Category Archives: Travel

Do I need a car?

It is certainly useful to have a car in Chamonix – the valley is 20 km long and the lifts are all along the length of it. However it does also have good, free public transport, and it’s a greener option. Here’s an overview of the pros and cons.

The short answer is that it is undeniably easier to have a car, whether you rent one at Geneva Airport or drive here in your own. But it’s also perfectly possible to do without if you prefer not to drive. Whether you need a car or not depends very much on the make-up of your party and what you want to do – some things are very easily done by public transport, and others less so.

Getting from the airport to Chamonix: Depending on the make-up of your party (numbers of children etc) and timing of your visit (better deals on the cars outside peak times), renting a car and driving from the airport can be comparable in price to a transfer for ten people.

Shopping: There is a delivery service for shopping which is very useful, but it’s certainly easier to have a car. However there is a grocery ten minutes walk away in the village which is very useful for essentials.

chamonix_shopping_bike

Restaurants and bars in Chamonix: There are some restaurants and bars within walking distance of the chalet in Les Praz, and plenty of transport from Chamonix centre at apres time. There are some late night buses, generally at 10 pm and midnight, for later nights out and dinner. It is fairly easy to walk (almost flat and 2 km, generally about 25 minutes) but this is not advised in bad weather.

Winter

The ski buses are regular and generally efficient. In the last few years they have improved a lot. They can be very crowded at peak times, but then, so can the car parks!

If you have small children, however, it can be useful to have the car to carry their equipment and leave shoes etc. in. There are no ski lockers at most of the lift bases, and anyway, you are likely to be in a different area each day.

It also gives you flexibility in choosing to ski at Verbier or Courmayeur for the day – there are buses to both of these (Verbier once a week, Courmayeur daily)  but they need to be booked in advance.

chalet_car

Summer

Walks can often start at one lift and finish at another, so you’re likely to be using public transport from time to time anyway.

Bike hire can be a very pleasant way to get around and the flat valley floor is ideal for cycling.

A car can be very useful to get to some harder to access places like Lac Passy and Lac Vert. Also if the weather is bad, you have the option to drive through the tunnel to Italy for the day, which often has different weather.

In general, however, I think a car is even less necessary in summer.

Summing up

You may find it especially preferable to have a car if:

  • You have small children or people of limited mobility in your party.
  • You want to eat out regularly in Chamonix centre.
  • You want maximum flexibility for your plans.

You may find that you can manage happily without a car if:

  • You enjoy walking or cycling around.
  • You are happy to use public transport
  • You are planning to mainly do walks within the valley.
  • You are all able bodied and everyone can help with the shopping, carry their own skis etc.

Travel to Chamonix

Chalet La Forêt can reached by driving, train or flying (about an hour’s drive from Geneva airport) Looking for information about the chalet’s location in Chamonix? That’s here.

Flying

It’s a very short flight (1 hr 15min – 1 hr 25min) from the UK to Geneva. Plenty of airlines ply this route, many of them from the small and efficient London City Airport.
Once at Geneva, you are just 100 km from the chalet, via (in approximate order of convenience and expense) hire car, airport transfer, bus, or rail (not recommended). More about flying and airport transfer options.

Driving

The route from Calais takes approximately eight hours and has many advantages, especially for larger groups- cheaper, less likely to be disrupted, no concerns about luggage. More on our Driving page

Train

You can also take the Eurostar to Chamonix from London. Although this is a long journey, it’s very enjoyable. You can go direct to Chamonix but paradoxically it can be better to go to Geneva via Lille and then get a transfer from Geneva. Seat61 is an excellent site with lots of good information on how to do this. I recommend Loco2 for booking rather than the Eurostar site.

Driving UK to Chamonix

Driving to Chamonix has much to recommend it – no worries about baggage, less prone to disruption, and quite a lot cheaper than flying if you have a full car.

It takes around 8 hours to drive the 900km to Chamonix from Calais. All but the last two or three kilometers are on the motorway, and the roads are very good and well signed.  It’s also very useful to have a car in Chamonix as the ski areas are quite spread out, though there are regular shuttle buses. Do I need a car? – more detail here.

Mont Blanc from the Autoroute Blanche
Mont Blanc from the Autoroute Blanche

The most usual route is Calais > Reims > Dijon > Geneva > Chamonix.
Calais to Chamonix route on Google maps
(N.B. This map is to the centre of Les Praz de Chamonix – full directions to the chalet will be sent on booking)
On the way back, it’s simplest to follow signs to Paris, and then to Lille before heading for Calais.

If you want to break the journey on the way, Troyes or Reims are good stop-off points. Reims has plenty of late-opening hotels in the centre. Take a look at our blog for more stops en route, with hotel suggestions.

