Mont Blanc Tramway – Chamonix Winter Activities for families or non-skiers

by Mags Nixon
tramway_du_mont_blanc_train

Mont Blanc Tramway

The Mont Blanc Tramway (or Tramway du Mont Blanc) is a classic high altitude mountain train that runs from Le Fayet up to the Chamonix ski station of Les Houches giving glorious views of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe. This Mont Blanc vintage train is the perfect activity for young families, older generations or Chamonix non-skier visitors wanting to witness the beauty of the mountains in Winter up close and personal and is highly recommended as one of our Chamonix winter activities.

Mont Blanc train chamonix for non skiers

Skip straight to practical information on visiting the Mont Blanc Tramway in Winter

In the Summer, this Mont Blanc train continues up to the Nid d’Aigle at the base of the Bionnassay Glacier giving exceptional access to a vast terrain of hiking trails, but in Winter the train terminates at Bellevue, the second stop in the ski resort, Les Houches.

This Mont Blanc train is not to be confused with the Montenvers railway in the centre of Chamonix, another vintage rack and pinion train, which ascends to the Mer de Glace glacier and to the ice caves in Chamonix. Read our post on the Montenver railway here.

Below you can see the route of the Mont Blanc Tramway shown as a dotted black line coming in from the left and stopping at Bellevue in the centre left of the piste map.

Les Houches piste map showing Mont Blanc Tramway

Les Houches ski area in Chamonix showing the Col de Voza and Bellevue train stops on the Mont Blanc Tramway

The Mont Blanc Tramway starts from a small town just outside the valley of Chamonix, Le Fayet. If you are staying in Chamonix and have a car, you can easily drive the 15 minutes to St Gervais Le Fayet train station where they have free parking, otherwise you can take the train from Chamonix to St Gervais Le Fayet train station or you can pick up the Tramway du Mont Blanc up in the ski resort of Les Houches and ride the tracks in reverse order (the train is now included in the price of all Les Houches ski passes!)

Do not confuse the ‘St Gervais Le Fayet’ train station in Le Fayet with the town of St Gervais. These are two separate towns but the train station serves both towns.The first stop on the Mont Blanc Tramway is actually St Gervais, so you can catch the train from here if you want to.

Tramway du Mont Blanc Chamonix for non skiers

Riding the Mont Blanc Tramway in Winter takes you up to the snowy peaks of Les Houches with fine views of Mont Blanc

Riding the Tramway du Mont Blanc in Winter is actually a real pleasure. The train is relatively quiet with none of the hiking hoards of the Summer (you’re advised to book in the Summer and preferably on the first train of the day if you want to avoid the crowds).

We took the first train up at 9am on a Saturday morning, after buying tickets from the TMB (Tramway du Mont Blanc) office next to the post office in Le Fayet. We had our pick of seats, the kids choosing to sit at the front window, next to the driver. It was -5 degrees and with the upwards journey being in shade, our bottoms quickly froze on the wooden benches. Wrap up warmly!

Tramway du Mont Blanc Chamonix for non skiers

Taking the Mont Blanc Tramway up

The train passes through St Gervais first, where you’ll likely pick up some skiers bound for the Les Houches pistes. We then left the valley behind, climbing slowly at 12km an hour though the snow clad forest. This is a steep grade railway with a rack and pinion design, built in 1909 and still the highest cog railway in France.  It’s a gradual climb, but this just adds to the charm and allows you to soak up the spectacular mountain views. Make sure you sit on the right side of the train for the views!

As you climb you’ll see the pistes of St Gervais and Megeve cutting swathes through the trees on the far side of the valley. The unmissable white peak of Mount Joly, 2,525 high to your right is the first major peak to be seen. Twenty minutes later you’ll pull into the tiny station of Motivon. Hidden from view, this small hamlet, consists of merely a cluster of chalets and a tiny chapel perched onto the mountain side. We pick a couple of skiers up here and continue on, the snow level getting deeper and deeper and the trees bowing down more heavily with snow.

