Planning for the Tour du Mont Blanc

Mont Blanc, as viewed from just below Rifugio Bertone

Mont Blanc, as viewed from just below Rifugio Bertone

I first learned of the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) a couple of years ago.  My husband Derek and I had decided to make extended hiking a core part of our annual vacation, and I was looking into well-known walks around the world.  I stumbled upon a Wall Street Journal article that was enticing, if daunting.

After some additional research, Derek’s curiosity was officially piqued.  As we began planning our 2014 vacation, he was insistent that we do the Tour.  I still wasn’t convinced.  With only two weeks to travel, I wasn’t so keen on spending the vast majority of it tromping through the mountains.  When I agreed to do more hiking on our trips, I was thinking of three to four days – not 10!  Of course, he knows where my weaknesses lie, and when he floated the idea of spending a couple of days in Paris (my favorite city) on the front end of the trip, I was in.

But how do you begin to plan for a 100-mile hike with multiple locations from which you can begin, various distances you can walk each day and a broad selection of overnight accommodations from which to choose?  Despite the TMB’s popularity, I found clear and informative recommendations for planning the trip surprisingly difficult to find.

One popular site hosted by a TMB veteran provides helpful information on equipment and recommendations for traveling to the area, among other issues, but I found essential matters – such as a suggestion of point-to-point hiking for each day and accommodation recommendations – to be overwhelming or non-existent.  For my purposes, I found two sites to be most helpful and they served as the basis for planning our itinerary.

The first is a seemingly “official” TMB site run by an association of refuge caretakers.  Specifically, I found the “Create Your Route” feature to be useful.  This tool allows you to enter your departure location, date and the direction you’re hiking (the TMB can be approached in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction, with counter-clockwise being the traditional route) before directing you to an interactive map that provides approximate hiking times between points with accommodation options along the way, many of which can be reserved directly on the site.

The second resource I most utilized was Dave and Brenda’s blog chronicling their second journey on the TMB.  While we did not follow their itinerary completely, I referred to it enough in planning our own trip that a joke soon emerged between Derek and me when discussing various legs of the hike.  “Well, Dave and Brenda said that section was pretty tough.” “Dave and Brenda didn’t stay here.” “What did Dave and Brenda say about that?”

Finally, while I didn’t actually purchase the book in time for planning our route, the Kev Reynolds Cicerone Guide is absolutely essential for the hike.  Our itinerary did not directly reflect the one outlined in the book (and, in fact, I would advise against following his recommendations for some portions – more to come on that), and we didn’t really reference the guide for directions – the path is very well waymarked.  Instead, it provides an idea of what to expect each day and includes landmarks and other notes to help orient hikers along each leg.

While it may seem like there is an abundance of resources available for planning a TMB trip, I spent a significant amount of time culling small details from multiple sources and seeking out an elusive all-encompassing guide.  While I am grateful to the resources I most utilized (I don’t know how I could have done it without Dave and Brenda!), I believe the knowledge gained from my own journey could be helpful to others planning a similar trip.

I encourage you to review my TMB-related posts for detailed suggestions on planning your trip, as well as a recap of my journey.  If you have any questions or would like more information on any topic, please just ask!

Advertisements

39 thoughts on “Planning for the Tour du Mont Blanc

  1. Hey!
    My wife and I are doing some research and prepping for a trip to the TMB in late June of this year. Just curious if we should reserve our beds at huts ahead of time or can walk in at the end of the day. Any thoughts from your trip?
    Thanks!

    • Hi, Doug! Thanks for your interest. I briefly touch on this in the “Creating Your TMB Itinerary” post here: https://soylatteandcabernet.wordpress.com/2014/10/21/creating-your-tmb-itinerary/
      We did the hike in September at the end of the season and none of the refuges we stayed in were full. We pre-booked our stays for the entire trip, but we met several people along the way who hiked as far as they wished each day and then walked into the closest refuge. That’s a luxury of hiking off-season, and one you could likely take advantage of, as well, since the busy season doesn’t really kick-off until July. Having not hiked at that time of year myself, of course, I couldn’t swear to it, but that’s my assumption. I would recommend checking the opening dates of refuges you’re interested in to make sure they’ll be open. We had an unfortunate experience when we decided to hike further than planned one day, only to find the refuge we came to was already shutdown for the year.
      Hope this helps and good luck with your planning!