La Chartreuse in Gosnay © La Chartreuse
La Chartreuse in Gosnay © La Chartreuse – a highly recommended stop on the way to Chamonix.

You should allow around 60 euros for tolls each way. If you have a large car or a ski rack, you may have problems with the automatic tolls – just press the button and tell them you’re “Classe une, s’il vous plait, pas classe deux” and they’ll correct the toll.

Here’s a run-down of French driving regulations from the RAC. A couple of new legal issues from 2012 – from this year, you must carry an approved breathalyser kit in your car – you can buy these easily in places like Halfords –  and it’s an offence to use a device that detects speed traps.

In winter, it’s a legal requirement to carry a set of snow chains in case of bad weather. It’s generally easiest and least expensive to order them online in the UK – you’ll need your tyre size. Unless you intend to do a lot of snowy driving in the future, I would recommend just getting the cheapest. More expensive models are easier to put on and remove, but you’re highly unlikely to actually use them – the roads are cleared very regularly and we are on the flat valley floor. Snowsocks are good for occasional use, but some brands of snowsocks for tyres do not conform to French regulations. Check that they have a certificate if you choose them.

Michelin and The AA both have good route planners to help you plan your journey.

The chalet is very easy to access, and full directions with printable maps will be sent on booking. There is plenty of parking outside the chalet, which is located on a no through road.

Crossing the channel

Heading away from the White Cliffs on the way to France
Heading away from the White Cliffs on the way to France

Eurotunnel is the fastest but also the most expensive – however, you can get some good deals if you book early. It’s worth checking the Eurotunnel site for special offers.
The ferries are almost always cheaper, and there’s a romance about the ferry that I always enjoy! Ferrysavers generally have good prices, and check directferries.co.uk and aferry.co.uk as well, to see who has the best times for you. The Dunkerque crossing is often less busy and just as good.

Flying to Chamonix

A short flight of around an hour and a half takes you from Britain to Geneva, our nearest airport.  Once at Geneva, you are just 100 km from the chalet, via (in approximate order of convenience and expense) hire car, airport transfer, bus, or rail (not recommended).

Geneva Airport

Try for a window seat as the views of the mountains are lovely. Make sure you check which side of the airport your flight arrives and departs from. Most are from the Swiss side (Secteur Suisse) but occasionally you do get them (notably with Easyjet) from the French side (Secteur Francaise). There is a short walk between the two sides which is not as well signposted as it might be, so it’s best to check – and if you’re hiring a car, the same applies – see Car Hire for more on this.

The terminal is generally very efficient, as you’d expect. It has good facilities including an excellent nursery and extensive duty-free shopping. Sterling, Euros and Swiss Francs are accepted equally within the airport. Once at Geneva, you are just 100 km from the chalet, via (in approximate order of convenience and expense) hire car, airport transfer, bus, or rail (not recommended).

 

Geneva to Chamonix car hire

It’s only an hour’s drive from the airport to Chamonix, and although not necessary, it can be useful to have a car as the ski areas are quite spread out. More information about travel within the Chamonix Valley.

It’s best to book it well in advance to get the best price. Also be aware that at very busy times they can sell out! Unless you have an existing loyalty programme or account, it’s generally easiest to get it through a comparison site like www.holidayautos.co.uk. Compulsory winter equipment may be included but is sometimes a surcharge after the rates are calculated, so check this when you compare prices, as it can add up.

All the main car hire companies have offices at the airport, and they all speak English. Geneva Airport car hire phone numbers

Driving from Geneva to Chamonix

Once you have your car, it’s just an hour’s drive on good roads to Chamonix. Follow signs for France and once you are through the border, Chamonix is well signed. Don’t forget some euros for the tolls. (around €7) as the cash dispensers in the airport only give out Swiss Francs. The tolls also take cards.

Swiss Side or French Side?

You can hire a car from the Swiss side or French side of Geneva airport. The debate rages around the internet, with each side having its supporters. Short version for the busy: Get it from the Swiss side, unless it’s a huge saving. Especially in winter. If you go French side, allow 4 hours to return from Chamonix to Geneva airport.

Why hire on the Swiss side?

Although it can be slightly cheaper to hire from the French side, it’s very complicated to pick up and (especially) return your car.

Also, cars from the Swiss side will have snow chains and winter tyres included – it’s a legal requirement – and you may well need them! They also have a Swiss motorway “vignette” – a tax disc which allows you to drive on the Swiss motorways. Without it, you have to take a roundabout, badly signposted route back to the airport. You have to ignore almost all signs to the airport as these will take you to the Swiss side. You have to go through the city centre which is often congested. So the minor saving is generally not worth the bother, even if your flight arrives on the French side.

