The iconic Tour du Mont Blanc hike is heavenly, heavy going in some parts and a happy place for so many natural adventurers. Although it is one of the most famous long-distance walking trails in the world, its magnificence comes with layers of mystery. Indeed, many people aren’t even aware of the fact that you can walk a 170km circuit around the highest peak in Europe (4,810m). Because that’s the first thing you need to know about the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) – you don’t climb to the top of it on this trek, you circumnavigate it. Think of it as a dance around La Dame Blanche, the nickname given to the white, snow-covered peak by the French, just one of three countries where she lays her pretty feet. Making this a multinational massif and one of the world’s most unique trekking trilogies.
Here follows a big post with all the big questions. It’s a big mountain after all.
How difficult is the Tour du Mont Blanc?
Unlike the climbs to the summit of Mont Blanc, which we don’t offer at The Natural Adventure, the Tour du Mont Blanc is not a technical climb. You don’t need crampons, but you might get cramp. No ice picks required, but you want to pick your pace carefully. The highest you climb on the TMB is 2,537m and, if you are opting for a more budget version, staying in huts rather than hotels, then your sleep may be compromised a little, so you need plenty of stamina. In general, you walk anything from five to nine hours a day and, if you take on the whole circuit, you are trekking every day for ten days. There are ascents every day too varying from 500m and 1,200m, depending on the day. So, it’s all about endurance really, but with so much enjoyment along the way.
Should you do the Tour du Mont Blanc self-guided or guided?
This is a personal choice but, as we specialise in self-guided holidays, we recommend that you have some experience and enjoy walking independently. We cater for people who like their own pace and space. That’s not to say that we don’t cater for groups. Many of our customers choose to book the TMB their walking groups, family reunions, student adventures or retirement celebrations. It’s wonderful to share the joy and push each other up the cols.
How to choose the best Tour du Mont Blanc route
We offer Tour du Mont Blanc routes that not only take you along the whole TMB, but also shorter versions of its highlights. As with all our self-guided walking holidays, we provide luggage transfers and accommodation along the way. The traditional route is anti-clockwise, starting in the Chamonix Valley, and we currently have seven different Tour du Mont Blanc holidays, with a range of accommodation styles, routes and trek durations.
The most important criteria for most people, when it comes to choosing, is their fitness level, budget and the amount of time they can spend. Our holiday style is about taking your time and enjoying the views, not pushing yourself to extremes, and our itineraries are carefully crafted with that in mind. Whether you stay in mountain huts or hotels, camp it or chalet it, the TMB is always a natural adventure ‘extraordinaire’.
Here are our current Tour du Mont routes:
Tour du Mont Blanc from Les Houches in 12 days
This is the traditional 12 day, anti-clockwise route starting at the village of Les Houches, in the Chamonix Valley, just 6km from the town of Chamonix. The alpine arcadia that lies ahead hits you as soon as you arrive, and your walking holiday gets off to a gentle start, taking a cable car up to higher elevations to join the TMB path. For the next 10 days, you walk between 11 and 18km per day, with some strenuous stretches but all sublimely beautiful ones, with a few options to transfer by cable car if you want an exciting short cut.
Highlights along the way include crossing Col de la Seigne from France into Italy, reaching the tour’s highest point at Fenêtre d’Arpette (2,750m) followed by a descent alongside the Trient Glacier. The day you climb to Lac Blanc at 2,452m with reflections of Mont Blanc waiting to greet you is a special one, as is crossing Grand Col Ferret at 2,536m, another of the highest points on the TMB, into the highs of Switzerland’s Valais.
You can do this route in two styles, both bookable between June and September:
Tour du Mont Blanc from Les Houches on a budget
On this holiday you stay in mountain huts (refuges or refugi), for seven nights and in small, mountain hotels for four nights. In the mountain huts you sleep in mixed gender dormitories with shared bathroom facilities, joining the camaraderie of the TMB in traditional style. Luggage is transferred for you on all days except one, when you are required to carry your overnight luggage from hut to hut and you need a sleeping bag and liner for the huts.
