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Tour du Mont Blanc

Maximize your memories of the Alps as you trek 170km/105 miles through three countries.

This trail offers tons of variations and options!

If you want to go alone and do self-guided, you can. If you want to go with a group (and like me have no friends who want to indulge on such a quest), there are plenty of groups that offer guided treks. If you're not a camping queen, there are plenty of mountain huts around the route and villages that you'll pass along the way.

That being said, if you plan to do self-guided and want to stay in mountain huts, be sure to book WELL IN ADVANCE! Also, each country has unique camping rules. If your wheels fall off along the way, there are plenty of cable cars, trains and busses that you can mosey down to and hop on to help ease the burden of the mileage.

The tour traditionally starts in Les Houches and most people opt to travel anti-clockwise. That being said, you can absolutely travel clockwise if you want or start in an alternate main town like Chamonix (like we did), Les Contamines (France), Courmayeur (Italy), or Champex-Lac (Switzerland).

There are 11 stages in the Tour du Mont Blanc:

Stage 1: Les Houches (Chamonix), France - Les Contamines, France

Height Gain: 646m / Height Loss: 633m / Distance: 16km

This route begins with a tough 600 meter climb from Les Houches to Col du Voza. You can of course opt for the Bellevue cable car instead that will get you up top in less than 5 minutes (as opposed to 2 hours). From Col du Voza, enjoy views of the Dome dy Gouter and Aguille de Bionnassay. The rest of the route takes you through beautiful woodlands and pleasant hamlets.

Variant Trail: Col Du Tricot (18km) - This route offers stunning views without being too difficult. You also get to enjoy crossing a stunning suspension bridge with rushing glacial water beneath you. If you have sensitive knees, the descent on this one may bother you. If it's bad weather, it's not the most ideal.

What we did: Took the cable car, enjoyed the variant trail, then stopped for lunch at Auberge du Truc. I loved the view from this little refuge, while surrounded by the beautiful dinging of cow bells. We then proceeded on to our refuge for the night.

Stage 2: Les Contamines, France - Les Chapieux, France

Height Gain: 1316m / Height Loss: 929m / Distance:18km

This stage is lovely and has spectacular views. You'll climb Col du Bonhomme & Col du Croix du Bonhomme. We stopped at Refuge de La Croix du Bonhomme for lunch. I can't say I would want to stay there as they had true outhouses and an abundance of flies. From this refuge, you'll begin a descent from the Col du Croix du Bonhomme to Les Chapieux.

Variant: Col Des Fours - This variant passes Les Chapieux completely and should only be used in good weather. It can make for a great shortcut if you are staying at Refuge des Mottets.

Stage 3: Les Chapieux, France - Rifugio Elisabetta, Italy

Height Gain: 1004m / Height Loss: 258m / Distance:15km

This stage takes you across the Col de la Seigne (2516m) from France into Italy. Be on the look out for marmots once you cross over the col and descend into the Vallee de la Lee Blanche. To your left, you'll see the spire of the Aiguille Noire (de Peuterey). You'll pass La Casermetta (2365m) which is an old customs house that is now a center for environmental awareness. If you want to shave off some time, you can take the shuttle bus from Les Chapieux to Ville des Glaciers (just in time for the climb!). While in Ville des Glacier, I highly recommend stopping for local cheese.

The descent is only 258m to Rifugio Elisabetta, which will leave you in awe with unforgettable views for lunch time, while you're perched at the base of two glaciers.

Stage 4: Rifugio Elisabetta, Italy - Courmayeur, Italy

Height Gain: 460m / Height Loss: 1560m / Distance: 18km

From Elisabetta, head down into the Val Veni and onto an old flat plain that leads to an old roman road that leads to a valley. You'll see Lac Combal, which is a lake hemmed by the natural wall of the mammoth moraine wall which belongs to Glacier du Miage. You'll see a lovely little A-Frame (Cabane du Combal) perched above you. I've heard it's a terrific stay and very comfortable, but personally didn't get to visit. From here, climb up to L'Arpe Vielle Superior to the highest point of the day off Mont Favre (2430m). You'll be in awe of your surroundings for 1-2 hours before reaching Col Checrouit, before you descend into the village of Dolonne.

