10 days. 3 countries. 120km of hiking. 10,000 meters of ascent and descent. No wifi. No cars. No makeup. No worries.
Passing through France, Italy and Switzerland and circling around Europe’s highest Mastiff, the Tour Du Mont Blanc (or the TMB) is one of the world’s most iconic hikes. Despite the fact I possess very little hiking experience, one day, I found myself jumping straight in the deep end and signing up for a 10-day trekking trip with G Adventures. It turned out to simultaneously be one of the most physically challenging and one of the most rewarding trips I’ve ever taken.
I thought I would give you a COMPLETE rundown on exactly what it was like to hike the Tour Du Mont Blanc with G Adventures…
What to expect:
I’m not going to lie, I was as excited as I was nervous about the prospect of 8 days of hiking. There were so many unknowns for the trip… What if I didn’t pack the right things? What if I wasn’t fit enough? What if the food and accommodation were horrible? What if I injured myself during the hike?
All my nerves were quickly dissipated as I arrived in Chamonix and met our G Adventures Tour Leader, Rob, as well as the group I would be trekking with. I realized that for the next 8 days, I would be in very good hands (and very good company)! Although you can do the Tour De Mont Blanc on your own accord, going with a tour group made the hike logistically a lot easier. The most we had to worry about each day was making it from point A to point B (and what beverage we’d knock back once we finished a day of hiking)! All our accommodation was sorted out for us, as well as breakfast and dinner each day. Every morning, our tour leader would set the expectations for the day: how long we’d be hiking for, how hard the day would be, when there would be toilet stops and where we could stop for food.
Difficulty of the hike:
In terms of the difficulty hike, whilst it wasn’t a walk in the park, anyone with a moderate level of fitness should be able to complete the Tour De Mont Blanc. I didn’t do any specific hiking training beforehand, but I did make sure my cardio fitness was up to a reasonable level, which I feel simply made the hike more enjoyable than anything. In our group, everyone hiked at a different pace, with some of us powering ahead and others taking it slow. We would meet up at different points along the way for snacks and photo stops, which meant we could all go at our own pace without risk of losing the group completely!
During the hike, we stayed in dorm-style accommodation in mountain refuges. Compared to the VERY basic huts we stay in when hiking in New Zealand, I was pleasantly surprised by how nice the refuges were. They were all quaint, clean and well-equipped with proper toilets and hot-water showers. They also all had restaurants attached, where we would all hang out post-hike drinks, dinner and breakfast in the morning. We mainly slept in dorm rooms in bunk beds- which meant earplugs and an eye mask were my saving graces throughout the trip!
My expectation of food whilst hiking has officially been ruined. Anytime I’ve been hiking in the past, dehydrated pasta and protein bars are about as fancy as it gets. Hence, I had very low expectations of the standard of food we would get at the refuges. To say my expectations were exceeded would be an understatement. We were absolutely spoilt with exquisite French, Italian and Swiss food everywhere we went.
Breakfast and dinner were included at every refuge we stayed at. Breakfast was basic but generally included bread and spreads, cereal, yoghurt, coffee and occasionally fruit or pastries, which was enough to fuel us up for a day of hiking. Dinner, on the other hand, was always a phenomenal 3-course meal including soup, main and dessert.
Snacks and lunch were at our own expense along the way. Most people had stocked up on snacks such as nuts and protein bars before the trip- I regretted not thinking ahead and doing the same as snacks were pricey to purchase along the way. For lunch, we would either stop at a refuge to buy a meal, purchase a packed lunch from our accommodation, or grab supplies from the grocery store and have a picnic. Our tour leader gave us these options each day and kept us informed on which refuges were worth buying meals from and which weren’t.
What to pack:
We had to carry all our own gear in a pack for the duration of our 8-day hike. Luckily, we weren’t camping and bedding was provided everywhere we went which kept the weight of our packs down significantly. Check out my guide on what to pack for a hiking trip to see all of my recommendations!
What the hike was actually like:
Our journey began in France’s heart of adventure, the quaint town of Chamonix. On our first evening, we met up with the rest of the group and our tour leader to find out what we were in for over the next 10 days. Chamonix is filled with outdoor shops, so we had the opportunity to grab any last minute gear that we may have forgotten as well as stock up on snacks. After our first meal as a group at a nearby restaurant, we retreated back to our hotel to get some much needed sleep before the beginning of our hike!
