Slash your TMB trail time by taking public transport along your Tour du Mont Blanc.
The Tour du Mont Blanc trekking route packs a punch with it’s 170 kilometres over demanding terrain. Days are long on the trail and with the serious elevation gain (& loss) it’s possible that you might need a helping hand along the way.
If you’re behind schedule, hit bad weather or say trekking with kids, there are a number of transport options on most of the Tour du Mont Blanc stages. These mainly consist of public buses that run along the valley floors or cable cars and chair lifts that can whip you up and down mountains in a jiffy.
We would highly recommend the following Tour du Mont Blanc public transport to cut trail times, especially if your hiking with kids or if you hit bad weather. Many of the shuttle buses merely run along mundane sections of valley floors so you’re not actually missing much by taking them.
On average expect to be on the TMB trail between 7-9 hours per day. When I hiked with my 10 year old, it took us that with all the transport options! Without taking all the TMB transport options, I know we definitely could not having hiked the TMB with our kids. It would have been way too much.
Check out the public transport below and build them into your planning so you know where to save tired legs or as plan B in bad weather. Figuring out what your speed will be during your planning isn’t easy so give yourself extra time, each day.
1. Les Houches – Bellevue Cable Car
Right at the beginning of the Tour du Mont Blanc on Stage 1 (Les Houches – Les Contamines) you can cut 2 hrs off the trail time by catching the Bellevue cable car instead of hiking up from the valley floor.
The 2020 cable car cost €15.50 one way for an adult and €13.30 for children up to 14 years old/over 65s. It takes merely 5 minutes to get to the top of the Bellevue Plateau (1800m) and it runs frequently (approximately every 20-30 minutes).
Many hikers take this short cut so don’t worry there are still plenty of TMB signposts once you get out of the cable car. You will then only have to walk only 15-20 minutes to pick up the ‘proper’ TMB track.
2. Tresse/La Chapelle – Les Contamines – bus
When you’ve descended into the Montjoie valley the TMB track will eventually hit the main road into Les Contamines. It’s here (or nearly here) that you can catch the public bus into Les Contamines.
Don’t make the mistake we’ve made before of coming straight off the track out into the village of Tresse and waiting at the bus stop literally opposite (Tresse Le Quy). The TMB trail actually crosses the main road here and continues on the opposite side of the valley up into the town of Les Contamines. It’s another 1 hour hiking.
We intended to cut this 1 hour from our trail time and waited at the Tresse bus stop for what seemed like forever. We’d planned to take the bus as I’d actually added a further hour onto our first day schedule by planning to hike from Les Contamines onto the first refuge Nant Borant. A clever tactic to reduce the second days hike (which is notoriously hard over the Col du Bonhomme) by an hour the following day.
It backfired. The bus never arrived and so we reluctantly carried on, traipsing along the trail and wearily hit Les Contamines dog tired with a worn out 10 year old and my weary 65 year old mother. It turned out that the tourist office had put up a timetable at the Tresse bus stop with the incorrect highlighted times. In fact we should have walked up the road to the next bus stop, La Chapelle to catch the bus. The bus takes a circular route round to La Chapelle and only comes down to Tresse a couple of times a day.
Have a look at the 2020 Les Contamines bus timetable here to see how La Tresse is picked up much less frequently than La Chapelle.
Les Contamines – Notre Dame de la Gorge – Free shuttle bus
There’s a free shuttle bus (navette) from Les Contamines to Notre Dame de la Gorge – the furthest point up the valley where the road stops and the trail continues. Catch the navette from outside the tourist office in Les Contamines. Notre Dame de la Gorge is the last stop on the route so it’s easy to see where to get off and the driver is very friendly, so if in doubt just ask. Catching the navette cuts 5km off the trail and will save you an easy hour.
This free shuttle bus is the same one that comes up the valley from Tresse Le Quy and La Chapelle (see above) so if you’re pushing on through to Refuge Nant Borrant on your first day, or if you’re heading to the campsite at Notre Dame de la Gorge, you can stay on the bus all the way. Otherwise stop overnight in Les Contamines and catch the bus from the tourist office in the morning.
This service operates from the end of June and runs every 45-60 mins from 9am.
