Here’s a riddle for you to work out. You visit three countries, yet only speak two languages. You’re travelling on foot, around the big white mountain. You visit one country that is a republic, another that is provinces, and a third that is a confederacy. You cross at least 9 major passes. Where are you?
It’s the world famous Tour du Mont Blanc trek that circumnavigates Mont Blanc. The highest mountain in Western Europe, and traverses France, Italy and Switzerland. If that wasn’t enough, here’s the top 10 reasons you should undertake this epic trek.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve never practised your French since school. Or your only Italian words are from a weekend in Venice, the locals massively appreciate you speaking a little of their language. It’s the key to the Tour Du Mont Blanc. You’ll discover far more, be shown hidden details by locals who know you’re invested in their culture, and communicate with everyone on the trail.
2). Mountain Huts
One of the most memorable elements of completing the Tour du Mont Blanc, is that places you stay each night. There’s something for everyone, from remote high mountain huts, where Ibex graze outside, to luxurious hotels in the larger towns such as Chamonix and Courmayeur. There’s the bonhomie of the shared meals on big tables in the evenings, with the babble of chatter, peals of laughter, and clinks of glasses, as groups discuss the adventures of their day.
Part of the tapestry of the region is it’s rich history. The Roman bridges and roads, the possible route Hannibal took, Baroque churches, Napoleonic influences, Savoie Kingdom, and World War 2 sites of the invasions and fortifications. The two thousand year history binds the region, and the stories the locals and guides can tell you about all of this are fascinating.
There’s quite a few people who finish the Tour du Mont Blanc heavier than they started! The food is amazing, and copious. With each country comes a range of different traditional recipes, and staple foods. Add into the mix, there’s different drinks, preferences for how they like their coffee, and social etiquette. Don’t, under any circumstances, every order a cappuccino in Italy after lunchtime. You’re warned…
If you’re being led by an experienced guide, they’ll introduce you to some of their local friends, and it’s these characters who add another ingredient of what makes the region so special. You can meet the dairy farmer, who can show you how he crafts his artisan Beaufortain cheese. Perhaps you’ll speak to some legends who live and work on the TMB trails. Some have represented their countries at the Olympics. Others have tales of epics in the mountains, and many are highly talented artists. Never assume whoever you meet is ‘just’ a hut keeper or a farmer.
During your trek, if you know where to look and at what time to visit for the most likely sightings, you should be able to see a wide range of wildlife on the TMB trek. This could include Golden Eagles, Bearded Vultures, Ibex, Chamois, and Marmots. Also look below your feet, at the right tapestry of flowers, that vary with altitude, geology and aspect. Many of these species are rare, and it’s hugely rewarding to learn about them all, some of their medicinal uses, and characteristics.
The TMB is not just a place for a brilliant trekking holiday, but it’s an amphitheater for some epic sporting challenges and achievements. Each year thousands of trail runners attempt to run the full TMB continuously in less than 46 hours. The record is a staggering 18.5 hours, which puts most moans at the end of a long days trekking in context. In the mountains above, Mont Blanc has seen a record climbing time of 4 hours 57 minutes, all on foot from the church in Chamonix, to the summit, and back down.
Each aspect of the TMB has different landscapes, and indeed the Mont Blanc is only visible for less than half the trek. Each side of the mountain looks completely different, and the geology changes dramatically around the route. This gives you varied landscape shapes and colours. The granite, gives ways to gneiss, limestone and shale in places. The TMB is a photographers paradise, and some of the best lighting is in the early morning, or at sunset. Usually at these times you are in a high mountain hut, and so can take your time to take the best shots.
9). Wild Swimming
While on your TMB trek, there are some remote and stunning locations where you can go wild swimming, in pristine Alpine mountain lakes. There’s places in each country on the route, so for those who love their open water swimming, there’s yet another reason to choose the TMB. If you choose just one place for wild swimming on your trek, ensure you go to Lac Jovet, as it’s surrounded by beautiful mountains, and is in a stunning setting.
On the TMB you’ll see a touching level of camaraderie between the guides, the locals, and the hut keepers, as well as the different groups trekking the trails. There’s a great community feel on this trek, and you will perhaps share your evening meal with a group one night, then bump into them a few days further along the trail, when you share the same mountain hut again.
By now you hopefully have a good idea what makes the Tour Du Mont Blanc so unique, and not just that, but also an insight into how to make it even better for you. It’s one of those treks that any hiker will have on their bucket list, to complete at least once in their life, and it’s completely justified why it’s such a dream for many.
Can I give you one final tip? It’s to prepare to completely immerse yourself in this trek. Read about it, and plan well before your trip. It’ll add a veneer of knowledge, and things that you want to explore that bit more. I’ve completed this trek over 50 times now, and each time I learn something new, find a better variation, meet more fascinating people, or experience a different aspect of the TMB. It keeps on giving.
New Tour Du Mont Blanc Guidebook
To help your prepare and research your TMB adventure, Vertebrate Publishing have just released a brand new guidebook and map on this trek. The guidebook contains greater detail of all the tips mentioned in the article above, and is in a handy format size. It’s written by an award-winning author, who wrote this article.
Kingsley Jones, Author 2020