Known as one of the greatest multi-day treks in the world, the Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB) is a circular tour of 105 miles/170 kilometers around the mighty Mont Blanc massif traversing three countries – Italy, Switzerland and France, over the course of 10-12 days. Passing through some of the most divine high alpine scenery on earth, the TMB is one of the most stunning multi-day treks of all and is a dream for many avid trekkers.
Ever since my dad and I did the lesser-known Tour de Vanoise back in 2012 (located in Savoie, the eastern Rhône-Alpes region of France), I had dreamed of doing the popular TMB. My father too had wanted to complete some of the TMB after scaling Mount Blanc in 1998. Thankfully, the opportunity finally arrived this summer and better yet, it would be not with two generations of trekkers but three.
On July 4th, my father, 14-year-old son and I left for a ten-day intergenerational hiking trip to Mont Blanc, devising our own Tour de Mont Blanc to fit our needs. Armed with maps, internet resources, and guide books, we set off and had a magnificent time. I learned a lot along the way about what works and what can be improved with planning your own Tour de Mont Blanc. Here is what I discovered and my thoughts on planning your own Taste of Mont Blanc.
At 15,771 feet (4807 m), the mighty snow-capped Mount Blanc soars 12,000 feet (3700 m) over Chamonix, dominating the region and controlling the weather in all the surrounding valleys. As the masterpiece of the Mont Blanc massif, an area measuring 29 miles (46 km) long graced with numerous peaks and aiguilles, jaw-dropping sheer rock walls, ridges and tumbling glaciers, the TMB is known as one of the most stunning multi-day treks in the world.
What makes Mont Blanc even more unique is her incredible location at the crossroads of three European countries – France, Italy and Switzerland – giving the trekker a unique cultural experience as well as extraordinary views. Two distinct towns converge below Mont Blanc: Courmayeur (Italy), and Chamonix (France). Given its high elevation, with 11 summits measuring over 13,123 (4000 m), most of the surrounding area is snow and ice-covered with glaciers pouring down the steep mountain-sides creating a magical, breathtaking scenery that delights the eyes and fills the soul.
If you have one long-distance trek to do on your bucket list, then the TMB is the one for you.
The TMB covers roughly 105 miles (170 km) and can be completed in 10 to 12 days. Most days average around 5-8 hours of hiking depending on speed and how many breaks you want to take. We met people on the trail who hiked much more than that in a day and others who took more time to complete the TMB so they didn’t have to hike such long days.
The TMB can be done clockwise or counterclockwise starting off in any one of the launching off points for the “stages” (hikes) however traditionally the tour begins in Les Houches, France located roughly 7 km west from Chamonix and goes counterclockwise. This starting point affords the most stunning views of Mount Blanc and the many glaciers surrounding it. We ended in Chamonix and I can see why you would want to end this way given the last day’s tremendous hike. The clockwise route traditionally begins in Champex, Switzerland, another lovely lake-side alpine village along the tour.
We also used this amazing interactive map to find hikes along the Tour de Mont Blanc and beyond, by zooming in and out of the TMB route in red and also searching by city.
Mountain stays or hotels
One of the best things about hiking the TMB compared with other long-distance trails is that you don’t have to stay exclusively on the mountain in huts/refuges and instead have the option of coming down and staying in hotels in villages or even cities like Courmayeur and Chamonix.
There are pros and cons to both options. Some of the pros of staying up in the mountain refuges is that you are away from it all and are truly in the mountains the entire 10-11 days of the hike. I did this during the Tour de Vanoise and to be that free and far away from modern-day life was half the beauty of the hike itself. You also can also avoid spending time and save your knees on going up and down to the start of the hike each day which is normally quite steep.
While the refuges range in accommodations and quality, for the most part they are quite nice and offer excellent meals for the hungry hiker. The downside, of course, is that you will be sharing your sleeping with a handful of strangers, fighting for the shower and toilet and won’t have the luxuries of a hotel or inn stay. If you are a light sleeper like me, it can be a difficult experience (I still have nightmares about our first night’s stay in Vanoise where I slept miserably with 60 other stinky hikers crammed together in one small room on two long levels of bunk beds).
By staying in villages and towns, you can have anywhere from a small inn, to a B&B or even a luxurious hotel depending on your needs. You will have all the amenities of a town – WiFi, hot shower, dining options, entertainment, and a nice cozy bed all to yourself. But you will spend more time hiking up and down to the TMB and also will be taken away in a sense from the serenity and peacefulness of the mountains.
To help plan your trip, check out Reserve Your Tour de Mont Blanc, a website in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish that helps you plan your entire tour and reserve available hotels, inns, B&Bs and mountain refuges along the way. It is amazing!
