Tour Du Mont Blanc – Learn About Hiking This Beautiful Trail
Distance: 105 miles (170km)
Elevation Gain: 10,000 metres (32,800 ft)
Countries visited: France, Italy, Switzerland and back to your start point in France.
Traditional Direction: Anti-clockwise. Loop.
Best Airport to arrive: Geneva, Switzerland, with a 90 min transit to Chamonix, France
Marmots, wine and delicious chocolate. Sound good? Wait, let me add the best bit. Imagine combining them with hiking at altitude through the soaring, stunning mountains of France, Italy and Switzerland. Got it? Ok, good. Then imagine doing it all in one 105 mile (170km) circular hiking route. That’s the Tour Du Mont Blanc: one of the greatest walks in the world. With marmots.
Oh, and 10,000m of elevation. No problem, right?
What is the Tour Du Mont Blanc?
The Tour Du Mont Blanc (TMB) means ‘around Mont Blanc’ and circumnavigates Mont Blanc itself, which is a 4810m mountain at the heart of the Mont Blanc massif. The massif is a mountain range made up of 11 major summits, and named after the highest one of the lot. It’s not only the highest point in France, but in all Western Europe.
The massif is a convergence point for France, Italy and Switzerland, making the circular hiking route around the range into a multi-national and delicious affair. The official start and end point is the village of Les Houches in the Chamonix Valley, but with multiple access points to the trail along its length, people can jump on and off and enjoy shorter sections without having to complete the whole route.
The walking route itself is extremely old, formed originally by shepherds who used it to move their livestock between valleys, and also used by the Romans and Celts as trade routes. Then in the mid 17th century, a man named Horace Benedict de Sassure made the first attempt to walk the whole route as we currently know it.
Sassure was an interesting and adventurous chap. Not only involved with the TMB, he also offered a reward to the first person who could climb Mont Blanc itself. He then became the third person to actually summit it! The reward was first claimed by two men from Chamonix; Jacques Balmat and Michel-Gabriel Paccard. In the years that followed, mountain sports and activities became increasingly popular. Many more people travelled to Chamonix and the Massif to venture into skiing, mountaineering, climbing and of course…hiking! Now the TMB is one of the most popular and well-regarded hiking routes in the world.
Route and Mileage
The route is often walked over 11 days along popular ‘stages’, usually in a counter-clockwise direction although it can be be hiked in either. This itinerary can be sped up considerably if you’re a fast and experienced hiker, or lengthened with various rest days – allowing you to hang out in a village or town and enjoy the area. As I plan my trip I’ll be looking to complete the route in 8-9 days, meaning around 13.5 miles each day. These won’t necessarily be split exactly evenly each day because some days will have more elevation and take longer, and some will be flatter and quicker.
After hiking the Appalachian Trail ( Start here to read about it) and the South West Coast Path (here!), I am comfortable hiking anywhere up to 25 miles a day in succession. However, it’s been a long time sitting on my butt in lockdown and I’ll want to ease my way in and enjoy the more leisurely days that shorter mileage will offer.
Not that it’ll be easy by any means. My friend Kris, who is hiking with me, will be experiencing her first multi-day hike. Our anticipated daily mileage for the trail will be tiring. We are training at the moment along the SWCP though, so we do expect our legs and butts to be ready for it! Interesting extra fact: the walking route of the Tour du Mont Blanc is also used for an ultramarathon. The Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc (UTMB). The winner of this usually completes the WHOLE THING in around 20 hours. WOW. You can find more on that here.
Accommodation and Re-Supply
When hiking the Tour Du Mont Blanc, another factor that impacts the distance you walk each day is your preferred choice of accommodation. You might have booked ahead (advised!) so therefore you have to hike a certain distance to get where you want to go.
Perhaps you’re more freestyle and are camping? Wild camping can be frowned upon, and you need to remain at quite an elevation for it to be tolerated. Even then it’s not always easy to find spots. Especially those that are appropriate and not too far from water that you need to carry in. There are official camping spots you can make for, but these also dictate route distance each day. As long as you respect local rules (and the environment) then it’s really up to you how you plan it!
In the valleys there are B&B’s and hotels in the towns, and then of course up high there are the wonderful Refuges in the mountains.
These refuges are set approximately every 5km along the trail, and were originally built as spaces where mountaineers or travellers could shelter from danger and adverse weather conditions. In the beginning they were little more than adapted shepherd’s huts, but now they provide larger accomodation space. There are large dorms and the occasional private room. You’ll also find food, warmth, chatty, friendly company and wine – all at a low (ish!) prices. This is especially when the refuges are owned by the alpine clubs rather than privately. The alpine clubs tend to try to keep the refuges accessible to all. Refuges are definitely not just ‘luxe hotels’ at elevation, being full of charm and history. Most also keep the quirk of being accessible by foot only (and by skis in the snow!). You can read more about the refuges here.
When is good to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc?
You can usually hike the TMB safely between mid June and September. This is mostly due to adverse weather on either side of these months. I’ll be hoping to go and hike the route in early June so am going to be checking the weather relentlessly and hoping it’ll be possible! The early date is because I need to then quarantine for 14 days outside of Europe. This means I can enter the USA to start the Continental Divide Trail at the beginning of July! I’ll update this page with my planning, kit lists and considerations as I get ready to tackle this beautiful hike. I’ll also post daily blogs when I’m there! Fingers crossed, and keep watching this space. G x