Montenvers Railway

Chamonix, France | C.1908

Photo Credit: Pascal ↟

At the heart of the Chamonix valley commune in the southeastern French Alps is an ice palace. The Mer de Glace (“Sea of Ice”) is France’s largest glacier, spanning 7km long and 200m deep, best reached by a ride on the Chemin de fer du Montenvers, or Montenvers Rack Railway, which boldly ascends up the sides of the Aiguilles de Chamonix to its peak altitude of nearly 2,000m. A railway designed to be the first custom built tourist attraction in the valley.

The vista through a Montenvers railcar’s window offers a bird’s-eye view of the Mer de Glace, appearing like a flood frozen in time. When it thaws, its sub glacial water supply is enough to seasonally power France’s electric utility company with hydroelectricity.

Once reaching Montenvers station, loungers can sit back and enjoy the prime view of three gorgeous mountain peaks: Les Drus, Les Grands Jorasses, and the Aiguille du Grepon.

The heartier adventurer might opt to descend via a small cable car to the top of the Mer de Glace, to enter a manmade ice cave cut into the glacier–the entrance to the palace, if you will. The cave has to be dug out anew every summer, since the glacier moves at a pace that contradicts its name, shifting as much as 70m every year. Inside awaits ice sculptures and The Gallery of Crystals to bedazzle crowds eager to witness the partnership between this glacial wonder’s natural beauty and humankind’s ability to work with nature as sustainable source of energy.

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