Tour du Mont Blanc from Les Houches in comfort
Same panoramic views, more privacy which, for some people, is worth the extra pennies. Accommodation in double en-suite rooms in 3-star hotels in Les Houches, Courmayeur, La Fouly, Argentières and Chamonix, and a 2-star hotel in Les Contamines. You also stay in smaller lodge style accommodation in Les Chapieux, Arpette (or Trient), sleeping in double rooms, most of which are ensuite, but you need to get in early to book the bathroom ones. If we can’t get you an ensuite, we lower the cost. There is, however, one night at the Elisabetta Refuge, with mixed gender dorms and shared bathrooms because sometimes you’re just too far away for the frills. But you definitely get the thrills.
Tour du Mont Blanc from Martigny in 12 days
This version of the Tour du Mont Blanc starts and ends in Switzerland, and so if you want to top and tail your TMB with visits to Geneva, Zermatt or Lucerne, to name but a few sublime Swiss spots, this is a good way to tackle the Tour. It is also a quieter starting point, with most walkers starting their odyssey at Les Houches or Chamonix. However, you still complete the circuit and experience the same natural nirvanas en route, as mentioned above. However, there is no budget alternative on the more swish Swiss route on our holidays. Accommodation is in 3-star hotels and guesthouses, in double or twin private en-suite rooms, with just one night in a mountain hut, and only if the hotels are booked out.
All our TMB tours from Martigny are available between July and September.
You can also break down the Tour du Mont Blanc from Martigny into two half sections, each being an east and western section of the complete Tour du Mont Blanc. Both are seven days long, as follows:
Tour du Mont Blanc eastern section, in comfort
This is another Swiss starter, again in Martigny but finishing in Bourg-Saint-Maurice, France, and walking in a clockwise direction in the east, which means that you also walk through the Italian section in Courmayeur. As with our complete Tour du Mont Blanc from Martigny, this is a comfort level of trip, accommodation is in 3-star hotels and guesthouses, in double or twin private en-suite rooms, with just one night at Refugio Elena, (where the views are priceless), and you only stay there if the hotels are booked out.
The most exquisite eastern highlights on this tour start with Col de la Forclaz and Lac de Champex, with daily delights including an ascent to Grand Col Ferret (2,537m), the high passes route across the border to Italy, a night in the beautiful town of Courmayeur, Col de la Seigne (2,516m) and, for a glorious finale, the Vallée des Glaciers. This route is categorised as moderate level, compared with the western section, which has some strenuous stretches.
Tour du Mont Blanc western section, in comfort
Again, starting in Martigny and finishing in Bourg-Saint-Maurice, this route follows the west side of the circuit, heading in an anti-clockwise direction. As with the eastern section, you stay in hotels rather than hostels, resting on crisp sheets rather than sleeping bags, with no overnights in mountain huts at all. It’s categorised as moderate to strenuous, pushing you a little bit harder up to the likes of Col de Balme (2,191m) or over the top of Aiguillette des Posettes, and that’s just on day one. A day of walking to Lac Blanc and the Grand Balcon alpine route finishes with a cable car ride down to Chamonix. Saving the best for last, you follow a rocky alpine path up to Col de la Croix du Bonhomme (2,450m).
It’s worth noting that Martigny is also the terminus station for one of Europe’s most spectacular train rides, known as the Mont Blanc Express. Not fast at all in fact, it’s a sublimely slow journey on a metre-gauge railway which clings to the north side of Mont Blanc, ascending from Martigny with views over the Trient Valley, cliffs, gorges and the Argentière glacier. It only takes 90mins and runs every hour, so you could treat yourself to a more restful view of the places you have walked at the end of your holiday.