Variant/Shortcut: Catch a bus to Courmayeur instead of ascending up onto the Col Checrouit if your legs are particularly tired or the weather is lousy. There's a 45 minute descent along a road from the Lac Combal bridge to a bus stop in La Visaille.

Stage 5: Courmayeur, Italy - Rifugio Bonatti, Italy

Height Gain: 860m / Height Loss: 101m / Distance:12km

Before I go on to talk about this stage, if you have the time...

I HIGHLY RECOMMEND spending an extra day in Courmayeur. We indulged in white water rafting as well as a trip to the day spa followed by spectacular meals.

From Courmayeur, the trail will take you through woodlands on a climb to the beginning of the Mont de la Saxe ridge line where Refuge Bertone sits. The Mont de la Saxe flank is an easy traverse for several hours of astonishing views of the Grands Jorasses until you reach my favorite refuge along the TMB - Rifugio Bonatti!

I may have to do a whole blog on Rifugio Bonatti. I absolutely LOVED this refuge and wished I could live there.

Stage 6: Rifugio Bonatti, Italy - La Fouly, Switzerland

Height Gain: 895m / Height Loss: 1410m / Distance: 20km

The start of this stage was rather pleasant and not too taxing. Descend into the Val Ferret valley and the clumb up to Refugio Elena. I've been told the Grand Col Ferret (2547m) does not feel as strenuous as Col du Bonhomme or Col de la Seigne if you take your time. Either I didn't take my time (highly likely) or my legs were already very tired (also highly likely) because this felt like the hardest of them all to me.

From the top of the Grand Col Ferret, everything gets easier as you descend into the Swiss Val Ferret and down to the village of Ferret or La Fouly. You'll see a distinct shift from the jagged icy peaks of Italy to gentle pastures and rolling hills with Swiss flags around you. You can absolutely stop to eat along the way, but I would highly advise packing lunches when in Switzerland to save some money. There's a significant difference in the cost of things in Switzerland as opposed to France and Italy.

Stage 7: La Fouly, Switzerland - Champex-Lac, Switzerland

Height Gain: 420m / Height Loss: 565m / Distance:15km

This is the shortest and easiest leg. Again, you don't have to do the trek in 11 days. You can do the stages however you want. This stage takes you along the valley flour from La Fouly through the forest and meadows before a brief uphill spurt to Champex-Lac. If you're short on time or on a budget, you can skip this pleasant forest meandering and catch a bus from Ferret or La Fouly to Champex-Lac.

Stage 8: Champex-Lac, Switzerland - Col De La Forclaz (Or Trient), Switzerland

Height Gain: 742m / Height Loss: 682m / Distance:16km 

Stage 8 takes you from the beautiful Swiss town up the steep climb of Alp Bovine.

Variant: Fenetre D'Arpette - I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS (if weather permits). It is the highest point of the TMB and very challenging. The view of the Trient glacier is truly so incredible. We stopped and ate lunch while admiring the beauty once we reached the top. The ascent is 1199m with a descent of 1139m. This was probably my favorite view and leg of the TMB.

Side Note: The man sitting in this image is a gentleman in his 70s from Amsterdam. Don't get me wrong, he was a crazy incredible endurance athlete in his younger years from what I learned. This man kept me laughing as we crossed paths throughout the remainder of the trek. One of the best parts about the TMB is the company you find along the way.

Just look at this stunning view!

The hike down from here after lunch stayed just as lovely. We ended up stripping down and hopping in a stream of glacier water for a little natural ice bath delight before reaching our refuge for the night.

It really does not get much better than this:

Stage 9: Col De La Forclaz (Or Trient), Switzerland - Tre-Le-Champ, France

Height Gain: 1069m / Height Loss: 1178m / Distance:13km

Climb Col de Balme (2191m) as you re-enter France from Switzerland. Despite that we had rain and fog during this leg of our journey, I still loved the dreary view of the stunning Chamonix Valley beneath you. Enjoy some hot cocoa or the Tartiflette at the Refuge Col de Balme at the top of your climb before you start your descent from Aiguillette des Possettes down to the hamlet of Tre-le-Champ.