  2. Hi. Thanks for all the helpful advice. I’m in the process of planning my TMB trip with my girlfriend this June.

    I am planning on proposing to my girlfriend sometime during the trip. I was hoping you could recommend a good spot or area to do it. I’m hoping to do it at sunrise, hopefully over looking an amazing vista. I’d appreciate any suggestions. Thanks.

    I just realized you’re the first person I told that I’m going to do this.

    • Hi, John – Wow, I am honored to be in possession of this knowledge! What an amazing place to propose. I have no doubt it will be memorable regardless of the location, but I can recommend two spots. Both are mentioned with photographs in the following two posts: https://soylatteandcabernet.wordpress.com/2014/10/21/day-4-rifugio-elisabetta-to-rifugio-maison-vieille/ and https://soylatteandcabernet.wordpress.com/2014/10/21/day-6-courmayeur-to-rifugio-bonatti/. The first is the section between Rifugio Elisabetta and Rifugio Maison Vieille/Courmayeur. When you depart the refuge, you walk thru the valley before an ascent that ultimately opens to an amazing vista of Mont Blanc. There’s a stone building that is not shown in my photos. (I can email you photos separately showing the building, if you like, as I can’t figure out how to post them here.) The second option I would recommend is on the stretch between Courmayeur and Rifugio Bertone. You climb thru forest out of Courmayeur before emerging to another incredible view of Mont Blanc, just below the refuge. I’m not sure you could get to either of these before sunrise, but they would provide dramatic backdrops, whatever you decide. Best of luck!

  3. Hi – thanks for your wonderful account of your trip. A couple of questions – did you go early, mid, or late September? We plan to go probably in early September and are wondering if that is still a busy time or less crowded as you experienced. And, on the first day from Les Houches to Les Contamines, did you consider doing the more arduous alternative via Bionnassay or have you talked to anyone about that? Sounds fabulous but a killer for day one, followed by a tough day two??? Just curious. Thanks, Amy

    • Hi, Amy!

      We went basically right in the middle of the month. We were on the hike from September 10 – 19. I can’t speak as to what it may be like in the week or two before, but I can tell you that we were at the tail end of the season. Some refuges were already closed when we were there.

      Regarding the Day 1 alternative, I’m familiar with it, but we didn’t consider doing it. As I recall, it’s a pretty steep route, and being as it was the first day and we had no idea what to expect, we decided to skip it. I believe a couple of the single guys we met along the way took it and said it was great, but they were pretty extreme hikers. That said, none of the TMB is technical, so I have no doubt you could do it!

  4. Hi, again! Another question. Maybe you mentioned this in your blog which I’ve read several times, but I may have missed it. What was your average daily food and lodging cost while on the TMB? We’re trying to compare the price difference between doing it totally on our own versus a self-guided tour through company where your food and lodging is covered (for the most part; some dinners not included) and you are given detailed maps. I’m also going to look at some of the hotels/rifugios to get current prices but thought I’d ask. Thanks! Amy

    • Hi, Amy –
      I can’t give you an average, but below are our costs from some of the refuges. Unless otherwise noted, these costs are for two people in dorm lodging and include half-board, which covers dinner and breakfast. We bought bread/meat/cheese to take with us for lunches on most days and ate in villages along the way on others.

      Hope this helps!

      Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme – 96.20 euros
      Au Club-Alpin – 138.00 Swiss francs
      Auberge Mont Blanc – 136.00 Swiss francs
      Rifugio Bonatti – 91.00 euros
      Auberge Le Beau Site – 80.00 euros (private room, no meals)
      Rifugio Elisabetta – 88.00 euros
      Gite de la Lechere – 116 Swiss francs
      Rifugio Maison Vieille – 90.00 euros
      Hotel Berthod – 99.00 euros (private room, only breakfast included)

  5. Thanks for the terrific blog. I agree, it is not easy to find good resources so your website (plus Dave and Brenda’s and a few others) was really helpful. My wife and I are heading to the TMB this Sunday. I have a couple of last minute questions, forgive me if I missed the answers but I did read all your posts (and both of Dave and Brenda’s trip blogs, haha).

    Did you feel the need to lock up your backpacks if you went into a town or village? In other words, did you feel that is was safe to leave items at the refuge without a security restraint? (I am not referring to passport or money, just gear and such).

    Did you ever feel like you needed to use a map and compass? I don’t have much skill in that regard. I am thinking the Cicerone book plus an iPhone GPS should work. Along with that, do you recall if you had cell connection most of the time?

    Thanks again for the blog and taking time for my questions,

    Todd

    • Hi, Todd! Thank you! You guys will have an incredible time!

