Monte Bianco's attraction is not so much its shape (much less distinctive than that of the Matterhorn) as its expanse and the vistas from the top. You can reach the summit via a cable car that ascends from La Palud, a small town 4 km (2½ miles) north of Courmayeur. In summer, if you get the inclination, you can then switch cable cars and descend into Chamonix, in France. In winter you can ski parts of the route off-piste. The Funivie La Palud whisks you up first to the Pavillon du Mont Fréty—a starting point for many beautiful hikes—and then to the Rifugio di Torino, before arriving at the viewing platform at Punta Helbronner (more than 11,000 feet), which is also the border post with France.
The next stage up—only in summer—is on the Télépherique de L'Aiguille du Midi, as you pass into French territory. The trip is particularly impressive: you dangle over a huge glacial snowfield (more than 2,000 feet below) and make your way slowly to the viewing station
above Chamonix. It's one of the most dramatic rides in Europe. From this point you're looking down into France, and if you change cable cars at the Aiguille du Midi station you can make your way down to Chamonix itself. The return trip, through the Monte Bianco tunnel, is made by bus. Schedules are unpredictable, depending on weather conditions and demand; contact the Funivie Monte Bianco for information. At this writing the section of the cable-car between Rifugio di Torino and Punta Helbronner is closed for replacement. A new line is due to open in 2015.