Tour du Mont Blanc


The tour of Mont Blanc (TMB) is one of the world's most iconic walks, and one that we had thought about walking for a few years. It is a circular  walk of 167km, with over 8000m of ascent and descent, taking approximately between 10 and 14days. The route passes through seven valleys around the Mont-Blanc massif, passing through the Countries of France, Italy and Switzerland. On this occasion our daughter Laura walked with us too. We all loved this walk, with its fantastic views, great signage, accommodation all the way and quite a few people to meet. I would really recommend it, however, as it is a tough challenge, one needs to be fairly fit to complete it, together with having experience of mountain weather.

As we went in probably the busiest month- August-we booked all the accommodation ourselves on line in advance. We each carried full packs, with some spare food, and water. We walked in an anticlockwise location- this being the most popular way-starting in Les Houches, France, which is the traditional start and finish point. In reality the walk can basically be done in either direction, and start anywhere, it is up to the individual.

Sunday 14th August

We drove from Manchester where we live to Dover, taking the DFDS sea crossing, good value at £65.00 for the car and 3 passengers sailing to Dunkirk. We stayed at The Hotel Premier Classe, Bethune.

Monday 15th August

We drove for most of the day, before checking into Ibis Budget Sallanches Payus du Mont Blanc. There is a large supermarket nearby.


Day One Tuesday 16th Les Houches, France 1007m to Les Contamines Montjoie, The Gîte Le Pontet 1167m

Distance  12.78 miles (20.5km)

Duration of Walk   9 Hours 30 mins

Average Pace  Min/Mile 44

Steps  49563

Elevation Gained  2175 feet  (663m)

With eager anticipation we were up early, keen to be on our way, with a good weather forecast too. We drove to the start of our walk at Les Houches- which has many shops-for any last minute items. We parked in a large but fairly full car park, it is well signed, saying car park for Mount Blanc. It is free of charge, and has free toilets. We parked there for the whole 10 days, and had no problem. This had been one of our worries before the trip. As we were driving to the South of France later the boot was full of luggage, but all was fine. 

There are two different routes for the first day, the low route and a high route. We decided to take the low route, in order to break us gently into the walk. We started walking at 9.30am. It was a well signposted steep uphill climb, mostly on a road or a track, for about two hours, until we reached Col de Voza 1653m. This is the highest point of today's walk with fantastic views back down to the valley we started in. Alternatively to reach Col de Voza, a narrow gauge train or a cable car can be caught. We wanted to do the whole walk, and not cut corners. There is a very informative notice board.

We continued via Bionnassay past quaint wooden Shepherd huts, complete with beautiful flowers. Then carried on down into the valley, through the forest, arriving in Contamines. This is the last village of any size before Courmayeur 2 days later, with accommodation, restaurants, 3 shops, where we bought provisions for the next day, a tourist office with WIFI and the weather forecast posted outside. We could have booked to stay here, but looking at the distances for each stage thought it best to continue. It started to rain as we headed along the valley floor another 2 km or 40 minutes  to our lodging for that night, The Gîte le Pontet les Contamines Montique, located at camping le Pontet. The campsite is fairly large and signposted off the path. The Gîte consists of various dormitories with about 15 people in each. Facilities were good and clean. We ate pizza €8 each from a take away van, which fortunately had parked up outside the small bar. Lights out at 9pm.


Day Two Wednesday 17  The Gîte le Pontet 1167m  to Les Chapieux,  Refuge de la Nova 1554m

Distance  10.19 miles (16.40km)

Duration of Walk 9 Hours 8 mins

Average Pace  Min/Mile 53.

Steps  45421

Elevation Gained  4326 feet  (1318m)

We were up later than most walkers not leaving until 7.45am, a bit late for the 1300m climb today. We followed the old roman road along the valley floor, passing the beautiful pilgrim chapel of Notre Dame, built in1699. We stopped at 9am for breakfast, at Refuge de Nant Borrant, the last place for food before the col. A steep walk now begins, then enters a beautiful valley, before heading up the very steep valley wall. It made me realise this walk was going to be harder than I had originally thought, especially when carrying packs.