Tour du Mont Blanc Highlights in eight days
Similar to the whole circuit, this route takes you in an anti-clockwise direction, but skips some of the tougher treks, making it a moderate walking holiday without the strenuous stretches. It also only takes eight days and so it’s perfect if you don’t have as much time to spare. This is no walk in the park, however, as you are still walking for six consecutive days,
between five to nine hours a day, depending on the trekking terrain. Think of it as getting all the best chocolates in the selection box, leaving the slightly less flavoursome ones for someone else.
Starting in Les Contamines and finishing in Chamonix, you still experience all the main highs, including crossing Col de la Seigne from France into Italy, ascending to the tour’s highest point at Fenêtre d’Arpette (2,750m) followed by a descent alongside the Trient Glacier. The day you climb to Lac Blanc at 2,452m with reflections of Mont Blanc waiting to greet you is a special one, as is crossing Grand Col Ferret at 2,536m, another of the highest points on the TMB, into Switzerland’s Valais region.
You can do the Tour du Mont Blanc Highlights in two styles:
Tour du Mont Blanc Highlights on a budget
You will never be short changed on scenery on the Tour du Mont Blanc, but you can make some savings on this itinerary by staying in a mixture of budget mountain accommodation, from local lodges to mountain huts, both with mixed gender dorms and shared bathroom facilities. The exceptions are the first and last nights, staying in 2-star hotel in Les Contamines and a 3-star hotel in Chamonix. On this holiday, breakfast is included on seven days, and dinner on six days.
It’s worth noting that one of the nights in in Refugio Elena in Italy, is one of our favourite mountain huts. It’s located on the lower section of the Grand Col Ferret at 2,061m, with views of Glacier de Pré de Bar. That’s one exquisite espresso the morning you wake up to. It has also been recently renovated and is big and buzzy, with beds for 127 people, and they do great food, specialising in Valle D’Aosta goodies such as pizza with fontina cheese and various venison dishes. As well as an excellent selection of local wines.
Tour du Mont Blanc Highlights in comfort
You don’t get Elena on this tour, but you do get a night in Italy’s Courmayeur instead, one of the finest towns to kiss the feet of Mont Blanc. Because, as well as Monte Bianco, as it’s called in Italy, Courmayeur looks out at 14 other peaks, making it look like it just fell straight out of a National Geographic photo shoot. Apart from that, the route and accommodation are very similar to the more budget version, and little difference in the price. There is one route change on day six, bringing you down into the village of Argentière instead of Le Tour so that you can have a night at a hotel, rather than in another refuge. You still get to cross the same magnificent scenery on that day, however, as the two villages are only 3km apart. On this holiday, breakfast is included on seven days and dinner on five days.
Why you need to book early for the TMB
The Tour du Mont Blanc is far out, but it’s in no way a well kept secret. It’s one of those long-distance walking trails that serious hikers all over the world want to do, especially as there is no technical climbing required. Also, compared with other iconic walking trails such as the Camino de Santiago which are accessible all year round, most Tour du Mont Blanc tours are only available during the summer months. So they do book out.
Our trips starting in Les Houches are bookable between June and September, but the tours starting in Martigny are only available between July and September. They start booking up a year in advance sometimes. In addition, availability may be limited during big events such as the Marathon du Mont-Blanc at the end of June and the UTMB trail running event at the end of August. Your best bet is to get a booking in before Christmas, if you want to guarantee accommodation. There’s thankfully, only a limited number of beds on the Tour du Mont Blanc, because we wouldn’t want it to get too overcrowded after all.
Preparing for Tour du Mont Blanc
By booking early, it also gives you plenty of time to prepare, and a happy hiker is a trip fit one. The TMB is exquisite but epic and it shouldn’t be taken lightly, even if you are only taking on the highlights. The great news is that people of all ages take it on, from teens to octogenarians. In general, we advise starting a training programme at least two months before you go (ideally three), building up slowly but committing to some long multi-day strenuous treks before you go.
