FAMILY FRIENDLY TMB - 4.5 DAYS

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. Many adult walkers have contacted me about this itinerary and yes it’s also perfect for those without children, also wanting to trek shorter distances each day.

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.

tour du mont blanc family friendly

reality check:

This family friendly Tour du Mont Blanc itinerary is still tough. The days have been split into alternating short and long days. The times recorded here are accurate times I hiked with my 10 year old and 65 year old Mother and include rest times which were adequate but never particularly long. Your children need to be good hikers and need to train to be ready for the the long, consecutive days with serious high elevation gain and loss. I would recommend this itinerary for children aged 10 or above or from 8 if your children are seasoned trekkers. For the long days ALWAYS leave early at 8am to get a good head start and give yourself lots of time.

warning

This itinerary stays in Refuge Mottets which gets very quickly booked up to full capacity. If you want to trek this itinerary then its imperative that you aim to book with us self guided before September so we can book Refuge Mottets beds as soon as they are released the October before the summer you want to trek.

Family friendly TMB – 4.5 days


Start point: Les Contamines , France           
End point: Courmayeur, Italy          
Length: 4.5 days
Note: most short cuts along the trail are only available in July or August
* these timings have been adapted for little legs

Start point: Les Contamines, France (1 hr from Geneva Airport)
End point: Courmayeur, Italy (45 min return to Chamonix by bus via the Mont Blanc Tunnel)

  • Arrival day – Les Contamines – Val Montjoie
  • Day 2 – Val Montjoie – Refuge Croix du Bonhomme
  • Day 3 – Refuge Croix du BonhommeRefuge Les Mottets
  • Day 4 – Refuge Les MottetsVal Veny (Italy)
  • Day 5 – Val Veny – Courmayeur
  • Return to Chamonix via bus through the Mont Blanc tunnel

good to know

If you want to shorten day 2, walk an extra hour on the arrival day to stay at Refuge de la Balme instead of Refuge Nant Borrant. This will make day 1 a two to three hour hike, and day 2 a 6 hour hike. Refuge de la Balme is perfectly placed at the bottom of Col du Bonhomme which means you’ll be tackling it with fresh legs after breakfast. If you plan to stay at Refuge Le Balme & you have older kids who are strong trekkers you could add a detour up to Lac Jovets (2.5hr return)

getting there

If you’re arriving from Geneva Airport you can get a direct mini bus transfer to Les Contamines which takes around an hour.

Getting to Les Contamines from Chamonix is easy if you have a car or take a taxi but a bit trickier if you’re taking public transport as you need to change bus in St Gervais -Le Fayet and the timetables mean you can end up waiting quite a long time before the connecting bus which can be a waste of almost half a day. It’s often quicker to take the train to St Gervais -Le Fayet and then catch the bus from the train station to Les Contamines but the journey can still take around 3 hours.

If you’re arriving in Geneva Airport definitely go to the start point of the trail in Les Contamines first and save Chamonix for the end of your trip. If you have lots of baggage with that you don’t want to take on trail you can either leave it at Geneva Airport at left baggage or if you’re aiming to spend an extended stay in Chamonix head there first and ask if you can leave your baggage at your hotel. Most hotels will accommodate this if you have booked to stay there on your return from the trek. Or you can book a baggage transfer from Les Contamines to Chamonix to arrive on the day you arrive or you can book to have your bag transferred from Les Contamines to Courmayeur (more expensive).

timings, distances, elevation

The timings for this itinerary have been given for adults and a separate timing for children. This is because many adults enquire with me about this itinerary who just want to take shorter stages but who are not hiking with children. Obviously the timings for children is approximate and will depend on the age, strength and experience of your child. I have given the maximum amount I estimate it will take for a child of 8 years old to hike.

