Our first hike along our taste of the Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB) was in the Val Ferret, one of two breathtaking valleys that cut through Courmayeur, Italy on the southeastern side of Mont Blanc. Known as one of the most stunning hikes in the area, especially if blessed with good weather, hiking in Val Ferret would set the tone of what would be a stunning eight full days of hiking around the TMB and leave me longing to go back.
We rose early to one of many mouth-watering, gorgeous mornings in the Alps. The sky was cloudless and eggshell blue and the view of the towering, snow-capped jagged Graian Alps pierced through the sky like lightning. We enjoyed a lovely breakfast of fresh Italian parma ham, local cheese, homemade bread, and sweets before lacing up our hiking boots and heading out.
Although we had rented a car for the week, our hotel recommended taking the bus to the start of our hike since parking is difficult on busy weekends in the summer. With our backpacks ready to go and a picnic lunch of fresh Italian baguette, local cotta ham, tomatoes, and Piave cheese, we set off. We caught the bus at the city hall (Municipio) stop located a few short blocks from our hotel in the direction of Val Ferret.
As we left Courmayeur, it was obvious that the rest of the fully packed bus was also heading to the Val Ferret for a hike. The thirty-minute ride was filled with fellow trekkers from all around the world, sharing stories of their routes and experience on the TMB. It was fun to chat and compare notes, and I especially was excited to meet fellow women older than me partaking in the tour self-guided. Everyone was filled with smiles and laughter. Obviously, their souls were happy and fulfilled from the fresh mountain air and stunning views afforded along the TMB. It made me even more excited to start our day and do our first hike.
The bus drove through a winding valley road and we got off at the stop marked Rifugio Bonatti where we would access the trail.
The air was fresh and pure, and as soon as I was off the bus and on the trail, I felt alive with excitement and anticipation for our day. I was in my element, and all I could think of was the famous John Muir quote: “The mountains are calling and I must go”.
The first part of the hike brings you up to the Rifugio Bonatti, a relatively steep 30 minutes up through beautiful forest and wildflowers with jaw-dropping views of the surrounding Alps. Although we had only just begun our hike for the day, the setting at Rifugio Bonatti was too darn beautiful to not stop and take it all in. We ordered a cappuccino and hot chocolate to enjoy on the patio before setting off on our journey hiking back to Courmayeur.
The Rifugio Bonatti (2025 m) is located on a pastoral hillside on the south side of Val Ferret facing the impressive Grandes Jorasses. The Rifugio is named in honor of great Italian mountaineer Walter Bonatti and is one of the nicest huts on the TMB. We took a brief look inside and it definitely is lovely.
After setting off, we headed for about two hours in the direction of Rifugio Beretone passing through high open meadows, covered in wildflowers and with extraordinary panoramic views that make this one of the most stunning hikes of all along the TMB.
I was impressed by how well-marked the trailheads are, making it quite easy to do the TMB self-guided. Every trailhead had not only distance but approximate time with multiple choices.
The Val Ferret is one of two valleys that slice through Courmayeur. The TMB goes through both the Val Ferret and the Val Veny and each valley is quite unique. As you hike from Rifugio Bonatti to Rifugio Beretone along the TMB, you pass along the glorious north flank of the Mont de la Saxe and what makes this hike so astounding is that the two sides of the valley are completely different.
The northern side is rugged with steep, with high rocky peaks dripping with glaciers while the southern side is beautifully verdant and lush. It is quite surreal walking through this large open meadow cut through these diverse valleys along the flank of Mont Saxe. Part of the joy of this hike is taking the time to stop and pinch yourself that it is not all but a dream.
We hiked to the sound of cicadas and the song of cuckoo birds and enjoyed the many Buongiorno‘s along the way.
There are lots of tiny villages and hamlets like this one below in case you want to take a break and spend the night.
Glaciers are everywhere too.
After you pass the rifugio, the rest of the hike continues down a very rocky and steep trail. It is rather hard on the knees and toes! I am glad we did the hike this way as opposed to the other way as it would be hard to start with such a steep incline.
Just as we were beginning to wonder when the hike would be done, we entered a small hamlet on the outskirts of Courmayeur and were back in civilization. In not too long, we were back in town enjoying a well-deserved gelatto and already dreaming about the next day’s hike into Val Veny.
If you go:
Rifugio Giorgio Bertone (at 1985 m) is a popular day hike from Courmayeur, especially on weekends, where the locals climb up the steep 1.5 hour trail and dine in the heart of the Alps. www.rifugiobertone.it
Rifugio Bonatti (2025 m) – located on a pastoral hillside on south side of Val Ferret faceing the impressive Grandes Jorasses. Named in honour of great Italian mountaineer Walter Bonatti and one of the nicest huts on the TMB. www.rifugiobonatti.it
To reach the hike, take the bus from the Municipio stop in Courmayeur and get off at the Rifugio Bonatti. Hike is approximately 12 km and takes roughly four hours with a few stops along the way.
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