Are you thinking about going on a backpacking adventure for your next vacation? Wondering what a Tour du Mont Blanc guided trek in the Alps actually look like? Here, I break down my Tour du Mont Blanc experience so you have an idea of what to expect when you sign up for a guided tour. I’ll touch upon the lodging, the food, and the hiking. Please remember, your experience may differ, as there are many tour companies out there offering different route options, trip lengths, accommodations, and luggage transfer options.
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Tour Du Mont Blanc Difficulty Level: Strenuous, But Doable
Before I describe the hike in day-by-day detail, I want to lay down the facts and clear up the misconceptions that I’ve come across while scouring the web. The Tour du Mont Blanc is not a “leisurely stroll” as some sites might suggest. From reading other people’s experiences, I was under the impression that anyone could tackle it with the drop of a hat. When I signed up for the TMB, I thought it would be a mostly comfortable “luxury hike” filled with gourmet cheese eating, wine drinking, and local foods everywhere you turned.
To an extent, this is absolutely true which is why the TMB is worth doing. But also, you need to know you will be working your ass off, you will be sweating, and you will be sore (especially if you choose to carry your own gear and opt-out of luggage transfer. I carried all of my own stuff). You will be climbing from valley floors up through mountain passes, and descend all the way back down—all in one day. You will see some very spectacular views, have tons of memorable moments with the people you trek with, and be filled with a great sense of achievement once you complete your trek.
Could you possibly do it without training? Sure, but not gonna lie, you’ll probably suffer more during the hike if you’re not mentally and physically prepared for endurance. So you definitely should train to some extent. Is it worth it? In my mind, 100% YES!
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.
Rain Cover (for backpack) | Given the unpredictable weather in the Alps, a rain cover is a must-have. With so many days in the mountains, you’d have to be extremely lucky not to get rained on. If your backpack doesn’t come with a rain cover, the Osprey Ultralight Rain Cover is a good one to consider getting.
Hiking Boots | My all-time favorites are the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Hiking Boot. Durable, waterproof, and out-of-the-box comfort. Seriously, I’ve gone through two pairs already and they haven’t let me down yet! They make these for both men and women.
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.
I did my 10-day guided tour with Happy Tracks, a small and intimate Swiss tour company run by an amazing adventure couple, Raphael and Anja. I would highly recommend this small business because I know firsthand they actually care about your experience every step of the way. Raphael went above and beyond what a tour guide was required to do, such as carrying a full watermelon up the mountain so that the group had something refreshing to enjoy after a hard climb, or carrying a group member’s backpack up the mountain when she was struggling– on top of his carrying his own. Not to mention, all meals were included with the tour. Seriously, they are the best and you won’t be disappointed if you go with them.
I was with a group of 6 girls and we opted for a hybrid experience–5 nights of basic accommodation and 5 nights of private accommodation. ‘Basic’ meant shared rooms in mountain huts, guest houses, and dormitories. ‘Private’ meant a whole slew of things: hotels, rooms with your group members only, double occupancy, and perhaps the presence of an en-suite bathroom. This was a comfortable balance, as we got to experience traditional mountain huts of the Tour du Mont Blanc and still have our comfortable/luxury nights as well.
Day 1 – Les Houches – Les Contamines
Accommodation: Hotel Gai Soleil
Dinner: Fancy AF. Smoked trout and salad, traditional French sausage and polenta, cheese plate, crème brulee.
Breakfast: assortment of pastries, breads, cheeses.
Everyone was super pumped to start. We got a quick orientation from our tour guide Raphael at 8:30am and met the other members of our group (13 people in total). From Chamonix, we hopped on a bus to Les Houches to get to a cable car station where we rode up to the start of the hike. Here we go! We encountered a suspension bridge over a gushing waterfall, cows and yaks just hanging out grazing on grass by the trails, mountain huts selling local cheeses, and even handpicked some fresh strawberries and raspberries growing in the wild. Wow, this is only day 1 and we’re already getting some amazing experiences.
Near the end of the hike, we had a sausage and cheese sampling party with local French saucisson (sausage) and Reblochon cheese purchased at the aforementioned mountain hut. Everything was so tasty and it did wonders to lift those spirits after a long day of walking. All in all, the hike was relatively easy, and I would say the hardest part of the day was more so getting my body used to the weight of my backpack.