We continued steeply up to Col Bonhomme 2329m where the views were superb and well worth the long walk. There is a large cairn bedecked with prayer flags blowing in the wind, giving it a Himalayan feel, and a small shelter. We ensured that we took the correct path by bearing left along the saddle, the path rising once more, followed by a relentless descent of approx 900m. We got hit by a massive hail storm on the way down, the path turning into a huge stream, with nowhere to shelter. Given the poor weather we were very pleased that we had taken this route instead of the high level alternative. After 9 hours of walking, we were delighted to arrive at our destination of The Refuge de la Nova 1554m, on a bend of the Vallee des Glaciers, an isolated spot about 18km from the nearest town. Laura, our daughter had made friends with fellow young people, and  had skipped on ahead, arriving at the Refuge before the hail. We had booked half board and, following showers, ate a delicious 4 course meal of vegetable soup, beef and potatoes, cheese, and dessert, sitting with 3 French runners. Unfortunately this did cause a few communication problems, foreign language skills not being at the top of the list of our accomplishments.  We ordered a sandwich from the refuge shop for the following day's lunch.

We were sharing a very small room with 4 sets of bunk beds in, with an en-suite bathroom. Unfortunately the French people we were sharing with were running round Mont Blanc in 3 days, and apologised for not bringing any spare clothes. The room stank, and we had to sleep with the window open. The refuge being in an isolated spot, had no  WIFI available, but fortunately for us did have a big drying room, essential for our very wet kit and boots.


Day Three Thursday18  Refuge de la Nova1554m to Cabane de Combal, Lac de Combal Italy 1968m

Distance  11.18 miles (18km)

Duration of Walk 7Hours 30 mins

Average Pace  Min/Mile 40

Steps  40400

Elevation Gained  3465 feet (1056m)

We were up earlier today at 6.30am, and retrieved our clothes from the drying room. It was a challenge to pack our bags as the room was so crowded, and resorted to using the shower room. We ate a delicious breakfast of muesli, bread, coffee, and orange juice. We followed the gradual climb along the road, up the valley passing Refuge des Mottets. We walked up the steep zigzag path, 750m of ascent to the col with Laura and a new friend Will from New Zealand. It was very cold and raining, and we gave Will some spare kit. Will was saving money by trying to camp on this trip, however after a couple of days the problem with this became apparent as some of the campsites are situated in the valley, which is not necessarily where one ends up at the end of the day.

After 3.5 hours of walking we arrived at Col de La Seigne 2516m, which marks the border between France and Italy, we should have had fantastic views, but thanks to the inclement weather did not. Ten minutes later is La Casermetta, the old customs post which has been made into a museum. It was packed with walkers trying to escape the rain. We sat on a bench outside, but out of the rain to eat our sandwich.  Continuing, we made a ten minute detour calling in at Refugio Elisabetta  for a hot drink, then another hour along a road to Lac du Combal. At the end of the lake, now in sunshine, we crossed a bridge to Cabane de Combal 1968m. Here we had the best room of our trip, a brand new large room for 3, with en-suite. From here we went on a small walk up to a nearby Lac du Miage, with fantastic scenery all around. relishing how much nicer it is to walk without a pack on.

Dinner was served at 7pm, with walkers sitting together at long tables, a great way to get to know people. We met a family of 5 from Israel, who recommended a long distance walk there, always a plan. We ate delicious soup, chicken and dessert, bed by 9pm.


Day Four Friday 19 Cabane de Combal 1968m via Courmayeur to Refugio Bertone 2000m

Distance  miles 16.5 km

Duration of Walk 9 Hours17 mins

Average Pace  Min/Mile 0

Steps  41432

Elevation Gained  3610feet  (1100m)

Following a breakfast of bread, biscuits, and coffee, we left at 7.30am. It was a beautiful climb up through a pine forest past a couple of ruins, before following the side of the valley, spotting marmots along the way to a high point so far of 2430m. This section of the walk contains some of the best views of the southern face of Mont Blonc. We called into Refuge Maison Vieille 1956m for coffee and croissants, surrounded by ski lifts, overlooking the ski resort of Courmayeur. Unfortunately the landscape then changes, maybe  it would look better covered in snow, instead of barren ski runs. Part of the path was loose underfoot, probably caused by too much erosion.

Walking downhill, we were alerted to the shouts of someone in distress. It turned out a lady and her dog were stuck on a precarious stony slope. Dave removed his rucksack and climbed down to rescue the lady and her dog. It transpired that the lady had been trying to rescue the dog, and got stuck. It all ended well, Dave just getting a few scratches from the undergrowth. We continued down the dusty 4WD track, such a contrast to the beautiful scenery of the previous 3 days.