Mont Blanc Tramway to Les Houches, Chamonix for non skiers

Sit on the right side of the Mont Blanc Tramway for the best views. Here you can see Mount Joly, 2525m high

We begin to reach a plateau and continue along a ridge where you can at last see the Mont Blanc massif. The white dome stretching 4810m high, sparkling in the sunshine. It’s a very different view from the vistas down the valley in Chamonix town or indeed the panorama from the top of the Aiguille du Midi (See our photos and read our post on the Aiguille du Midi cable car and stepping into the glass box here). Seeing Mont Blanc from this perspective is refreshing new for us and as always I’m mesmorised. You can just make out the miniature Midi if you screw your eyes together and if you know its there.

For now the mighty climb for the little train is over as it glides peacefully through the trees to Col de Voza, a small station at the bottom of the Col de Voza red piste in Les Houches.

During the Winter months the first train on a Saturday doesn’t go up to the next station, Bellevue, but terminates at Col de Voza. This is because the train carries holiday makers up with their baggage to stay at the APAS pension, an old hotel slap bang at the bottom of the piste. Location, location, location! A few passengers got off, their luggage collected by a skidoo, and headed in the direction of the hotel. If you’re looking for ski in, ski out affordable family options then definitely check out this pension hotel here. Unfortunately the website doesn’t have an English language option but if you can navigate the website, I can only imagine how wonderful it would be to stay up here, rolling out of bed onto the piste everyday.

Col de Voza Hotel APAS centre de vacancesApart from taking in the magnificent views, which is of course why we’re all here, there’s not much to do at Col de Voza (unless you brought your skis with you) apart from playing on the pistes, have lunch or warm up over a hot chocolate. The restaurant options are either the Bar du Col in the APAS hotel (above) or the tiny, charming La Rioule restaurant across the tracks on your right (below). We chose the latter, with an hour to kill until the next train arrived from the valley to continue up the remaining track to Bellevue.

Mont Blanc Tram les houches where to eat on the piste with kids

Make sure you head to this tiny authentic mountain restaurant, La Rioule for a hot chocolate

La Rioule is everything you’d expect and more from a high mountain restaurant and we highly recommend anyone coming up the Mont Blanc Tramway to pop in here. A huge fire welcomed us, quickly thawing our us from the bitter cold outside. The owners and staff, full of smiles made us fresh waffles with chantilly cream and chocolat chaud.

Mont Blanc Tramway La Rioule restaurant on piste at Les HouchesLa Rioule is the perfect mountain getaway to warm up. The menu serves hearty mountain food which is always cheese based! Choose from croutes, fondu, omlettes and plates of charcuterie or fromage. If you’re planning to get a later tram up, I would definitely recommend eating lunch here. In fact, had I known about this gem of a restaurant, this is definitely what we would have done. Book ahead at this cosy restaurant the day before on 04 50 18 03 90, because having only 7 tables, it books up quickly. I was disappointed to see all the tables reserved already for lunch that day, but we will definitely return.

An hour later we boarded a Anne, a green train (all three trains are different colours and named after the daughters of the  and left Le Col de Voza behind us, heading a mere ten minutes further up the line to Bellevue. 

Mont Blanc Tramway perfect for non skiers

The Mont Blanc Tramway continues up the mountain from Le Col de Voza (see the piste of the same name in the background) up a further 10 minutes to Bellevue

There’s not much here either apart from more spectacular views (hence the name Bellevue meaning ‘beautiful view’), a small ancient hotel of the same name that re-opened to guests in 2010, and a chair lift depositing skiers at the top of a run.

Mont Blanc Tramway Chamonix winter activities

Arriving at Col de Voza onboard the Mont Blanc train

This was the end of the line for us due to the Winter restrictions of the trains so we merely popped out to take a few photos and made sure the train driver knew we wanted to catch the train back down.

Summary of Mont Blanc Tramway

We thoroughly enjoyed our Winter trip on the Mont Blanc Tramway and whilst it wasn’t as exciting or as thrilling as the high altitude cable cars from Chamonix, the train ride was charming with exceptional views. We loved the fact that the train wasn’t busy in the least and were thoroughly charmed by La Rioule restaurant. Our advice – wrap up warm and book La Rioule for lunch.

Overall expect to spend 3-3.5 hours from start to finish – longer if you’re having lunch.