Seven hours of hiking and 9 miles later, we reach our first accommodation, a super cute hotel in the mountain town of Les Contamines, what some would describe as a smaller Chamonix.
Day 2 – Les Contamines – Les Chapieux
Accommodation: Refuge des Mottets (Don’t stay here if you don’t have to. It was quite…. hutty.)
Dinner: Bean soup with a side of bread, bruschetta, beef stew with rice and zucchini, side of cheese, flan.
Breakfast: Bread, butter, jams, cereals, prunes.
Longest day and often considered by the general public as the hardest day of the trek—quite possibly because of how long it was. We hiked for 9 hours and completed approximately 13-14 miles of distance. The trail began with a steep ascent that then leveled out, followed by another round of steepness and flatness until we reached the mountain pass where we had lunch. Here, we were presented with an option of going up some more and taking an alternate path down directly to our refuge, OR begin the downhill from where we were and take a bus to our refuge once downhill. Since we were all dead after that uphill experience, we ended up going with the bus option.
Given that I have troublesome knees when it comes to downhill hiking, the downhill portion on Day 2 was killer in my opinion. We had to descend a steep hill down to the valley to reach Les Chapieux, our second accommodation. After getting to Les Chapieux, we caught the bus for a quick 10-minute ride to our refuge, smack dab in the middle of nowhere.
Everyone had time to take a shower and lounge around before dinner at 7pm. I was extremely tired from the day and was quite sleepy during dinner and couldn’t wait to get to bed. Dinner, which was actually quite hearty and delicious, was accompanied by some traditional hand-cranked music coming out of a musical organ.
Despite dinner being a very good experience, the difficulty of the day did not end there. We were staying at our first “traditional mountain hut”. This place was very hutty and had strange sleeping arrangements, with sheetless beds adjoined to each other. None of us were used to such lack of privacy (and lack of linens) but I just chose the corner bed and rolled with it. Throughout the night, I would wake up to a snoring chorus and people getting up and getting out to use the bathroom. Each time I woke up, I felt how sore my muscles were!
Day 3 – Les Chapieux – Cabane du Combal
Accommodation: Cabane du Combal – very cute, we slept 3 to a room, and had private bathrooms
Dinner: Soup, pasta (primi), chicken with some orange sauce (secondi), Italian apple cake
Breakfast: Simple. Bread and jam/butter, cookies, cereals.
A rough morning for most—either our muscles were sore from the toughness of day before, or we were not able to sleep well in a dormitory hut of over 20 people. The mattresses in this hut (pictured above) were literally touching each other, so there was very limited space for moving around in the night.
Despite this restless night, Day 3 was actually one of the easiest and most pleasant days on the TMB. We completed a short ascent to Refugio Elisibetta, which apparently had worse living conditions than where we stayed. Here, we had our packed lunches and ended up ordering every cake off the menu for sampling. Such a delicious treat in exchange for our hiking efforts! Soon after reaching the French-Italian border, we started the casual descent. For a few miles, we were walking on flat ground through a valley with vast fields of wildflowers (we couldn’t help but to frolic in these fields). Having reached our next accommodation early, we went on two side missions before dinner, rock scrambling to check out a dead glacier and swimming in a nearby alpine lake.
Our accommodation was in the middle of nowhere, so we didn’t expect cell reception or human civilization other than fellow hikers. Cabane du Combal was such a welcome surprise for us, especially after the previous night. When we received our room keys and saw that we had our own beds with a private bathroom, we reacted in the way that Real World cast members react to entering their mansion for the first time. They had aperitivo (drinks and snacks) right before dinner, which was good for quelling our growing hunger before the actual four-course meal.
Read More: Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc – Packing List
Day 4 – Rifugio Elisabetta Soldini – Courmayeur
Accommodation: Hotel Croux
Dinner: Pre-dinner gelato, pizza/pasta of our choice at a pizzeria in Courmeyer, any dessert off the menu.
Breakfast: Luxe for hiking standards! Crepes, eggs, quiche, croissants, cured meats, vegetables, fruit salad, overall a huge spread of options.
By day 4, my body had gotten used to hiking. No longer sore, we ascended up to yet another mountain pass. The views just got more and more impressive! Once at the highest point of the day, there were two options—either hike down a few miles to get to our accommodation for the night, or cable car it down.