After a restful sleep and fuelling up on the expansive breakfast buffet at Hotel Gustavo’s, we hopped on a local bus to Les Houches, then up a cable car to the beginning point of our hike. Today was going to be our longest day of hiking, covering a distance of approximately 20 kilometres. From the moment we set off, it was clear that this was going to be the most picturesque hike I had ever been on! When we weren’t surrounded by panoramic mountains views, we would be trekking through enchanting forests or trailing into quaint little towns.
Our first day of hiking was full of ascents and descents. It was fairly strenuous, but swapping between the inclines and declines made it bearable. After about 8 hours of hiking, a gorgeous little chalet appeared on the horizon, bright red flowers spilling out of wooden window boxes. We had made it to our first refuge, and it was more picture-perfect than I could ever have imagined. From the moment I sat down with a glass of cider and stared out at the sun setting over the mountains, the whole day of hiking suddenly felt worth it. After a deliciously hearty meal of warm soup, crusty baguette lathered with butter, a piece of quiche stuffed with vegetables, multiple serves of creamy potato bake and a slice of apple tartin, I practically rolled into my bunk bed, exhausted, stuffed full and very content.
The next day, I woke to the sight of the sun peeking out over the mountains, the smell of strong coffee and fresh croissants wafting through the air. Today was set to be our most challenging day of hiking as we were tackling the Col Du Bonhomme- 1300 meters of ascent and 900 meters of descent on the cards. Our first four hours were spent climbing the steep incline of the mountain. It was definitely one of the most challenging sections of the hike, but with regular photo and snack stops, the time passed more quickly than expected.
Once we made it to the top of the summit, we feasted on the packed lunch we had picked up from the refuge whilst staring in awe at the valley in front of us. The next two and a half hours was a steep descent, which seemed almost more challenging than the uphill as it took so much concentration! Before we knew it, we had made it to the tiny town of Les Chapieux and were celebrating with a drink from the local bar, before being treated to another lavish 3-course meal and turning in for an early night.
Today, we set off bright and early on our hike to Col de la Seigne, where we would be crossing the border from France into Italy. The hike begin with a 2 hour upward sojourn through sweeping mountain vistas. Once we had crossed into Italy and traded bonjour for bonjourno, we began hiking down to stunning open pastures filled with wildflowers, gushing waterfalls and smiling cows. We stopped at Refugio Elisabetta and felt that now we were in Italy, it would be rude not to order pasta for lunch. I sat eating my spinach and ricotta ravioli, looking over the glorious mountains and valley feeling very content to be in Italy.
After lunch, we hiked a little more before hopping on a bus to the buzzing alpine town of Courmayeur. Within seconds of getting off the bus, our whole group had raced to the nearest gelato shop and we each ordered three well-deserved scoops of creamy goodness. After this, we checked into a kitschy little place called Hotel Cristallo, which felt like a ski lodge that had not been renovated since the 80’s. After sharing dorms the nights before, we were all very happy to discover we would have our own hotel rooms for the next two nights as tomorrow was our official “rest” day.
We decided to counteract all the calories we burned hiking by eating as much Italian food as we could possibly fit in our stomachs. It started with a gigantic pizza from Pizzeria du Tunnel. I don’t know if I was just hungry from hiking, but I swear that the sun dried tomato and goats cheese pizza I devoured there was one of the best I’ve ever had.
After a blissful sleep in, we spent our morning off slowly meandering around the beautiful town of Courmayeur. The main street of the town was filled with an interesting mix of adventure and outdoors stores juxtaposed with very high-end, designers stores. Once we had explored the stores, the rest of the day was spent doing nothing but eating and drinking. It started with a visit to Caffe Del Posta to indulge in an Italian Hot Chocolate, which for the uninitiated, is the thickest, richest hot chocolate you could ever imagine. Originally, our plan was to head to Grand Hotel Courmayeur to use their spa, but when we found out the spa was closed we ended up on their balcony, sipping cocktails and staring out in awe of the surrounding mountains. The rest of the day was spent indulging in everything Italian- focaccia, gelato, aperol spritzes and of course, loads of delicious pasta. The best part was being able to consume it all without the normal guilt- we had four more days of hiking to burn it off!
