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Planning my mini Tour de Mont Blanc – French Alps

I’m dreaming today of my late summer break in the French Alps, walking in the mountains above Chamonix. There’s a well known walking route that takes you on a circuit around the high Alpine paths through Switzerland, France and Italy,known as the Tour de Mont Blanc or TMB.

View from Brevent overlooking Chamonix

View from Brevent overlooking Chamonix

The Tour de Mont Blanc can only be completed in the summer months once the snow has melted and would normally take up to 10 days, demanding a good level of fitness. As I’m walking with a friend and neither of us have 10 days holiday to spare, we’re planning our own mini tour covering 3 days walking with stops for 2 nights in the mountain refuges. There is an annual mountain marathon over this route but we’ll be taking things at a more relaxed pace, with plenty of time to stop and admire the views of Mont Blanc and Chamonix below.

Refuge de Bellachat near Chamonix

Refuge de Bellachat near Chamonix

We fly from the UK to Geneva and take the super-efficient Swiss train system to Chamonix in France, starting our walk at the small town of les Houches and climbing up through steep forested slopes to spend the night at Refuge de Bellechat. The mountain refuges that you stay in on this route offer simple dormitary accommodation and usually an evening meal but there isn’t much luxury unless you count sunning yourself on a terrace with a view of Mont Blanc a luxury.

If you want to do this kind of walking as a day trip from the valley below it’s easy as there are a number of cable cars used for ski-ers in winter and walkers in summer that can transport you up to the top of the mountain, and usually a cafe there too. We’ll be passing the one at Le Brevent before we reach the second refuge at La Flegere where we plan to stay that night,and then the next day descend backdown to the valley and back towards Geneva from where we’ll fly home the next day.

Near Brevent, Chamonix

Near Brevent, Chamonix

I’m looking forward to seeing the wild mountain ibex that live on these slopes, stretching my legs on the long walks and taking in the mountain scenery, cairns and wild places on the high slopes. I’m not looking forward to the steeper stretches that require you to climb up metal ladders, but we’ll hopefully be travelling light with just small rucksacks and walking poles.

If you’ve walked in this area or done the Tour de Mont Blanc, I’d love to hear from you and get some more information on what we might expect, and I’m also looking for recommendations for the best places to stay and eat in les Houches or Chamonix.

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23 Comments

  • Reply
    Keith
    May 3, 2010 at 9:18 am

    The TMB has been on my ‘bucket list’ for as long as I can remember. I think there’s a book about it, published by the Cicerone Press. (if I remember rightly)

    Will your way take you anywhere near the village of St. Jean de Sixt, in the Haut Savoie? If so, I do have a recommendation for you.

  • Reply
    Jen
    May 3, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    This is such a beautiful area. We were staying with my dad who lived less than a few hours drive away but unfortunately didn’t make it. I will send him a note though and see if he has any suggestions.

  • Reply
    Barbara at Hole in the Donut Travels
    May 3, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    This is one of the things I so loved about Switzerland – the Alps are SO accessible. With the cable cars I was whisked up to heights where I was surrounded by snow-covered peaks; felt like I was touching the sky! I envy your mini tour, wishing you a wonderful 3 days.

  • Reply
    Heather Cowper
    May 3, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    @ Keith – no I don’t think we will pass through St Jean de Sixt, w’re only doing 2 of the 9 legs of the whole tour. I’ll look out for that book.

    @ Jen – Thanks, I’ve been researching hotels around Chamonix & Les Houches and welcome any recommendations – there seems to be plenty of choice.

  • Reply
    Mark H
    May 4, 2010 at 2:21 am

    I spent three days in Chamonix a few years ago, staying at the modest Hotel Vallee Blanche (which was very reasonably priced and pretty decent and very central – I stayed in June) and very nice. Included the typical French breakfast (coffee and croissants/crusty bread) and did a couple of day walks, walked an area of the glacier and rode the telegraphique up to the view of Mont Blanc and the superb and jagged Aiguille mountains on a truly magical day. Very special place. I can also recommend Annecy as a great town in the Alps area. TMB is on my bucket list too but getting less likely as I’m keener to walk the Camino (St James) through Spain.

  • Reply
    Mara
    May 5, 2010 at 3:05 am

    I like the way you do things Heather – you are infinitely sensible! I’d love to do a trip like this in the Alps someday and certainly your pace sounds like the way I’d want to do it.

  • Reply
    Seminyak hotels
    May 5, 2010 at 7:38 am

    This is one of the things I so loved about Switzerland,
    I think there’s a book about it, published by the Cicerone Press.

  • Reply
    Heather Cowper
    May 5, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    @ Seminyak & Keith – I just realised that Cicerone Press book is the one my friend has already bought that we’ve been using to plan the trip.
    @ Mark Thanks I’ll check out that hotel you mention

  • Reply
    John
    May 10, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    Great plan Heather. I have not hiked the TMB route but have done a lot of walking around Chamonix in Summer. Look out for lots of wild blueberries, strawberries and raspberries. The latter are as good as any you will find in a supermarket.
    May I suggest you travel there by train. It will create a far smaller carbon footprint. You can leave London late afternoon by Eurostar, take the overnight Lunea sleeper train and wake up in the Arve Valley and in Chamonix at about 10h15 in the morning. Prices are very reasonable if booked as soon as the tickets become available.
    I can’t help with hotels as I’ve stayed in apartments in Winter and camped in the Summer. Restaurants in the Chamonix Valley are expensive, therefore beyond my budget, so I can’t be of help with that request either.

  • Reply
    Sherry Ott
    May 11, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    Thank you – for giving me my next hiking destination! A 10 day hike with guesthouses looks phenomenal! It reminds me of the Nepal trekking yet a bit more developed I’m sure!
    Good luck with your planning – I can’t offer any advice since I’ve never been there, but I do look forward to reading and learning about your mini trip!
    Good luck!
    .-= Sherry Ott´s last blog ..signs =-.

  • Reply
    Heather Cowper
    May 15, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    @ John Thanks for the Chamoniz tips – I hadn’t thought of taking the Eurostar – we already have our tickets booked Bristol-Geneva but if I was in London the train would be just as convenient. Love the thought of picking wild berries

  • Reply
    Hotels Chamonix
    June 11, 2010 at 11:22 am

    One of the best skiing resorts i ever visited. Chamonix is amazing in winter as well as in summer.

  • Reply
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  • Reply
    Bruce
    August 21, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    Great to see such positive comments about the TMB. We’ve dedicated a website to it to encourage others to give it a try. Lots of practical information so you know what to expect and a forum – see http://www.walkingthetmb.com .

  • Reply
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  • Reply
    Photos d'Annecy
    December 30, 2010 at 10:29 am

    Did you visit Annecy too ? It’s only at 50 kilometer of Chamonix and there is an higway from Geneva (25 minutes only).
    Photos d’Annecy´s last blog post ..Les jardins de l’Europe sous la neige

  • Reply
    Heather Cowper
    December 30, 2010 at 10:42 am

    @ Photos d’Annecy
    Unfortunately I didn’t get to see Annecy although we do have friends living there – it was a short trip, so we stuck to the Chamonix valley

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  • Reply
    Laurel
    July 31, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    This is getting my excited! I start my trip from Chamonix on Saturday. Would love to see wild Ibex. Fingers crossed!

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