Some girls chose to take the cable car down while others hiked down to Courmayeur, a ritzy Italian ski town with all the amenities you’d need to feel civilized again. Clearly, I decided to hike it (this is what we came here to do, right?) and boy oh boy did my knees hurt. I should have definitely brought a knee brace for precautionary measures.
We dropped off our bags at the hotel (had a balcony with a beautiful view of Courmayeur) and were immediately treated to our first gelato of the trek by our guide! Since we had time to spare before dinner, we walked around the town perusing the shops and buying local specialties to sample and bring home. For dinner, we all met up at what we like to call the “pizza dungeon” for some amazing pizza and homemade pastas.
Day 5 – Courmayeur – Rif. Bernatti
Accommodation: Refugio Bernatti
Dinner: Bean soup, salad, frittatas, mashed potatoes, berry yogurt dessert—just meh quality.
Breakfast: bread, jams, yogurt, cereals
Almost immediately after leaving the hotel, we began a very stuffy yet shaded ascent up through the forest. There was not much airflow, so I was sweating pretty badly for the first hour. Once we got out of the forest, we were faced with more uphill climbing. But hey, there was a breeze at least which I was extremely happy about. We took a beverage/bathroom break at Rifugio Elena and continued onward to have lunch a little further down by a gushing stream.
At the stream, I was able to take my shoes off, stick my bare feet in the rushing cold water, and get some mountain-style ‘Cryotherapy’ in. It was so wonderful! Once we reached Rifugio Bernatti, we were greeted with amazing view of mountains and glaciers right outside.
Day 6 – Rif. Elena – La Fouly
Dinner: Cream of mushroom soup, stinky melty Raclette cheese with cured meats, breads, pickles, and onions as sides (or pasta for those who thought cheese as an entrée was too much), a dessert. All were very delicious!
Breakfast: Simple. Homemade jams and marmalades, oatmeal, cereals.
On day 6, we walked into Switzerland! It wasn’t too bad of a day in terms of elevation, though it was definitely a longer mileage day. At this point, my body was no longer surprised by anything physical and therefore not sore. We started with a slightly difficulty 2-hour uphill under the sun, followed by a few miles of flat ground, and ended with a gradual descent down a paved road to La Fouly. This marked the first day I took ibuprofen for my dull knee pain (I admitted defeat! Drugs, I call upon thee for help!).
Our hotel at La Fouly was quite a ways out of town given that we had a large group; our guide was unable to secure lodging to accommodate us all in town. Despite the distance, the hotel experience was great—the shared room was spacious and comfortable, the food was good, bathrooms were clean, and the common room had lots of entertainment options (large TV for streaming movies and playing video games, as well as board games and books). We had a large room consisting of 4 sets of bunk beds, which perfectly accommodated our tour group’s 8 ladies. It definitely felt like the summer camp I never experienced.
Day 7 – La Fouly to Champex
Accommodation: Relais d’Arpette
Dinner: Salad, either cheese fondue with bread or deer stew with mashed potatoes, refreshing lemon ice cream
Breakfast: The basics – breads, jams, yogurts
It finally happened—it rained on us! Let me tell you, hiking uphill in a non-breathable poncho really is the worst. Clearly, I have airflow problems… (I cannot mentally handle lack of a breeze when hiking). Another day of uphills/downhills in Switzerland. I’m starting to think the Switzerland portion of this hike has it out for us… Eventually, we reached La Fouly where we could have spent the late afternoon swimming in the lake or renting SUP’s and paddle boats. Unfortunately, it was cold, rainy, and foggy.
Did the rain and fog bum us out? Only for a little bit, until we realized there was a trampoline free for jumping and baby goats running around at our accommodation for the night!!! Game changer. We showered in very nice bathrooms, hung out with baby goats outside once the skies cleared up, and paired up to enjoy double occupancy lodging for the night.
Read More: Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc – Packing List
Day 8 – Champex to Trient
Accommodation: Refuge le Peuty
Dinner: Beautifully handcrafted appetizers including salmon rolls, bruschetta, bacon wrapped dates, and salad; Mexican inspired meal – chili con carne with all the fixings (guacamole, queso fresco, rice, etc); mascarpone with amaretto and fresh prunes from Valais.
Breakfast: Homemade jams and freshly delivered bread, homemade oatmeal, cereals, eggs.
