After years of anticipation, our group of three completed the magnificent Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB). Twelve days of strenuous walking up and down covered 30,000 vertical feet over 100 miles. This 16-day TMB itinerary started with afternoon arrival in Geneva (Switzerland) and included 5 nights in Chamonix (France) and 3 nights in Courmayeur (Italy), in 2022 June 29–July 14.
Our Tour du Mont Blanc was part of 5.5 weeks of glorious trekking in the Alps, including 10 stages of the Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1) and 4 days at Saas-Fee resort. From June 28–August 5, we walked 200+ miles and ascended 56,000 vertical feet. Alpenwild.com sponsored my photography and booked our epic Self-Guided package. Luggage transfers provided between comfortable hotels lightened our day packs every day (except for three overnights in refuges). See Tom’s abridged gallery “2022 Alps favorites: TMB, Via Alpina, Saas Fee“; or full portfolio “2022 Alps: all TMB, Via Alpina, Saas Fee“
TIPS: The eleven TMB “Stages” are well documented in the excellent book below by Kev Reynolds. Taxi Besson provided luggage transfers. Since lynchpin lodging on the popular Tour du Mont Blanc requires booking about 9 months in advance, consider instead trekking its highlights more spontaneously as day hikes done in good weather (assisted by weather forecasts 1–2 days in advance), based comfortably in Chamonix and Courmayeur for Stages 1, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, & 11 as described in my Alps Guide.
- The Tour of Mont Blanc: Complete two-way trekking guide (Cicerone Trekking Guides 2020)
- Walking Mont Blanc Walks: 50 Day Walks And 4 Multi-Day Treks (Cicerone Guides 2016)
For a warmup hike, we walked the Grand North Balcony, from Plan de l’Aiguille to Montenvers via Le Signal Forbes Trail (4.3 miles one way with 2000 feet vertical ascent and 700 feet descent), which was harder than expected due to jet-lagged bodies unaccustomed to exercising in thin air at 7500 feet above sea level. This scenic saunter isn’t an official Stage, or Étape, of the Tour du Mont Blanc, but our subsequent 11 hiking days covered all eleven TMB Stages, numbered as Days 0 through 10 as follows:
TMB Day 0 (Stage 10): For a second superlative warmup hike above Chamonix, we looped to Lac Blanc (shown below) and Lac de Chéserys, starting atop the lift, “Télécabine Flégère–Les Praz” (5.8 miles with 1930 feet ascent and descent). TIP: This rewarding lake circuit covers the most scenic parts of Stage 10 (Étape 10) of the Tour du Mont Blanc, but with much less effort than the standard one-way version that starts from Tré-le-Champ or Col des Montets.
TMB Day 1 (Alternative Stage 1) : The majority of hikers do the Tour du Mont Blanc in a counterclockwise direction, as we did. After taking a bus from Chamonix to Les Houches and riding the Téléphérique de Bellevue, we hiked the more dramatic option of Stage 1 via Col du Tricot to Hotel La Chemenaz in Les Contamines-Montjoie village in France (8 miles, 2100 feet ascent, 4000 ft descent). Below: Refuge de Miage provided a welcome lunch break at the foot of Mont Blanc (which looks remarkably like Mount Rainier from this angle):
TMB Day 2 (Stage 2): hike from Les Contamines-Montjoie via Col du Bonhomme (photo below) to Les Chambres du Soleil in Les Chapieux hamlet, in Bourg-Saint-Maurice commune, France (11.4 miles with 4200 feet ascent, 3000 ft descent):
TMB Day 3 (Stage 3): hike from Les Chapieux in France via Col de la Seigne to Elisabetta Refuge in Val Veny (8.8 miles miles with 3450 feet ascent, 1440 ft descent). Our packs were slightly heavier on this day and the next, because remote Elisabetta Refuge doesn’t support luggage transfers. Although the understaffed Elisabetta Refuge valiantly provided a good dinner, we were underwhelmed by slow check-in, long lines waiting for delayed flooded showers, a cubbyhole bunkroom for three, and very rudimentary breakfast. In retrospect, we appreciate the showers being hot and the tiny room being private (versus the densely stacked dormitory). The post-pandemic staffing problems will hopefully be corrected in the future.
Below: Aiguille Noire de Peuterey rises above us in the Mont Blanc massif near La Casermetta in Val Veny, Italy:
TMB Day 4 (Stage 4): hike from Elisabetta Refuge in Val Veny (Italy) to Hotel Pavillion in Courmayeur (walking 6.9 miles with 1600 feet ascent and 2320 ft descent along the main TMB ridge route to Rifugio Maison Vieille, then taking the chairlift from Col Chécrouit and gondola lift down to Dolonne).
Above: A beautiful sunrise experience compensated for understaffed services at Elisabetta Refuge.
