I hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc anti-clockwise from 10th to 19th September of 2017 and had a truly unforgettable time. The TMB was my second long- distance thru- hike and it was the toughest yet best thing I have ever done in my life thus far.
It was painful, exhilarating, scary, tiring, cold, hot, and most of all,
It was Beautiful.
I’ve penned down this article to help out anyone who is keen to take on this amazing adventure. But more importantly, I wanted a space to keep the memories of the trail alive.
Before we get started, I would strongly recommend the legendary TMB guide by Kev Reynolds. Everyone I met on the trail has this book. It really helped me a lot in my preparations and on trail. It doesn’t cost a lot so go get one!
Best time of the year to hike Tour du Mont Blanc
Generally, the recommended season is from mid- June to mid- September. I hiked pretty near to end of season(10th to 19th Sept) and encountered very varied weather changes. In fact, I would say it was pretty exciting to hike through the heat of late summer, rain and quite unexpectedly, tons of fresh snow as we entered the beginning of fall.
I would say for those hiking in June or September, to best prepare for ice and snow. That means waterproof gear and crampons. It snowed out on the second day of my hike and thankfully I followed behind a friendly german hiking group, who looked out for me while descending Refuge du Col de la Croix du Bonhomme into Les Chapieux, my first time hiking on snow. IN TRAIL RUNNERS. I didn’t think to bring my crampons, so was thankful to have only slipped and fall once on slippery ice at pretty high drop. It can get quite dangerous.
Clockwise or Anti- Clockwise?
The Kev Reynold’s guidebook includes the daily routings for both directions, but the more popular option is to go anti- clockwise. For safety reasons as I was hiking alone, I chose the standard routing to ensure I bump into people along the way more frequently. However, for experienced hikers with proper maps etc, going clockwise does provide more solitude and perhaps more enjoyment as the crowd will be much less, especially in the peak months of July to August.
Difficulty & Training for the Tour du Mont Blanc
If I were to rate its difficulty level, I would say the TMB is a 7/10, given the daily elevation climb, averaging at 1000m per day.
The 170km hike traverses through France, Italy and Switzerland and has a cumulative total elevation gain of 10 600m, equivalent to climbing Mt Everest(8 848m). There is elevation to be gained every day of the 10- day hike and it was physically tiring every day. I remember my legs were sore from Day 2 till Day 10.
I had planned for the hike about 2-3 months prior, and started training then. I did cardio almost daily to train up my physical and mental endurance. And climbed stairs as much as I could (especially in train stations from my daily commute to work) to train different muscles for elevation. I live in a country with no mountains so these were the things I could do, and also because I prefer working outdoors, not on stepper machines in the gym.
But no matter what muscle training you have beforehand, mental endurance will be the one to get you through. It sure did for me. And at the end of each day, it was worth it. The views and the experience of going through it all is simply amazing.
Tour du Mont Blanc Campsites, Huts & Hotels
I brought my 1P tent and winter sleeping bag and had planned to camp out on 7 out of 9 nights. Hence, I only pre- booked Rifugio Elisabetta and Rifugio Bonatti which many people say are 2 of the best huts along the TMB.
I’ve heard a lot of good things about food availability in the huts, and I was so amazed by the quality. Each meal at the huts was about 3-4 courses, complete with starters like canapés and dessert or cheeses. It was such a blessing to have delicious food made from local ingredients at these remote places. If I were to do the TMB again, I would leave my tent at home and stay in huts every night. If you look at the rates, the prices are very reasonable given the inclusion of hot showers, meals and a nice comfy mattress to sleep on.
But then again, on better weather and season, I would love to camp out and sleep under the stars every night.
As I encountered bad camping weather along the way, I ended up staying at huts and hotels as well too. Thankfully, perhaps due to late hiking season, I was able to show up and have a bed assigned to me.
Here are the list of huts, hotels and campsites which I stayed at including the cost, meals and picnic lunches:
Day 1: Les Contamines [Camp]
Camping le Pontet: EUR 10.50 for campsite. Dinner: EUR 16.50 | Breakfast: EUR 7.10 | Pack out Picnic lunch: EUR 8.50
The campsite was quite large and well- equipped with shower facilities and a little restaurant where I had dinner and breakfast at. Dinner was a surprising 3- course one, and they even had wine served! Breakfast was simple, with juice, bread, jam and butter. I also purchased a picnic lunch for the next day, which was a delicious meat sandwich and I think a fruit.
Day 2: Croix du Bonhomme [Hut]
Refuge du col de la Croix du Bonhomme: EUR 48 (Includes Bed, Dinner, Breakfast)
I didn’t have a reservation for this, as I’d wanted to camp outside the hut or head further to Les Chapieux for free camping near the tourist office. However, due to bad weather, I decided to stay and thankfully had a bed for myself. Dinner was sumptuous, for trail standards. We had cheese, soup, pasta, beef stew, and chocolate cake for dessert. As that was my first meal in a TMB hut, I was already looking forward to the next hut which was the famous Refugio Elisabetta.
Day 3: Refugio Elisabetta [Hut] *This Place serves the BEST hot chocolate!
Refugio Elisabetta: EUR 47 (Includes Bed, Dinner, Breakfast)
Do yourself a favour, book this hut and eat the food there. You won’t regret it! Especially after a super long hike from Bonhomme, this hut was an amazing treat. Plus, the hot shower brought such comfort, as the hot water facility was broken at Bonhomme(so no shower). I love their hot chocolate. It was so thick and delicious. For dinner, we had freakin canapés (yes, and wow I am still very impressed!), a super delicious vegetable risotto, a pork or chicken cutlet with french beans, and chocolate mousse for dessert. Dinner here was one of the most spectacular ones of all the other days. I remember everyone at the table was so full, but we fought hard to finish the meals because they were all too delicious to waste.
