Tour du Mont Blanc Accommodation
There are two main accommodation options - refuges or tent; and sometimes a third - hotel.
Alpine nights can be cold, and tents and camping equipment add to a rucksack's weight. Camping can be a low cost option though. We met an Englishman who was walking the Tour du Mont Blanc for the third time and camping en route. He only stayed in refuges if he needed to dry his kit out. He reckoned that to camp at a refuge was about 6 euro per night. You can gain some insight into camping around the TMB at Gary's 2008 TMB. If you have any camping tips you would like to add please let us know and we'll add your information to this page.
French trains are reliable, clean and on time so they tend to be a delight to travel on. On the single decker carriages we found that our rucksacks fitted on the overhead racks. The double decker carriages have less overhead luggage room so we did as the French did and put our luggage on a seat. If you are using French trains remember that you must date stamp your ticket 'composter votre billet' at the machine in the station before boarding the train. You risk a fine if you fail to do so. Naturally, we wore our boots for the journey although we took them off once on the train to allow our feet to air. Our return journey was similar but via Lyon for connection reasons.
We travelled during the day. However there is a cheaper overnight couchette option direct from Paris to St Gervais and vice versa. If booked in advance the couchette option can cost under £40 one way at 2008 prices.
If you are booking your rail travel via the SNCF website then be warned that it appears unable to cope with a single booking that combines a high speed TGV (which requires a seat reservation) and a normal train journey (which does not require a seat reservation). You'll need to either book the separate legs of the journey individually, or book by telephone. Alternatively, if you know someone in France, do as we did and have them pop down to the local railway station and buy the tickets for you. The rail travel websites www.seat61.com and www.raileurope.co.uk provide useful advice on European rail travel and are worth checking out.
Given the distance and the fact that the journey was part of our holiday we opted to go by train.
The few people we met who had travelled by plane had either flown in to Geneva followed by train (2009 prices 44 Euro and 4 hour journey with great views) to Les Houches or flown in to Geneva and then taken a train to Chamonix followed by a coach through the Mont Blanc tunnel to the Italian town of Courmayeur which became their TMB starting point. There are also shuttle buses running from Geneva to Les Houches and other destinations (see www.alpybus.com, www.mountaindropoffs.com, www.chamonix-valley-transfers .com or www.chamexpress.com) which during the summer of 2009 cost about 25 euro each way (Champexpress) with a journey time of about one and a half hours.
If you have any experience of using these or other routes please let us know so that we may add your information to this page.
Three points worth note. Firstly, when travelling by plane wear your hiking boots. Your holiday may be ruined if they are lost in baggage transfer. Secondly, ensure your rucksack is enclosed in a tough bag so that rucksack straps do not get caught and ripped off on baggage transfer equipment. Thirdly, pack your walking poles securely. Whilst at Trient we came across an American couple one of whom was waiting for a rucksack that had disappeared during baggage transfer at Heathrow. Thankfully the rucksack was delivered that evening by taxi. Unfortunately, it was minus the walking poles.
It's a long car journey from the UK to Les Houches but quite doable nonetheless. The journey from Dover to Calais/Boulogne is quick and reasonably priced (try booking in advance for best prices) and after driving in the UK, the French autoroutes are a motorist's dream. We met one Belgium couple who had driven down from Belgium, parked in Les Houches, walked the Petit Tour du Mont Blanc (Les Houches to Courmayeur followed by coach back through the Mont Blanc Tunnel to Chamonix then train/taxi to Les Houches) and then planned to drive off and spend a week elsewhere.
The key issue with driving is where to leave the car. There is free open air parking in Les Houches and chargeable covered parking in Chamonix. We've no experience of either so if you can add some insight please let us know so that we may add your information to this page.
Refuges are probably the favoured accommodation option. We opted for the demi-pension (a bed, evening meal and breakfast) in each case. Note that if you just take a bed in a dortoir, refuges generally do not have cooking facilities so you'll need food, cooking equipment and be prepared to go cook outside. If you are offered a 'chambre', be aware that it will cost more than a dortoir and is not a private bedroom but a small dortoir with maybe six beds.
Cost and value for money varies from refuge to refuge. Based on 2007 prices it is worth budgeting 45 euro per person per night for demi-pension - that's 90 euro if you're walking as a couple. Given that you are in a shared room with shared facilities often sleeping on floor mattresses this may not appear to be of particularly good value. Especially so when you note that a 2 star hotel room for two offering B&B with en-suite facilities and a real bed would probably cost about 50 euro per night. However, most of the refuges are in remote settings. Some have all their supplies helicoptered in. And ultimately, they've little competition.
Accommodation is plentiful on the Tour du Mont Blanc with the possible exception of certain refuges close to civilisation on Fridays and Saturdays. So each evening we used our mobile phone to telephone the next day's refuge to reserve two beds in a dortoir for ourselves. This gave us maximum flexibility allowing us to change our schedule as the mood took us. None of the refuges we visited were full, although Elizabetta was very busy on the Saturday we stayed there. We'd suggest that if you expect to reach a refuge on a Friday or Saturday you book a day or two earlier than usual.
Telephoning ahead each day to reserve your dortoir means that it is important that you carry your accommodation list with you.
Find out more about staying at a refuge here .
Getting to the Tour du Mont Blanc
Eurolines operate a coach service from London and other UK cities to Chamonix via Paris. From London the trip takes approximately 20 hours and at 2009 prices costs about £110 for a return ticket. From Chamonix it is a short train journey to Les Houches for about 18 euro return.
If you have any experience of using this route please let us know so that we may add your information to this page.
Copyright © 2007-2013 F B Medhurst all rights reserved
Copyright © 2007-2013 F B Medhurst all rights reserved