      We didn’t have any concern regarding our belongings. We found, as I’m sure you will, that most people were just like us – everyone is very friendly and it’s a communal environment. If you’re staying in the dormitories, there are always people coming in and out, so it would take a bold person to go through other people’s baggage for anyone to see. And if you’re in a private room, you will have a key.

      We didn’t have – nor would we have been able to correctly use! – a compass or detailed map. You really don’t even need your phone, and depending on the map feature you use, I’m not sure how much help it would even be. The entire route is really very well marked. We read each section of the Cicerone guide and relied on it for an overall view of the upcoming segments, and sometimes checked it along the way for reference points, but you would be fine going on the route markers alone.

      I didn’t even take my phone with me, but my husband did. I don’t recall if he had cell coverage, but most, if not all, of the refuges have wifi.

      Hope this helps! Let me know if you have any more questions and I hope you have a fantastic time!

  6. Hello,
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog as my husband and I are planning on doing this hike next summer.

    How did you book your accommodations? Did you book them yourself through the huts’ websites, did you call them, or did you have help? I read in one of your posts that the lady at one of the refuges was not satisfied with your email confirmation and this is what I’m worried about.

    Thanks very much for your help. I’m sure you have alleviated some fear for many people doing this trek!

    Para

    • Hi, Para!

      Thanks for your kind words and for stopping by!

      I booked all of the accommodations myself, via web or email. I used the site linked above (the “official” TMB refuge site) to book as many of the places as possible. For the others, I utilized their individual websites to book online or send an email. (I have linked all of the places we stayed on the “Creating Your TMB Itinerary” page.) It was much easier than I anticipated, and I didn’t have any problems communicating with or confirming details via email. The Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme did require calling to confirm the reservation two or three days in advance, but that went smoothly, as well.

      As far as the owner of Gite de la Lechere, I would consider that a one-off occurrence and not indicative of the experience of booking directly with the refuges. As I recall, she and I exchanged a couple of short emails after she confirmed with me that room was available, and she seemed miffed that I didn’t show “final” confirmation from those later emails. Again, though, I wouldn’t let this discourage you.

      I hope this helps, and please let me know if you have any further questions. Good luck with your planning!

  7. Two quick questions and thanks for the great blog. 1. I’d like to stay at Le Miage on night one, so as to shorten the day a bit…but then day 2 just becomes sooo long if I hope to get to Les Contamines. Any suggestions? 2. If i want to stay at Maison Vielle, i need to go to Courmeyer and then take a chairlift to the rifugio? Is that correct? How late does the chairlift run?

    • Hi there!

      Regarding your first question, I’m assuming you mean that Day 2 would become very long if you proceed from Refuge de Miage to Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme…? (Le Contamines is the typical Day 1 stop.) If that’s the case, you might consider breaking up the trip so that you don’t stay at Croix du Bonhomme at all. For example, from de Miage, you could consider hiking to Refuge de Nant Borrant or Refuge de la Balme and from there proceeding to Refuge des Mottets and then on to Maison Vieille/Courymayeur.

      Regarding your second question, Maison Vieille is above Courmayeur and is reached on the TMB before the trail descends into the town. So, if you wanted to stay at Maison Vieille, you would not go into Courmayeur until after the stay when you were proceeding on the hike.

      Hope this helps and have a great trip!

      • Ooops…I goofed. it was Les Chapieux I was trying to get to on day 2. If I stop at le Miage, it shortens day 1 and I love staying at the mountain rifugios…but then it makes day 2 (which already sounds like an effort) almost a 10 hour day. Also, somehow I have been using my son’s account so is it possible for you to reply to me at ? I’m going to try and set that address up now. If yu can’t, just email to elizabethandmatt and they will forward it to me… Thanks so much.

      • OK, I see; however, I’m afraid I don’t have any suggestions different from the previous. You could bypass Lex Chapieux altogether or essentially add another day to the trip – staying at Nant Borrant or La Balme on Day 2 and proceeding to Les Chapieux on Day 3. Personally, I would not attempt to hike from Miage to Les Chapieux in one day. We began that day in Les Contamines (further along the trail than Miage) and ended at Croix du Bonhomme (on the trail before Les Chapieux), and it was a killer.
        I don’t believe I can email from my WordPress account (or I don’t know how to), but you can find this response directly on the blog.:) Also, I have taken the liberty of removing your email address from the comment so that it does not show up on the site.
        Good luck!

