If trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc is not already high on your bucket list, then it most definitely should be. It’s right up there with the likes of Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit and Peru’s Cordillera Huayhuash trek, but much closer to home. The Tour du Mont Blanc is among the most iconic multi-day treks in the world – and for very good reason.
Need convincing? Here’s all the need-to-know info, on why to go and how to go about doing it…
The Tour du Mont Blanc is one of the oldest treks in the world – and considered one of most beautiful! It often features in ‘Top 10 Hikes in the World’ lists. The trail circumnavigates Mont Blanc (4810m) crossing through France, Italy and Switzerland. Expect captivating views, delicious food and genuine alpine experiences. Think big snowy peaks, huge glaciers, wild rivers and green valleys; and that’s just day one.
The trek follows a circuit along more than 170 kilometres of remote trails that traverse anti-clockwise around the Mont Blanc massif. I mean, you can go the other way if you want… but that’s the way people tend to do it.
The History of the Tour du Mont Blanc
Originally formed by shepherds moving their cattle from valley to valley, these hiking trails have been around for centuries. But it was the Swiss geologist Horace-Bénédict de Saussure who made the Tour du Mont Blanc public knowledge in the mid-1700s. He was searching for a way to climb Mont Blanc and ended up walking the entire circumference of Mont Blanc looking for the best route. Poor chap. The exact path Saussure took is unknown, but he returned time and time again, desperate to find a way to the summit.
Back then no one had ever climbed Mont Blanc. After a few failed attempts (and walking in circles round the mountain) Horace-Bénédict de Saussure offered a reward to the first person to reach the summit. In 1786 two Chamonix locals, Michel Paccard and Jacques Balmat, claimed the prize – and the first ascent. Saussure would later follow the same route and became the third person to summit the infamous mountain.
Going way back, Celtic tribes and Roman soldiers used the Col du Bonhomme as one of their many trade routes through the Alps. You can still see remnants of the Romans to this day. Remarkably, there is an ancient Roman footbridge bridge still standing.
Where does it start and end?
The Tour du Mont Blanc begins and ends in Chamonix, a lively mountain town and popular ski resort at the foot of Mont Blanc in France. Access is quick from Geneva Airport, making it one of the easiest to reach mountain towns in the Alps.
Chamonix is often called ‘the adventure capital of the world’ due to its buzzing atmosphere, the multitude of adventures on offer and breath-taking mountains on its doorstep. There are a few towns that would like to fight it for that title, but you take the point.
The Tour du Mont Blanc Route
The trail, for the most part, is not technically difficult. You can expect everything from forests, barren rocky terrain and vast green valleys. You will be greeted by a real mix of wild landscapes, and snowy peaks up above, each day different to the next.
Most stages on the trek follow a familiar pattern of hiking up and over a col, or mountain pass, before descending to a mountain hut or hotel for the night. Expect to start the day strong with a rewarding ascent to find a scenic lunch spot, before a final descent down to a warm dinner and a cold beer.
Watch out for Ibex with their big horns, and steer clear if two males begin a fight on the trail, it’s not worth getting involved.
You’ll start in Les Houches, a small town at the entrance to the Chamonix Valley. Take the Bellevue cablecar up to 1800m and enjoy the panoramic views. You should be able to see Mont Blanc, the Chamonix Aiguilles, the Aiguilles Rouges and the Chaine des Aravis. Head towards the Col du Tricot, passing over the famous suspension bridge that crosses the Bionnay Glacier and down into Les Contamines for the first nights’ accommodation.
The next day takes you up and over the Col du Bonhomme (look out for that Roman bridge) with horizon views of the Vanoise National Park. The trail then descends into the small hamlet of Les Chapieux. Be prepared for a very sketchy phone signal in Les Chapieux, but the views more than make up for it. Everyone can get away with one day off the grid, right?
After Les Chapieux the trail crosses the Col de la Seigne, at 2516m, straddling the French-Italian border. Yes, you can stand with one foot on each side! You can almost smell the freshly ground Italian coffee as you cross the col. Head down into the Val Veny, a magnificent green valley with the south face of Mont Blanc dominating the skyline on your left.
As you trek towards Courmayeur, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best panoramas of the range’s famous 4000m peaks. There are spectacular and unique vantage points of the Grandes Jorasses, Mont Dolent and the Grand Combin.
You’ll eventually start to make your way back towards Switzerland via the Italian Val Ferret. Tackle the 500m climb to the Grand Col Ferret on the Italian-Swiss border, before making your descent to the small mountain village of La Fouly.
