The lingua franca of the Tour du Mont Blanc is undoubtedly French.
French is spoken in France and Switzerland. Refuges in both countries will
also often speak a little English. In Italy, although Italian is the language
of choice, refuges will often additionally speak some English or French. As
refuges are used to hikers of many nationalities passing through they will
make every effort to accommodate you. The polite thing, however, is to
Language & Money on the Tour du Mont Blanc
attempt to communicate in the refuge's native tongue. So brush up on your French and Italian. To assist
you, we've highlighted a few useful phrases here . That said, we met some hikers who spoke only English
and were apparently managing to hike their way around the TMB, booking their accommodation en route, with little difficulty.
Most refuges will expect payments in cash and very few if any will accept debit or credit cards. You will consequently need to carry sufficient cash to get you to your next ATM stop.
Since the adoption of the euro by most member states of the EU, currency has become less of an issue when travelling in Europe. Both France and Italy use euro. Even though Switzerland is not part of the EU you will find that almost all Swiss
refuges, hotels and shops en route will quote prices in euro as well as Swiss francs and will accept euro payments. Be aware that when paying in a Swiss shop with euro the exchange rate is unlikely to be advantageous. Given that the shop is having the bear the currency risk this is probably reasonable. We have had reports from 2008 TMBers that there are no ATMs on the Swiss leg of the route so make sure you have plenty of cash with you.
We used to use Nationwide Building Society for banking, one of the reasons being that when drawing cash from ATM's abroad they gave a competitive exchange rate and didn't charge commission.
However, as of November 2010 Nationwide are charging commission on all non-sterling transactions just the same as everybody else so whereas once we would have advised that you draw the currency you want from a local ATM we'd now suggest that you work out the cost compared to alternatives such as a bureau de change.
On our arrival in France we took out 300 euro from an ATM. Although Les Houches had an ATM we waited until the next day and our hike to Contamines to take out another 300 euro. In Courmayeur (Italy) we took out an additional 250 euro to ensure we had plenty of cash. At two stops (Switzerland and Italy) we paid for our accommodation by credit card. En route we sometimes bought lunch, had beers/coffee, ate out (Courmayer). Once back in Les Houches, we still had some euro left.
On the Tour du Mont Blanc cash is king
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