This family Tour du Mont Blanc 4.5 day itinerary follows the TMB trail from France into Italy and splits the trail into bite size chunks more manageable for little legs. Starting in the French town of Les Contamines you’ll stay overnight in four mountain huts before arriving in the Italian town of Courmayeur where you can stay another night, or return straight back to Chamonix via bus through the Mont Blanc tunnel. Arguably the best sections of the tour, these 4.5 days will take you over wild and desolate Col du Bonhomme, Col du Croix du Bonhomme and over Col de la Seigne into Italy.
Day 1 – Les Contamines – Nant Borrant refuge (2km time: 2-3hrs)
Cut this time by an hour in July & August by taking the free bus from Les Contamines tourist board to Notre Dame de la Gorge
Today is an arrival day with around two to three hours of hiking depending on the age of your children. If you’re flying into Geneva Airport get an airport transfer to Les Contamines (1-1.5hrs). Explore the French town of Les Contamines and soak up la vie francais. Visit the boulangerie, stock up on local dried saucisson and heavenly Beaufort cheese before heading to the first mountain hut on the trail, approximately 2 hours away, Refuge Nant Borrant.
From the tourist office in Les Contamines head south along the Main Street to pick up the trail alongside the river. It’s around a one hour hike to the chapel, Notre Dame de la Gorge, the trail start point and the end of the road. Take a moment to visit the beautiful Notre Dame de la Gorge chapel next to the gushing water before setting out on the well marked path. Warning – the trail is VERY steep here along an ancient slabbed Roman road to Refuge Nant Borrant but pleasantly flanks the bubbling racing gorge for much of the ascent. Be sure to look out for the pont naturel sign leading to a natural arch on the river, just a minute from the trail. Cross the roman bridge to take in the rushing gorge below. Expect to hike for around another hour to reach the refuge.
The 2-3 hours calculated in this stage is for little legs. It would normally take an adult trekker between 1.5 – 2 hours from Les Contamines to Nant Borrant without catching the free bus.
Day 2 – Nant Borrant refuge – Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme (7km time: 7hrs)
No transport options today
Today you’ll make the climb over two mountain passes, Col du Bonhomme (2329m) and Col de la Croix du Bonhomme (2483m) where early in the season (late June – end of July) you can expect to cross snow patches. We do not advise trekking during this early season period with children. You can read my article on trekking the TMB early season here.
You’ll stay in the cavernous Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme, a high mountain refuge with epic views. Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme is perfectly situated to carve this itinerary into manageable chunks. The dorms and private rooms have been renovated to a good standard and I love the ambience in the evening with dinner by candlelight. The soup isn’t the best, the veggie lasagne is excellent and the chocolate cake for dessert is as light as a feather! This is a great high mountain hut experience – soak up the exceptional location, breathe in the grandeur of the mountains, and realise that yes there are queues for the showers (and they might be cold) but its a marvellous experience. Own it … or descend a further 2.5 hours to accommodation in the hamlet of Les Chapieux for a more comfortable stay.
The 7 hours calculated in this stage is for little legs. It would normally take an adult trekker between 3.5 – 4.5 hours from Nant Borrant to Croix du Bonhomme..
Day 3 Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme – Refuge Les Mottets (7km time: 7hrs)
Cut this time by up to 2 hours from late June to early Sept by taking the navette (shuttle bus) from Les Chapieux to Ville des Glaciers or further to Refuge Mottets Parking
From Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme the well marked trail will descend all the way to Les Chapieux. Stop here for lunch at the friendly Auberge de la Nova. This can take walkers 3.5 hours to descend or trekkers around 2.5 hours. With kids, depending on their age, it might take between 3.5 – 4.5 hours.
After lunch continue a further two and a half hours up the trail to Refuge Les Mottets via Ville des Glaciers (don’t forget to visit the cheese farm). This can be cut down to just over an hour between late June to early September by catching the navette (shuttle bus) from Les Chapieux to either Ville des Glaciers (15 minutes) or all the way to the parking area of Refuge Les Mottets (25 minutes) if its late or if you don’t want to visit the cheese farm. If you get dropped off at the Refuge Les Mottets parking, you’ll then have to walk down the hillside to the refuge in the bottom of the valley.
Our 7hr timing is an estimate of a slower trek pace for children. It takes adult walkers around 5.5 hours non stop walking for this section or an adult trekker 4 hours non stop. If you take the navette from Les Chapieux to Refuge Les Mottets parking trekking the traditional you can expect to reduce the trail time by 1.5 to 2 hours.
Day 4 Refuge Les Mottets – Cabane Combal (13km time: 8hrs)
No transport options today
Today you’ll trek from France over the Col de la Seigne into Italy. Ciao!
From Refuge Les Mottets roll out of bed fresh to tackle the immediate 646m steady climb up the Col de la Seigne up to the French – Italian frontiére. From here Mont Blanc comes fabulously back into view with her surrounding peaks dropping off dramatically into an astonishing deep trough like valley. So spectacular are these jagged peaks that over the next two days you will find it hard to tear your eyes away from the incredible vistas to your left. Passing Refugio Elisabetta, tucked in on a spur between Glacier d’Estellette and Glacier de la Lée Blanche, you’ll continue a further hour along the arrow straight roman road to the incredibly comfortable refuge Cabane Combal.
If you want to cut this day down, opt to stay at Refuge Elisabetta which will shave an hour off today. However you’ll be adding an hour to your trek to Courmayeur the following day. There is an option if you are trekking in July or August to take the bus from La Visaille to Courmayeur if everybody’s just too exhausted. La Visaille can be reached in just under 2 hours from Rifugio Elisabetta or just under an hour from Cabane Combal by taking the Cabane Combal access road (this is calculated on an adult’s walking pace) so add on another hour for 8-12 year olds.
Day 5 Cabane Combal – Courmayeur (9.5km time: 6.5hrs)
Cut this time by 2 hours during July & August by taking the Maison Vielle chairlift & the Dolonne cable car down to Courmayeur
Your final day trekking takes you up out of the valley floor climbing steadily up to the highest point, a spur from Mont Favre. Looking back you can see the monstrous moraine of Glacier Miage dwarfing Cabane Combal and on a clear day all the way back to Col de la Seigne. From here you’ll trace the contours of the south flank of the Val Veni, following the rise and fall of the mountain side with jaw dropping views of sawtooth peaks and Monte Bianco opposite.
It’s a challenging day and so we highly recommend you to take the chair lift and connecting cable car from Refuge Maison Vielle down to Dolonne, Courmayeur. Our timing has reflected this welcome short cut.
Catching the bus back through the Mont Blanc tunnel to Chamonix:
It’s easy to catch the bus from Courmayeur in Italy back to Chamonix in France. There is a direct tunnel that connects both towns via an underground tunnel – the Mont Blanc tunnel. Note: often they close the tunnel in September for renovations – if you are planning this trek independently check online here for any scheduled tunnel closures.
Flixbus and SAVDA are the main operators. You must have an ID card or passport with you to travel.
SAVDA operates the line 300 bus runs every 4 hours from Place le Monte Bianco in Courmayeur to the bus station in Chamonix. A one way ticket starts from €15.00. You need to book before 5pm the day before travel. You can see more information on their Couramayeur – Chamonix route here.
SAVDA – email: email@example.com tel: +39 0165 36 70 11