On arrival in Courmayeur 1,224m we quickly visited the library to pick up some WIFI. We had not realised that as it was lunchtime most shops and bars were closed, and not re-opening until 3.30pm. Fortunately a pizza take-out restaurant was open, whilst eating we met up with Laura and Will again. It was a shame the shops were closed as we would have re-stocked our food supplies. Some guide books suggest taking a rest day in Courmayeur.

We followed the road out of town, but now one of the steepest climbs on the tour starts, with many zigzags through the forest. The high temperature did not help either. It was a hot steep walk of 800m up through the trees, taking 2.5 hours to reach Refugio Bertone 2000m, named after a famous Italian climber. Once we arrived the views were tremendous up and down the valley-well worth the climb. Laura had gone on ahead, and not for the first time on this trip was wondering where we were, and thought of returning, to see if I needed my bag carried. A very kind offer I always turned down, determined to complete the walk and carry the bag myself.

We had a lovely room for 2, and a shared bathroom. Laura was in a dorm. We ate dinner  with 3 very entertaining Germans, who were taking one week each year over 13 years to walk the GR5 from Lake Geneva to Nice. Another interesting idea. Dinner was pasta, beef stew, and dessert and red wine, delicious.

Day Five Saturday 20 Refugio Bertone 2000m to Gite Alpage de La Peula 2100m Switzerland

Distance  15.85 miles (25.5km)

Duration of Walk 9 Hours 20 mins

Average Pace  Min/Mile 35

Steps  52116

Elevation Gained 3445 feet  (1050m)

Following a breakfast of bread and coffee, we collected the packed lunch we had ordered the night before, leaving at 7.30am. €7 for a lunch of ham sandwich, apple, juice, and biscuits. A bad weather forecast was given, so we had our waterproofs ready. It was actually a mixed day, and not as bad as it could have been. Our only problem was clouds that obscured the view in many places.

We followed the obvious path, contouring along the side of the valley for 2 hours. Then we arrived at Refuge Bonetti 2025m - named after another famous Italian climber, ordering coffee €2 each, and drying out. Make sure you drop in here, and read the detailed poster boards regarding one of the world's great climbers.

We continued down the steep path, through vegetation, crossing 3 small streams, to the valley. Before passing La Vachey 1642m and crossing a bridge, followed by a steady walk, then climbed up the valley to Refugio Elena 2062m, and ate our lunch. This is a new refuge, the previous one having been swept away by an avalanche. It has a great terrace and with good weather we would have had stupendous views over the glacier, apparently it attracts hordes of visitors in the summer. We bumped into Will again, who had caught the bus part of the way, maybe carrying his tent was not the best plan!  Sadly leaving the warmth of the fire, we walked 475m to the col, up endless zigzags. We were wet and tired, I always find the best thing at points like this is just put on head phones, music on, head down and keep going.

Col de Ferret 2537m was definitely worth the 1.5 hour walk though, with immense views back down the massive glaciated valley, where we had come from, with just wispy clouds blowing across. It is marked by a cairn topped with an orientation table. This marks the border between Italy and Switzerland. I found it exciting to cross borders without any passport being shown.

We walked down the easy path to Gite Alpage de La Peule 2071m refuge, part of a working dairy farm-a novel experience for me. All boots were left in a yurt, so it is  imperative to have other footwear to put on, and handy!!. We were staying in a converted barn, the clean showers and toilets were accessed via the outside -scary in the pitch dark, when only the sounds of animals can be heard. Laura again had arrived before us.

Dinner at 6pm, with other walkers. Salad with cheese, toast with cheese and ham, cheese, fruit salad, delicious. As we were staying on a dairy farm, a copious amount of scrumptious cheese was presented.

Day Six Sunday 21  Gite Alpage de La Peula 2100m to Gite Bon Abri Champex-d'en Haut 1444m

Distance  15.08 miles (24.2km)

Duration of Walk 9 Hours

Average Pace  Min/Mile 35

Steps  49971

Elevation Gained  2000 feet (609m)

As we were in a dormitory, we were up like everyone else at 6.30am, then had a delicious breakfast of bread, coffee, cornflakes and yogurt. I was looking forward to Switzerland, as previously I had only visited Geneva for the day. It did not disappoint.