The ‘horaires‘ (timetable) will be online for to you to check ahead. You can see the current navette timetables here (bear in mind they will switch from L’hiver (winter) to L’été (summer) at some point so if you check in February for example, they will still be showing the winter timetables http://www.lescontamines.com/plans-ski-bus.html
Les Chapieux to Village des Glacier or Les Mottets refuge – mini bus
There are mini bus shuttles (navettes)from Les Chapieux to La Ville des Glaciers and further to the Les Mottets refuge parking. The navettes leave regularly from Les Chapieux and I would highly recommend saving your legs by catching it. It costs €3.50 per person whilst children 12 and under are free.
Where to buy your ticket?
Buy your ticket from the information centre, a small wooden shack near the shop in Les Chapieux (there’s not much there so don’t worry you can’t miss it!) It’s also here where the mini bus depart.
Tip: If you’re staying the night in Les Chapieux, buy your ticket as soon as you arrive for your bus the following morning. Yes you’ll be tired and a cold beer at the bar at Refuge de la Nova will be calling your name. However the information centre is only 100m from Refuge de la Nova and does close around 6pm. If you miss it, you’ll have to buy your ticket in the morning and chances are the first bus at 8.30am will be full, meaning you’ll be setting out at least 30 minutes later on the trail.
We missed buying our tickets the night before and it was quite busy when we turned up first thing at 8am when the hut opened, so we didn’t manage to get onto the first bus. We bought tickets for the 9am departure to Village des Glaciers, so we were happy enough and it didn’t hold us up really on our schedule, but I would recommend hot footing it to the information shack as soon as you arrive the afternoon before to bag tickets for the 08.30 shuttle the following morning.
If you’re pressing onto Les Mottets for the night and you’re exhausted by the time you hit Les Chapieux, the last bus to Les Mottets parking leaves at 16.10 arriving at 16.40. If you arrive after this the 16.40/17.15/17.30 bus does go to Ville des Glacier which is three quarters of the way to Refuge Mottets so catch one of these and then just walk the rest of the way.
Do I buy a ticket to Ville des Glaciers or Les Mottets Parking?
Unless you’re staying at Refuge des Mottets, catch the bus to Ville des Glaciers. From here the TMB track winds gradually up to the level of Refuge des Mottets (but not to it as it’s further from the track) and you’ll then start the ascent to the Col de la Seigne.
If you catch the bus to the Les Mottets parking, you’ll have to walk down a steep hill from the parking to the actual refuge (in the base of the valley) and then up again from the refuge on the path on the opposite side of the valley to pick up the TMB trail.
The bus to Bourg St Maurice
There’s also a shuttle bus that runs from Les Chapieux to Bourg St Maurice (€6.00) at 18.10h every day. This means if you’ve booked your Tour du Mont Blanc late and you haven’t managed to get any accommodation in Les Chapieux, as long as you make the 18.10h bus, you can find some accommodation in Bourg St Maurice and then head back to Chapieux on the 07.55 shuttle in the morning to pick up the trail. (I talk more about this in my Tour du Mont Blanc Refuges post).
Another option, if you haven’t managed to secure accommodation in Les Chapieux is to book the next refuge, Les Mottets, as the shuttle bus from Les Chapieux drops you at their parking spot (so it’s just a 10 minute downhill stumble to the refuge). Make sure you’re on the last shuttle bus from Les Chapieux or face the 1 hour walk (or book a taxi!)
Vizielle to Courmayeur – bus
If you want to fast track stage 4, there’s a regular bus service from Vizielle to Courmayeur. Vizielle is a small hamlet in the Val Veny. It’s approximately a 50 minute walk from Cabane du Combal.
If you were leaving Rifugio Elisabetta, it’s an easy stroll along the straight Roman road (40-50 mins) until you hit a bridge at Lac Combal (you won’t see the Lac, it’s slightly higher on the opposite side, but you will see the lovely A frame Cabane du Combal refuge across the way). From the bridge it’s a half an hour walk down the road, then picking up a track for 10 minutes to arrive in the village of Vizielle.
