After an incredible summer in Nepal and India, I was pretty excited to get home and do this trek with my friends from my old school (throwback to when I dropped out of college lol). The Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) was the perfect hike- the views are amazing, there’s a wide range of accommodation, and the food? Don’t get me STARTED.
How to Get There
While you can start anywhere along the TMB, most people start from Les Houches, a small mountain town in France. You can get here by taking a bus or train to Chamonix, and then a bus to Les Houches. The easiest airport to fly into is Geneva.
Food & Drink Along the Route
There are loads of options regarding food and drink depending on your budget. We did a variety of supermarket meals and meals in refugios. For the most part, there are supermarkets along the way (more on that in the ‘Daily Breakdown’ section) where you can get food, but there’s also refugios on the way where you can get some GREAT meals. If your day ends in a town, there will be restaurants.
To Variant or Not to Variant
Along the route, there are variant trails that you can do. These often have better views, and while they’re not necessarily harder or longer, they usually are a bit higher than the main trail (and thus, more uphill). I really enjoyed most of the variants we did, though I don’t recommend going on some of the variants in bad weather or if you’re finding the main trail tough enough. If you’re feeling up for them, pick and choose the best variants!
Daily Breakdown (& Itinerary)
Day 1: Les Houches – Les Contamines
Day 1 starts with a lot of stairs and a lot of uphill. I was surprised by the steepness of the hills- and you can’t catch a break! For the first hour or two, it’s pretty steep uphill. When the trail flattens out, you’ll have to decide if you want to do the variant or not. The variant is nearly 1500 m of altitude gain, whereas the regular trail is only about 650 m of gain. We did the variant. It was a hard first day, arguably the hardest of the trip. We had lunch at Refuge de Miage (HIGHLY recommend the salads and ice cream), which is only accessible by the variant route. The views of the variant were pretty, but not outstanding. If you’re unsure about this variant, I say skip it, however, it was nice to know the hardest our trek was going to get to. This took about 8 hours of hiking.
Day 2: Les Contamines – Les Chapieux
This day was 1300 meters of altitude gain, though definitely not as difficult as the first day, and with better views. If you did not do the variant, it’s considerably harder than the first day, but the views from this day are your first GREAT views. This day took us about 7.5 hours, not including our stops or lunch. Les Chapieux is so small it can barely be considered a town, but it’s pretty lovely. There are a couple hotels/refugios here. There’s also a local products store and I can’t recommend the local goat cheese enough! They sell baguettes here as well.
Day 3: Les Chapieux – Refugio Elisabetta
Today you head into Italy! The border is right on the col, which is about 1000 m higher than where you start. The hike starts with a gentle uphill through the valley, and then you hike many switchbacks to get to the top of the col. While there’s quite a bit of altitude gain, this col is one of the easier ones to get to. Once you get over the col, it’s all downhill until you get to Refugio Elisabetta. Here, you can get a yummy lunch. If you’re spending the night, you’ll have a huge dinner and an amazing sunset view. It took us about 4 hours to get to the refugio.
Day 4: Refugio Elisabetta – Courmayeur
This is by far the easiest day. It’s nearly all downhill (and a gentle one!) for about 4ish hours into Courmayeur. It’s possible to take a bus into town after about 2 hours of hiking. The bus costs about 2 euros. Courmayeur is a very small, cute, touristy town. We got into our refugio at 10am, so we had a whole day to explore this place. Get gelato (creme et chocolat was a great gelateria)! We also ate at Tanina, a small little restaurant/takeaway place that makes homemade ravioli. We had fresh homemade bread out of the oven and wowowow the food was amazing. There’s free wifi in the park and a couple ATMs in town.
Day 5: Courmayeur – Refugio Bonatti
This day starts with 800m of uphill hiking, which takes about 2 hours. While it’s just straight uphill, I didn’t find it too difficult. Once you reach the refugio at the top, you can choose whether you want to do the variant or not. We chose to go up 500 more meters on the variant. I really loved this variant- while it was uphill, the views were stunning and I recommend this one! The refugio is incredibly pleasant and it reminds me of a hotel! The food was delicious and we were STUFFED by the end of dinner.
Day 6: Refugio Bonatti – La Fouley
Today is a relatively easy walk up to a col, and at the col, you’re on the border of France and Switzerland! Once you start heading down, you’ll notice that the prices of food in the refugios go WAY up (and are in Swiss Francs- CHF). It takes about 5 hours to reach La Fouley, a cute little town with a grocery store and a couple restaurants. There isn’t prepared food at the store, so eat out if you aren’t planning on cooking. The pizza place in town is really good. Make a reservation and eat the vegetarian pizza; I’m still dreaming about it!
Day 7: La Fouley – Champex
This is a pretty easy day and it only takes about 4 hours. There isn’t much uphill until the very last big, and there’s super cute towns to walk through. If it’s a hot day, jump into the lake in Champex for a swim! There’s a small shop in town that you can buy groceries at, as well as a boulangerie and restaurants. There’s also an ATM here.
Day 8: Champex – La Peuty
This day starts out pretty flat before gaining about 1200 m. The 1200 m is not too harsh, and when you reach the top, there’s an adorable place to have lunch and enjoy the view. If I were to do this day again, I’d definitely stop here for a tart- they smelled absolutely heavenly and I’m gutted I didn’t get one! There’s no supermarket in Trient nor La Peuty, so stock up on food in Champex or plan on eating in refugios.
Day 9: La Peuty – Tré-le-Champ
We decided to start the day with quite the ascent! We did the variant this day to get a better view of the glacier that can be seen from La Peuty. This variant goes towards the Chalet du Glaciers and then up to Refuge La Grand (or something with ‘grand’ in it). The views this day were possibly my favourite of the TMB, and the hike uphill was all varied so it didn’t feel so bad. I highly recommend this variant- it was an incredible day. Once you get over the col, you make your way down towards La Tour, which takes you through a day hike destination. You can take a cable car down if you wish, but the walk downhill isn’t too bad.
Day 10: Tré-le-Champ – Chamonix or Les Houches
The weather was pretty crappy this day, but it didn’t stop us from taking the variant up to Lac Blanc, what some argue is the prettiest lake in the world! Because the sky very closely resembled a blanket of white (we couldn’t see 10 meters in front of us!), we didn’t get to see the reflection of the Alps in the water, but we did get a clear 5 seconds to see the lake!
We decided to end our TMB in La Flegere. I’ve heard from nearly EVERYONE that’s done the TMB to take the cable car down and skip walking all the way to Les Houches. While TMB purists might scoff and say that’s not finishing the TMB, apparently taking the cable cardown saves your knees. The father of one guy we met on the trail had to get knee surgery after that downhill section!
Things to Know
You can’t camp in Italy along the TMB (though if one were to camp, they should probably set up camp after dusk and leave before dawn). We stayed at refugios here, which was a splurge, but oh man, the refugios are adorable and the food is fabulous.
The thin wires that line the trail are often electric. I wouldn’t touch them (or get stuck under them- trust me).
Stretching is important.
Rain gear is important.
Sunscreen is really important. Don’t forget the back of your legs- especially the calves!
Eat the fresh fruit on the trail! We found raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, and plums!
DEFINITELY splurge on the cable car up to Aiguille du Midi- it’s pricey, but it’s the best way to end a TMB trip. Seeing the peak of the Mont Blanc, which you’ve just spent 10 days walking around (!!!) is so worth it. You can catch this from Chamonix.
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