  8. Hi! My TMB trip is set for Sept 7 – 15. thanks for the posts! i have an aggressive itinerary for 7 1/2 days of hiking. i was interested in your youtube video channel, but found it empty (!?) any ideas?

    • Yikes! Thanks for letting me know. I’m trying to figure it out since all of the videos are still there and I can see them when logged into my account. Try it now, but if they still don’t show, I have a link to each video within the daily recap posts and those links seem to be working fine. I know that isn’t as convenient, but hopefully it works. Thanks for reading/watching, and have a great trip!

  9. Hi! Thanks for the great blog. I am having difficulty in deciding if my husband and I should do a self guided hike or go with a tour company like G adventures. We have plenty of North American hiking experience but zero experience with European travel let alone alpine hiking. I would like to simply be able to take in the hike without worrying about a lot of other people. This will be a 25th anniversary trip so I really want it to go well. Did you find any good resources which helped you decide on doing the self guided hike? Any tour groups you heard of on the hike that gave you a good impression?
    Thanks for any opinions/info you can provide.

    • Hi there and thanks for stopping by. I’m afraid I can’t be of much help. We never considered hiking with a group, so it isn’t something that I looked into. We did come across a few tour groups along our way, but we didn’t meet/interact with anyone participating in them, so unfortunately, I can’t recommend a group that people seemed to enjoy.
      For what it’s worth, I will note that the hike seems far more daunting before you go (wondering how you’ll find your way, what the trail will be like, etc.) than it is when you get there. It is very well waymarked throughout the trek and there are no technical aspects to the hike. Of course, I completely understand that everyone has their own comfort level and preferences when it comes to travel. Just one more thing. You mention not wanting to worry about a lot of other people. I’m not sure exactly what you mean by this, but if you do go with a tour company, I believe you’ll be departing/hiking/eating/etc. together throughout the trip. Perhaps I am wrong and the companies offer more flexibility with regard to the day-to-day routine, but it may be something to check into as you consider groups, particularly if you and your husband would like some alone time and/or prefer to go at your own pace.
      I’m sorry that I can’t offer more on this topic, but please do let me know if I can answer any other questions.

  10. Hi there! My husband and I are considering the TMB in August of this year. We are thinking of bringing our 12 and 14 year old (almost 13 and 15 at that time of year) with us. What are your thoughts on that? We are a very active family, but I am concerned they will be “bored” with scenery after a couple of days. Also, in trying to keep the trip budget friendly, we plan to camp at least a few of the nights. We would also like to add on about 8-10 days before or after the hike. Do you have any suggestions? Any help is appreciated. Thanks!

    • Hi, Heidi, and thanks for stopping by! I’m afraid I can’t offer much advice regarding your first question, as I don’t have children and wouldn’t presume to weigh in on what may or may not be appropriate for your family. That said, it’s important to note that hiking the TMB consists of doing the same thing, every day, for 10 – 12 days – rising early, hiking 6 – 8 hours, having dinner and going to bed. You do pass thru several villages/towns along the way, but they don’t offer much in the way of “entertainment.” So, if you’re worried about your children getting bored, this may be something to consider. Also, I don’t recall seeing any children during our time on the hike. We were there at the end of the season, in mid-September, when many families have likely concluded summer vacations and are returning to school, so I’m sure that was a factor. I only mention it because if having others their age to engage with during the evenings is a concern, the opportunities may be limited.

      There are lots of great options for excursions nearby before or after the hike! We did a couple of days in Paris and Lyon before the TMB and Geneva afterward. Annecy is close and is another area we considered. I have also heard great things about the little towns that surround Lake Geneva. Depending on where you’re flying in/out of, with 8 – 10 days, you could easily go down into Italy, as well.

      Whatever you decide, I’m sure you’ll have a great time, and if you decide to do the TMB, I hope you find my experience useful in planning your trip.

  11. Hello

    Planning to tackle the TMB in 2018
    In Charmonix do you believe, their are companies whom rent out sleeping bags and tents?

    Don’t want to drag extra gear to Europe
    Planning on visiting other countries after the TMB
    Coming in from Asia with 2 teenagers

    Cheers
    Mark

    • Hi, Mark – I wish I could offer more help, but we stayed in refuges the entire time, which provide sleeping bags, so this isn’t something I had to look into. I have rented gear for hikes in other countries, so it would certainly seem like there should be a shop facilitating this, but unfortunately, I can’t offer anything more. Best of luck!