From Vizielle a bus goes directly to Courmayeur. This is a good option if your legs can’t handle the TMB trail along the Mont Saxe all the way to Courmayeur and believe me it’s actually shockingly demanding. There are no cols to climb on stage 4 but the trail is undulating and seemingly never-ending. That said, it’s a stunningly beautiful section of the trail.
See for yourself what you would miss by taking this section by reading our Day 6 Elisabetta to Courmayeur post here.
La Maison Veille – Courmayeur – chair lift & Dolonne cable car
After hiking along the Mont Saxe traditional TMB route, you’ll finally reach Rifugio Maison Vielle on your descent into Courmayeur. The Maison Vielle chairlift descends down from immediately outside the refuge to the mid station of Plan Chécrouit (1702m), from where you can catch the Dolonne telecabine down to the village of Dolonne (1221m). From Dolonne a regular bus service takes you into the Italian town of Courmayeur.
It costs approximately €15 for an adult (and €9 for a child under 12 or over 65s) for both the chairlift and the telecabine down to Dolonne.
Courmayeur is a good place to have a day’s rest if you are continuing on full circuit of the TMB trail or if you’re only planning to hike half the trail from Chamonix to Courmayeur, we’d recommend returning to Chamonix for a few rest days before leaving the Alps.
Catching the bus back from Courmayeur to Chamonix
If you’re only trekking half the Tour du Mont Blanc, then it’s here you can catch a bus through the Mont Blanc tunnel back to Chamonix.
There are a few bus companies that provide this service. It takes 45 minutes to arrive in Chamonix.
SAVDA buses depart at 9h, 11h, 12h, 14h, 16h & 18h. One way costs €15.
Flixbus offers super cheap deals at around €5 each. Download their apps below to check out their timetables.
Courmayeur – Bivio Rifugio Bonatti – bus
Bus No 5 from Place Le Monte Bianco runs along the valley floor of Val Ferret and can drop you at stop “Bivio Refugio Bonatti’. This stop is located slap bang at the bottom of the vertical trail that leads straight up to Refugio Bonatti. The hike will take roughly an hour. The bus is 2 euros one way.
Taking the bus along this section is a good back up plan in very bad weather.
Ferret – La Fouly – bus
Taking the bus from Ferret to La Fouly
After hiking over the Grand Col Ferret, you might want to catch the bus on the very last section from Ferret to La Fouly which will save you 45 minutes on the trail. The same bus goes onto Champex-Lac seven times a day so if you’re looking to skip stage 7 this is the bus you’ll need to take.
You’ll see the bus stop at Ferret immediately on your left as you reach the first buildings of Ferret. The timetable on the bus stop is impossibly hard to fathom. Plan ahead by visiting www.cff.ch and choosing FERRET and LA FOULY VS and check the timetable for your dates. Make a note of the timetable. It’s possible to book your ticket online or if you’re unsure which bus you want to cash, make sure you have cash in Swiss francs to pay on the bus.
The last bus on Sun – Thurs is at 19.11 whilst there’s a later service at 20.55 on Fridays and Saturdays.
La Fouly – Champex-Lac – bus
A lot of TMB hikers skip Stage 7 entirely as a way to save time on the trail. It’s argued to be the most unremarkable section of the trail, the route passing through gentle meadows and through charming Swiss villages.
If you plan to take the bus from La Fouly (or Ferret) to Champex-Lac, you will need to change buses in Orsières, the largest town in the area. You’ll first catch a bus from Ferret or La Fouly to Orsières, and then a second bus from Orsières to Champex-Lac (very easy to change from bus 1 to bus 2).
You find all the details of the schedule on www.cff.ch, where you can put your starting point (Ferret or La Fouly) and your arrival point (Champex-Lac), the date and the time you want. It will give you the price and you can book online if you wish, or pay cash to the driver. Remember to take cash in Swiss francs for Switzerland, however you can pay for the bus either in euros or Swiss francs
It cost us for a single ticket from Ferret to Champex-Lac CHF12 (or €12) for an adult and CHF6 (€6) for a child.
There are no public transport options to cut down stage 8 of the TMB, however you can miss it out altogether by taking a bus from Champex-Lac to Orsières, then catch a train from Orsières to Col de la Forclaz (you will need to change in Martigny. It takes around 2.5 hours.
