Tour du Mont Blanc path marker
What's the trek called?
Just to clarify, the Tour du Mont Blanc is known by many names that might confuse you into thinking people are taking about something different. You will often see it shortened to TMB whether it's on the web, in magazines or on the TMB path markers. Other terminology used is Mont Blanc Circuit or Mont Blanc Tour. Sometimes often seen with a 'of' in the middle for those English speakers or 'de' for those who are not sure if Mont Blanc is masculine or feminine! Which ever way it's spelt or said it doesn't detract from the fact that the Tour du Mont Blanc is a truly spectacular trek that will challenge, please and surprise!
Balmat & Saussure Chamonix
Since the 18-century explorers, scientists, geologists have been drawn to this area of stunning beauty. The draw of Mont Blanc and all its neighboring peaks, aiguilles, glaciers and valleys was too hard to resist. Many of the routes through the alps and over the cols date back to the old trading routes of centuries past but the first circumnavigation of the Mont Blanc range was back in 1767 by Horace Benedict de Saussure who set out with a group of friends and porters from Chamonix on a scientific journey to gain further knowledge of Mont Blanc's geographical structure. During the Victorian age the Tour du Mont Blanc became a 'must do' with the rich and famous, albeit on the back of a mule. Since then the route has become one of the most popular long distance treks in the European alps.
The TMB Statistics
Tour du Mont Blanc is the most popular long distance trek in Europe that covers a total distance of approximately 160 km depending on which route is taken (some variants can be sorter or longer than the original section). The daily height gain on the Mont Blanc Circuit can be substantial and overall the accumulation over the 10 days is in the region of 9, 000 mtrs. The TMB route takes you over 8 mountain cols and through 3 alpine regions within France, Italy & Switzerland circumnavigating the Mont Blanc. The scenery is second to none, from the broken rocky lunarscape of the Aiguille Rouges to the pasturelands of the Contamines valley every day has something different yet has one common factor- the constant backdrop of the Mont Blanc range.
The Route in brief
If you look at a map of the area, the Mont Blanc range forms a compact mass of complex mountain structures, passable via a circular route making use of its surrounding valleys and relatively low level cols or mountain passes. Traditionally the Tour du Mont Blanc starts and finishes in the Chamonix valley and moves anti-clockwise via Les Houches, Contamines, Chapieux and then over the Italian border at the Col du Seigne, Val Veny to Courmayeur & the Val Ferret. From here the TMB moves across the border into Switzerland and passes through the villages of Ferret, La Fouly, Praz de Fort, Champex Lac & Trient before returning to France and the Chamonix Valley via the Col du Balme.
Over time all manner of variants have been included. For example, Col de Tricot from Les Houches to Contamines or Fenetre d'Arpette from Chapex-Lac to Trient. Often these variants make the TMB more challenging with more height gain and descent and tougher terrain. Sometimes its worth including these because it make the route even more impressive. The Mont Blanc circuit is often undertaken in reverse and can seem very different when done in the opposite direction.
Villages on the TMB
Chamonix, France: Steeped in history Chamonix is the mountaineering & off-piste skiing capital of the world. It is truly a stunning place tucked in under Western Europe’s highest peak. For centuries explorers, scientists & mountaineers have travelled here to get up close to this impressive environment
Les Houches, France: A much smaller & quieter village in the Chamonix valley and yet still shares the same stunning views of the Mont Blanc massif. Good facilities, Restaurants, bars, supermarkets and shops.
Les Contamines, France: A charming little village on the westerly end of Mont Blanc. Good facilities, Restaurants, bars, supermarkets and shops. Great views of the Aiguille du Bionnassay and Domes du Miage.
Chapieux, France: A tiny hamlet on the southwesterly tip of the circuit and probably one of the most remote places on the tour. The valley & hamlet is totally cut off in winter. Chapieux offers 1 auberge, 1 little shop and a campsite.
Courmayeur, Italy: Charming alpine town Italian style, definitely on a par with Chamonix with great food, wine & coffee. All facilities are available here.
La Fouly, Switzerland: Small little village in the Swiss Val Ferret with great views of Tour Noir & Mont Dolent. The village offers basic facilities, a shop and a few hotels with bars.
Champex-Lac, Switzerland: Situated at the easterly end of the TMB. This is a typical picture postcard Swiss village with beautiful lake. A lovely relaxing enclave with a range of bars, restaurants and shops.
Trient, Switzerland: A small little Swiss village with limited facilities. The village enjoys fabulous views of the Trient Glacier.
Argentiere, France: Situated at the easterly end of the Chamonix Valley and nestling under the famous Grand Montets off-piste & extreme ski area. Argentiere shares the same history as the rest of the Chamonix valley. A lively place in peak season it has a good range of restaurants, bars and shops.
Our take on the Tour du Mont Blanc
Mont Blanc treks use the traditional TMB route completing all sections and leaving nothing out. However we do make use of the odd cable car and shuttle bus to cut out the bits or road walking.
Itinerary in Brief
Day 1 Chamonix to Les Houches: TMB route via the Col du Brevent, Brevent (2525m}.
Day 2 Les Houches to Contamines: Option 1 via Biaonnassay, Chapel or Option 2 Via the Col du Tricot (2120m), Chalets du Miage to Les Contamines.
Day 3 Contamines to Chapieux or Ville des Glaciers: Via the Col du Bonhomme (2329m) and the Col de la Croix du Bonhomme (2483m) to Chapieux or over the Col des Fours (2665m) to Ville des Glaciers and the Refuge Mottets.
Day 4 Chapieux or Ville des Glaciers to Courmayeuri: Via the Col du Seigne (2516m), through the Val Veny and the option to take the shuttle bus to Courmayeur or continue the walk via the d'Arp Vieille and decend to Courmayeur.
Day 5 Courmayeur to Refuge Bonatti: Via Refuge Bertone and the fabulous high level Val Ferret traverse
Day 6 Refugio Bonatti to La Fouly: Via Grand Col du Ferret (2537m) and the Italian/ Swiss border to the beautiful Swiss Val Ferret and La Fouly (1610m).
Day 7 La Fouly to Champex-Lac: Through the Swiss villages of Praz de Fort and Issert and to Champex-Lac (1466m).