02 Oct How to enjoy Chamonix on a budget in summer
The glamorous ski resort of Chamonix may not spring to mind as a budget-friendly destination. But, as I found on my recent trip, it’s possible to enjoy this outstanding alpine destination in summer for less than you might expect.
Chamonix has long enjoyed a reputation as one of the appealing spots in the Alps. The extraordinary scenery, a huge range of winter and summer sports and chic mountain resort feel has been luring visitors for well over one hundred years.
Whilst this all makes it sound very desirable, it can also sound a little out of reach of you’re planning to head to the Alps on a modest budget. But Chamonix might just surprise you. With a little planning and willingness to explore, a week here in mid-summer can be much more affordable than you might think. There’s a huge selection of high-quality accommodation available at a significantly lower price than you’d find during the winter, and free public transport for many guests. You’ll also find a wealth of low or no cost activities and events that’ll keep you busy for days or weeks at a time – without even breaking out a lift pass.
If we’d known that a trip here would cost the same – or even less – than a visit to any number of other French Alpine resorts, we’d have headed here sooner.
So here’s my top tips to help you get the most from your stay in Chamonix, as well as your Euros.
Want to know more about our trip to Chamonix? Find out more about what we got up to and where we stayed in Summer in the Chamonix valley: A week in Les Houches
1. Stay in the valley, but not the town of Chamonix
We chose to stay in the village of Les Houches, a few kilometres down the valley from Chamonix itself. It’s one of several charming villages in the Chamonix valley that are busiest during the winter ski season.
We loved Les Houches for several reasons, but amongst others, accommodation was significantly cheaper here than in the town itself. It’s also got more of a laid-back atmosphere and traditional village feel – and has great access to quieter trails and footpaths that can be accessed without using the lift network. Eating out is more budget-friendly here too – for the same price as a generic menu du jour on the main drag in Chamonix you’ll get something a little more special, featuring local produce.
We paid £55 per night for an en-suite room in a chalet in Les Houches with shared kitchen, terrace and cavernous living room through Airbnb in August 2019.
If you’re thinking about trying another village in the valley, consider Argentiere or Vallocine high up beyond Chamonix. These have great access to high-altitude hiking and mountaineering. Alternatively, little Les Contamines is tucked away at the other end, near more urbane St. Gervais les Bains. A popular stopping on the Tour de Mont Blanc trail, it’s one of the quieter spots in the valley that offers more traditional alpine charm.
2. Airport transfers are your best friend
Geneva is your nearest airport here. However, public transport from Geneva airport to towns and resorts in France can be patchy as you’re crossing the border from Switzerland. But that doesn’t mean you have to splash out a taxi transfer or hire car.
There are multiple companies that offer frequent minibus transfers to your door (or Chamonix Sud station) that are great value for money and make life simple.
We’ve found both Alpybus and EasyBus to be excellent, offering fast and easy transfers for less than £25 per person each way in August. They provided the slickest transfer I’ve ever had from Geneva airport to a French destination. You might also want to consider Mountain Drop Offs for a 24/7 service from Geneva to Chamonix.
3. Take public transport once you’re there
You won’t miss having a car in the Chamonix valley. It’s well-served by a railway line that runs regular services stopping at every village along the valley bottom. There’s also a comprehensive bus network – including a night bus – that connects Chamonix with the surrounding villages.
And the best bit? If you’re staying in most hotels and holiday accommodation you’ll receive a free travel pass for the week. And even if you’ve booked your accommodation privately, such as through airbnb, you can pick up a pass for just €10 at tourist offices in the valley. Alternatively, do as we did and pay as you go – one-day unlimited bus tickets start at €3.
4. Skip lift passes for lower altitude adventures
Accessing high altitude walking routes and some of the Chamonix’s most famous attractions requires purchasing passes for the many ski lifts, also known as gondolas, in the valley. But with prices starting from €18 return from the town of Chamonix, take more than a couple of lifts and your budget will take a significant.
Consider spending more of your time lower down, or planning routes that include a climb instead of the lift. Whilst this might not be for everyone – we’re fit 30 somethings – you won’t regret the sense of satisfaction that comes from tackling some of the smaller climbs. Col de Voza is 600m above Les Houches and a popular walking route that rewards with spectacular views of the Bionassey glacier at the top. If climbing isn’t your thing, try the Petit Balcons Sud route. Just a couple hundred meters above the valley, you’ll find gentle climbs up that will give you panoramic views of Mont Blanc and the Mer du Glace that rival those much higher up.
Discover four of our favourite walking routes that don’t require a lift pass in my guide to 5 spectacular day walks in the Chamonix valley.
5. Don’t feel obliged to tick off attractions
Whilst the internet might suggest otherwise, there’s an awful lot more to the Chamonix valley that taking an organised trip to the Aiguille du Midi or Mer du Glace. You can still appreciate the stunning natural beauty of the valley – free of charge – if you’re happy to spend your time walking, trail running or cycling. Exploring the town of Chamonix and alpine villages scattering the valley costs nothing (well, maybe the odd ice cream or coffee here and there).
6. Choose a self-catering option
I know, it’s tempting not to have to cook on holiday.
But I find that having somewhere to cook or prepare food at least is hugely helpful when I’m looking for a budget-friendly option. Even if we only use the kitchen to prepare packed lunches for a day out hiking, or for breakfast chez nous, it’s cheaper than eating out at every mealtime. Plus, it’s a chance to explore local produce and French specialities – easily picked up at the regular markets throughout the valley, at artisan boulangeries or even the supermarkets.
Speaking of which, you’ll find plenty to keep you stocked up. Chamonix is home to a large Carrefour supermarket as well as smaller Casino and Sherpa stores – plus delicatessens and boulangeries. Even smaller Les Houches has petit format Carrefour’s and a Super U in addition to two village bakeries.
Local specialities to look out for include Tomme de Savoie cheese, charcuteries and myrtilles (wild blueberries) – common in tarts and pastries – throughout the summer. They are also several microbreweries in the valley, some of which offer take-aways. Try Le Solerey in Les Houches or Micro-brasserie du Mont Blanc in Chamonix.
Tip: If you’re self-catering, don’t make the same mistake that we (and our Airbnb housemate) made. Whilst there are plenty of places to shop for food, some opening hours at smaller stores are a little irregular. Check in advance so you’re not caught out.
7. Look out for free events
The French know how to celebrate, and the summer season here is packed with events where you can spectate or participate for little or no cost.
We visited during Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc week at the end of August – a week dedicated to extreme trail running races. Whilst visitors can’t (and probably won’t want to!) take part in these truely epic events, there’s a fantastic atmosphere at the race start and finish lines, and along the route. Cheering is free and fantastically fun, and many villages put on live music plus food and drink for spectators as runners pass by.
Look out also for the Chamonix Jazz Festival and Fete des Guides – two major (largely) free events taking place during the summer.
Check out the Chamonix tourist office website for a full calendar of events during your stay.
So there’s my suggestions for a budget-friendly stay in Chamonix. I hope they help if you’re planning your own trip. And if you’ve visited before, I love to know if you’ve got any secrets to saving on your stay here – do share in the comments or on my facebook page.