When searching for a guide to help plan our recent walk on the Tour de Mont Blanc trail, all paths seemed to lead to the Tour of Mont Blanc guide by Kev Reynolds published at Cicerone Press. Reassuringly, it was the book that I noticed all the English walkers clutching as we followed our 3 day walk in the mountains above Chamonix on this long distance Alpine trail.
The guide is published by Cicerone Press, who specialise in walking guides of every kind with over 250 titles from mountaineering and canyoning to sunshine walks in places like Tuscany and Mallorca.
The Tour of Mont Blanc guide manages to combine detailed directions and description of the route with some useful background on the history of walking in the area, the sights to look out for and practical information such what to pack, when to go and accommodation you’ll find along the route.
I particularly enjoyed the section on the Story of Mont Blanc, dating back to the 18th century, when Mont Blanc became a source of facination to climbers and scientists and the Chamonix valley was a popular stop off for young men on the Grand Tour of Europe. In the central square at Chamonix you can see the statue of Pierre Balmat, one of the two men who first conquered the summit in 1786, together with Horace Benedict de Saussure, a wealthy scientist who had offered a prize for the first person to conquer the peak.
There was also an interesting section on places of interest along the walk, or slightly off the trail that you wouldn’t want to miss, such as the peak at Le Brevant, the Mer de Glace and Lac Blanc that we visited. We found that when travelling light there was no room for any other books in our pack, so it was great to have a guide that gave a breadth of information about the walk we were following, just in case we had any time or energy for a spot of reading at the end of a day’s walking.
Although we did a little planning before we went and booked our beds in the mountain huts, I felt confident that I could have more or less turned up armed with this guide book and get all the information I might need.
There is one decision you need to make before you start the circular Tour de Mont Blanc Route, which is whether you will tackle it in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction. The guide gives detailed directions for both routes, in separate sections, which was a relief as it would be easy otherwise to take a wrong turn if trying to work out the route backwards.
The traditional route is to go anti-clockwise, starting at Les Houches, a decision that brings you back into the Chamonix valley at the end of the walk with wonderful views of Mont Blanc. We however decided to go clockwise from Les Houches, and had we read the guide more closely we might have realised that the punishing climb up from the valley would be a big challenge.
Luckily we had decided to take the walk at a somewhat slower pace than the standard 1 day walk that would have taken us beyond Refuge du Bellachat where we stayed and over the peak at Brevant to La Flegere, which I believe that only the fittest and most determined walker would have managed in one day.
The only fault I could find with this guide is that the times given for each walk can be a little misleading. The book states that times given do not include any stopping times, but even so I believe that they would only be achieved by a very fit walker. As an example, the walk from Les Houches to Refuge La Bellechat that was given a guide time of 3-3.5 hrs, took us, with a stop for lunch and a number of short breaks, around 5 hours. When I asked another British walker we met how he had found the guide book, he also mentioned the same issue of the walking times being understated. Therefore, if you like to take your walking at an enjoyable pace rather than breakneck speed, with time to admire the views, take some photos and have a break for lunch and snacks, I would add around 30% to the guide times given in the book, which may mean that you need to break the recommended routes for each day into shorter sections, as we did.
With this aside, I’d highly recommend the Tour of Mont Blanc Guide by Kev Reynolds published by Cicerone Press. It’s a handy pocket size with a waterproof cover and robust binding, is thorough, accurate and well laid out with photos, clear route maps and topography diagrams. The guide covers everything you’d need to know when tackling the Tour de Mont Blanc and I’m looking forward to continuing my use of the guide in future years if I tackle other sections of the Tour de Mont Blanc. Tour of Mont Blanc Guide by Kev Reynolds costs £14 and may be ordered from the Cicerone website or from any bookseller.
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I was kindly given a copy of the guide by Cicerone for the purposes of this review.
Read about my mini Tour de Mont Blanc