The newly opened Skyway Monte Bianco is truly an engineering masterpiece and also the best and most enjoyable way to explore the Mont Blanc Massif without the stress and effort of modern day alpinism. The self proclaimed 8th wonder of the world!
For years I have admired the Aiguille du Midi cable car as a marvel of engineering. Constructed in 1955 it has been one of the most impressive cable cars in the world for almost 6 decades, however it is time for it to take second best alongside the brand new, futuristic and incredible Skyway Monte Bianco. Located just on the other side of the Mont Blanc Tunnel it is linked to the Aiguille du Midi via the Panoramic cable car which is open throughout the summer months.
I headed up the Aiguille du Midi and Panoramic cable cars to grab a coffee in Italy and try out the €110 million Skyway. It's taken 4 years to construct and it links Entreves at 1300m with the Punta Helbronner at 3466m, via the mid station Pavillon du Mont Frety 2173m.
Starting from Entreves you are greeted with a very impressive structure resembling an armadillo's back. Here there is parking for 350 cars, a small refreshment bar and an information point run by the Alpine Guides of Courmayeur. The first thing that catches your eye are the round cabins. These brand new rotating cabins offer you the best possible 360° view of Val Veny, Val Ferret, the Aosta valley and the mighty east face of Mont Blanc. After climbing the stone staircase through the impressive steel and aluminium structure, you enter the large 80 person air-conditioned cabin. Fortunately it was not very busy today and it felt like the complete opposite of the Aiguille du Midi cabin I had been crammed in, sweating away, just an hour before.
The lower span takes 6 minutes and makes one full 360° rotation so you can enjoy the best views available. Once docked in the Pavillon du Mont Frety, you step out into another beautifully constructed building. At the mid-station level there is a large restaurant, a conference centre, plenty of outside space offering great picnic spots and also one of the highest botanical gardens in Europe. More than 900 species of rare and wonderful alpine plants are grouped together according to their geographical origin, from the Aosta Valley and beyond. There truly is something for everyone, including a small store offering local products and an experimental high altitude winery, where the altitude and temperature result in uncommon characteristics.
Leaving the Pavillon and heading up to the Punta Helbronner 3466m, you step inside another air conditioned revolving cabin that takes just under 10 minutes to reach the summit.
You pass the old station on the right and are reminded of the 220 steps to reach the summit that are now a thing of the past. The new station looks like something that should be attached to the International Space Station, rather than on a rock face in the Alps - a truly magnificent piece of design and construction. Inside the Punta Helbronner there is another bar with stunning views of Monte Bianco and Aiguille d'Entreves serving the usual Italian classics and great coffee. There is also a Crystal gallery, where you can explore the history of the rocks the Alps are made of as you journey back through the millennia. There are several terraced areas where you can gaze at the spectacular and breathtaking views that the Mont Blanc Massif has to offer.
The entire construction has been engineered with particular attention being put on energy reduction. The entire system is very close to a zero energy building meaning that all of the energy it requires is produced on-site using various methods such as solar panels together with highly insulating materials.
Where the Aiguille du Midi serves its purpose as a great method of getting from a to b, the new Skyway Monte Bianco offers the most enjoyable and surreal way of reaching the high alpine terrain.
If you have a Mont Blanc Unlimited card you can travel the Aiguille du Midi & the Panoramic gondola for free, then you just need to pay for the Skyway separately. Find prices & timetables for the Skyway here.