A wide mixture of landscapes going from verdant meadows to high mountains, eternally snow-capped; the sound of water slowly flowing on nearby rivers, and the occasional tinkle of cowbells; the warm and dry weather with random days of rain; these sounds, feelings, and sights of the Tour du Mont Blanc will forever be engraved in your mind, a once-in-a-lifetime Alpine experience skirting Europe’s highest peak, taking you to three different countries in no more than 14 days.
Each summer, when the paths are clear of snow and the route opens, around 10,000 hikers embark on this 170-km-long oval walk, around the 4810-meter Mont Blanc, the highest among the European Union, divided between France, Italy and Switzerland. The trail wanders in and out of green valleys, and with its highest pass being only 2665 meters, you don’t need any technical skills or equipment to complete the walk safely.
You can find various starting points, but the habitual one is Les Houches, in the Vallée de Chamonix, and from there you can choose to walk the Tour du Mont Blanc either clockwise or anti-clockwise.
170 km to go!
To save strength for the upcoming days, the first, and pretty harsh part of the walk can be skipped; you can exchange the several hours of walking uphill (around 800 meters) with a cable-car ride to Bellevue. From this very beginning, you start to get unique and stunning views, an alpine panoramic with the Aiguille du Bionnassay standing tall in front of you, and the remote Aiguille du Midi breaking the horizon.
Once you get to Bellevue, you have to start climbing quite a bit to get to the Cot de Tricot, at 2120 meters.
To get over the violent and noisy waters of the Bionnassay river, you must cross a suspension bridge, taking you without risk to the other side. Then the climb continues, passing the roaring Glacier de Bionnassay.
Head down some zig-zagging tracks and reach the Chalets de Miage village, standing peacefully next to the bubbling Grand Pont river, naturally decorated with Alpine blossoms. Then, the path takes you up Mont Truc, and goes back down across deep forests; tall, verdant trees guiding you to your first stop, the ski town of Les Contamines, where pretty wooden chalets stand closely next to each other, lining the street.
Rise and shine, and follow another ascending path through a stunning valley, originally formed by glacial erosion, until you get to the Col du Bonhomme. The path only keeps going up, and when reaching Col de la Croix, the most impressive views of mountain peaks backdrop the walking track. From there, you can choose to descend to the Vallée des Glaciers, with towering, snow-capped mountains bordering the area, or to the small village of Les Chapieux, its bright green colors shining wherever you look.
Welcome to Italy!
You will find the 2516-meter Col de la Seigne pass at the top of the valley, where the Tour du Mont Blanc takes you straight into Italy, and maybe the first point of view of the tall and intimidating Mont Blanc, standing between the huge Pyramides Calcaires and the extensive Vallon de la Lée Blanche. Look down and witness the Rifugio Elizabetta snuggle its beauty underneath the broad ice of Trélatête and Glacier de la Lée Blanche.
Your next stop is the town of Cormayeur, and we totally recommend walking down the street, taking in the style and character of the residents, where you can taste an amazing, foaming cappuccino and a bowl of delicious homemade pasta; simple, but wonderful. The Val Veni and its dense woods take you into the Val Ferret, the trail heading upwards with every step to the Grand Col Ferret. Look back from this 2537-meter top, and say goodbye to the last views over stunning Italy.
Now into Switzerland…
From this point, you can consider yourself officially inside the Swiss border. Walking past La Peula, with its barns and summer pastures, the clear and distinctive rattle of cow bells will greet you. The hillside is dotted here and there by small wooden chalets, the red Swiss flags on their fronts standing out among all the green, as the path takes you into the town of La Fouty, hidden under the frozen waterfall of the Glacier de l’A Neuve. You will be craving for an overnight stay, and La Fouty, with its outstanding views, is the perfect option.
Wandering closely to the flowing waters of the Drance de Ferret river, with pink blossoming flowers framing its banks, the path roams along the peaceful Swiss Val de Ferret. It then zig-zags among all the wooden chalets standing at Praz de Fort, and the simple, but picturesque farm buildings of Les Ariaches, before finally going up to Champex, not before leading you through forests filled with wild mushrooms.
This is a popular and comfortable base for walkers, adorned with a modern sculpture of geese that will strike your curiosity and attention, and surrounded by both a curved lake and verdant pine trees.
The climbing never stops; get through ravined woods and across three river beds, and finally arrive at the barns of Bovine, with spectacular views down the Vallée du Rhône and, far-off in the horizon, the Bernese Oberland mountains. Enjoy a tempting blueberry tart, locally called tarte aux myrtilles, at the 1526-meter Col de la Forclaz, before taking a relaxed path down to the small village of Trient, set huddled around its only church.
The rollercoaster-like route now takes you upwards again, steadily leading you to the Col de Balme, where you get back inside the French border, with the majestic Vallée de Chamonix showing its U-shaped form ahead, separating the Aiguilles Rouges from Mont Blanc, the path along the Grand Balcon gets out of Argentière, and from there it grants you unique views to the mind-blowing Argentière glacier, scattered with gigantic rifts.
At this point, you’re getting closer to the end of you magnificent two-week walking trip, with the noisy town of Chamonix standing at the heart of the valley, the Alpine capital of mountaineering. You will surely encounter many friendly climbers like freckles on the snow, some drinking coffee to warm themselves after the severe climbing, with the everlasting Mont Blanc always watching over everyone. If you fancy getting up close to the mountain, take the Aiguille du Mini cable car to a platform at 3842 meters, and see the snowbound summit from a totally different point of view.
The best side of the Mont Blanc
The final section of the route, especially from Le Brevant, offers the best views of Mont Blanc, then the path goes back down across deep woods and turns back to Les Houches, marking the end of your European oval tour. Congratulations, you have just completed the 170-km Tour du Mont Blanc!
June to September are the most popular months to embark on the Tour du Mont Blanc, as the snow melts, and most cable cars and huts are open to the public. There is no definite way to walk the route, and accommodation can range from camps, mountain refuges, and hotels. Sherpa Expeditions offers a two-week escorted tour, with hotel accommodation included. Lastly, bags are transported daily, so make sure to only carry a light daypack.
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