On our way to Courmayeur, this year we stayed for two nights in Chamonix. We had the luck to go this time up to the Gare du Montenvers and take the train up to the mountain to see the glacier of the Vallée Blanche. That in itself was a great day out! The train goes over a rack and pinion railway and through some nice forests and then climbs up giving travellers amazing views of Chamonix and the mountains surrounding the valley. Most people go up the station and then climb down the stairs to the ice cave, which needs to be carved each year in the glacier, as each year the glacier retreats many meters. It is impressive to see how high the glacier was not so many years ago. There is a small gondola that takes you to the top of the stairs, and then each year the stairs have to be extended down and down to reach the entrance of the ice grotto.
The day we choose was amazing, pretty warm in the sun, with some clouds menacing a storm that did not materialise, and we were happy to be up the mountain, as in the valley of Chamonix it was 31 C (this summer was way too hot all over Europe!). This considering that Chamonix is by Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe and even here it was hot!
Not too many people know, that 100 metres from the train station (gare), walking back to the valley, you find the Terminal Neige-Refuge. This hotel was built in 1880 to accommodate the first mountaineers and travellers who went to visit the Mer de Glace. From outside is a typical ‘rifugio’ of the Alps, with granite façades and small windows. The hotel is perched at 2049 meters over sea level (6725 feet) with magnificent views to the Mer de Glace glacier, the mythical Aiguille des Drus, the Grand Jorasses, and also the Valley of Chamonix.
This hotel has been renewed extensively the year before last by Maisons et Hotels Sibuet, a mountain hotel chain that has been in business for over 30 years, maintaining the charm of the site and the ‘refuge’ spirit. What a place to stay a couple of nights!
I did not have that chance, but I went there for lunch with my husband and two boys of 8 and 9 years old. The boys were wanting to go to the ice cave, but I’ve realised that there was no way we could do that in time before our reserved time to eat, so I told them we’ll do that after the lunch.
We had lunch at the Restaurant du Montenvers the restaurant at the hotel. We had a lovely table on the terrace with magnificent views of the Mer de Glace and the Aiguille des Drus.
My kids had a steak hache with frites, and my husband had the sirloin steak with sauce béamaise, frites and salad and I tried the traditional steak tartare, with frites and salade. It was delicious, really very fresh. We were pretty full after lunch, but my husband indulged himself with a poached pear with blueberries and Savoie sponge cake. He said it was delicious. My boys chose some ice-lollies.
The staff was very receptive at the restaurant, with people from all over the world working there. We’ve met a very nice Chilean girl who was doing a trainee for hotel management. Not a bad place to work at! And which views!
We went after lunch to visit the hotel. This is a place I would really want to come in winter or summer. It is in my bucket list now! In winter, you can come down the Mer de Glace, guided by a mountain guide, either from the top of the Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix, or from Punta Helbronner in Courmayeur (which has an easier access to the Mer de Glace). This past season snow was so phenomenal that people could ski all the way to the town of Chamonix. In other years, people would go to the end of the Glacier and take the train back to Chamonix. But the idea would be to ski down the Mer de Glace, and stay to sleep at the Hotel!
The hotel has 20 rooms, suites and dormitories. Each room has a door dedicated to a famous person who has been in the hotel in the past, from Goethe, to Lord Byron and Mary Shelley (author of Frankestein). Rooms are pretty big, with magnificent views, wooden cladded walls, and en-suite bathrooms. Bathrooms are decorated in black with lovely old sinks and taps, and the own Sibuet’s line of toiletries called Pure Altitude.
There is a bigger room for families and a dormitory for up to 10 guests, booked as a hostel room, with each bed having its own carved bed in the wooden wall and a bit of privacy with a curtain, with outside showers and toilets. This is also a great place where to stay with lots of friends as prices are very convenient and the room has very high specs, compared to what one thinks of a hostel room.
All packages for the hotel include half board (breakfast and dinner with no drinks).
The hotel common areas are very cosy, with places where to read, a nice bar with an old cashier machine. I can imagine the best would be after having dinner and doing a bit of stargazing, going into your room and have a very quiet and profound sleep at this altitude, and with the silence of the high mountains.
The ice-cave in the Mer de Glace:
Every year this Ice Cave has to be dug up into the heart of the glacier. You can access it by taking a small gondola, which takes you to the top of the stairs. From there, approximately 480 steps will get you to the entrance of the grotto. Inside you can see some great ice carvings. What really called my and my kids attention, is the plaques that are on the side of the rock, that show you how big the glacier was in yesteryears. The fact is that it has been melting a lot in the last years, and is a pretty scary prospect for the future. It was good for the boys to realise what is the global warming causing to our glaciers, their eyes were amazed to see how many meters the glacier melt year after year.
For more information on the Terminal Neige-Refuge click here.
With The-Ski-Guru Travel we will be offering the Terminal Neige Refuge. If you want us to put together a trip for you, please write us at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can visit this link and give us info on what you are looking for.
For more information on going up to Montenvers using the Compagnie du Mont Blanc train from Gare du Montenvers, click here.
You can see how we planned all this trip here.
Featured Image: The Terminal Neige-Refuge in Montenvers is a great day out, or a magnificent place where to sleep for a couple of nights up in the mountain. Credits : Villa Marie – Saint-Barth / L. Benoit, L. Di Orio