Note: timings for this itinerary is approximate and is non-stop, meaning you should add extra time for stopping to take photos, rest stops and your lunch break. This is even more important when hiking with children. Expect this to always be more than you imagine. Consider adding 2 hours onto your timings per day (for a full day). Remember it’s best to set off early and arrive early – thunderstorms commonly occur around 4pm each afternoon in the peak summer months on the TMB trail.

Distance & elevation is approximate. As I have given several accommodation options at the end of each day this might be slightly shorter or longer depending on which accommodation option you choose but it gives you a general idea. For example the first day distance is measured from Les Contamines to Refuge Nant Borrant however Refuge Nant Borrant is small, so you may need to push on to either Refuge Le Balme or Refuge Des Prés which are both just a little farther. If you are booking a self guided trek then the exact timings/distances/elevation will be given to you on finalisation of your exact itinerary once your accommodation has been booked.

Approaching the Col du Bonhomme on day 2. The stubborn patch of snow here remains well into late July but has no exposure so is absolutely safe to cross.

Day 1 – Les Contamines – Val Montjoie

327m up / 28m down / 5.7km / 1-2hrs adults (2-3hrs children)

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.

Route overview:

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.

Iunch

This is a short day and so lunch could be taken in Les Contamines before setting off or take a packed lunch. There is no notable place to have lunch on this section.

accommodation on your first night

Accommodation will be at Refuge Nant Borrant or a little further up to Refuge Le Balme or Refuge des Prés. All of these refuges have small dorms and shared bathroom facilities. Refuge Le Balme does offer a private room (double + bunks) which can be booked just for two or up to four people, however it does not have a bathroom ensuite. If you’re booking online and would like to book the Le Balme private room please add a note in the special requirements box.

shuttle bus in July & August

In July and August you can catch the free shuttle bus (navette) from outside the Les Contamines Tourist Office to Notre Dame de la Gorge and shave the 1-1.5 hours off this section. The bus takes 15 minutes and goes every 45 minutes or so throughout the day. Find out more about taking this short cut here.

The 2-3 hours calculated in this stage is for little legs. It would normally take an adult trekker between 1- 2 hours from Les Contamines to Nant Borrant without catching the free bus.

French painter in front of the Notre Dame de la Gorge chapel – day 1

Day 2 – Val Montjoie – Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme

1048m up / 60m down / 8.2km / 3-4hrs adults (7hrs children)

Route overview:

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 3-4 hours from Refuge Nant Borrant to Croix du Bonhomme..

Iunch

Arrange for a pique-nique (packed lunch) from your refuge for today’s lunch. There are no lunch spots between Val Montjoie and Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme.

snacks

It’s worth mentioning that the Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme has a very basic packed lunch (just a sandwich and an extra optional cereal chocolate bar) on offer for the following day. I would recommend taking extra snacks for day 3.

accommodation on your second night

Accommodation on your second night is at Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme. This refuge is a high altitude experience sitting in an exceptional location at 2443m.

trail du mont blanc
Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme (2443m) is a hut mountain hut with exceptional views. It’s a good stop off point to make the TMB stages smaller – the food is average however its an atmospheric stay eating dinner by candle light (to save the solar power). You may even be treated to an electricity outage. Treat it as an adventure and take extra snacks for hunger pangs & for the next day as their packed lunch isn’t the largest or heartiest.

Day 3 Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme – Refuge Les Mottets

350m up / 928m down / 11.1km / 2-3hrs adults (7hrs children)

Route overview:

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.

Col des Four variant (mid July – Sept only)

In good weather between mid July and September you could opt to take the Col du Fours variant from Refuge Croix du Bonhomme to Refuge Mottets. This variant pops out at the hamlet of Ville des Glaciers, a tiny hamlet with a cheese farm (read my post on visiting the cheese farm). This route by-passes Les Chapieux so would require you to order the pique nique (packed lunch) from Refuge Col de la Croix du Bonhomme. IMPORTANT: the Col des Fours variant should NEVER be taken early in the season in June or the first week of July as it is dangerous due to collapsing snow bridges.

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.

