10 days, 110 miles, a ton of sweating, and a ton of wine, bread, and cheese. Learn what the Tour du Mont Blanc is all about and see if this adventure of a lifetime is right for you.
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What is the Tour du Mont Blanc?
The TMB is one of the most beautiful long distance treks in the world and definitely a must-do for every ambitious hiker. Covering a distance of approximately 100 miles over 10 days on average, the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is a great and epic challenge. You will circumnavigate the Mont Blanc massif, passing through Italian, Swiss and French villages each day. You will hike adjacent impressive snow-capped peaks, huge glaciers and crystal clear alpine lakes. You will stay in traditional villages, guest houses, mountain huts, and even swanky alpine village hotels if you so choose. You will be consuming massive amounts of cheese, bread, and wine if you so choose. It’s definitely one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had.
Although you won’t summit the peak of Mont Blanc itself (which is a completely different tour in itself), it’s still a challenge both mentally and physically.
The TMB is so customizable that everyone’s experience will end up being a little different. This is due to the fact that:
- There are two different directions you can hike in, dictating what views you see first/last (clockwise and counter-clockwise)
- There are many different starting points. Basically, each town = possibility to start (Courmayeur, Les Houches, Chamonix, Contamines, St Gervais, Chapieux, Champex, La Fouly, Trient)
- You can use public transportation and ski-lifts to get from point A to point B if you wanted to
- There are multiple lodging options, and you can choose to stop at any one of these when planning.
Fitness Level – Can anyone participate?
To participate on the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) you should have a reasonable fitness level and have an understanding that you will be walking between 9-13 miles/day, with approximately 2000-3000 feet of elevation gain per day. The best way to get in shape is by getting in some actual hiking before your trip.
In my opinion, anyone who loves walking will theoretically be able to complete the Tour du Mont Blanc. You just need to choose the right tour to suit your fitness abilities and put in some training before you set off. While on the trails, there are many options for daily routes that can decrease (or increase!) the amount of ascent/descent required.
For training, I suggest you walk wherever you possibly can. Skip elevators, park far away, go on weekend hikes (both for distance and for elevation gain), climb stairs on your lunch break– anything. You will need to work on endurance. If you are typically an indoor person, get outdoors. Get your heart pumping and get your heart used to pumping your working muscles for hours at a time. It’s all about endurance on the TMB.
It’s a good idea to train with a 10–15-pound daypack since that’s what you’ll be carrying at a minimum with a guided trip on the TMB. Can’t get out? Go to the gym and do workouts that incorporate stairs or walking on a treadmill at an incline.
What Are My Options?
Guided hike options may include luggage transfer by van, or even a donkey who will carry your gear. In these cases, you’ll have access to your luggage at the end of the day. The other option here is to carry your own backpack, which is what I did.
There are also self-guided treks of the Tour du Mont Blanc, where a tour operator consults with you and makes all the arrangements best suited to your needs. They’ll also provide you with maps and trail descriptions to make sure you have everything you need to complete the tour.
Another alternative is to plan your TMB trip. This option will require you to book your own lodging by night. Or you can camp, which is the cheapest option. Please be warned, it’s the most time consuming option (and perhaps the heaviest if you’re opting to camp!).
Decide how many days is right for you and your hiking style. Are you looking for a slower, more comfortable hike? Some itineraries include a rest day or two in the nicer, alpine villages. Perhaps you don’t have the time to spare for a full 2 weeks on the trail. Other shorter tours will skip some chunks of the TMB and only hit the highlights.
You can get real hutty, or real bougie with this one. Some of the refuges are nice while others, you just can’t wait to get out of there. In some towns, you have 3-5 star hotel options, while in other towns, mountain huts are your only option. An advantage to having a self-guided tour company make the bookings for you is that they know which lodging options are good and which should be avoided. Though there might not be much out there in terms of resources, do your research here.
Best Time To Go
The season for hiking the TMB begins the first week of June, when enough snow has melted at higher elevations to make the trails passable. The wildflowers that dot the green hills along the way tend to peak in July. Hiking season ends in late September.
Summer daytime temperatures along the trail usually range from 60 to 75°F, so it’s almost perfect hiking weather (not too hot, not too cold). Evening temperatures are generally in the 50’s. Since you will be in the Alps, weather conditions can change with the drop of a hat. It can be sunny one day and then raining the next. It’s important to be prepared with rain gear and insulating layers.
I did my TMB trip in late July and I thought it was the perfect time. We were really lucky with the weather, as it was relatively warm most days and only rained on us once on the trail.
What Will I Encounter On The TMB?
I have a whole post dedicated to what I encountered, so take a peek at it if you’re curious. In general, you’ll experience the following:
Panoramic views for days, literally. With hardly any forest cover, the mountain views never-ending and constantly staring back at you. Each day brings different views (alpine lakes, mountains, the Mont Blanc massif, glaciers, wildflowers, hills, animals), but rest assured they are all grand and stunning. Even though the views on the TMB will create a lasting impression on you until the day you die, you’ll definitely want to have your camera ready!