Chamonix for families – Mont Blanc Tramway

The Mont Blanc tramway is ideal for families with young children or with babies who are not allowed up the cable cars in the rest of the Chamonix valley due to extreme altitude. Les Houches is the lowest altitude ski resort in the valley and the train ride ascending so gradually babies will be fine to ride up on the tramway as long as you choose a day with good weather conditions and they are very well wrapped up against the cold.

Another way for families who ski to have rest tired legs is to ski down to Col de Voza (there’s a blue and red piste that will take you there) and catch the train in the reverse journey down to St Gervais or the whole way to St Gervais Le Fayet. The price is included in all Les Houches ski passes and it’s a great way to break up a long ski day.

Chamonix for non skiers – Mont Blanc Tramway

The Mont Blanc tramway is also ideal for older generations where the high altitude of Chamonix’s other cable cars may be too much due to health issues or just breathing difficulties due to the thinner air at altitude. Quite often a large family group will have babies and grandparents! This tram is perfect for you guys! Boom.

It’s also perfect for non-skiers of any age and you can access the snowshoeing tracks at Col de Voza for some winter hiking.

 

Practical information about the Mont Blanc Tramway

How to get there

The Mont Blanc Tramway starts from a small town just outside the valley of Chamonix, St Gervais Le Fayet. If you are staying in Chamonix and have a car, you can easily drive the 15 minutes to St Gervais Le Fayet train station where they have free parking, otherwise you can take the train from Chamonix to St Gervais Le Fayet or you can pick up the Tramway du Mont Blanc up in the ski resort of Les Houches and ride the tracks in reverse order (the train is now included in the price of all Les Houches ski passes!)

Do not confuse St Gervais Le Fayet with St Gervais. These are two separate towns although the first stop on the Mont Blanc Tramway is St Gervais, so you can catch the train from here if you want to.

 

What to wear visiting the Mont Blanc Tramway in Winter

Wrap up warmly! This is a high altitude train going up to 1900m in the Winter. The last two stops, Le Col du Voza and Bellevue are at a ski station so dress for snow conditions. If you take the train up in the morning the journey will be in the shade and the benches are cold.

Which side to sit on for the best views

Sit on the right hand side for the best views ascending and the right hand side for the best views descending.

Choose your day carefully looking at the weather forecast beforehand. You need a nice clear day to see the magnificent views. There’s no point going up in cloudy or bad weather – it’s just a waste of money. Mornings will be better than afternoons but chillier on the way up.

My advice is to pre-book a table at La Rioule restaurant and then catch the 10am or 11am train up. Of course this is Winter advice. If you’re looking to take this journey in the Summer my advice would be to catch the first train up.

Tramway du Mont Blanc Prices

The Mont Blanc Tramway is now included in all Les Houches ski passes (making an excellent way to break up a full day’s skiing for little ones) and is included also in the Mont Blanc Unlimited ski pass. It is not included in the Chamonix Le Pass ski pass.

If you are not skiing, and therefore not buying a ski pass, the 17/18 Winter pedestrian prices are below.

Tramway_du_mont_blanc_prices

Les Houches Ski Pass Prices (includes Mont Blanc Tramway)

Les Houches Ski Pass Prices

Les Houches Ski Pass Prices

Tramway du Mont Blanc timetable

View the Winter and Summer Tramway du Mont Blanc timetables here

 

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Ride the Mont Blanc Tramway Chamonix for non skiers

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2 comments

Eint 23rd October 2019 - 8:50 am

Hello, we are visiting on april and can’t decide MONT BLANC TRAMWAY or THE MONTENVERS TRAIN . IF you could just choose one, which one would you choose ? We don’t have any children . Which ride would you say has a better view/experience? Thank you.

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Mags Nixon 25th October 2019 - 9:16 am

Hi Eint. I would recommend the Montenvers train. It doesn’t require you to leave the valley (the Mont Blanc Tramway starts outside the valley at Le Fayet/St Gervais) and it’s a beautiful ride up the mountain to the Mer de Glace glacier. April will be a wonderful month to visit. If visiting both trains is down to budget, consider buying an unlimited day pass which includes both trains AND the cable car ride up to the Aiguille du Midi (which is definitely a must do activity in Chamonix!). Have a great time in April 🙂

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