A couple of weeks ago I went to do the Tour du Mont Blanc which is, as the guidebook says, “one of the most popular long distance walks in Europe. It circles the Mont Blanc Massif covering a distance of roughly 170 km with 10 km of ascent/descent and passes through parts of Switzerland, Italy and France. It is considered one of the classic long distance walking trails“.
It was completely incredible.
I’ve done multi-day bike rides and runs before but this was the first multi-day hike thing that I’d attempted (all the legwork of a run plus all the “carrying everything you need” of a bike ride, double fun).
Observations include: my GCSE French hasn’t lasted 12 years of neglect particularly well; glaciers are fucking amazing; being in the mountains for 10 days is an outstanding antidote to living in London; American teenagers are required to shout at all times; walking from one country into another country via a mountain pass is incredibly satisfying; being in a cloud for 3 days is incredibly unsatisfying; it is possible to eat more cheese than you can imagine (or, I suspect, is medically advisable); walking uphill for hours is pretty great; walking downhill for hours is pretty rubbish; cablecars are a mixed blessing, being at 3,842m makes you go weird.
If you like mountains, and cheese, go do the Tour du Mont Blanc. Loads of info here www.walkingthetmb.com
Stuff that may be helpful to know:
- We did more-or-less the entire thing (started in Les Houches and finished in Chamonix) in 9.5 days, this felt pretty manageable, I think you could probably do it quicker but the time we took allowed us to take a fairly relaxed pace and not end each day exhausted. As a result I think (speaking for myself at least) that we enjoyed the whole thing, as opposed to when I did the end-to-end ride, where by day 6 I was sick of cycling and everything to do with bicycles because we were cycling 100+ miles and around 10 hours a day (not fun).
- Walking poles are really useful, I know they’re not particularly widely used in the UK but a decent set of walking poles (mine were less than £50 from Cotwolds) makes things so much easier, especially going downhill (and there’s a lot of going downhill). Plus you get some bizarre tanlines thanks to the straps.
- The weather can make or break your trip. We were really lucky that we enjoyed a heatwave for the first week, not a single cloud in the sky and temperatures pushing 30 degrees (which did feel a bit too hot at points), however then the clouds descended and we didn’t see anything for 3 days which totally changed our enjoyment of things. The views are really what make this route so if the weather is rubbish I’d recommend holding out for a few days if you can til it clears (although I realise that’s not always possible).
- You can camp pretty much the whole way round, the only places you definitely can’t camp are in Courmayeur and at La Flegere. In Les Chapieux the camping is free, and it was also free at the Rifugio Elisabetta (although apparently it’s not supposed to be allowed there they let you camp anyway). If there aren’t campsites specified then most of the refuges let you camp in their ‘grounds’.
- Stocking up on food as you go is pretty affordable. We tried to buy bread/cheese/meat/fruit at the beginning of each day from whatever shops we came across, this meant we saved quite a bit as we didn’t need to pay for lunchtime meals at restaurants etc.
- Switzerland is expensive. I knew this before we went as I’ve been there a few times over the past couple of years but Switzerland really is really expensive so brace yourself – you’ll be in Switzerland 2-3 days (or more if, like us, you take a ‘rest day’) and everything is probably 20% more expensive there.
- Water is readily available. Almost every refuge had somewhere you could top up your water and you can also top up in some of the streams and rivers you pass.
- Being able to speak some French is NECESSARY. I stupidly didn’t really brush up on my French before we went because the person I went with speaks really good French…this wasn’t really fair on them and I did make an effort once we were out there. However I wish I’d done some more preparation. Don’t assume anyone speaks English (in fact I’d go so far as to say most people don’t, or won’t), French is the common language and you do feel like a total idiot if you can’t at least speak the basics (by about day 3 my schoolboy-level French had made a reappearance and was almost adequate).
- Make sure your phone works abroad. I had enabled roaming but for some reason my phone only worked about 20% of the time. However my friend’s phone worked almost all the way round. I have no idea what the issue was but it’s probably worth checking.
- I had a 75 litre pack and that comfortably fitted all of the stuff I needed, plus our tent, plus a couple of extra bits if necessary (food, etc).