  12. Hi! I am inspired of your lovely tour du mont blanc post and I have been searching to join alone. I don’t have any hurry so I am planning to finish in 11 days so I believe I will be able to see many natural beauties. One question though, I would like to stay one more day in one specific stage just for lying on the meadows or in a nice hut to watch the beautiful landscape. In your opinion, in which stage you would stop one more day for resting and enjoying the environment? Thank you in advance!

    • Hello! We found the most beautiful stretches of the route to be in Italy, between Rifugio Elisabetta and Rifugio Bonatti. In my opinion, staying an extra day anywhere along this portion would be time well spent. Champex Lac is also quite lovely. Hope this helps!

  13. Hi! Love your blog, thanks! My cousin and I (two females, age 60) are planning to walk the MINI TMB via the Enlightened Traveller self-guided tour, which takes about 7 days. Wondering if anyone has experience with this company or trail?
    Will there be snow on the trail in July/August? I am concerned about our safety after reading about numerous accidental deaths on Mt Blanc (some sources report 100 deaths a year…)
    Thanks and happy trails!
    Ann

    • Thanks, Ann! I’m afraid I can’t offer any insight regarding the company. Regarding the condition of the trail, whether there will be snow, I believe that changes year-to-year depending on the previous winter’s snowfall. When we hiked in September, we only encountered one patch of snow, and that was at the highest point along the trail. Regarding safety, while I can’t say for sure since I haven’t seen the same reports you have, I would imagine the deaths on Mount Blanc are related to those climbing the actual summit – not circumventing its base. There is no part of the trail we hiked that I would consider to be dangerous.
      Hope this helps and have a wonderful trip!

      • Thank you for your thoughts! I look forward to the challenge! All the best, Ann

  14. Hi – I am enjoying your blog. I will be traveling this year beginning the complete TMB hike on June 15 and taking 10-11 days to complete. I really want the flexibility of hiking each day without the restriction of trying to reach a pre-determined accommodation, so I am concerned about trying to make all my reservations now. I know you traveled at the latter end of the season while I am at the earlier end of the season, but do you think I would have much problems just taking off each day and stopping whenever I wanted to and trying to find lodging for myself and 1 other?

    • Hi, Brian – Thanks for the kind words! I’m hesitant to make a recommendation for a time during which I wasn’t on the hike. However, if my memory serves me correctly, I believe the peak season really doesn’t get into gear until July. So, I imagine you may find yourself in much the same situation as we did – in the shoulder season with fewer hikers – and thus would be fine getting accommodations as you go. Best of luck and enjoy the trip!

  15. Hi

    What a brilliant blog … Thanks for sharing all the information. I’m planning to do the TDMB next month. I plan to hike solo and I am a regular hiker / runner but understand this will be a tough hike.

    My plan is to complete the course in 6 days as follows:

    Day 1: From LES HOUCHES to LES CONTAMINES: Stay at Chalet CAF des Contamines
    Day 2: From LES CONTAMINES to VALLEE DES GLACIERS: Stay at Refuge des Mottets
    Day 3: From VALLEE DES GLACIERS to COURMAYER: Stay at Rifugio Alpino Walter Bonatti
    Day 4: From COURMAYER to CHAMPEX: Stay at Auberge Gîte Bon Abri
    Day 5: From CHAMPEX to TRE LE CHAMP: Stay at Gîte Le Moulin
    Day 6: From TRE LE CHAMP to LES HOUCHES: Stay at Auberge le Crêt

    Can I please ask for your thoughts?
    I understand that many of the days are pretty long (13hr in one day) but I’d love to know if you think this plan is achievable. I tried to stay at refuges that had good reviews and are in scenic locations. Thanks so much in advance.

    Aileen

    • Thank you, Aileen. I’m glad you’ve found the blog to be helpful.

      While only you can determine if your planned itinerary is achievable for you, I’m going to be completely honest and say that I do not believe the schedule you’ve proposed will be comfortable or enjoyable. To make your destination each day, you will need to hike almost non-stop, leaving virtually no time to take in the scenery, enjoy a relaxing lunch on the mountainside, etc. You will also need to leave very early in the morning. In general, most refuges serve breakfast around 7 a.m. and dinner around 7 p.m. Additionally, many require you to arrive a certain amount of time prior to dinner in order to check-in. Not to mention that after the day you’ve had, you’ll want to shower and freshen up before dining.

      Again, only you can determine if this is the type of experience you would like to undertake, but I would recommend, if you are pressed for time, to hike a portion of the TMB at a leisurely pace instead of trying to cram it all into a shortened timeframe.

      I hope you find this helpful, though it may not be the response you were hoping for.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s