Tour du Mont Blanc Difficulty? Transport options on the TMB
Are you worried about the Tour du Mont Blanc difficulty? Are you planning to do the hike as a family but worried if the kids will manage the long days? Or perhaps you’re anxious about your own fitness? The Tour du Mont Blanc trek is challenging – 170 kilometres of demanding terrain.
But help is at hand.
There are a number of transport options on most of the Tour du Mont Blanc stages. These mainly consist of public buses that run along valley floors or cable cars/chair lifts up and down the mountains.
Expect long days on the trail. Our average, hiking with kids, was around 7 hours each day. And that is with all the transport options!
We would highly recommend the following public transport to cut trail times. Many of the shuttle buses merely run along mundane sections of valley floors so you’re not actually missing much by taking them.
Without taking all the TMB transport options, I know we definitely could not having hiked the TMB with our kids. It would have been too much.
Check out the public transport below (for the 6 day itinerary we hiked from Tré-le-Champ to Courmayeur) and build them into your planning so you know where to save tired legs.
I’ll update this post once we complete the Tour du Mont Blanc circuit this Summer with any transport options from Courmayeur back round to Chamonix.
1. Les Houches – Bellvue Cable Car
Right at the beginning of the recommended Day 1 of the traditional counter clockwise route from Les Houches, you can cut 2 hrs off the trail time by catching the Bellevue Cable Car instead of hiking up from the valley floor. This is actually Day 3 of our 6 day TMB half circuit. (Read our itinerary here).
The cable car costs 14.50 euros for a single and takes 5 minutes to get to the top of the Bellevue Plateau (1800m).
Many hikers take this short cut so don’t worry there are still plenty of TMB signposts once you get out of the cable car. You will then only have to walk only 15-20 minutes to pick up the ‘proper’ track.
2. Public bus – La Tresse/La Chapelle – Les Contamines
When you’ve descended into the Montjoie valley the TMB track will eventually hit the main road into Les Contamines. It’s here (or nearly here) that you can catch the public bus into Les Contamines.
We made the mistake of coming out into the village of Tresse which has a bus stop literally opposite where you come out onto the main road. The proper TMB route actually crosses the main road and continues on the opposite side of the valley into the village of Les Contamines (another 1 hr by foot).
We intended to cut this out and waited at the Tresse bus stop for over an hour. The bus never arrived and so we reluctantly carried on on the TMB trail and wearily hit Les Contamines an hour later.
It turns out that the tourist office had made a mistake and put up a timetable at the La Tresse bus stop with the incorrect highlighted times. In fact we should have walked up the road to the next bus stop, La Chapelle to catch the bus. The bus takes a circular route and only comes down to Tresse a couple of times a day.
This mistake meant we added a further hour of walking onto our day. Something we hadn’t anticipated.
Because I had planned to take the bus and cut out this hour, I had actually added another one hour of hiking onto our day by continuing past Les Contamines to the first refuge Nant Borant. This was a tactic to reduce the second days hike (which is notoriously hard over the Col du Bonhomme) by an hour the following day.
3. Free shuttle bus – Les Contamines – Notre Dame de la Gorge
You can pick up a free shuttle bus (navette) from outside the tourist office in Les Contamines that will take you to Notre Dame de la Gorge. It’s the last stop on the route so it’s easy to see where to get off and the driver is very friendly. This cuts out 5km off the trail and will save you an easy hour.
This bus is the same one we would have picked up from La Tresse (or rather La Chapelle) so you can stay on the bus all the way though if you’re not booked into Les Contamine for the night.
This service operates from the end of June and runs every 45-60 mins from 9am.
The ‘horaires’ (timetable) will be online for to you to check ahead. You can see the current navette timetables here (bear in mind they will switch from L’hiver (winter) to L’été (summer) at some point so if you check in February for example, they will still be showing the winter timetables http://www.lescontamines.com/plans-ski-bus.html
4. Shuttle bus – Les Chapieux to Village des Glacier/Les Mottets refuge
There are mini bus shuttles from Les Chapieux to either La Ville des Glaciers or Les Mottets refuge leaving regularly from Les Chapieux and I would highly recommend saving your legs by taking this. It costs €3.50 per person, children 12 and under are free.