From the farm we followed the wide track down to the valley floor, crossing the river, passing the pretty hamlets of Ferret, La Neuve, before arriving 2 hours later at the ski resort of La Fouly. As it was Sunday we were lucky to find a supermarket open,  again stocking up on provisions. Today is a relatively easy walk following the west side of a beautiful river valley, passing pretty villages. Each country we visited is different. We could only be in Switzerland, with beautiful villages, window boxes full of flowers, log piles under the eaves, flower meadows, and cow bells clanging. Val Ferret is apparently one of the most idyllic of Swiss valleys, untouched by modern technology.

After Issert at 1055m there is an ascent of 400m, 1.5 hours through the trees to Champex. Watch out for the numerous wood carvings on the way up through the forest. After a relatively easy day, this uphill comes as a shock. Issert was the lowest point since the walk commenced in Les Houches. Champex is a real tourist hot spot, strange after days in remote parts. There are hotels, restaurants, and boats on the Lake. We stopped, treating ourselves to ice creams by the Lake. It was a shame that we were not staying here. But, onwards we continued for another 30 minutes.

Finally arriving at Champex-d'en Haut, it was a different experience for us-all rucksacks and boots were left on a rack in the porch-then only necessities can be taken to the rooms. A good idea once we saw our extremely small room, this time with 3 sets of bunk beds in. The rucksacks would not have fitted in. Fortunately when we pack, we always put things in waterproof stuff bags, ideal on this occasion. We had showers, then taking advantage of the lovely sunny day washed our clothes, putting them in the garden to dry-unfortunately still wet later.

We ate dinner with some more entertaining Germans, who were cycling the TMB, going the opposite way to us. Dinner was not that good with lettuce, chilli with rice and bread, and custard.


Day Seven  Monday 22 Gite Bon Abri Champex-d'en haut  1434m to Chalets de Charamillon 1850m France

Distance  12.83 miles (20.5km)

Duration of Walk 7 Hours  41 mins

Average Pace  36 Min/Mile

Steps  42711

Elevation Gained   5035 feet (1535m)

Fortunately breakfast was better than dinner, with muesli, bread and coffee. It was a beautiful sunny day. We walked up through the pine and larch forests to Alp Bovine farm 1987m, stopping for a snack. But when leaving, the whole path was blocked by a herd of cows-not my favourite things, and rather scary. Continuing, eventually the trees clear, and we were treated to fantastic views through the Rhone valley to Lake Geneva.

Arriving in the shop /small cafe on the main road in Forclaz1527m, we found as we were still in Switzerland it was rather expensive, and we made a very amateur mistake of not purchasing anything. A mistake indeed as when we got to Trient1279m everywhere was shut. Then taking the path from le Peuty we walked 2.5 hours up mostly through forest, then above the tree line. This is one of the steepest and longest ascents of the TMB, similar to leaving Courmayeur. Laura again was waiting for us at the Col de Balme 2191m, the border of Switzerland and France. Mont Blanc is seen for the first time since Refugio Bonatti.

It is at this point that the circle is nearing completion and the end of the walk comes into view. However, the only accommodation that we had managed to book was off the main path, on a variant . Our path leading south/straight on here, rather than the main path to the right. This is also a wet weather route.

We arrived at Chalets de Charamillon1850m, from here there is a chair lift to link with the ski lifts in Chamonix. The views down the Chamonix valley to Mont Blanc, the Aiguilles Rouges and the final days of our walk are sublime. It had been a long hot afternoon, we sat out on deckchairs, relaxing, next to our boots and managed to dry our clothes still wet from the previous days' washing.

We had a nice room for three, again the shower block was in a different building but nice. We ate the most delicious meal of the trip, with soup, chicken, and apple tart, and ordered picnics for the next day. The past few days of walking had been very quiet on the path, perhaps walkers were just staying at different locations from us, not many people were coming the other way, except for a couple of cyclists.  

Day Eight Tuesday 23 Chalets de Charamillon 1850m France to Refuge de la Flegere 1877m

Distance  6.73 miles (10.8km)

Duration of Walk   6 Hours 19 mins

Average Pace  56 Min/Mile

Steps  31113

Elevation Gained   2507 feet  (762m)

Following a great breakfast we walked downhill to Le Tour, and Montroc, subsequently becoming slightly lost, then arriving by some beautiful houses in Tre Le Champ. After an easy start to the day, the hard work starts once more, climbing to the Grand Balcon Sud. Ibex, Chamois, and vultures can all be spotted, so keep a good lookout . On this route ladder sections bolted into precipitous rock are used to negotiate a band of cliffs and cannot be avoided, so if suffering from vertigo choose a different route. The longest ladder is 30m up a sheer rock face, and is very exposed in places, rungs, platforms and timber steps are also used. The ladders should be safe, but beware of others climbing above, who may accidently dislodge stones. If you think the ladders are scary, look out for very brave rock climbers on the Aiguillette d'Argentiere needles.