Day 8 was hands down the hardest for me, though no one in my group shared the same sentiment! To most of them, day 2 was still the hardest. For some reason, I was unable to set a pace or stabilize my breathing while going uphill. Up to this point, the TMB had been strenuous, but very very doable for me. After day 8, I felt like I had finally met my match.
After huffing and puffing up the mountain pass, we stopped at a lookout spot overlooking a few cities in the valley to enjoy a hefty portion of salmon pasta salad for lunch. We then proceeded to grab refreshments at the mountain hut up ahead and ate more cakes here as well—we ordered carrot cake, lemon cake, apricot tart, and berry crumble pie. I’m still dreaming about these homemade cakes to this day…
Despite the feast I had just thrown into my belly, I still felt so exhausted. Luckily, we weren’t too far away from our guide’s treehouse-inspired mountain hut where we were to spend the night. We met Anja, Raphael’s girlfriend and business partner, who greeted us with welcome drinks and the cutest and most intimate dinner we’d experienced on the trail.
Day 9 – Trient to Argentière
Accommodation: Hotel de la Couronne
Dinner: Soup, French-style sausages and polenta, dessert
Breakfast: Another luxe breakfast with pastries, cured meats, DIY hard boiled eggs (gasp, protein!!)
Day 9 consisted of a ~2 hour ascent up, first beginning in a shaded forest and then gradually to exposed switchbacks. As day 8 was so difficult for me, I had decided to take it easy today. To my surprise, I killed it and day 9 actually ranks as the second easiest day for me. I completely zoned out all the way up. As I finally allowed myself time to reflect on my summer journey, my mind was occupied with reliving all the little moments from my 3.5 month trip across Europe, the thought of how much I appreciated life, and the memories shared with the people I met along the way.
Others did not share the same sentiment, so be warned—objectively, day 9 is a longer day. At the highest point of the day, we reached another refuge where we rested and had lunch. Our guide gave us the option of doing an “extra credit” hike where we were to summit a nearby mountain, which wasn’t hard at all. Half of us had the energy to do so, and I must say it was completely worth the extra energy expended. We were walking on mountain ridges, rock scrambling at the top, and really enjoyed some 360 views of the Alps.
After this, we continued on downhill and entered the quaint and small town of Argentière. There were a few souvenir shops, cheese and meat shops, a supermarket, laundromat, bakery, pharmacy, creperie, and some good restaurant options. After our dinner at the hotel, we got crepes. Had to do it.
Day 10 – Argentière to Chamonix
Accommodation: L’Heliopic Spa and Resort (not included with the tour package, we chose to stay an extra night in Chamonix)
Breakfast: A very filling breakfast buffet at Hotel de la Couronne with a spread of breads, pastries, jam and butter, DIY hardboiled eggs, cured meats, yogurt, cereal.
Our final day was a quite long one but included some of the most spectacular views of the Alps of the entire trip. With the finish line so close, I was euphoric and had my natural endorphins flowing, which really made it a pleasant ascent and descent for me. Similar to Day 9, Day 10 included a steady and long ascent via switchbacks. What made this day stand out from the rest was that there are some portions which require you to climb ladders to continue the trail up (actually quite refreshing since we’d been switchbacking for so many hours prior). At the top, there are two lakes, a refuge, and a vast rest area speckled with tons of boulders for sunbathing, soaking in the views, and picnicking.
It’s quite interesting to see the different reactions to Day 10. Of the 5 other girls I was with, half of our group was exhausted and seemed to completely dread day 10 and couldn’t wait to get off the mountain. The other half was exhilarated and energetic, looking forward to finishing like champs. I fell to the positive end of the spectrum. I realized that I wasn’t looking forward to ending this whole TMB experience, after all, it had been so wonderful with so many shared laughs and memories made. However I was looking forward to reaching the finish line and completing what I had set out to do. It’s amazing what perspective can do to alter one’s experience.
And alas, our trek came to a close as we walked into the town of Chamonix, where we had started 10 whole days ago. At the end of our hike, we had celebratory beers with the group, said our goodbyes, and ran back to our hotel to soak our weary bodies in the complimentary spa rooms.
I hope my experience of the TMB was helpful. Have additional questions? Feel free to ask away in the comments below.
Looking for something less-detailed? Perhaps an introduction of what the Tour Du Mont Blanc is, or a packing list specific to this trip? Visit my other posts here:
Tour Du Mont Blanc Trekking Guidebooks