The Tour du Mont Blanc trail undulates through three different countries – France, Italy and Switzerland. Whilst France and Italy both use the Euro, Switzerland uses Swiss Francs.
You may have heard that you need to carry rather a lot of cash en-route along the Tour du Mont Blanc trail and you’re not wrong. However don’t worry there are ATMs in strategic points along the trail so you never need to be carrying a HUGE wad of cash plus when you hit Switzerland your card is your friend.
In this post I am going to tell you everything you need to know about money on the Tour du Mont Blanc, from how much of each currency to take, where the ATMs are and where you HAVE to pay in cash …. the rest you can pay by card. Hooray!
So why do I need to carry so much cash on the TMB?
Many of the high mountain refuges along the TMB cannot accept cards of any kind simply because they don’t have any signal to make electronic transactions.
Many of the refuges (but not all) are available to book through the official website. Here you will pay a deposit at the time of booking then the balance will need to be paid at the refuge after your evening meal. Expect to have to pay in cash unless you’re trekking through the Swiss section where cards are readily accepted. Do check your booking reservation as often they will indicate whether cards are accepted or whether they only accept cash.
Refuge Tre-La-Téte (Stage 1 – France) and Refugio Elisabetta (stage 3 – Italy) do not even take a deposit at the time of booking so here you would need to fork out the whole balance in cash. Another refuge that only accepts cash is Refuge Lac Blanc (although you do pay a deposit online). Watch out for this refuge as one scenario you don’t want is – running out of water AND be out of cash at Refuge Lac Blanc. Stage 10 is a notoriously dry stage – you need to carry extra water. Refuge Lac Blanc has no potable water but bottled water can be bought – but only with cash in euros.
After your evening dinner at a refuge – your balance for your accommodation, any bar drinks and any pique-niques ordered (packed lunches) will be totted up and you will need to pay this before heading off to bed.
ATMs are only in a few towns along the TMB so it’s wise to carry a decent amount of cash on you whilst trekking.
Is it safe to carry so much cash on the TMB?
Well you don’t need to carry a huge stack of billets with you whilst trekking. By knowing where the ATMs are you can minimise the amount you need to take.
But in answer to the question – yes I find the TMB extremely safe. I have never had anything stolen and have never heard of anything being stolen from other trekkers. Actually that is a lie – someone took my Go Pro once whilst I left it filming a time lapse at Lac Blanc. Perhaps I was silly leaving it unattended. I was truly shocked to see it gone when I went back to look at my footage. I actually presumed I’d returned to the wrong place as it is so unusual for that type of thing to happen here. So the lesson is – don’t leave anything valuable unattended. Keep cash on you and you will be fine.
The only refuge which has any type of security at all is Refuge Mottets. In the posher smaller dorms & private rooms in their new block they have security punch in code type locks on the door (photo below). Unlike accommodation on the Camino, refuges on the TMB do not provide lockable lockers so you cannot store your valuables anywhere. Like I said this is not normally a problem on the TMB. No-one I have ever spoken to has ever had anything stolen on the trail (apart from me …… ahem).
Which currency do I need to take?
Euro is king on the TMB. There is no need to carry copious amounts of Swiss Francs. In fact, I never take any at all! True fact.
Switzerland is very card friendly. All accommodation providers will accept cards, apart from Alpage de la Peule – the working dairy farm high on the Grand Col Ferret .
All the Swiss shops on the TMB will accept cards.
The bus also now DOES accept cardsif you are planning on skipping stage 7 and taking the bus from either Ferret or La Fouly to Champex-Lac. THE BUS ALSO ACCEPT EURO NOTES. In fact all Swiss shops accept Euro notes and will give you change in Swiss Francs. They will not accept Euro coins.
I would certainly not be using the ATMs in Switzerland to be drawing out cash. No not at all.
Which card should I use in Europe?
One thing you need to watch out for is ATM fees or foreign transaction fees whilst using your bank card abroad.
Most of us are now clued up to these unwelcome charges, planning well in advance and taking an appropriate card where you won’t get charged. These fee free cards are typically NOT your normal bank card but online banks such as Revolut, Wise or Starling for the UK.
The Wise card is currently available in the UK, the US, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Canada, Brazil and most of the EEA
Americans can now also use Revolut (read this review of Revolut on the Wall Street Zen) as well as other fee free cards such as Varo Visa debit card or the popular banking app Chime, or Charles Schwab.
TOP TIP: When paying by card always pay in the local currency NOT your home country currency
Where are ATMs on the Tour du Mont Blanc?
There are many ATMs in Chamonix of course and in Courmayeur. These are the two largest towns on the trail.
Below are the locations of all the ATMs going counter clockwise along the trail:-
1/ Chamonix – many ATMs
2/ Les Houches
There is only ATM in Les Houches. It’s at CA des Savoie bank just along from the Tourist Office on the same side. However I always get charged a ridiculous fee here (€6 fee to withdraw €40) so avoid it if possible and get cash out in Chamonix centre before leaving. If you’ve left it too late and don’t have enough euros you’ll need to get off at the bus stop: Les Houches Mairie for this ATM. You can then get your photo taken under the ‘official’ TMB metal arch start point outside the Tourist Office.
3/ Les Contamines (end of stage 1)
Les Contamines is a small French town that has a couple of ATMs. A few minutes on from the Tourist Office are Credit Agricole and Banque Populaire (on the corner). If you are trekking the variant stage 1, you will pop out at the church on the main road – turn left and both these ATMs are less than a five minute walk.
There are countless ATMs in Courmayeur
5/ La Fouly – Switzerland
There is one ATM in this small Swiss village.
6/ Champex Lac – Switzerland
Champex Lac has one ATM next to the only shop in the town (photo below).
So which refuges only accept cash?
- Refuge Plan Glacier
- Refuge Miage
- Auberge du Truc
- Refuge Nant Borrant
- Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme
- Auberge de la Nova
- Refuge Mottets
- Refugio Bertone
- Refugio Bonatti
- Refuge Les Grands
- Refuge Bellachat