Getting There, Chamonix-Mont-Blanc
As far as I know, Chamonix is the only place in the French Alps where you can go on a holiday without a car.
Not only to get there, but also to get around.
Each time we spent a week there, we parked our car in the garage and used it only once to make a day trip. (could have booked a bus journey at the Tourism Office though)
There is enough to see and to do in and around town. There are countless gondolas and lots of hiking trails.
The main train station is in the centre, close to the hotels.
This town is a dream!
The easiest (or at least the most fun) way of getting to Chamonix is by train. Regular trains run from St Gervais-les-Bains to Martigny, Switzerland via Chamonix (Note: Many trains terminate on the French-Swiss border at Châtelard-Frontière, but it's an easy walk across the platform for the continuing train). From Paris, you can take a TGV to Bellegarde (Ain) or Annecy, then a regional train to St Gervais. Martigny is a main station on the Brig-Geneva line.
The entire line is scenic, but the most beautiful part is from the Swiss border to Martigny. In fact, it's even more scenic than some of the headline Swiss "scenic trains."
The train line is also very convenient getting from one part of the Chamonix area to the other. In addition to the Chamonix-Mont Blanc main station, all trains stop at Les Bossons and Les Praz, as well as many smaller stations on request. Trains in both directions run roughly every hour.
NOTE: Sometimes during the off-season (April-May and October), the train line will close for construction and/or track maintenance. Substitute buses will run along the route if this is the case.
Chamonix can be reached by train either from Lyon, in France, Geneva (Switzerland) or Torino (Italy). I am mentioning these cities because they all have international airports.
From Geneva (distance Km 88) you must take a train of the Geneva-Brig line, up to Martigny. There you must change train, which is very easy because you just need to cross the platform to get on the small, narrow gauge train (the Mont Blanc Express) to Chamonix. This last leg of the journey is very slow, taking 90 minutes, but it is also very scenic, and the train has panoramic windows, so relax and enjoy the view!
From Lyon (distance Km 220) the route is via Aix-les-Bains and Annecy, up to St. Gervais, where you must change to the little train of the Mont Blanc Express. This last leg of the journey takes 40 minutes.
From Torino the route is via Modane, Chambery and Aix-les-Bains. From that station on it is the same as described above.
The Mont Blanc is on the border between France and Italy, so Chamonix is extremely close to Italy. The tunnel under the Mont Blanc is located exactly under the highest part of the massif, and when it was opened in 1965 it was really a great achievment.
The tunnel underwent major renovation a few years ago, after a terrible tragedy. A lorry, carrying inflamable goods (margarine) caught fire while in the tunnel, and the fire quickly involved all the other vehicles in the tunnel, killing many people.
After that, much has been done to improve safety, including the creation of many emergency exits and a continuous monitoring of possible problems.
For the sake of safety there are strict rules: vehicles must cross the tunnel at a steady speed, not faster than 70 km per hour but not slower than 50, moreover vehicles must keep a distance of at least 150 metres between each other. Estimating the distance is made easy by a system of coloured lights. On the sides of the tunnel there are blue lights at intervals of 150 metres, so if you can see two blue lights between you and the vehicle before you it means you are far enough.
The total length of the tunnel is 11.6 Km, so crossing it takes on average 12 minutes. How long it may take to queue is another matter. When I crossed there was virtually no queue on the way from Italy to France, but in the other direction it was much busier, and we had to wait for about one hour when we crossed back to Italy.
The toll is EUR 32.30 for a car, EUR 21.40 for a motorbike, EUR 42.70 for vans, campers, cars with caravans. The toll can be paid with credit card (VISA, EuroCard, American Express).
chamonix is well connected with the rest of france and with switzerland by train.
i flew in to geneva airport in switzerland and then connected with train to chamonix via martigny in switzerland.
the train ride coming in to the chamonix valley is very scenic and a very good way to enter this nice little outdoor heaven.
Chamonix, lying in a narrow valley, isn't situated on a main train line.
To reach the town, you have to take a small, old fashioned, orange, and consisting in ONE (in low season) to three cars (in high season) train joining Saint-Gervais - Le Fayet to Martigny (Switzerland).
It's really a 'slow coach' stopping in every little station (even stopping on demand to pick exhausted mountaineers) but the scenery is so magnificent than it's quite impossible to complain about it.
Many people fly to Geneva to get to Chamonix. From there you have many options.
You can pay a lot to take a taxi or airport transfer van to Chamonix - or if time tables match, you can catch a bus from the airport.
But be aware - the SAT airport bus only runs 3 times a day and frankly it used to be much cheaper ! Now it is only cheapest if you can get the round trip fare, rather than one way trips. In 2009 the fare is €33 one way or €55 round trip.
Most other airport transfer services charge between €25-€40 per trip each way for a shared transfer. In any case, never take a private transfer or taxi unless you are wealthy - they are often over €100-€250. Note that many van transfer services will not operate in 'off season' or will charge incredibly high prices in 'off season' (ie not July or August in summer, and not ski season in winter).
