dam, with a wall 180m high, can hold up to 227 million cubic metres of water! At the time of this dam’s construction, the decision was taken to dismantle the 🚃 Barberine funicular, but a society decided to conserve the incredible 87% rail incline, and then constructed a 🚂 train line between Les Montuires and the foot of the new 💦 Barrage d’Emosson . . . and these TWO attractions became . . .
1975 – the tourist attraction 🚃 Le Parc d’Attractions du Châtelard (the big brother to 🚃 VerticAlp Emosson!) opened to the public;
1977 – the 🚃 Monorail was constructed, to take tourists from the base of the dam up to the top!
1988 until 1991 – the 🚃 Monorail was replaced by the 🚃 Minifunic;
2015 – 🚃 VerticAlp Emosson was opened to the public, after a renovation programme and rebranding;
Le Funiculaire du Châtelard, Le Train Panoramique & Le Munifunic
Your ⛰ vertical journey happens in three stages:
- 🚃 the Funiculaire du Châtelard takes you from the 🚉 Châtelard train station, up to Les Montuires, 700m higher;
- 🚂 the panoramic train then snakes through 🌲 forest and winds through tunnels, bringing you to the base of the Emosson dam!
- 🚃 and finally, the Minifunic takes you up to the 💦 Barrage d’Emosson in a couple of minutes!
🚃 Le Funiculaire du Châtelard – this part of the journey takes around 10 minutes, and you gain 700m over 1306m! At its steepest incline, you’ll be at 87% (the gasping of tourists at this point is audible!). You’ll arrive at Les Montuires mid-station, at 1825m (see below for the fabulous activities on offer here);
🚂 Le Train Panoramique – this was my favourite part of the whole 🚃 Verticalp Emosson experience, as we were sitting outdoors contemplating the grandiose scenery and engineering wizardry! The rail is 1650m long, with 5 tunnels (the cool air will take your breath away as you enter each tunnel!), and the little red train chugs and whistles along at 6 km/h, all the while allowing you to marvel at the 🏔 snow-capped Mont-Blanc massif and the Gorges du Bouqui down below . . . you alight after a 12 minute ride at the base of the breathtaking 💦 Barrage d’Emosson;
🚃 Le Minifunic – the final part of your rail journey will take you from the base of the Émosson dam up to the top; in just two minutes you will gain 143m, and this time the maximum incline is a mere 73% 😉 !
Les 3 Barrages d’Emosson
🚃 VerticAlp Emosson will reward you with impressive views of the majestic 💦 Barrage d’Emosson, but there are – in fact – three dams in close proximity on-site :
- 💦 Barrage d’Emosson – the impressive hydroelectric dam was built between 1969 and 1975 and inaugurated in 1976! It is the second largest dam in Switzerland in view of its capacity (227 million m3);
- 💦 Barrage de Barberine – the original dam on this impressive site, construction between 1920 and 1925!
- 💦 Barrage du Vieux Emosson (2205m) – built in 1955;
💦 visiting the interior galleries of the Barrage d’Emosson – did you know that you can visit a section of the 17km galleries of the INTERIOR of the dam, to view up close the impressive engineering? My husband visited for work (I had no idea until our family adventure!) and he says that you could build a cathedral inside! / you can organise a group visit (for up to 30 people); contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or +41 (0)27 769 11 11;
🚵♂️ interesting fact: the montée from Finhaut up to the Lac d’Emosson is a popular route for road cyclists, and part of the Tour de France 2016 cycled up to and across the Barrage d’Emosson!
Mid-station Les Montuires & Le Village des Branchés
Aire de Jeux aux Montuires – there is a super little playground at the mid-station, with fabulous views . . . you can let the kids play and sit and have a drink just next door at the ☕️ VerticAlp Café!
🖼 Galerie VerticAlp – next the 🚂 departure station for the train panoramique, is a free exhibition to visit: old scales from the first half of 20th century, from brands Berkel and Busch;
🌳 Le Village des Branchés des Montuires – this magical world, constructed out of branches and moss, was created by Tribal Cabane and it was one of the many highlights of our family visit! Leave yourself plenty of time to stroll through the village and let your imagination flow free . . . you can either partake in the little 🎨 creative ateliers (drawing, writing, music), or you can simply sit and dream and admire the views . . . / see here for more details;
My boys absolutely loved the 🎨 creative workshops, and I’m glad we allowed them the leisurely time to wander around at their own pace . . . and they found their inspiration naturally! How could you not, with such grandiose scenery all around?
You will have plenty of great options for eating on your 🚃 VerticAlp Emosson adventure . . . for ☕️ restaurants and cafés, do remember to BOOK AHEAD, especially for weekend visits and during busy periods!
☕️ VerticAlp Café des Montuires – with the playground next door, and fabulous views of Mont-Blanc massif! (and Toblerone ice-cream!) / tel: +41 27 769 11 15 or email@example.com;
🏚 Cabane du Vieux Emosson – it is a one hour walk to this cabane from the Minifunic arrival station . . . It is perched on a rock, and nestled in an area steeped in history and prehisory . . . and you can also spend the night here in a dormitory! / website & FB page;
🍏 picnic – this was by far the best option for us, with our fussy little eaters! And we knew exactly where we wanted to picnic, a short walk across the barrage!