Below: Sunrise highlights pink alpenrose flowers (Rhododendron ferrugineum) near Elisabetta Refuge:
From Courmayeur, don’t miss breathtaking vistas from Skyway Monte Bianco cable car system:
Above: Pointe Helbronner station at the top of Skyway Monte Bianco reveals stunning perspectives on the Mont Blanc massif.
Below: My peak experience of the month was the 5-kilometer ride on “Télécabine Panoramic Mont-Blanc,” an incredible system of triplet cabins strung between Pointe Helbronner (Italy) across France to Aiguille du Midi (which is alternatively reachable by lift from Chamonix):
Above: While dangling from the spine-tingling “Télécabine Panoramic Mont-Blanc” cable car in France, admire the Aiguille Verte (left) and Dent du Géant (right) rising high above the Sea of Ice Glacier (Mer de Glace).
TMB Day 5 (Stage 5): Rebecca and I hiked from Courmayeur via the Mont de la Saxe option of TMB, to Walter Bonatti Refuge (10 miles with vigorous 5200 feet ascent, 2700 feet descent). Carol separately hiked the standard TMB Stage 5 (8 miles with 3300 ft up, 700 ft down). Each route rewards you with beautiful vistas proportionate to the effort. Our packs were slightly heavier on this day and the next, because remote Rifugio Bonatti doesn’t support luggage transfers. After the understaffed Elisabetta Refuge had disappointed us on Stage 3, the elegant Rifugio Bonatti surprised us with a spacious private quad bunkroom for our group of three, excellent bathrooms & showers, and tasty generous meals served promptly by lots of happy staff! Both refuges offer impressive mountain settings, but Bonatti has a newer, superior design.
Above: Six-spot Burnet moths (Zygaena filipendulae) sip nectar from a Knapweed (Centaurea) flower.
TMB Day 6 (Stage 6): hike from Walter Bonatti Refuge in Italy to Hotel Edelweiss in La Fouly, Switzerland (12.9 miles with 3000 feet ascent, 4300 ft descent).
Above: Large white helicopter bags service Bonatti Refuge in Val Ferret, Italy. In the background, a golden sunrise spotlights Mont Blanc.
TMB Day 7 (Stage 7): hike from Hotel Edelweiss in La Fouly to Hotel du Glacier in Champex-Lac (9.3 miles with 1585 feet ascent, 1910 ft descent).
Above: Sunrise at Hotel Edelweiss in La Fouly, Val Ferret, Switzerland.
Below: Garden gnomes in Val Ferret, near Orsières, before ascending to Champex-Lac.
TMB Day 8 (Stage 8): continuing within Switzerland, Carol and I hiked from Hotel du Glacier in Champex-Lac via Alp Bovine to Hotel Col de la Forclaz (8.6 miles with 2500 feet ascent, 2360 ft descent). Rebecca chose the more difficult Alternative Stage 8, via the daunting Fenêtre d’Arpette pass (8.5 miles with 3900 ft gain & loss, which Carol and I had already done in the opposite direction during our Chamonix-Zermatt Haute Route trek in 2005). Below: trekkers take a lunch break at Alp Bovine, which overlooks Martigny and the Rhone Valley of Switzerland.
TMB Day 9 (Stage 9): hike from Col de la Forclaz in Switzerland via Col de Balme to Hotel de la Couronne in Argentière, France (10 miles, 3000 feet ascent, 3835 ft descent).
Below: Sunrise on Aiguille du Tour seen from Col de la Forclaz, Switzerland.
TIP: In Northern Europe, shopping at local groceries for delicious gourmet picnic dinners & lunches saves lots of money and time! In comparison, when dining at hotels or restaurants in the Alps, we were frequently frustrated by slow multi-course service and meal times which often started later than desired. Instead of using hotels’ Half or Full Board meal plans, we prefer Breakfast Only (or no meal plan) for greater flexibility.
TMB Day 10 (Stage 11): Today, we walked a modified TMB Stage 11, instead of repeating Lac Blanc (TMB Stage 10, already done for initial training on a sunny day forecast). I chose a route that covered the main highlights of Stage 11 but was much easier. Starting from atop Télécabine Flégère–Les Praz lift, we hiked from La Flégère to Planpraz (3.6 miles, 940 feet ascent, 600 ft descent). From Planpraz, we rode Le Brévent cable car round trip for sightseeing on high, then caught the Télécabine Planpraz lift down to Chamonix.
Below: don’t miss the impressive panorama atop Le Brévent cable car station above Chamonix. (Multiple images were stitched to make this picture, which shows the same cable car twice, a few seconds apart.)
The above photo highlights are excerpted from my trip gallery “TMB | Tour du Mont Blanc (FRANCE, ITALY, SWITZERLAND)“.
To plan your trip, see Tom’s online guide to the Alps.
There you have it, our first 16 days in the Alps in summer 2022, trekking all 11 stages of the Tour du Mont Blanc, with some options done harder, some easier. The next phase began by train from Chamonix (France) to reach Saas-Fee resort in Switzerland, covered in the next article.