People say: “It’s fine, just follow these directions!” The directions are pretty long and if you miss one turning, you can easily get lost, as you can’t follow any signs to the airport since they’ll take you to the Swiss side! Here’s a thread on Tripadvisor with all the discussion you can handle and then some more.

With a passenger who has a smartphone with internet access for directions, or a satnav, things are better but you need the directions as well, it is not unknown for the international border to cause issues with access.

If you have to get your car from the French side, allow four hours absolute minimum (more at busy times) to return to the airport and keep the map and directions for the return journey as it is not easy to find.  It’s not too bad going from the airport, but the return journey is much trickier and very counterintuitive. Make sure you have the phone number for the hire car company in case you need help. Here’s the map from the airport detailing the routes.

Car Hire in Chamonix

If you just want a car for a day or so, it’s possible to hire one in Chamonix itself, though rates are often expensive. Only Europcar has a Chamonix office, and it’s best to book in advance – it’s staffed for office hours only, no weekends. Other companies will offer hire from Chamonix, but require it to be delivered (very expensive) or for you to pick it up (impractical)

Europcar 36 Place de la Gare, Chamonix  74400. Tel +33 (0)450 536340

 

 

Trains to Chamonix

Trains from London to Chamonix

If you prefer not to fly, it’s possible to get the train to Chamonix from London. Although this is a long journey, it’s very well scheduled and runs overnight, so you can go from St Pancras after work, change in the evening in Paris and then go by sleeper.
Alternatively, a new route via Lille to Geneva doesn’t require you to change stations. You can then get an airport transfer from Geneva. Loco2 is much better than Eurostar for booking, I find.

Trains from Geneva Airport to Chamonix

Chamonix is unfortunately not easy to get to from Geneva Airport by rail – car hire, bus or transfer are much easier. However, the rail journey is very beautiful and well worth it if you enjoy railways. There are two possibilities:

Direct from Geneva Airport to Martigny (3 hrs) and then take the Mont-Blanc Express which stops in Les Praz. This takes longer (and is more expensive) but very scenic and has only one change.

Otherwise, a short ride from Geneva Airport station to Geneva main station, and then a tram to Eaux-Vives station in Geneva, where you can get a local express to St Gervais, and then change to the Mont-Blanc Express which stops in Chamonix and Les Praz.

This is not quite a bad as it sounds, as it’s well organised and the railway staff are very helpful, but not ideal with heavy bags. It takes about 2hrs 30mins to 3hrs 30mins and costs very little – about 8 euros one way. The Swiss railways site is much the easiest to use for times etc, .
www.sbb.ch

Trains within the Chamonix Valley

See Getting around Chamonix for more information.

Airport transfers

There are many, many transfer companies who can take you to the door of the chalet, either privately or in a shared vehicle, for a very reasonable price.

These do occasionally get a bad press – people are understandably very vocal when something goes wrong. However, they usually provide a very good service at a very good price, when you consider you are being taken door to door for 100 km.

Transfer Tips

• Book your place as soon as possible.
My experience with these has been that they are not always great for last-minute stuff and it’s best to book well in advance. Never rely on turning up and just getting on one. In theory it’s possible but you are risking a very long wait or possibly no availability at all.

• Speak to someone on the phone or check via email to confirm.
Don’t rely on an automated email from a reservation website.

• Keep the confirmation email or text
You should also get the mobile number of the driver via text the day before your transfer. If you don’t get a text, contact the booking office.

• Payment options
It may seem attractive to pay them at the airport – some of them do offer this. But remember that paying in advance means that they will definitely turn up to collect you, and it’s what I would always recommend.

• It’s good to have a plan B
If you like to be doubly safe, take a list of several numbers, and check the times of the next bus or train in case of any problems. In practice, if you miss your transfer due to delays, they will just get you onto a later one. They all have help desks at the airport.  Mountain Dropoffs have a policy of never leaving anyone no matter how late the flight is, so I often use them if it’s a late arrival.

• Don’t worry too much!
The transfer companies move thousands of people a day with no problems at all. I have used them for a decade and it is really extremely rare for something to go wrong. It’s just good to plan ahead.

A quick search on Google will find plenty – here is a selection that I have used myself and never had any problems with:

Mountain Drop-offs –  recommended and often run when the others don’t

Cham-Van – recommended, friendly and efficient, and carbon offset their diesel.

Chamonix Valley Transfers will contact a selection of registered transfer companies to get you the best deal, and also have some of their own. I have often used them and always been very happy.

Haute Transfers are a bit more upmarket – more expensive, but plusher vehicles, free refreshments and don’t charge for making changes to a booking. Also offer transfers to Courmayeur and Verbier for a day. Recommended if you are happy to pay a bit more to get a bit more. They also offer in-valley transfers which can be very useful and even a full concierge service for the week.

