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It is a place of ethereal beauty but it was probably the literary birthplace of Frankenstein, one of the world's most dreaded fictional characters. His creator, novelist Mary Shelley had actually described it as the most desolate place in the world.
On May 25, 1816, Shelley, on a trip to France with husband Percy, caught her first glimpse of the mighty Mer de Glace glacier. Caught in a storm, she described her experience thus: "I felt God's presence of and I understood what was the chaos from which this admirable world had been created from. "
It was from this moving experience that Frankenstein - the creature assembled parts of exhumed corpses - was born. The epic was so awe inspiring it spawned a whole new genre of horror stories. One of Frankenstein's most gripping encounters with his creator is set in this ocean of powdery snow. The highly articulate Creature berates his creator for rejecting him: "You, my creator, abhor me;what hope can I gather from your fellow-creatures, who owe me nothing. They spurn and hate me. The desert mountains and dreary glaciers are my refuge. "
The Mer de Glace, or Sea of Ice, is probably much smaller than the vision that struck Shelley, thanks to global warming. But it can still impress. The swerving ice field, flat enough to host a game of ice hockey, is still seven kilometers long.
Mer de Glace is located on the northern slopes of the world famous Mont Blanc in the Alps and is the longest glacier in France. It is a must-see for holidayers and ski enthusiasts visiting the nearby resort town of Chamonix with its cluster of boutiques, eateries and stunning chalets.
Getting to the top of the glacier is a treat in itself. Don't worry, your stamina won't be tested. All you have to do is hop onto a small three coach red train known as the Montenvers rack railway that starts from the heart of Chamonix town and in just 20 minutes reaches the bottom of the Mer de Glace (1, 913 m).
The funicular railway that started operating in 1908 makes its way up the sides of the Aiguilles de Chamonix. The gradient of 70 degrees through heaps of fresh snow on both sides offers you the most spectacular views of the town peeping through the pine trees veiled in white.
The train stops at the station poised precariously on a rocky ridge overlooking the Mer de Glace glacier - a site that offers the most spectacular view of famous peaks such as Les Drus (3754m), Les Grands Jorasses (4205m) and the Aiguille du Grepon (3482m).
For those waiting to board the train to go back to Chamonix, it is an unforgettable sight - a small red train chugging through a narrow gorge with white colourless snow packed all around. The gallery you get off at provides a 360 degree view of the whole mountain range and the Sea of Ice. Just 300 steps more and you would be putting your foot on the glacier.
"The immensity of these aerial summits excited, when they suddenly burst upon the sight, a sentiment of ecstatic wonder, not unallied to madness, " wrote the Shelleys who made it to the top on the back of mules.
The station at Montenvers offers great hot chocolate and a spectacular view of the Alpine peaks. Also don't forget to catch up on traditional Savoyard hospitality of this corner of France at the Grand Hotel, perhaps one of the oldest alpine hotels built in 1880. Time stands still within the walls of this hotel that hangs over an icy ledge. The corridors are dark, the rooms are spartan and probably haven't changed much since they were built. You could sometimes walk through the entire hotel without running into another soul.
The hotel is all atmosphere - the floorboard creaks as you walk, a 100-year-old cash register sits on a oak table packed with bottles of the local brew, and a manual telephone from early last century hangs on the wall.
Historical records show that around 270 years ago two English explorers discovered Mer de Glace by chance. They originally belonged to Geneva and on their return publicized their epic adventure. Several decades later, scientific curiosity led to the conquest of Mont-Blanc. Horace Benedict de Saussure, a scientist from Geneva reached the top but it was Jacques Balmat and Doctor Paccard, who finally reached the summit on August 8, 1786. Their statues adorn the central square of the town of Chamonix, now quite a favourite with movie makers. Pierce Brosnan shot here for The World is not Enough. Charlie Chaplin loved being here. Clint Eastwood too was here recently to film Hereafter with Matt Damon.
THE CATHEDRAL OF CHAMONIX
The cathedral of Eglise Saint Michel in the heart of Chamonix is dedicated to mountaineers scaling a peak or bob sledge runners making for the finish line. The gesture is meant to honour the real heroes of Chamonix which hosted the first winter Olympics in 1924. Chamonix which is home to 9, 400 people creates colourful glass figures of Alpine climbers.
Driving around Chamonix, it takes all of half and hour, can be a real treat. Make sure you stop to look into the Hamlets of Les Bois which literally means the woods. Mazots or small chalets dot the village with Mont Blanc towering behind it. The log houses were fitted with fireplaces but were prone to fires. So home owners took to building small chalets or mazot at the corner of the plot where they would keep their most expensive belongings.
Chamonix is also home to one of France's best golf courses. The Chamony golf course is a 18-hole one with stunning scenery all around. Started in 1934, it is surrounded by ice capped mountains and has a river running right through the golf course. Some shots actually have to be hit over the water. Officials say 11, 000 people visit the golf course every year.
Golfers don't need to lug their own equipment when they come here. The best golf accessories and equipments are available on rent at the golf course itself. All it would cost is 50-80 euros a day to play and 40 euros to hire equipment. The course is also open from mid April till it snows in November. One of the must-haves at the golf course is a lamb dish cooked for 47 hours with honey and thyme jus and the risotto with mushrooms.
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