For walkers like us on the Tour de Mont Blanc, the routine was “early to bed and early to rise”. But as we left our bedroom in Rifugio Elena for breakfast at 7.30am, the cleaner was waiting outside our bedroom door with vacuum cleaner at the ready. We’d found the mountain refuges on our trek though France, Switzerland and Italy were a mixed bag and at Rifugio Elena it seemed that they couldn’t wait to see us on our way.
By 8am we were putting on our walking boots outside the door, with the refuge in shadow as the sun started to rise over the jagged peaks of Grand Col Ferret, the pass between Switzerland and Italy, that we’d crossed the afternoon before. The rough path now took us downhill, alongside a stream that was headed to join the river Po and eventually end up in the Adriatic.
In less than an hour we reached the bottom of the valley where there was a car park beside the river and stopped for a coffee at the very pleasant Chalet Val Ferret , a small hotel with restaurant and garden cafe. In the cosy bar I ordered a cappuccino, Julia a cafe con latte and we shared a slice of local torte, filled with sweet fruit puree scattered with pine nuts and a lattice of pastry across the top. A large guided group of Americans came in just as we were leaving for a quick coffee and bathroom stop, before heading in the direction that we’d come, towards Grand Col de Ferret. I didn’t envy them, knowing that they had a long, arduous day ahead of them, while we had a relatively easy one.
The muddy track snaked up behind the Chalet Val Ferret, through rather unattractive scrub, but once we got above the treeline the views opened out on the hillside. It was an easy, open path with fabulous views and I could count four or five glaciers on the opposite side of the valley, hanging below the rocky peaks. By late morning our side of the valley was bathed in sunshine and every so often we played hop scotch across a stream, that carved a channel of grey stone through the grassy green of the hillside.
After walking a couple of hours from Val Ferret, the balcony path gave us a grandstand view from one end of the valley to the other and the peak of Mont Blanc itself was in sight. Whenever we stopped for a break, we could hear the crickets chirping among the scrub and wildflowers, with butterflies flitting between silver thistles and patches of purple flowers.
We passed a mule coming the other way, laden down with baggage in support of a small group of walkers. Each walker had their belongings in a red cylinder bag and they were all being unloaded for a lunchtime stop. We continued a little further before we found our perfect picnic place, eating the local sausage and cheese we’d brought with us, with chili flavoured olives and bread that was getting a bit stale. Our view was of grey mountain peaks and glaciers backed by a blue sky, while from the bottom of the valley we could hear the river rushing and see it snaking along the river bed of shale.
By mid afternoon we rounded a spur and saw villages in the valley stretching out before us, while just beyond a group of old ruined buildings was Rifugio Walter Bonatti. Another half an hour and we were on the sunny terrace of the refuge, joining the walkers who had come up from the valley on a day hike and those who were walking the Tour de Mont Blanc. We left our rucksacks in our room, exchanged our walking boots for slippers provided by the refuge and sat outside to bask in the late afternoon sun, backs against the stone wall with a cold beer in hand. Even though today’s path had been undemanding, it felt like the perfect reward for our day’s walk on the Tour de Mont Blanc.
To be continued ….
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More tales from the Tour de Mont Blanc
The Tour de Mont Blanc Diaries Day 1 – Champex Lac to Ferret and a walk in the woods
The Tour de Mont Blanc Diaries Day 2 – Ferret to Rifugio Elena and over the pass to Italy
Last year’s walk on the Tour de Mont Blanc – video diary
Resources for walking the Tour de Mont Blanc
We started this day’s walk from Rifugio Elena in Italy where we had a twin room with en suite bathroom which cost €57.50 per person including dinner and breakfast. The Refuge has room for 130 people in both dormitory accommodation and private en suite twin rooms. There is an e-mail address given on the website but we did not get any response to our e-mail reservation request and learned that it is better to telephone as their e-mail is down in the valley. Staff at Rifugio Elena speak Italian, French and some English. Tel (+39) 0165844688
We ended this day’s walk at Rifugio Walter Bonatti, named after the famous Italian climber, which was one of the nicest refuges we stayed at during the whole of our Tour de Mont Blanc walk and is highly recommended. Due to its popularity, you are advised to book this refuge in advance. The Refuge has a domitory and private twin rooms and we paid €58 per person per night including dinner and breakfast, for a private twin room with the shared bathroom just across the corridor. The refuge can be booked by e-mail email@example.com and by telephone (+39) 0165 869055. Follow the Rifugio Bonatti Facebook Group
My jacket and walking trousers 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 on the mountains, which are available both through their website and UK stores.
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.
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