For those of you who have already worked up an appetite, or for anyone not wanting to go any further, the restaurant is, thankfully, pretty wonderful. The entrance is just by the viewing point, close to the train station, so you can enjoy glacier views while you dine. And the restaurant is very different to the depressing panoramic restaurants you so often find at altitude, when you are trapped with no other dining choices, such as the Panoramic Restaurant in Torgon where they sell instant dried coffee in a beige plastic cup with an angry grimace and a charge for using the loo. No, this is a nice restaurant, with international attentive staff, all bilingual, and happy. They don’t mind if you just want a coffee with your noisy 7 year old travel companion, or prefer a full 3 course meal in a large group. You will be welcomed either way and can happily while away the hours here just taking in the views – that of the Mer de Glace glacier, the Drus and the Grands Jorasses.
Ready to get up close and personal with the Glacier?
THE GLACIER — STAGE 2
It’s time to take the gondola down to Ice Caves. The gondola entrance is located down from the little train station and it is, to be honest, really quite old. It’s more of a one-on, one-off kind of affair with small red gondolas that hold about 6 people, two gondolas together, every 100 meters of cable. You get on, start to descend 100 meters. Then stop as the two gondolas after you arrive at the top and people get on and off. You’ll do this twice or thrice on the way down and feels, for some reason, like you are in a retro Bond-film. If you don’t like the sound of that then you can always walk down which takes around 20 minutes on a footpath.
JUST ANOTHER 400 STEPS
Yes that’s right. At the bottom of the gondola there are about 400 steps (broken up by flat walks and viewing and sitting points) down to the entrance of the ice caves. We wish we’d known about the 400 steps before arriving at them, as we had a 7 year old with us, and a small lazy dog. Both ended up being carried. The descent is an easy one and there is much to see and lots of points of interest where you can stop and rest. You can also read about the glacier on the way down and there are markers carved into the rocks to show how much the glacier has descended over the years (for any naysayers who dismiss the effects of global warming).
Once at the bottom you can go into the ice caves, which are ice tunnels underneath the glacier itself. Inside there are beautiful ice sculptures, and seats, and you can actually reach out and touch ice that is quite possibly millions of years old. It’s incredible. So take your time, and enjoy it, because afterwards you have those 400 steps back up…
This is where the water, the snack and the suncream come in handy. It’s 400 steps back up. But fear not. There are flat walkways, viewing points, seating areas and the general amusement of watching skiers, who have just skied down the Vallee Blanche, walking back up with you, skis and all. No one is in a rush. No one judges the odd bead of sweat or fit of panting. We are all in the same boat! At the top I recommend taking the funny gondola back up. It’s easier than the 20 minute walk. And you can take in the length and breadth of the glacier as you travel. This might be one of the most visited natural sites on earth but you are still witnessing something few others have seen, and, with its constant retreat, some may never have the chance. So take it all in.
Back at the little train station you can either pop back to the restaurant, the crystal gallery or sit and enjoy the views. The gift shop sells moderately overpriced stuff toys and fizzy drinks and the train back down is as much fun as it was on the way up — which is the exact opposite of the Gatwick Express, which is not fun, in either direction. If you’ve still got energy to burn when you get to the bottom then pop to the amusement park. There is a high speed luge there with your name on it, a bouncy castle, and a mini arcade with stuffed toys.