Day 4: Courmayeur [Hotel]
Hotel Dei Camosci: EUR 50 (Includes Buffet Breakfast)
I booked a comfy little hotel for the middle leg of the trail, and thanked myself for it because it was much, much needed. I was able to wash my dirty clothes, have a proper bed and privacy, and watch a little local TV. As the leg on Day 4 was a rather short one, I was able to rest my sore legs, explore the beautiful quaint village of Courmayeur and bought some Italian gelato to try too. I remember this day a lot. The hotel staff were very polite. Plus, they served a rather cute breakfast buffet with nice pastries and cakes. It was a truly an affordable treat.
Day 5: Rifugio Bonatti [Hut]
Refugio Bonatti: EUR 50 (Includes Bed, Dinner, Buffet Breakfast) | Pack out Picnic lunch: EUR 8
I read many people in the Facebook group recommended the hot chocolate from Bonatti, so I tried it, but I felt it was rather thin, compared to the one at Refugio Elisabetta! Hot chocolate aside, this is the best hut of all based on its overall facility and food. The hut has lots of history, but somehow felt very well- maintained, clean and new. Dinner was salad, soup, some eggy omelette with cabbage dish, potatoes and chocolate mousse for dessert. The chocolate mousse was delicious. The breakfast spread was an amazing buffet of juices, bread, cereal, biscuits with cheese, jam and butter. I also packed out a picnic lunch which was a simple yet delicious ham sandwich, a pear, a piece of Bonatti- branded dark chocolate and a sweet crispy bread. Pretty hearty and comforting food.
Day 6: La Fouly [Camp]
Camping Des Glaciers: CHF 6.40
Enroute to the campsite, I stopped by a supermarket and bought some cheese, ham, bread, chocolate and water for dinner. Funny thing was, I told myself to make something other than a ham and cheese sandwich but damn, I ended up with exactly that. haha. At the campsite office, I ordered a Pain aux raisins for collection the next morning. The campsite had hot shower and a nice little hut with fireplace.
Day 7: Champex Lac [Camp]
Camping Les Rocailles: CHF 8
Champex is a nice little town, which seemed smaller than Courmayeur. Thankfully there was a supermarket and I bought some staple for dinner again — Ham, Chocolate, Bread and some nice chips.
Day 8: Col De la Forclaz [Hotel]
La Grande Ourse: CHF 75 (Includes Bed, Dinner, Buffet Breakfast)
My initial plan was to camp near Hotel de la Forclaz(with toilets and showers) or near the edge of Le Peuty. However, as the weather was rainy and cold that day, I made a last minute booking at this nice hotel. The private room was a luxury to have on trail and I got to rest my sore legs near the very last very days of trail. Dinner was vegetable soup(carrot or pumpkin) , beef lasagne and milk pudding with raspberry coulis. For breakfast, they had bananas, yogurt, milk, cereal and cheese.
Day 9: Tre-Le-Champ [Hut]
Refuge La Boerne: EUR 45 ((Includes Bed, Dinner, Breakfast)
I love this quirky- looking hut. It has an old charm that I love. I can’t recall what they served at dinner, except for a fresh- looking tomato salad. Breakfast was a simple toast and butter spread. I think the best thing about this hurt is that everyone in my room had an individual comfy bed which has plugs on the side!
Total Budget & Currency to Bring – Swiss Francs and Euros (mostly)
I spent about EUR 400 in total on food and accommodation, which averages 40 EUR per day. I think the cost is reasonable, given that I stayed at some hotels and purchased half-boards at all the huts I stayed in.
Do note to bring along more Euros since 7 out of 10 days are spent in France and Italy.
As for what currency to bring, most of the accommodation in Switzerland I stayed in accepted Euros. However, if you would like to buy stuff in villages and towns, then having a good amount of Swiss francs is necessary, or just bring your credit card.
Food: Do I need to bring my own?
The answer is no. However, I’d packed 6 energy bars as emergency food.
The food served along the trail is just amazing, and it is almost impossible to be hungry at any point, because the trail passes through several little villages and huts where delicious local meals and picnic lunches can be bought and packed out to eat on trail.
Even near staffed campsites, there are supermarkets available to stock up on bread, cheese and ham to make a simple dinner or snack.
My Tour du Mont Blanc Daily Journal
I forced myself to blog every night, no matter how tired I was. I was thankful that I did, because its best to pen down memories when they are fresh in my mind. I think I took an average of 30 mins to blog, and was thankful to have wifi or data access on most nights.
I also did this to keep friends and family updated of my whereabouts to not cause unnecessary worry, and at best, try and inspire them to go out on a hiking adventure too.
- Day 1 – Les Houches to Les Contamines
- Day 2 – Les Contamines to Croix du Bonhomme
- Day 3 – Croix du Bonhomme to Rifugio Elisabetta
- Day 4 – Rifugio Elisabetta to Courmayeur
- Day 5 – Courmayeur to Rifugio Bonatti
- Day 6 – Rifugio Bonatti to La Fouly
- Day 7 – La Fouly to Champex
- Day 8 – Champex to Trient
- Day 9 – Trient to Tre-Le-Champ
- Day 10 – Tre-Le-Champ to Chamonix
What to Pack for Tour du Mont Blanc
Hiking the TMB in September is borderline crazy, because of the varied weather changes. That said, the type of equipment to pack gets interesting. I remember having to switch attires during the day when it got too cold or hot.
Here, I’ve created a packing list post for what to bring:
The Tour du Mont Blanc is an amazing hike, and I want to go hike again sometime in July or August where camping weather should be better! My initial plan was to camp all the way but I didn’t get to. I can’t wait to do it again.
Check out my other articles on the Tour du Mont Blanc: