Tour Mont Blanc, Europe
Walk the famous Alpine Trail- 135 km, 12 days
EUROPE'S FAMOUS TOUR MONT BLANC TRAIL is open to walkers and cyclists. It runs for about 135 - 190 km between Les Houches via Champex to Les Houches, depending on the variantes you choose.
KEV REYNOLDS wrote one of the original guidebooks ‘Tour Mont Blanc’, which is a useful illustrated booklet, with line-drawings, detailed maps and route directions.
TOUR MONT BLANC TRAIL ROUTE is 135 km long and for those contemplating this hiking trail for their walking holiday in Europe, a certain amount of planning is required. Although the path is well marked, always take a guidebook, map and compass with you. The alpine weather is unpredictable and needs to be catered for.
“What makes the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) one of the world's classic hikes? It's the mix of awe-inspiring mountain views and the vibrant influence of three distinct European cultures -- French, Swiss and Italian.
“Hiking 135 km with only a light pack as you circumnavigate the sparkling glaciers of Mont Blanc (4808m), Western Europe's highest peak, you'll cross borders by foot and experience challenging but spectacular hiking in the Alps. Seven valleys radiating out into France, Italy, and Switzerland accompany this immense, glacier-clad massif”.
GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE WALK: The Tour of Mont-Blanc, or 'TMB', is among the finest recognized mountain walks in the world. The route encircles the Mont-Blanc massif in the French, Italian and Swiss Alps. Although it has several variants, the total distance is in the region of 190 km and the height gained is about 10,000 metres. It is typically undertaken in 12 days following a counter clock-wise direction. The average gradient is a taxing 1:10. However, the normal route generally follows good paths, and there is a variety of inexpensive accommodation available, making light-weight hiking feasible.
SOME HIGHLIGHTS: All the cols presented us with spectacular views, but I would have to give first prize to walking along the Grand Balcony above the Chamonix Valley. Every day we were ascending and descending at least 500m, with our last day, a descent of 1400m, so good walking preparation is necessary. Being summer, there were lots of walkers on the TMB, however this was not a turn-off, as we met many fascinating people from around the world with their own travel stories. One middle-aged Dutch couple had previous walked the TMB, and this time they were doing it in reverse (clock-wise). There was a Japanese family, including grandparents who were out for a day walk to Col Tricot!
There is a section of the walk south of Tres-les-Champs which is named “Passage Dangereuse” due to the 45 minutes of climbing up and along a series of metal ladders which was well worth doing. We utilised teleferiques (cable cars) when possible to avoid crowded and uninteresting parts of the route.
WALKING ROUTE PLANNER: The number of days required depends on how fit and how quickly or leisurely you want your walking holiday to be. Work out the average number of kilometres you are prepared to do in a day, taking into account the landscape and the town or village in which you will end your day. It's also nice to plan on arriving a little earlier in a village if there are interesting attractions you may like to visit, such as in Chamonix or Courmayeur. We did the walk in 12 days - 9 days walking and 3 rest days.
LUGGAGE TRANSFER: This efficient service is readily available and can be organized through a number of tour operators on the ‘self-guided’ itineraries. It is usually included as part of the escorted and self-guided itineraries.
YOUR TOUR MONT BLANC ACCOMMODATION: This is usually in auberges, dortoirs (shared accommodation) or hotels and should be booked in advance. Lodging included two nights in alpine refuges with shared facilities and the rest in comfortable hotels and auberges. It is advisable (almost mandatory) to reserve your accommodation. Along the TMB you will find huts, gites (halts) and hotels where you will be served a meal and a breakfast. Dormitories (Dortoirs) are equipped with blankets. If you plan to stay in one, take a sleeping bag liner.
FOOD: Excellent quality French, Italian and Swiss food is served up at your evening accommodations and village inns and there are wide choices in their menu. Wines and beers are common. Most European hotel owners can cater for vegetarians or people with other food preferences when accommodation is booked.
WHEN TO GO: Mid June to Mid September are the best months to travel.
WALKING GEAR: Good walking boots and socks are critical. Your footwear should have been broken in (comfortably used). Also important is what rain gear to take. Make sure it’s made from a breathable material.
ITINERARY for Tour Mont Blanc - 135 km
The following is an outline of the 14-day walk itinerary that we chose. We decided on this itinerary because of the reasonable distances and the available accommodation.