If you want to cut your day short, you can take a chair lift down and grab a bus into Chamonix.

Variant: Refuge Les Grands - This route is less taken but challenging.

Stage 10: Tre-Le-Champ, France - Refuge La Flegere, France

Height Gain: 733m / Height Loss: 257m / Distance: 8km

This stage has iron ladders that reach the Tete aux Vents cairn (2132m) on the balcon sud trail. The traditional trail continues from the Tete au Vents Cairn along the balcon to La Flegere. Some will venture up to Lac Blanc. I've heard excellent things about the refuge there. You can proceed higher up to Lac Chesery, where camping is allowed too.

Stage 11: Refuge La Flegere, France - Les Houches, France

Height Gain: 772m / Height Loss: 1546 / Distance:17km

For the delicate knees, this stage can be tough but it'll bring you into the Chamonix Valley. You can also take the cable car down to save you some time. The descent down from Brevent is over rocky landscape onto a ridge trail that descends past Refuge Bellachat before a long descent into Les Houches.

Again, you don't have to do this trek in 11 days! We did it in 7, with a day of "rest" (more adventure) in Courmayeur. It was a lot of miles/kilometers... But worth every bit of it! The company you find along the way paired with the amazing views is truly one of a kind.

Money on the Mont Blanc

Euros & Swiss Francs are the answer! Most refuges only accepted cash. I didn't need nearly as many Swiss Francs as I thought that I would and most refuges accepted Euros anyways. I saved money in Switzerland by getting food for lunches while in Courmayeur. I don't think I ever spent more than $10-$15/day on lunch along the way and wine in the evenings before dinner.

Water on the Mont Blanc

Believe me - you don't need a ton of water on this trek! I had 2 liters on me at all times. It was easier to carry Nalgene and a flexible water bottle that can easily be refilled. Every refuge you pass along the way has places that you can fill up at. You'll also find drinkable water troughs along the way. It's not advised to drink water from streams along the TMB due to livestock. If you have a filter or water purification, you should be fine. I never had to use mine along the way.

Food on the Mont Blanc

If you're staying in refuges, you'll be fed breakfast and dinner every day. Meals are plentiful but breakfasts can be a bit light on protein. I carried hardly any snacks along the trek and didn't find myself hungry much at all (which is rare for me). Pack some protein bars, nuts or jerky but don't weigh yourself down. If you're wild camping, you probably know what to do...

My only complaint is the sweet tooth that I developed from this trip thanks to all the deserts that the refuges made us and Swiss chocolate that I decided to indulge in.

Packing List

If you're planning on camping, you'll need far more than the list I'm about to provide. Here's what I took:

  • 30L Hiking Pack

  • Trekking Poles

  • Sleeping bag liner (needed in the refuges)

  • A quick drying and packable towel

  • Dry sacks

  • Hiking Boots

  • Slides (you'll need these around the refuges because boots are not allowed inside)

  • 2 pairs of Darn Tough socks

  • 2 sports bras

  • 4 sets of underwear (I didn't need this much with how much we did laundry at the end of each day)

  • Swimsuit

  • 2 pairs of shorts (I only needed 1)

  • Sweatpants - which I only wore around the refuges

  • 1 long sleeve base layer

  • 1 short sleeve merino t-shirt

  • 1 tank top

  • Rain jacket

  • Puffer jacket

  • Buff

  • Beanie

  • Ball cap

  • Sunglasses

  • Toiletries

  • Laundry Detergent

  • Sunscreen! Sunscreen! Sunscreen! (I actually had to buy more along the way)

  • GoPro with extra batteries

  • Cell phone & charger

  • Airpods for when I needed a little extra motivation

  • Garmin Fenix 7 Sapphire

  • Katadyne 1L filtered water bottle

  • Nalgene 1L water bottle

For me this didn't feel too heavy at all and I never once was just craving to take my pack off, as it stayed very light throughout the trek. I think my skincare routine was the bulk of the weight. I still got a pretty awesome sock tan line too.

Gosh, this doesn't feel like it covered everything... This experience was 10/10. I highly recommend going with a tour group so you have company along the way and don't have to worry about booking huts/refuges. I loved the international friends that I made within our group and along the trek.

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