You can check the timetable (horaires) and the price at www.sbb.ch
Stage 9 Col de la Forclaz – Trés-le-Champ
Post bus – Col de la Forclaz – La Peuty or Trient
From the Col de la Forclaz it’s possible to catch the post bus down the steep hairpin road to La Peuty or Trient, shaving an hour off your day.
The bus goes approximately four times a day with two early pick ups at 06.33h and 8.28h, a lunch pick up at 12.28h, and an evening pick up at 19.28h. Make sure you double check the timetable at www.carpostal.ch/valais or email firstname.lastname@example.org as times may have changed since this post was written.
Expect to pay around CHF2.20 for a single ticket. It takes around 4 minutes to get down to La Peuty or Trient. Note Trient is slightly off the TMB trail so only go here if you’re planning to stay there overnight. If you’ve stayed the night in Col de la Forclaz, get off at La Peuty to remain on the direct trail.
If you’re pushing on through to La Peuty or Trient to stay the night instead of staying at Col de la Forclaz, it’s probably not possible to catch last post bus at around 19.28h otherwise you’ll probably miss your refuge dinner which will probably be around 19.00-20.00.
Hitching from the Col de la Forclaz
It’s also possible to hitch from the Col de la Forclaz down to Trient. The road is very busy as it’s the main road into Switzerland from the French border. Trient is only 10 minutes in the car via the road, whilst the TMB hiking route takes you directly down through the forest, taking around an hour.
Le Tour – Charamillon chair lift
Once you reach the Refuge du Col du Balme on Stage 9, you can either continue on the TMB trail which will skirt round to Tré-le-Champ or you can catch the Charamillon chair lift and the bubble down to the village of Le Tour at the end of the Chamonix Valley. This is a good option if you want to stay in Chamonix or one of it’s villages on the valley floor instead of at Refuge La Boerne, which is an excellent refuge, however often full.
The 2020 Charamillon chair lift costs €10 per adult and €8 per child one way on just the chair lift (you’d then need to walk down the home piste). Or you can pay €25.00 per adult, €21.30 child/senior to take both the chair and the bubble down to the valley floor.
If you choose to stay in Chamonix for the night and pick up the trail again in the morning, you can catch the train to Mont-roc (the stop after Argentiere) and walk around to the back of train station to a trail that leads to Tré-le-Champ. It takes around 15 minutes to walk up. You can then walk straight through Tré-le-Champ to the start of the trail which is only 2-3 minute walk up from the hamlet on the main Col du Montets road. The trail starts from the main car park.
Stage 10 – Tré-le-Champ to La Flégère
There are no short cuts on stage 10 of the TMB. It is possible to take the La Flégère cable car down to Le Praz, the village just 5 minutes from Chamonix if you wanted to stay overnight in Chamonix rather than staying in Refuge Flégère. There is plenty of accommodation in Le Praz if you wanted to be straight back on the cable car first thing in the morning to pick up the trail.
The 2020 tariff one way down from La Flégère was €15.00 per adult, €12.80 per child/senior.
Stage 11 – La Flégère – Les Houches
Brévent cable car
Stage 11 is a stunning section of the Tour du Mont Blanc trail with incredible views of Mont Blanc. Once you get to the Brévent ski area, you can opt to take the cable car from Plan Praz (the Brévent mid station at an elevation of 2000m) to the top of Brévent (2525m). Taking the cable car will cut your trail time by approximately 2 hours of the traditional TMB, or an hour if you plan to hike the Charles Bozen piste. Personally whilst the piste is an easier route, it is devoid of the charm of the high route traditional TMB route.
The 2020 summer Brévent cable car cost €10.00 one way for an adult and €8.50 for a child/over 65.
Le Parc Merlot navette
In 2020 there was a regular navette service from the Merlot animal park to Les Houches on Tuesdays and Fridays. If you happen to be trekking stage 11 on either of these days, you might well be glad of the navette service after the extremely long descent from Brévent. Your knees will have taken a beating with the 9km descent. Expect to pay €2 one way.
The website does not yet have 2021 information on but keep checking this link https://chamonix.montblancbus.com/en/news/les-houches-parc-de-merlet-shuttle