Our next day of hiking started off with a gentle meander through town and quickly turned into a solid uphill hike through the shady forest. Although I loved hiking through open valleys on the preceding days, the shade was much appreciated, as were the striking views when the trees did clear. At the top, we finally got to lay eyes on the mighty Mont Blanc mastiff!
After a lunch stop on the top of the mountain, we followed along a balcony path and through the forest before making it to Refugio Bonatti. The accommodation had a jaw-dropping view over the Italian Val Ferret… When I walked outside it felt like the mountains were literally on our doorstep. That evening, we played cards until the sun dropped below the horizon, before retreating inside to a feast of the best refuge food of the trip.
I woke up bright and early in order to soak in the sun rising over the Val Ferrett and do some yoga. Our first two hours of hiking were fairly lax- we meandered down a fairly flat path before stopping at a cafe that served incredible espresso. It was all uphill after this- and I don’t mean in the metaphorical sense. We had a very steep hour and a half climb up to Grand Col Ferrett. This was one of the most challenging sections of the hike- both because of the steepness and the fatigue that was setting in from previous days.
As we ascended to the top and crossed into Switzerland, we had planned for a picnic lunch, however a storm was rolling in so we pushed on for another few hours of hiking. Walking in the rain was more punishing than I expected- it suddenly got very cold and I was eternally grateful for my waterproof jacket! It certainly made me appreciate the incredible weather we had had on the previous days. After hiding out in a refuge and finally getting to eat lunch, the rain begun to ease and we walked down another hour and a half town to the little Swiss town of La Fouly. Dinner here was a real highlight- after a rich cauliflower soup, we were served up a whole plate of assorted cooked vegetables and I couldn’t have been happier about it. I went to bed with tired legs and a full stomach- somehow that was a very satisfying combination.
Today begun with an hour long bus ride to the picturesque valley of Champex. It was rather strange to be on a bus after our feet being our key mode of transport for so many days! Our hike begun with a walk through open fields filled with wildflowers, cows and quintessential Swiss chalets. We started our steep ascent for the day through dense forest. Once we came out from the forest, we traversed around an open path before finally making it to a lovely little refuge with a phenomenal view over the valley.
Here, we grabbed a Rosti au Fromage for lunch, which was basically fried shredded potato with Gruyere cheese. It was possibly the most delicious thing I have consumed on a hike and I had zero regrets about the thousands of calories it probably would have contained. We spent the next few hours climbing down to the town of Trieste and arrived in the late afternoon to our accommodation. It was the first evening that my muscles were REALLY starting to feel the hike. Although I was sad that tomorrow was going to be our last day of hiking, I was also really looking forward to the rest!
Our final morning begun with an uphill battle, both physically and mentally. Although my calves were burning more than they had ever burned before, I was determined to give our final ascent everything I had. A few of us managed to power up to the Col de Balme in half the expected time. Although it was deeply painful in the moment, it was deeply satisfying when we reached the peak. It was rather surreal, sitting and eating our picnic lunch, looking out over the magnificent Mont Blanc Mastiff and thinking how far we had come in the past 8 days. Not only with the distance we had covered, but with the memories we had made and the little family our group had formed. Our final descent down the mountain towards Chamonix was bitter sweet- part of me was excited to be back on flat, paved ground, and the other part was devastated that we had reached the end of such an epic hike.
Once I finally made it back to our hotel in Chamonix, threw the pack off my back, took off my well-worn hiking boots and washed every last bit of dirt off my body, I flopped onto the hotel with the strangest feeling. Normally, at the end of a trip, I feel completely drained, both physically and mentally. Although I had been exerting myself for the past eight days, a strange sense of exhilaration coursed through my veins- I felt more ALIVE than I had for weeks.
It is incredible what 8 days spent in nature and disconnecting from the world can do for the soul. This hike has inspired me to make more of my travels centred around getting active in the outdoors, and really has been one of the most enjoyable trips I’ve taken to date.
Does this sound like your kind of trip? G Adventures are currently offering Early Bird Specials for their Europe tours, so if you this article has made you want to trek Mont Blanc, now is the time to book it in!
You can check dates and availability of the Tour Du Mont Blanc for Summer 2019 here.
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