Mont Blanc by Cable Car
One of the Valle d'Aosta's best experiences is to ride the series of cable cars from La Palud, just above Entrèves, across Mont Blanc to several ski stations in Italy and France and down into Chamonix, France. You make the trip in stages -- first past two intermediate stops to the last aerie on Italian soil, Punta Helbronner (20 min. each way; 38€ round-trip or 105€ for a family pass valid for two adults and two children ages 6-11). At 3,300m (10,824 ft.), this ice-clad lookout provides stunning views of the Mont Blanc glaciers and the Matterhorn and other peaks looming in the distance. In summer, you may want to hop off before you get to Punta Helbronner at Pavillon Frety and tour a pleasant botanic garden, Giardino Alpino Saussurea (tel. 333-446-2959; www.saussurea.net), open daily June 24 to September 30; admission is 2.50€, or 1.50€ if you show your cable car ticket.
For sheer drama, continue from Punta Helbronner to Aiguille du Midi in France in a tiny gondola to experience the dramatic sensation of dangling more than 2,300m (7,544 ft.) in midair as you cruise above the Géant Glacier and the Vallée Blanche (30 min. each way; tack on another 20€ round-trip). From Aiguille du Midi, you can descend over more glaciers and dramatic valleys on the French flank of Mont Blanc to the resort town of Chamonix (50 min. each way; 50€). If you go all the way to Chamonix, the best way to get back to Italy is to hop on a bus back through the tunnel, for a final 12€ per person. Buses back take 45 minutes and leave Chamonix at 8:45 and 10:10am, and at 1:30, 3, 4, and 5:45pm.
Hours for these cable cars vary wildly, and service can be sporadic, depending on weather conditions (winds often close the gondola between Helbronner and Aiguille du Midi; this is, after all, the tallest mountain in western Europe), but in general, they run every 20 minutes from 7:20am (8:20am in fall and spring) to 12:30pm and 2 to 5:30pm (all day long July 22-Aug 27; closed Nov 2-Dec 10). The last downward run is 5:30pm in summer and 4:30pm in winter. The Helbronner-Aiguille du Midi gondola is open only May through September. Note: Children up to the age of 6 travel free, while those ages 6 to 11 get 50% off the prices above, and seniors older than 65 get a 10% discount. Hourly buses make the 10-minute run from Courmayeur to the cable car terminus at La Palud. For more info, call tel. 0165-89-925 (www.montebianco.com). For a report of weather at the top and on the other side, dial tel. 0165-89-961.
A cheaper but far less dramatic way to cross over just one flank of Mont Blanc (but missing out on that thrilling 2.5km/1 1/2-mile dangle in the air while you cross a massive glacier field into France) is on the Courmayeur Monte Blanc Funivia, which leaves from a terminus in Entrèves and ascends to the Val Veny. The round-trip fare is 12€, with 20% off for those older than 65 and free for children shorter than 1.3m (4 ft., 4 in.). Cars depart every 20 minutes from 9am to 12:50pm and 2:15 to 5:40pm; closed from late August/early September to late December.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.