Exploring the 3 Barrages d’Emosson area – hikes
We chose to keep our day simple and to not fit in any extra activities, but you can also combine a 🚃 VerticAlp Emosson adventure with other activities, like hiking or an overnight in a refuge (you need to decide whether you want to buy an aller-retour ticket or just one way). Here are some of your hiking options:
🗺 Charlotte la Marmotte à Emosson – a 9km long didactic, interactive aller-retour boucle (at least 5 hours!) perfect for families with older children (6 to 12 years) / start and finish: Col de la Gueulaz / themes: geology, hydroelectricity, nature / see website and pdf document to download;
💦 Barrage du Vieux-Emosson – it is an hour’s walk to this smaller and older dam, and it is really worth it! You can stop off for lunch or refreshments at the Cabane du Vieux-Emosson;
🦕 Sentier des dinosaures – it is a 5 hour return hike to visit the famous 250 million year old dinosaur prints at Emosson, so you’ll need an early start! / there are occasional guided visits here / see here;
💦 Sentier & Cascade de Barberine – I’ve hiked up to the 💦 Barrage d’Emosson a couple of times via this waterfall . . . it is a popular spot for canyoning in the summertime and 🧗♂️ ice-climbing in winter! You could take the Verticalp Emosson one-way and then hike back down to Barberine or Vallorcine . . .
🐄 Refuge & Alpage de Loriaz – I have such lovely memories of Refuge de Loriaz hikes: with pals before one headed off to another life in Australia (and momos prepared by the resident sherpa at that time!), a hike with my dad and friends, an attempt at Mont Buet called off due to rain, and my last visit: 5 months pregnant with my now 8 year old (that hike challenged me, albeit short!). The refuge is lovely and I highly, highly recommend an overnight family stay! You could combine a visit with 🚃 Verticalp Emosson – traverse (some chains in sections) from the 💦 Barrage d’Emosson and then hike down to Vallorcine or Le Buet . . .
🗺 3D map here;
MBFF’s TOP TIPS for a family visit to 🚃 VerticAlp Emosson
💵 discounts – do check if you are eligible for a discount (there are family tickets, combined rail passes and more!) / see here for more details;
🚞 take the train – this is the more eco-friendly option, and you can take the Mont-Blanc Express train for 🇫🇷 FREE from Chamonix to Vallorcine with the Carte d’Hôtes (this connects with the Swiss leg of the journey; check opening details, as engineering work being carried out) / 🇨🇭 Le Châtelard train station is right next to the departure area of Verticalp Emosson;
☀️ sun protection & warm clothes – don’t forget sun hats, sunglasses, suntan lotion – the sun is strong up there! And, if travelling in cooler months, don’t forget warmer clothes and waterproofs too!
♿️👪 pushchairs & wheelchairs – you can take pushchairs and wheelchairs with you on the rail structures (you’ll need to let the handlers know) and the paths up at the 💦 Barrage d’Emosson are paved and great for buggies!
🗺 plan your day – we headed all the way up to the 💦 Barrage d’Emosson first and then took our time coming back down, leaving us the opportunity to enjoy all of the activities at the mid-station / if you are planning to hike, then plan your day accodingly, with the correct maps and timings;
🍏 picnic or restaurant? – if you are planning to eat in one of the restaurants, then think to book ahead!
🌈 time to play – don’t forget to allow time to for the playground!
🌲 leave time to explore the Village des Branchés – I could have spent hours here . . .
☕️ Espace VerticAlp Emosson at 🇨🇭 🇫🇷 Châtelard Frontière VS – if you are coming via Chamonix or Vallorcine, then at the border you will find a spacious café and service station and you can also buy your tickets for 🚃 Verticalp Emosson here;
Places to Stay near 🚃VerticAlp Emosson
- 🇫🇷 Vallorcine – Résidence & Spa Vallorcine (article to come!) – these apart-hotels are fabulous for families, with an indoor swimming pool and spa, mini-golf (ice-rink in winter season), games room and more / gites / dormitories at La Bellevue, B&B at La Ferme des Cimes and The Guest House;
- 🇫🇷 Le Buet – Hôtel du Buet (also ☕️ restaurant);
- 🇫🇷 Le Montet (1300m) – 🏕 Camping des Montets;
- 🇫🇷🇨🇭 Refuges – Cabane du Vieux-Emosson, Refuge de Loriaz, Refuge du Pierre à Bérard . . .
- 🇨🇭 Finhaut – apartments for rent . . .
- 🇨🇭 Col de la Forclaz (1527m) – Hôtel de la Forclaz, 🏕 campsite and yurt, gite and ☕️ restaurant . . .
- 🇨🇭 Trient – rooms and dormitories at the Auberge du Mont-Blanc, Hôtel la Grande Ourse and Refuge le Peuty (and ☕️ food available at the Yourte des Amis);
Events at the Barrage d’Emosson
As well as having hosted the 🚵♀️ Tour de France (and other biking events), the 💦 Barrage d’Emosson also welcomes the amazing 🎶 Cosmojazz music festival annually – during the 2019 edition, there were vertical dancers too! / see here for more details about special events;
🗓 opening dates: until 20th October 2019 (re-opening May 2020);
⏰ opening hours: 9h05 until 17h55 (high season) or 16h55 (low season);
🚞 transport: one of the fabulous aspects of Verticalp Emosson, is that you can get to it by train from either 🇫🇷 France (🚞 Mont-Blanc Express, which serves the Chamonix Valley and leaves from Le Fayet) or 🇨🇭 Switzerland (Mont-Blanc Express from Martigny) / 🚉 the train station is Le Châtelard, and from it, there is direct access to Verticalp Emosson amenities (good to know: until 30th September, you can win a combined ticket 🇨🇭 TMR – VerticAlp Emosson; see here: Vallée du Trient – Vallorcine) / 🚗 there are also limited car parking spaces available;
address: Gare du Funiculaire, route du Châtelard 62, CH - 1925, Le Châtelard, Valais, Switzerland / tel: +41 27 769 11 11; website: www.verticalp-emosson.ch / FB page: VerticAlp Emosson
[ DISCLOSURE : our family visit was kindly offered by Verticalp Emosson – a HUGE thank you. All opinions remain those of MBFF ]