After the needles, the path splits at Tete aux Vents2132m with a large cairn. We took the lower route Grand Balcon Sud, one of the most famous and popular routes in the Alps. There are spectacular ever-changing views over to Mont Blanc-with its glaciers, shattered rocks, snow domes and icy pinnacles. It took 1.5 hours to Refuge de la Flegere 1877m. Laura unfortunately began to have problems with her knee.

At dinner again we sat making new friends, whilst eating pasta with tuna and tomato, potatoes with cheese, and apple tart. We ordered sandwiches for the next day. We slept in a large full dormitory. After dinner, for a change we sat outside with fellow hikers, with views down to the valley watching the lights in Chamonix gradually coming on. Straight across is the massive of Mont Blanc, with its ribbons of glaciers, looking ominous as it gradually got dark.

The refuge is at the top of a chairlift, and has subsequently been closed for a season whilst the chair lift was fixed. This caused many problems for hikers, with decisions to be made of alternative accommodation. Otherwise the walk can be ended here, by catching the chairlift, if open,  straight down to Chamonix.

Day Nine Wednesday 24  Refuge de la Flegere 1877m to Les Houches 1000m

Distance  10.5 miles (17km)

Duration of Walk 10 Hours

Steps  45161

Elevation Gained  255 feet (772m)

Descent  5072 feet (1546m)

We were up early at 6.15am for the last day, which is one of the best on the whole Tour, leaving at 7am as it would be a long day. The path is easy to follow and well signed, through a glacial bowl, crossing various ski slopes.

Laura spent the first couple of hours with us, then unfortunately the bad knee got too much to continue along the main path. She bravely walked down to Chamonix then along the valley to Les Houches arriving there 2 hours before us-still achieving the Tour of Mont Blanc- just by a different route.

After 2 hours of walking we could see the ski station and cafe at Plan Praz 2000m, just below our path. We carried on following the path upwards to Col De Brevent 2560m. The views of Mont Blanc get even better all the way-see if you can spot tiny specks on the snow- mountaineers nearing the top. Continuing  we entered a small corrie, with fairly difficult ladder sections. We were able to help a new friend met the previous night, on the ladders with all his cameras. The larger pack, makes the ladders harder, as it feels like the rucksack is pulling you backwards. We were happy in the knowledge that this was the final uphill on the walk.   

Eventually at 12pm we reached Le Brevent 2525m, this was recognised in the 18th Century as being an unrivalled point from which to study Mont Blanc, and has an amazing aerial view of Chamonix, lying almost 1500 vertical metres below. Le Brevent 2525m is topped with ski lifts, map boards, a cafe where we ate lunch and a 360degree viewing platform. Interestingly, the G5 crosses the TMB at this point, the path that the German party that we had met in Italy the previous week were taking. The cable car can be taken down from either Plan Praz, or Le Brevent if you don't relish the long walk down. But it would be such a shame to miss out on the final section.

After the col is the longest downhill of the whole trip, on a good if steep path, with some zigzag sections, eventually winding down through the trees. Continuing past Merlot Animal Park, we arrived at a 70 year old 17m high Christ Roi statue.

At last crossing the railway and the river we walked back along the road through Les Houches to the car park on the far side of the town. We met up with Laura who had been waiting and went for a well deserved lager, coffee and cake, celebrating the end of one of the world's classic walks.

It was a fantastic long walk, with incredible views to Mont Blanc, known as the monarch of the Alps, arriving back at our car at 5pm.

We were delighted to have completed the walk, some stretches especially uphill had been harder than I imagined they would be, but the views are unbeaten particularly on the penultimate day. The accommodation was of a varying standard, but always clean, again food was mostly fine, considering the remote locations we were in. We met some fabulous people from all over the world. We were now looking forward to spending a week relaxing on the beach in the South of France.

We would really recommend this walk, and hopefully will return to complete it ourselves once more. We hope that you have enjoyed reading this quick report, and wish you safe happy travels.