Never use the TMB as a way to get fit, as you risk injury or simply not enjoying it. It’s also worth remembering that the pace we set in our holiday itineraries is based on walking at a leisurely, gentle speed. We want you to revel in it all, not race it and training will help that.
Start with the basics
You are probably a keen walker already, and keeping up a basic 10,000 steps a day is always a good starting point, and then take on a hike at weekends to build up to and then match your TMB distances.
We also recommend pushing yourself in the gym a little too. So press your inner power button some days, not just the snooze button, aiming for an hour’s workout in the gym, three times a week with, for example, 20mins on the treadmill, 20mins on the cross trainer, followed by 20mins of core and leg strength exercises. Then, at weekends, you also need to fit in a good length of an outdoor walk, hilly if possible.
Hitting the heights
For hitting those high passes comfortably, you should double your efforts in the last few weeks, but always taking rest days to ensure you don’t injure yourself. You can, for example, increase your gym workout to include 60mins of cardiovascular exercise, including a good circuit of strength exercises such as squats and lunges, four times a week, plus a five hour hillwalk at weekends.
Is the Tour du Mont Blanc possible for solo travellers?
With our Tour du Mont Blanc holidays, we are able to support solo travellers on all our routes that start in Martigny, but regrettably not on the other versions. So whether you choose to do the complete TMB as a solo traveller, starting and ending in Switzerland, or else opt for the same route’s the eastern or western section, we will support you all the way.
Do I have to have my luggage transferred?
On most of our tours, this is included in the price of the trip. However, you can opt out of having your luggage transferred on our Mont Blanc Highlights tours. So, if you prefer to carry all your luggage rather than have it transferred by us on this and this trip, we can reduce the cost a little. Please note this option has to be selected for all travellers in the booking and we will advise on savings to be made at time of booking.
Tips for staying in Tour du Mont Blanc refuges
First and foremost, park all notions of privacy as Tour du Mont Blanc refuges, refugi or mountain huts are all about sharing and caring. And sometimes snoring – so always bring earplugs. As well as all the items we recommend in our What to pack for a hiking trip blog, there are a few other top tips for these mountain hut adventures.
Because the mountain huts are so remote, resources are often limited, so bring your own charged power bank if you have a device, if you get a signal to use it, that is.
Bring a sleeping bag and a liner as some mountain huts insist on the latter and will ask you to hire one if you don’t bring one. Slipper socks are handy too, as they are easy to pack and keep your tootsies cosy while wandering around communal areas. Bring an eye mask if you don’t want to wake up with the early birds, and a travel pillow is always a dreamy addition.
Avert your gaze
Dorms are mixed gender, so it goes without saying that modesty prevails, and respecting others privacy as they change for bed and so on is a must.
Don’t be a fish out of water
Drinking water is nearly always available in mountain huts and, on the rare occasions that it’s not, we will always advise you in advance of water points. Always pack one or two reusable bottles, or a water bladder and, as you are walking in remote areas, a filtered water bottle such as the sugarcane, plant-based plastic Water to Go one is perfect if you want to top up from streams, ensuring that the water is free of any toxins.
Always carry some cash in your bag because some mountain huts don’t accept cards and you won’t find an ATM for days sometimes.
Be prepared for basic, and then you can only be pleasantly surprised if you find an indoor toilet, running water and a hot shower. Bring a head torch if the loo is outside, and toilet paper just in case. And please don’t bring wipes, they are eco disasters, but anti-bacterial gel is a must. A flannel is very handy if you just want to do a quick wash and dry in the morning. In terms of bathroom etiquette, there are often lots of people waiting to wash, so this isn’t the time or place for pampering.
Silence is golden
Most people want to hit the sack and the hills early, so it’s important to let them bask in their well-earned peace and not be chatting. And don’t do anything that might cause someone to shout ‘get a room’ – because, apart from anything, there usually isn’t a room. Save the cuddles for the city.