N.B. We advise against using Alpybus. They have very large vans that can’t go under the bridge near the chalet, and they will not take the short detour to go around it. This means they don’t come to our door, dropping you at the main road or insisting you walk to it (100m) with your luggage for pickup. We recommend choosing one of the above companies instead, who will drop you right at the chalet.

Geneva Airport to Chamonix by Bus

Buses link Chamonix directly with Geneva Airport and some also stop in Geneva itself. Transfers are generally a better option but sometimes the bus is the only way!

All these companies will drop you at the central bus station which is 2.5 km from the chalet – not very convenient. If you arrive before 7.30 you can get a bus from there to Les Praz. It’s then a 5-10 minute walk from the Flegere stop to the chalet, or you may be able to get a bus that stops at Les Vardesses.

So I would not recommend this as a way to get a large group with all their luggage to us. Taxis are very expensive in Chamonix and it will cost you more to get the last two kilometers than the first hundred!  But they can be useful if one person is arriving a day later and could be collected from the station, or perhaps for a day trip to Geneva.

A transfer service can take you to Chamonix, often for a comparable price or less, and will take you directly to the door of the chalet. If you have heavy or bulky luggage like skis or a board, a transfer is almost certainly a better option.

There are three companies operating on the route:

Altibus (via Geneva)

The last buses go at around 5 pm and you need to allow plenty of time to get there as traffic can cause delays, because they go through Geneva city centre. They are extremely reliable, however, and can be very useful at off-peak times when the transfers don’t run so often. Chamonix to Geneva Airport bus times from Altibus

Easybus and Ouibus (Airport only)

Easybus runs early and late, and for a very low price. As with many offerings from this company, reviews have been mixed!
Ouibus is a low cost French service which I have heard is rather better. The site is available in English.

Just to recap – the buses are good possibilities if one person needs to arrive later and can be collected by car from the bus station in Chamonix Sud, but are really not suitable for big groups with luggage due to the truly ludicrous taxi prices.

Chamonix public transport

Chamonix public transport is very good, with free shuttle buses between all the lifts, winter and summer, and an excellent railway service.

Chamonix's ski areas, with our position within them marked
Chamonix’s ski areas, with our position within them marked

Shuttle Buses in Chamonix

Free shuttle buses run regularly through Les Praz – catch them either at the stop near the chalet (2 minutes walk, but less frequent) or at the Flegere lift (5-10 minutes walk, more frequent). Our central location in the valley makes it easy to get to Chamonix, Le Tour, Les Grands Montets, Les Houches and various other destinations.

Much improved in recent years, they now run every 10 minutes at busy times. There are also two night buses – check the timetable but normally it’s one at 10pm and one at midnight. More info on routes here.

In winter, there is also a daily bus to Courmayeur, returning in the evening. It’s free for Mont Blanc Unlimited pass holders of 2 days or more. Reservations must be made by 5:00p.m. the day before on +33 (0)450 530 115, or in person at their office by the railway station.

Trains

Chamonix train - Mont Blanc Express
The Mont Blanc Express runs between the Chamonix ski areas

The train is much the most pleasant way to get around the valley. It’s free with your carte d’hôte (provided by us) between Servoz and Vallorcine, and stops in Les Praz, around a 5 minute walk from the chalet. It’s very punctual but there can be long gaps between trains so check the timetable before you set out, and take one with you if you plan to return on it. Even if you have a car, it’s often preferable as it allows for flexibility – for instance summer walks. Excellent for Les Grands Montets and Vallorcine – not recommended at all for Les Houches or Le Tour – take the bus, or access Le Tour from Vallorcine.

Evening public transport in Chamonix

The last train runs at around 8 pm. In winter, night buses (usually at 10pm and midnight) are a good way to get back from a evening out in Chamonix town centre, though it is also very pleasant to walk back to the chalet. At night we recommend you only walk along the very quiet and well-lit road beside the railway (full directions and maps will be sent on booking).

Taxis

Taxis are ridiculously expensive in Chamonix (30 euros to go the 2 km from Chamonix to the chalet!) but are quite readily available and handy when the weather is very cold. They can be called from any bar or restaurant, but it’s best to book in advance at busy times. There’s a list of numbers at the chalet. Some transfer companies offer this too, and this is much more affordable for a big group – book well in advance. Try Haute Transfers for this.

Bikes

In summer, bikes are a great way to get around, as the valley floor is almost flat in the central area around us. Bikes can be readily hired in many places locally.

Walking

It’s very nice to walk  between the chalet and Chamonix, it’s almost level and there are lots of lovely paths. Just keep heading towards Mont Blanc, stay on the level, and you’ll be in Chamonix in 20-25 minutes. It’s 2km from us to the Place du Mont-Blanc market square in Chamonix.