The Tour de Mont Blanc Diaries Day 1 & 2 – Courmayeur to Chapieux and over the pass into France
Here we go again on the Tour de Mont Blanc! This was the fourth (and we hoped the final) year that my friend Julia and I were back in the Alps, walking a section of the Tour de Mont Blanc. The TMB is one of the great mountain hikes of the world that takes you over 10-12 days on a circular route around the Mont Blanc Massif through France, Switzerland and Italy. We’d really enjoyed our walks in previous years, with bright sunny days and glorious mountain views. The final leg in early September would take us from Courmayeur in Italy where we finished last year, around to Les Houches in the Chamonix valley where we started 3 years before. We had mixed feelings as we set off from our hotel in Courmayeur; excited to be back in the mountains with the forecast for sunshine, combined with relief at knowing that our Tour de Mont Blanc would finally be complete this year.
Day 1 Courmayeur to Rifugio Elisabetta
The day’s walk took us up out of the Courmayeur valley, up through the pretty hamlet of Dolonne and zig-zagging up through forest on a dry dusty path that finally followed the line of the cable car up the mountain. After the first cable car station at Plan Checrouit, the vista opened up and forest gave way to open meadow, with a scattering of chalets. Further up the hill we passed the second cable car station at Col Checrouit and came over the crest to see Refuge Vielle Maison, set in a bowl between one valley and the next, known as the Fauteuil des Allemands (the German armchair).
The path now rose again behind the Refuge until we found ourselves on a long balcony path along the Val Veni with montain peaks to our right across the valley, rising finally to Mont Favre, the highest point of the day’s walk at 2430m. From here it was downhill through meadows and beside a rushing stream down to the milky blue Lac Combal and along a flat, marshy valley until finally the path rose again up to Rifugio Elisabetta at 2195m.
Highlights of the day
- We enjoyed our night in Courmayeur at the very comfortable and elegant Hotel Villa Novecento, beautifully furnished in traditional Alpine style with plenty of antiques and interesting local objects.
- Seeing what we thought was a helicopter rescue below Plan Checrouit, as mountain rescue teams abseiled down from the helicopter onto the cable cars and then down from there to the path. Although it looked like they could be shooting a James Bond movie we concluded that it was just a practice for the coming winter season.
- A very welcome drink at the jolly Refuge Vielle Maison which appeared suddenly as we came over the crest, like a mirage, with flags flying and cheerful red and yellow sun umbrellas and deck chairs.
- The easy, undulating balcony path of the Val Veni with wonderful views of the mountain peaks and hanging glaciers, where we found a great picnic spot near one of the small green lakes.
- The final walk of the day along a pleasant, flat path through the beautiful but deserted valley of Vallon de la Lee Blanche with streams and lakes running through it but virtually no habitation as we headed for Rifugio Elisabetta.
Lowlights of the day
- Climbing up the dry, dusty path through forest from Dolonne, the reverse of what we had experienced coming down to Courmayeur last year – hours of climbing but only glimpses of mountains through the trees.
- The relentless climb to the high point of Mont Favre at 2430, with endless false crest after false crest to trick you into thinking you’re nearly there. Luckily all the French walkers coming down from the peak were very encouraging and everyone we passed told us “you’re nearly there!”
- The sinking feeling as we reached the valley at Lac Combal at the end of the day and realised we had at least another hour to walk to Rifugio Elisabetta, when we were quite ready to stop for the day and enjoy a cold beer.
- The final climb up to Rifugio Elisabetta at the end of a very long day nearly finished us off and we only arrived just before dinner at 7pm, having been on the path for over 10 hours.
I hope you enjoy this little Qwiki video I made of our walk from Courmayeur to Chapieux
Day 2 Rifugio Elisabetta to Chapieux
The path took us just below Rifugio Elisabetta and past the ruins of the old military barracks, before following a level track along the Vallon de la Lée Blanche. Gradually we climbed uphill past the Casermetta information centre and up to the Col de la Seigne for fabulous panoramic views at 2500m. Over the pass we now crossed the border from Italy into France and descended on endless winding grassy paths to the bottom of the Vallée des Glaciers, where we stopped for a picnic lunch at Refuge de Mottets.
Then it was across the river, through the hamlet of Ville des Glaciers, and along the small road above the river for an hour or more until we reached the village of Chapieux at the other end of the valley. We were thankful that we’d chosen to shorten the route outlined in the guide book, which would have taken us on a further arduous climb up to Refuge Bonhomme, while instead we had a pleasant afternoon sitting in the sunny garden of the Auberge de la Nova, where we spent the night.
