Walking in the French alps is like applying balm to your senses. The beautiful scenery, the good food and the friendly people all add up to a memorable experience. Walking the Tour du Mont Blanc is exhilarating, even life changing. The walk takes you around the Mt Blanc massif, through France, Italy and Switzerland covering over 170km in 10 – 12 days. Along the way you will meet fellow trekkers from all walks of life and from all over the world. You will also meet people who are climbing and those who are following different tracks, coming from and going to many different places. The magic of the Tour du Mont Blanc is in the crystal clear air, the vast open spaces and the astounding views.
As the Tour du Mont Blanc is a circuit, it can be started at any point depending where you are. One of the traditional starting points is in Les Houches, just south of Chamonix. There are many ways to organise your walk of the circuit. Some people,especially if they are in a group, hire a guide and have their gear transported each day while others choose to carry their own gear and self guide using a guide book, booking their accommodation themselves. If you choose to use a guide they will usually organise all the logistics including accommodation, route walked and transport of gear. Which ever way you choose, there is a choice of accommodation along the way.
There are lodges, sometimes called auberges, refuges or refugios depending upon the country they are in. These places are rustic buildings that are usually only open during the walking season and are in remote areas. They offer dormitory and share rooms with share bathrooms and can differ widely in size and standard. Demi pension or half board (dinner, bed and breakfast) makes walking easier as you do not have to carry all your food. Most meals are a set menu, no choice, very wholesome and filling which is exactly what you need when you have been walking all day and you will find that you eat everything placed in front of you! A picnic lunch can be ordered for the next day for a small charge and are excellent quality and value.
There are also hotels along the way if you prefer a private room. These are less prevalent and may require very long days walking to stay in a hotel each night. Some groups prefer to do this and organise transport between hotel and track. Please note that not all hotels have private facilities and most still offer dormitory accommodation as well.
One of the great things about walking is the simplicity of each day and walking the Tour du Mont Blanc is no exception. You walk from refugio to refugio, find your bunk, then settle in the dining room or lounge area to chat with fellow travelers knowing that dinner will be served at about 7.00pm. The greatest decision each day is what to drink – hot chocolate, red or white wine!
There are several variations to the basic circuit and I would suggest taking them all or at least as many as weather permits. They usually go up and over a higher pass and as such are prone to being dangerous if it is raining or snowing but are definitely worth the extra effort if possible. Even though the walking season is mid June to mid September, the weather can vary from hot sun to continuous rain to even sleet and snow. It is advisable to be prepared for all weather conditions.
I have a basic packing list that you may find useful. You can print it and add or delete to suit your needs. It is actually for Nepal but is almost the same as I took when walking the Tour du Mont Blanc. You might think about taking out a beanie and adding a poncho that covers you and your pack so that you stay absolutely dry.
Walking the Tour du Mont Blanc is an amazing walk and an experience that will give you lasting memories.