When to Go
The best months to do the TMB are June-September. The earlier in the season is better since the TMB gets really busy as summer goes on and the Europeans take their annual holidays in August. We went in early July and the weather was absolutely perfect. The weather can become more questionable in mid-late September and some of the mountain huts and refuges begin to close for the season yet you won’t be trekking along with so many others.
Top Hikes we did
Since we were traveling with three generations of varying hiking abilities and fitness level, we chose to do hikes between 4-5 hours maximum each day. We ended up doing 7 different hikes throughout our trip and only took one day to rest. All of our hikes were on the TMB route except one which was in Aosta Valley (this hike ended up being pretty special!).
We saw a variety of ages completing the TMB ranging from young adults fresh out of school to highly in shape hikers well into their sixties and seventies. It was pretty inspiring especially since I plan on hiking as long as my legs will bring me.
The top hikes we did during our taste of the Tour de Mont Blanc included:
- Courmayeur’s Val Ferret from Rifugio Bonatti-Rifugio Bertone – Courmayeur (Italy)
- Courmayeur’s Val Veny to Rifugio Elisabetta (Italy)
- Lac Champex to La Breya (Switzerland)
- Chamonix from Planpraz cable car station to Le Brévent (France)
- Chamonix from along the Grand Balcon to the Montenvers station/Mer de glace (France)
- Argentière to Lac Blanc (France)
I plan on writing a separate post on each hike over the next couple of months, filled with gorgeous photos, information and details on why the hike was special. Stay tuned! In the meantime, you can check out this photo gallery of some of my favorite shots taken during each hike.
Where we stayed
As I mentioned above, we decided to stay exclusively in towns at hotels and B&Bs along the main launching off points for the hikes. We flew into Geneva and headed straight to Courmayeur, about an hour’s drive from the airport. You can take a bus, train, rent a car or arrange for a private transfer. Once on the tour, even if you decide to stay in town versus on the mountain, you can easily get by without renting a car and by using public transport. We were amazed to see how many convenient affordable options were available to get to and from the towns and the TMB. Sometimes we took the city bus and others we opted for riding one of many cable cars that jet you easily to the top. We did learn that it makes economic sense, however, to purchase a Mont Blanc MultiPass if you are stationed in Chamonix for a couple of days. The cable cars do get expensive so the pass makes it much more reasonable.
Tucked within two valleys, the Val Ferret and Val Veny on the southeastern side of Mont Blanc lies the lovely alpine town of Courmayeur. With a central pedestrian walking area and just enough lovely restaurants, hotels and bars to meet your needs, we loved Courmayeur. We spent two full days hiking in Courmayeur and also rode the cable car to the top of Mont Blanc to get a panoramic view of where we had been hiking. I am very glad we did this as it also gave us a wonderful perspective of the differences between the Italian and French side of Mont Blanc (we also rode the cable car to the top of Mont Blanc in Chamonix. I would highly recommend doing both if you can swing it).
The lovely town of Aosta is not technically on the tour and is just a half an hour east of Courmayeur but has a wealth of amazing hiking opportunities if you want to beat the TMB crowds. We stayed in the lovely small community of Pollein, just outside of Aosta and found tons of amazing hiking opportunities nearby and enjoyed embracing the local culture.
The best place to stay along the TMB is by far Lac Champex with its lovely lake setting against the backdrop of the Alps. We stayed outside in the busier town of Martigny however we wished we had stayed in Champex. The TMB literally crosses right through town and there are plenty of lovely places to stay, eat and relax for a few days if you need a break.
The highlight of any TMB trip is the spending some time in the spectacular town of Chamonix which in my humble opinion, is one of the most beautiful settings for a town on earth. With Mont Blanc and multiple glaciers literally right outside your hotel window, there could not be any place with such incredible, jaw-dropping beauty. Furthermore, Chamonix has fantastic dining options, shopping and everything you could possibly want on a hiking trip through the Alps. I fell in love with Chamonix and you will too!
Plan Your Trip
It is quite easy to plan your own TMB with all the incredible online resources available. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Visit Reserve Your Tour de Mont Blanc, a website in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish that helps you plan your entire tour and reserve available hotels, inns, B&Bs and mountain refuges along the way.
- Check out this amazing interactive map to find hikes along the Tour de Mont Blanc and beyond. We used it to zoom in the Aosta Valley to find our hike to Lac Long (whcih ended up being one of our favorite hikes of all).
- Download the Chamonix/Mont-Blanc app for the latest conditions, trail maps and best of all, webcams that can give you the view on top of the mountain before you hike it.
- Buy “The Tour of Mont Blanc” Complete two-way trekking guide” by Kev Reynolds.
I look forward to sharing each hike with you!
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