I hope you enjoy this short panorama video I made at Col de La Seigne
Highlights of the day
- The walk from Rifugio Elisabetta took us past the Casermetta information centre, which is housed in the old Italian border post that has now been restored. We loved the view from the balcony with a board naming all the mountain peaks in view, and the information displays inside about the history, flora and fauna of the area.
- The view from Col de la Seigne at 2500m with panoramic views, down the valley towards Valon de la Lée Blanche on the Italian side, with the end of Vallée des Glaciers in sight on the French side. We sat beside the rocky cairn at the peak in the sunshine and looked at all the peaks marked on the metal viewing table. This Col, which forms the border between Italy and France saw fierce fighting between the Alpiniste troops of both countries during the Second World War, so it was wonderful to pass so freely and peacefully from one country to the next.
- A pleasant lunch at the picnic tables outside Refuge de Mottets, with a view down the valley while a galloping white horse and farting donkey entertained us with their antics.
Lowlights of the day
- The walk along the quiet road towards Chapieux was pleasant but unremarkable after the high mountain passes we’d come across. There’s a local bus that runs up and down the valley in July and August which is worth taking to save your legs, unless you’re following the high route directly up towards Refuge de la Croix de Bonhomme.
- All along the Vallee des Glaciers I had no phone signal and Auberge de la Nova had no wifi which as an internet addict I found a little difficult, although some of you may relish the freedom of being out of touch with the world. As the owner at Auberge de la Nova put it, when I approached hopefully with my iPhone in hand; “No Mobile, no Internet, Juste la Liberté!”
Coming soon.. the next stage of this year’s Tour de Mont Blanc
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Resources for walking the Tour de Mont Blanc
On this part of the Tour de Mont Blanc we stopped at the following hotels and mountain refuges;
In Courmayeur we stayed at Hotel Villa Novecento, a beautifully decorated 4 star hotel with elegant, traditional furnishings and antiques. We paid €114 for an en suite twin room with excellent breakfast and very friendly service.
Rifugio Elisabetta – one of the nicest and best run refuges, in an isolated position at 2200m, with wifi but limited phone signal. We paid €50 per person per night for half board (dinner and breakfast) in a 2 bed private bunk room. You can book by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or Telephone +39 0165 844080
In Chapieux we stayed at Auberge de la Nova, a friendly inn at one end of the valley at 1550m with private and dorm rooms and a large restaurant and garden. We paid €43 per person per night for half board (dinner and breakfast) in a 12 person dorm. You can book by e-mail email@example.com or Telephone +33 479 89 07 15 or via the TMB website.
My waterproof North Face jacket and walking trousers and Leki Micro Vario walking poles were provided by outdoor clothing specialist, Ellis Brigham who have a wide range of mountain clothing and walking gear you might need for a trek in the mountains, which are available both through their website and UK stores. Connect with them on Twitter @ellis_brigham, on their Facebook page and YouTube Channel
My Berghaus Explorer Light Gore-Tex walking boots were provided by Blacks, with online and high street stores in the UK, specialising in Outdoor Clothing for walking, hiking and trail-running as well as camping and travel gear. Connect with them on Twitter @blacks_online, and on their Facebook page, Google+ and YouTube channel
We used the Cicerone Tour of Mont Blanc guide by Kev Reynolds - we found it to be an excellent guide for both the clockwise and anti-clockwise route with detailed route guide, maps, accommodation information and points of interest along the route.
To reach Courmayeur, we flew to Geneva and took our prebooked airport transfer to Chamonix for €29 + tax one way with Chamexpress, who we recommend for their super-efficient service. In the winter ski season they also operate a direct transfer from Geneva to Courmayeur through AostaExpress, but these do not run in the summer. From Chamonix SNCF station we took the bus service operated by SAT Altibus for the 45 minute journey through the Mont Blanc Tunnel to Courmayeur. During the summer until the beginning of September there are 6 services per day and the cost was €14 one way. After 1 September there may be less frequent departures, so check the SAT website for details.
Last Year on the Tour de Mont Blanc
Walking the Tour de Mont Blanc – my video diary 2012
Avoiding Altitude Sickness and staying healthy on the Tour de Mont Blanc
The Tour de Mont Blanc Diaries Day 4 – Rifugio Bonatti to Courmayeur, the Italian Stage ends
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