- Where to Start: Les Houches, France.
- How to get there: There is a frequent bus shuttle service between Geneva Airport and Les Houches (about 1.5 hours). Book the service on the Chamexpress website. As you finish at Les Houches, use the same Chamexpress service to return to Geneva Airport after your walk.
Walking itinerary: 14 days (we recommend an extra day at Les Houches)
We have included options to make your walk more accessable.
- Day 1. ARRIVE AT LES HOUCHES
Fly to Geneva and transfer to Les Houches via Coach/minibus. We used Chamexpress service.
- Day 2. LES HOUCHES TO LES CONTAMINES 16 KM / 5 HRS
(290m ascent / 730m descent) A demanding day. Many walkers start by taking the -
OPTION: cable car up from Les Houches to Bellevue; This saves 2 hrs and 600m ascent.
We start our hike beneath the tumbling Bionnassay Glacier and make our way to the Col du Tricot (2120m). After a steep descent to Chalets de Miage (1550m) we stop for lunch. From here we continue up to Chalet du Truc (1719m) and then on to Les Contamines (1170m). Hotel Chemenaz (phone: 0011 33 450 470 244)
- Day 3. WALK TO LES CHAPIEUX 17.5 KM / 7 HRS -
1300m / 930m (ascent / descent)
We have to carry our wash bags and a change of clothing for two days (1 night).
OPTION: MINIBUS TO Notre Dame de la Gorge, about 4 km (ask hotel host to arrange)
This morning we hike on an old Roman road, making our way steadily uphill and passing Notre Dame de la Gorge. We follow varied terrain through forests, gentle glens and the treeless gorge of the Nant Borrant on our way to Col du Bonhomme (2329m), our lunch spot. In the afternoon we ascend to the Col de la Croix du Bonhomme, then we descend a relatively steep grassy trail leading to the remote hamlet of Les Chapieux (1549m).
Auberge Refuge de la Nova (phone: 0011 33 479 890 715)
- Day 4. LES CHAPIEUX TO LA PALUD 15KM / 6-7 HRS
OPTION : A minibus ride (2.5E) of five kilometres over a rise of 240m from Les Chapieux to La Ville des Glaciers (1789m). Or take the bus a little further to Parking Mottets.
We climb east over the Col de la Seigne (2516m) into Italy. The views from the top of the Col are more than worth the effort – as ever Mont Blanc is always in our sights. We descend on an easy path to the Elizabetta Refuge - for lunch. Then down into the Val Veni to Lac Combal. We hike down to Cantine de la Visaille. OPTION: A local bus service (14.00, 14.50, 16.50, 17.10, 17.50, 18.20) (2E) along the Val Veni from Cantine de la Visaille to La Saxe. This shortens the walk to around 20km. From La Saxe or Courmayeur you can walk or catch the bus up to La Palud. (Bus is preferable after a long day).
Hotel Vallee Blanche (phone: 0011 390 165 897 002)
- Day 5. REST DAY IN LA PALUD
A chance for a well-deserved rest.
OPTION: On a clear day you may like to take the cable car from La Palud to Pointe Heilbronner (3462m) on the crest of the Mont Blanc massif with views across the Glacier du Geant.
OPTION: take the bus and visit the Italian alpine resort town of Courmayeur. On the way back explore Entreves, near La Palud.
- Day 6. LA PALUD TO LA FOULY 14 KM / 5.5 HRS
- OPTION: We take a bus to Arnuva. Then continue to La Fouly. 14 KM
This day promises to be a highlight of the TMB! We take a local bus from La Palud (2E) along the Val Ferret to Arnouva. Then to Refuge Elena (2062m). We pass close by Mont Dolent, and cross the Grand Col Ferret (2537m) to enter Switzerland. From Grand Col Ferret we descend through alpine meadows past the summer pastures and barns of La Peula (refreshments available) and the tiny village of Ferret.
- OPTION: bus to La Fouly (15.10, 17.30, 18.45).
Walk 25 min by road or 30 min by footpath to hotel in La Fouly (1595m). Hotel Edelweiss (phone: 0011 412 778 32621)
- Day 7. LA FOULY TO CHAMPEX 17 KM / 4.5 HRS (430m/575m)
OPTION: We can take a bus to Champex.