To find the bus time tables, on the Geneva airport website (http://www.gva.ch), in English choose Arrivals -> Public Transportation -> Ski Resorts. The link is listed below.
The Altibus SAT website also lists the timetables and fares. http://www.altibus.com . It stops at either the main SNCF train station (Chamonix Gare) or closer to the Aiguille du Midi lift station in Chamonix Sud.
The other option is to take the scenic train from the Geneva airport via Martigny, cross the border at Châtelard and take the Mont Blanc Express. This takes more than 3 times as long as a bus or van transfer, but is 10 times more scenic if the weather is nice :-) The trains run around once per hour in high season. http://www.sbb.ch
A large number of links to various Airport Van Transfer services are found on the website below, along with all the airport links given above - 1 stop shopping !
We arrived at the train station in the summer -lovely scenic backdrop. Good rail connections from France and Switzerland.
Indeed the Mt Blanc Express from Martigny-Chamonix takes about 2 hours ...a slow narrow gauge train journey but wow the scenery across the MT Blanc range is stunning...and dare I say, the most scenic train journey I've encoutered so far!
In the winter we should have flown in to Geneva but it was fog bound (often happens) so we were diverted to Grenoble airport were we had a long wait for the coaches to bus us in.
I recommend using Alpy Bus (several other Chamonix transportation tips have their complete contact details). A group of 5 for transfer from Geneva airport to Chamonix (drop-off about 100 meters from our door) cost EUR 26,50. Less if you have more people. The trip took just over 1 hr. and was no problem. You need to reserve seats, so call in advance.
Oh, there are so many ways to get to Chamonix... but my very favourite one is by train from Switzerland - and more specifically from the station of Martigny - which is only about 40 minutes away from Geneva's international airport. It's not the fastest way to get there - the whole trip Martigny-Chamonix takes about 2 hours... but it's breathtaking. The train is a narrow-gauge train and travels very slowly, climbing up steeply, and giving u plenty of time to admire both the landscape and the rural architecture... it's called the "train du Mont Blanc" and it crosses nearly the entire mont blanc range. So yes, the real adventure starts even before you get there.
If you are looking at saving money then I can recommend Alpybus. We travelled to and from Chamonix at the end of April and Alpybus were cheap, convenient and reliable. No need for a car in Chamonix as the inter bus links are great. Journey time from Geneva Airport to Chamonix with Alpybus was 1 hour and 10 minutes. Alpybus also provide a door to door service. We were a group of four people and the per person price was only 24.50 euros.
For transfers from Geneva Airport to Chamonix try:
Cheaper than most others, good service, English speaking and for 1 to 21 people!
From 20 Euros per person
They meet your flight and take you door-to-door
I was visiting Switzerland at the time with my family and we decided to visit Mont blanc, because it was quite close!! So we took the train to the geographical border between France and Swizerland, and had to wait in this quaint little swiss town. The train comes every hour or two, so it was a bit inconvenient, as our timing was awful and delayed!!
The town was quite pricy though..but there are many shops and restaurants to see, and if all else fails, you can always do the 'Homer Simpson' thing: have one foot in switzerland, one in france and keep shouting 'switzerland, france'...i did. :D
Going to Chamonix, we flew From Philadelphia to Frankfurt, then to Geneva with prior arrangements for a coach to Chamonix. Two passport checkpoints, a narcotics checkpoint and 3 hours later we were in Chamonix. Going back we hired a car. It cost 130 Euro divided by the 4 of us and took a mere 45 minutes...Fillipe is AWESOME!!
A few things:
1) be sure to mention if you have ski/snowboard gear when you hire the car
2) there are several listings for car hire, and the same person answered the 3 we tried.
3) Geneva airport does not have an efficient means unloading skis and snowboards.
During ski season, there are very regular buses to the major ski towns around Chamonix. They are a bit crowded, but do the job. Driving IN Chamonix can be hectic, it is primarily a walking town. It's not very big, we walked everywhere.
I wanted to share our experience with Chamexpress: the drivers are rude and unfriendly. No attention to customer satisfaction whatsoever.
We booked through internet and got 3 confirmations emails. One of them stated the pickup time as 9:00 AM. We were ready at 8:45 and yelled at by the driver saying that we should be ready at 8:30. One of the emails (the one that is the ticket) stated more clearly the pickuptime. Our fault was not to check all three emails but I do not think we deserved such rudeness.
We started our trip and find out that the baby seat was not fixed to the shuttle. When we mentionned that to the driver, the reply was that it is not the responsibility of the company. Imagine attaching the baby seat that you are unfamiliar with while the shutlle is moving. The directions were printed on the baby seat but were not easy to read (worned out)..
Another point is if you travel with a baby make sure to select the baby seat option, the fact that one of the passenger is a baby do not ensure that there is a baby seat ready for you. Furthermore, if you decide not to use the service because the baby seat is not available it is not transfereable to another date.
To make the story short, we had a very unpleasant experience with chamexpress and heard similar dissatisfaction from others.