Food, food, food
The abundance of food on this trek is unreal. I’ve done some other backpacking hikes where you eat just for sustenance. Not with the Tour du Mont Blanc. You’re eating like a true European– because food tastes good and you deserve to be happy after hiking. You’ll come across villages with restaurants, markets, and bakeries; there will be huts selling freshly made cheese and sausages on the trails, and more than 50 trail refuges offer hot food as part of their half-board lodging option. Think 3-course meals for dinner and a buffet of breads, jams, meats, and cheeses for breakfast. When you’re hiking and burning over 4,000 calories a day, you can definitely afford to indulge.
Culture and People
When you pass through France, people are speaking French and eating French food. A day later, you’ll pass through Italy, where Italian culture prevails. It’s amazing to encounter French, Italian, and Swiss culture all within a few days of each other.
The people you meet along the way… they are the friendliest kind of people. You’re probably all like-minded people with one common goal. I’ll let you experience this for yourself.
Fauna and Flora
So many yaks, cows, sheep, goats, and donkeys along the way. You really will feel like you’re in The Sound of Music or something to that effect. It will bring you so much joy.
Our guide educated us about the plants and flowers we passed along the way. We learned about their European folkloric history, their medicinal properties, and much more. You will be a junior botanist after this trip!
Sold On It? Things You’ll Need To Prepare
The main issue people can encounter when booking a TMB trip close last minute is lack of accommodation space. There are only so many lodging options in these little towns, so finding accommodations last minute can be challenging. This might not be much of a problem if you’re a smaller group, but do note that likely the ‘better’ lodging options may be full.
If you’re going self-guided: Book your lodging before you start on the hike. People typically plan their TMB trip at least 10 months in advance. I reached out to my tour company in January 2018 in preparation for an August 2018 tour date and many accommodations were already booked up.
If you’re going with a tour group: Research which tour company best suits you and reach out to them well in advance! Give them enough time to find good lodging options to accommodate your group size.
Buy travel insurance for this trip, or check if the credit card you used to book your trip has emergency evacuation. Mountain rescues are very expensive if you have to pay out of pocket, so be warned (better safe than sorry)!
Comprehensive packing list here! Based on personal experience on the trail.
If you don’t own backpacking gear, start looking for online deals as soon as you can. Backpacking gear for retail price can really add up if you don’t own any of it to begin with. See if you can borrow items from friends!
Before and After
Do you have your flights in order? Flying to Geneva is perhaps the most convenient option. You’ll need to secure transportation to get from the airport to your starting point, such as from Geneva to Chamonix. You’ll likely also need to get a hotel for the night before and after your trek. I say… splurge a little bit and pamper yourself either before or after your Tour du Mont Blanc trek. Or BOTH. You deserve it, and your future you is definitely going to thank yourself.
We stayed at Hôtel l’Héliopic in Chamonix both before and after the trek. A few reasons why we loved this hotel: 1) They allowed us to store our luggage in their storage while we were completing the Tour du Mont Blanc. 2) They provided complimentary spa access with multiple rooms of hot/cold treatments. Perfect for the day prior to hiking to prep our bodies, as well as for the day after the hike for us to soothe our aching muscles. 3) They had beautiful common area downstairs and a wall full of DVDs for you to bring up to your room to enjoy, as well as free juice, coffee, and candy gummies! I could live here forever!
Hiking Gear: The Hiking Essentials
Daypack | a 35-45L backpack, ideally with built-in rain cover. I used the Osprey Kyte 36 on the trail, which was perfect in size for the amount of gear I had. If your backpack doesn’t come with a rain cover, the Osprey Ultralight Rain Cover is a good one to consider getting.
Rain Shell/Jacket | Definitely necessary to be prepared for rain as it’s likely to come and go in the Alps. I’d go with a rainshell, as it’s more lightweight. You won’t actually need warmth since you’ll be hiking and getting sweaty. I like this Marmot rainshell, it’s lightweight and pretty breathable. For a more affordable option, I’d go with this one by Columbia for women. This one for men is a bestseller.
Sleeping Bag Liner | This is required by the mountain huts. You might not need this for hotels, but some of the beds in the refuges and mountain huts do not come with sheets (gross). For hygienic purposes and germaphobic sanity, get a liner. If you’re trying to invest in your outdoor gear and would like something more lightweight with added warmth, I would recommend splurging on the Sea To Summit Reactor Thermolite liner, which you can use for other backpacking/camping trips. For a more affordable option, this one will do just fine.
Water Reservoir | Bring a reservoir with a bite valve and stick it in your backpack for easy access to water while hiking. A 2-liter reservoir will do just fine as there are always places to refill water along the trail.
Laundry Soap | Bring a super-concentrated soap so you can do your own laundry at the huts/hotels. Your clothes will be stinky, and you will definitely want to wash things.
Compeed Blister Cushions | In case of blisters, it’s great to have these assorted blister bandaids on hand.
And this is only the start! See the complete TMB packing list here.
Looking for a more in-depth guide to the 10-day Tour du Mont Blanc experience? Read up on the day-by-day breakdown of my 2018 Tour du Mont Blanc guided tour where I delve into the food, lodging, and hiking experience.
Tour Du Mont Blanc Trekking Guidebooks
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