Next up is a mellow stage through Swiss alpine meadows and small villages, before reaching the Lac de Champex, a pristine alpine lake in a steep valley. Time for a dip maybe?
The finish line is now in sight. You will complete the circuit, eventually making your way back into France over the Col de Balme, by traversing the Aiguille du Midi and crossing into the Aiguilette des Possettes. One final push up to the Lac Blanc, over the Grand Balcon Sud, for some more mega impressive views of the Mont Blanc range. Then a final descent back to Chamonix for celebrations and a much-needed demi-peche.
How hard is the Tour du Mont Blanc?
You don’t necessarily need to have any prior hiking or trekking experience to do the Tour du Mont Blanc. That said, you will need to be in pretty good shape. It’s no easy feat. Expect to hike between 10 and 16 km per day with an average of 1000m ascent and descent… for 10 days on the trot. If in doubt, it’s worth doing some practice hikes beforehand to make sure you’re prepared.
The Tour du Mont Blanc is 177 km long with approximately 10,000 metres of ascent and descent along the way. This may seem like a daunting amount of trekking, but remember it’s spread over several days. That makes it doable for most keen hikers – and even beginners with strong determination when the going gets tough.
Each day sparks a new challenge that will inspire you to make it to the finish line and before you know it you’ll be back in Cham, necking Genepi and Pastis with the locals.
What kit will you need?
Technical kit like crampons or ice axes aren’t required, but you will need walking poles and a decent backpack filled with a few essentials. Choose a comfortable and solid pair of hiking shoes – and bring blister plasters just in case! Waterproofs and a few warm layers are a must to cover all weather possibilities (weather in the mountains can change very quickly). Sunglasses and a sun hat are essential, as is a water flask and a fully charged camera.
You might like our Guide to Choosing the Right Hiking Boots.
There are so many highlights to choose from. Crossing wobbly suspension bridges over roaring torrents and climbing up steep cols with panoramic alpine views are high on the list. Passing through alpine fields full of cows with their loud cow bells ringing is also a unique alpine experience you won’t find elsewhere.
It’s difficult to pin down just one highlight from the whole hike. Perhaps it would be hiking up to the pristine Lac Blanc (2352m) on the final leg of the hike. The Mont Blanc massif reflects photogenically in the lake. It’s a fitting view to end the hike and even the most amateur photographers among us can grab a cracking photo. Or, for those brave enough, pop in for a quick swim in its icy waters.
What to expect on the the Tour du Mont Blanc?
Wildlife, beautiful mountains and remote mountain refuges. Watch out for Ibex with their big horns and steer clear if two males begin a fight on the trail. It’s not worth getting involved. Look out for birds of prey circling above your lunch spot, they will have their eyes on your sandwich.
Traditional chocolate box chalets and small farming villages still exist and it’s worth appreciating the simplicity of the locals’ way of life. Ultimately it’s the views of the mountains that make the hike so spectacular. Watch out: the views will inspire future adventures right then and there.
Did somebody mention climbing Mont Blanc?
What’s the accommodation like?
You will stay in mountain huts on a few of the nights. They’ll likely be your most memorable evenings! Staying in an Alpine mountain hut is a wild experience for those who are more accustomed to AirBnB and hotels. Expect simple but delicious home cooked food, a cosy sleeping area and plenty of story sharing after dinner.
Remember to bring earplugs in case your neighbour snores. Mountain huts are often situated in areas that aren’t reachable by road. Wi-Fi and phone signal is rarely available, which only adds to the remote feel of the trip.
Trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc can be a logistical nightmare if you try to go it alone. Getting reservations at the huts can be really hard – what if you start booking and then discover one’s full right in the middle? So for a hassle-free and authentic experience its best to go with a local guide. The best guides are passionate about the local area and knows all the best spots and detours.
So what are you waiting for?
The best time of year to do the hike is between late June and September. The snow is most likely to have melted from the high mountain passes in the middle of the summer. The weather is stable and warm. If you love:
- trekking in nature
- taking on multi-day challenges
- learning about history and local culture along the way…
then this is the perfect hike for you so get planning for summer!
View the full itinerary for our nine day night on the Tour du Mont Blanc, going through Italy, Switzerland and France. Or, if you’ve not got much time on your hands you can also choose the whistle-stop version and trek the Tour du Mont Blanc over a long weekend.