There’s a small wooden information centre near the shop in Les Chapieux (there’s not much there so don’t worry you can’t miss it!) which sells tickets and from where the shuttles depart. We arrived too late the afternoon before to buy the tickets. I think the information centre closes around 6pm? (but don’t hold me to that!). It was quite busy when we turned up first thing at 8am so we didn’t manage to get onto the first bus which leaves at 08.30am. We bought tickets for the 9am departure to Village des Glaciers, so we were happy enough and it didn’t hold us up really on our schedule, but I would recommend hot footing it to the information shack (only 50m from Refuge de la Nova) as soon as you arrive the afternoon before to bag tickets for the 08.30 shuttle the following morning.
There’s also a shuttle bus that runs from Les Chapieux to Bourg St Maurice (€6.00) at 18.10h every day. This means if you’ve booked your Tour du Mont Blanc late and you haven’t managed to get any accommodation in Les Chapieux, as long as you make the 18.10h bus, you can find some accommodation in Bourg St Maurice and then head back to Chapieux on the 07.55 shuttle in the morning to pick up the trail. (I talk more about this in my Tour du Mont Blanc Refuges post).
Another option, if you haven’t managed to secure accommodation in Les Chapieux is to book the next refuge, Les Mottets, as the shuttle bus from Les Chapieux drops you at their parking spot (so it’s just a 10 minute downhill stumble to the refuge). Make sure you’re on the last shuttle bus from Les Chapieux or face the 1 hour walk (or book a taxi!)
You can see the 2019 timetable here for both the shuttle bus to Refuge des Mottets and La Ville des Glaciers. I will post the 2020 timetable as soon I see it released towards the end of winter.
It’s debatable which is the easiest walk – either from La Ville des Glaciers or the Les Mottets parking stop. From Village des Glaciers (which we took) the route is steady and not too steep. From the Les Mottets parking stop, you need to walk down the steep valley to Les Mottets refuge and then back up the steep path to where you would join the path from the Village des Glaciers. It took us 20-30 minutes to walk from Village des Glaciers to where the path joined from Les Mottets.
4. Vizielle to Courmayeur
We didn’t take this transport option as we hiked from Elisabetta to Courmayeur, but after leaving Elisabetta, after a 50 minute walk along the easy straight road, you’ll hit a bridge at Lac Combal (you won’t see the Lac, it’s slightly higher on the opposite side, but you will see the lovely Lac Combal A frame refuge across the way). From the bridge it’s a 50 minute walk to the village of Vizielle.
From Vizielle a bus goes directly to Courmayeur. This is a good option if your legs can’t handle the TMB trail all the way to Courmayeur and believe me it’s actually shockingly demanding. There are no cols to climb but the trail is undulating and seemingly never-ending. That said, it’s a beautiful section of the trail. See for yourself what you would miss by taking this section by reading our Day 6 Elisabetta to Courmayeur post here.
5. Chair lift & cable car – La Maison Veille – Courmayeur
I have never been so pleased to see a chair lift running in all my life! We had actually been told some time before by the tourist office that the Dolonne cable car would not yet be running. It was the 12 July so not yet the complete peak trekking season. Thank goodness it was. As stated above the Elisabetta to Courmayeur stage is rather under-exaggerated. We were absolutely exhausted and to spot the tiny black mechanics moving from the distance was like a mirage for us. Were our eyes deceiving us?
The Maison Vielle chairlift descends down to Plan Chécrouit (1702m) where you will then need to catch the telecabine down to the village of Dolonne (1221m). It costs €15 for an adult (and €9 for a child under 12 or over 65s) for both the chairlift and the telecabine down to Dolonne. From Dolonne a regular bus service takes you into the Italian town of Courmayeur. It’s a great place to have a day’s rest if you are continuing on the trail into Switzerland. If not, it’s here you can catch a bus through the Mont Blanc tunnel back to Chamonix.