Iunch

If you’re trekking the traditional trail via Les Chapieux then a great lunch stop option is at Auberge de la Nova. If you are aiming to trek the variant Col des Fours to Refuge Mottets (make sure that it is not early season as this variant is dangerous in June and up until the first week of July) then there is no-where to stop for lunch and you will need to order the very basic pique-nique from Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme.

side trip – La Ville des Glaciers cheese farm

A brilliant side trip just minutes from the trail today is a visit to a tiny cheese farm that produces the delicious local cheese – Beaufort. Read my post Don’t Miss: La Ville des Glaciers cheese farm.

accommodation on your third night

Accommodation on the third night of this itinerary is at Refuge Mottets, a renovated dairy farm (see photo below). It’s a popular stay on the Tour du Mont Blanc so it’s best to book this itinerary early to avoid disappointment. I’d recommend expressing interest in this itinerary the September before the summer you want to trek.

Refuge Les Mottets, a renovated dairy farm, has belonged to the same family for over 100 years. Here you’ll be guaranteed a warm welcome & excellent food before climbing the formidable Col de la Seigne (2516m) – the frontière between France and Italy, the following day

Day 4 Refuge Les Mottets – Val Veny

687m up / 367m down / 7.9km / 2-3hrs adults (8hrs children)

Route overview:

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.

Iunch

You will need to organise the excellent pique-nique from Refuge Mottets for today’s lunch as there is no-where to have lunch on today’s stage.

accommodation on your fourth night

Accommodation on your fourth night will be in the Italian valley of Val Veny at either Refuge Elisabetta or Cabane Combal. Both of these accommodation options book out quickly, so there is an option to take an exit road from Cabane Combal down to La Visaille to catch either a taxi or the local bus to Courmayeur (see below)

Exit point at Cabane Combal

Immediately after crossing the bridge before Cabane Combal it’s possible to exit the Tour du Mont Blanc trail by turning right. It’s good to know of this exit in the case of bad weather, mild injury or sickness. There is no signpost after the bridge but you just follow the access road down from Cabane Combal to the next village of La Visaille. It takes around 50-60 minutes to walk down. You can either call a taxi on your walk down to pick you up from the bus stop in La Visaille (there is a barrier across the road at La Visaille so traffic cannot drive up) or catch the regular free bus to Courmayeur (July & August only).

lago Combal
Cabane du Combal, a gorgeous A frame refuge sits above the emerald green Lago Combal. With 1-4 bed rooms, all ensuite, make a beeline for this refuge over Elisabetta if comfort is high on your list. It’s the only refuge on the tour to offer a free appéritif!

Day 5 Val Veny – Courmayeur (9.5km time: 6.5hrs)

540m up / 1532m down / 15.7km / 4-5hrs adults (8.5hrs children)

Route overview:

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.

Iunch

Description for this block. Use this space for describing your block.

how can you make today easier?

If you’re trekking with kids then I would definitely aim to catch the Maison Vielle chairlift and Dolonne cable car down to Courmayeur at the end of the day. Remember these only operate during July and August. Outside of the these months the only way to avoid the brutal downhill from Refuge Maison Vielle to Courmayeur is to order a taxi to pick up from outside the Pre De Pascal Restaurant at the top of the Val Veny cable car. This is approximate a 30 minute walk from Refuge Maison Vielle. Order your taxi via email to Patrik or Gabrielle from Taxi Airport Courmayeur

Watch Out

Chairlifts, cable cars and shuttle buses (navettes) that operate along the Tour du Mont Blanc often only open in high season. If you hope to take these welcome lifts to help tired legs or cut tour times then aim to trek in July and August Always check timetables before setting off. Check my short cut transports post here which details all the up-to-date timetables.

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: savda@savda.it tel: +39 0165 36 70 11

Flixbus fares start from €5.99 so are much cheaper than SAVDA. Book Flixbus online or easily through their app (Flixbus app for android) (Flixbus app for iOS)