We follow the beautiful Swiss Val Ferret and pass through some pretty villages before leaving the valley to climb through woods to Champex (1465m) in its picturesque lakeside setting. An easy day – in warm weather there is time to cool off in the open-air swimming pool. Hotel du Glacier (phone: 412 77826151).
- Day 8. REST DAY IN CHAMPEX
A chance to stroll around the lake and visit the botanic gardens (open daily except Sundays and Mondays; small entry fee).
- Day 9. CHAMPEX TO TRIENT 14 KM / 5 HRS (730m/750m)
Walk via Bovine. We ascend through woods to reach the barns of Bovine (1987m); food and drinks usually available, and then descend to the Col de la Forclaz (1,526m); refreshments available. We descend to the village of Trient. Le Relais du Mont Blanc (phone: 0011 4127722 4623)
- Day 10. TRIENT TO ARGENTIERE 20 KM / 6 HRS
OPTION: For those who want a more leisurely day, a shorter (and still scenic) descent from Col de Balme to Argentiere is possible via Le Tour. Cable car at Col de Balme & Le Tour cutting off half the distance.
We cross into France via the Col de Balme (2191m). The best way on from Col de Balme is via the spectacular but easy Posettes ridge, from the end of which there is a steep descent on good paths through forest to Tre le Champ and our hotel at Argentiere. Hotel De La Couronne (phone: 0011 33 450 540 002)
- Day 11. ARGENTIERE TO CHAMONIX 12 KMS / 5 HRS
OPTION: Take a bus to Chamonix.
OPTION: Cable car from La Flegere to Les Praz.
OPTION: From Les Praz bus to Chamonix
We climb via Tre le Champ (1417m) and Les Cheserys, and make a detour to the scenic Lac Blanc (2352m) before rejoining the Grand Balcon route, which looks across the Chamonix valley towards Mont Blanc. From La Flegere (1877) you can either descend to the valley at Les Praz de Chamonix on foot or by gondola & cable car. From Les Praz, you would make your way to the hotel either by bus or by walking through the pleasant environs; or continue along the Grand Balcon for another 2 hours to Plan Praz, from where there is another cable car and another footpath down to Chamonix. It is necessary to check the timetables so as not to miss the last gondola down. Hotel Gustavia (phone: 0011 33 450 530 031)
- Day 12. REST DAY IN CHAMONIX
OPTIONS: Cable car trips and Alpine Museum.
A chance to take the cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi (3842m/cost: Euros 34.00/pp/return but it’s really worth it); or a train ride to Montenvers and the Mer de Glace glacier; or explore Chamonix and its surroundings.
Enjoy the local scene, restaurants, cafes, ice-creams and take time to rest.
- Day 13. CHAMONIX TO LES HOUCHES 14 KM / 6 HRS
OPTION: Brevent cable car from Chamonix to Plan Praz and Teleferique to Le Brevent.
OPTION: Low or medium level walk to Les Houches - ‘Petit Balcon’ and the ‘Rive d’Arve’.
OPTION: Bus to Les Houches.
We rejoin the trail at Plan Praz via the Brevent cable car from Chamonix. From Plan Praz we ascend to Col de Brevent and on up to the peak of Le Brevent (2525m), one of the highest points of the tour. This day offers some of the finest views of the route. From Brevent we descend 1515m to Les Houches (1010m).
Auberge Le Beau Site (phone: 0011 33 450 555 116)
Celebration Dinner !
- Day 14. DEPARTURE FROM LES HOUCHES
Departure from Les Houches. Coach to Geneva airport after breakfast.
- How to get back from Les Houches: There is a frequent bus shuttle service between Geneva Airport and Les Houches (about 1.5 hours). Book the service on the Chamexpress website.
This is a marvelous 135 km journey along the alpine path around the Mont Blanc Massif.
As we dipped into a new valley each day, we savoured the changes in language, landscape, architecture, and cuisine. Each valley is separated by a col (mountain pass) which always seemed to take an eternity to reach. We walked from village to village along high trails into dream-like landscapes. Out of 12 days, we had 3 which were windy and wet. The others were crowned by clear blue skies.
So, if you’re over 50 and thinking of walking one of Europe’s most popular alpine trails – now is the time to do it!