Have you ever wondered what’s it like hiking the famous Tour du Mont Blanc? I did my first multi-day hike this summer in the Alps and absolutely loved the whole experience. You might be asking what is the Tour du Mont Blanc exactly? And why is it so incredibly popular? Who can do it? How fit do you have to be to do it? Read on, I will tell you!
What is the Tour du Mont Blanc?
Tour du Mont Blanc is one of the best known long distance hiking trails in the world and certainly the most popular in Europe. The full circumnavigation of the Mont Blanc massif is 180km and will take around 10-11 days to complete. The main route is primarily in France and Switzerland although it does extend over to the Italian side for a little bit as well.
As the route is circular, you can start it practically at any point along the route but most popular starting points are Chamonix in France and Courmayeur in Italy. You can also do less than 10 days if that sounds a bit scary -I did about 80 km of the route over 5 days + 1 day of hiking off the main route near Chamonix.
The well marked route will take you from village or town to another; they are quite conveniently located about 5-8 hours walking distance from each other. There are different accommodation options available, mostly nice auberges or hostel-like accommodations where you share your room with other people. Some towns have hotels while sometimes the only option is a rustic mountain hut literally in the mountains, far away from everything. In most places it is possible to have a private room for two people as well but the mountain huts won’t have those – So be prepared to share your accommodations with strangers at least once or twice, depending on the route you take.
Who can hike it?
You might wonder why this route is SO famous and popular. Europe is actually covered in GR (Grande Randonnee, French for great walks) walking routes and France along has 60,000km of these footpaths. Tour du Mont Blanc is just one of these routes but the location around Europe’s highest peak makes it very popular and of course the scenery is simply stunning. It is also easily accessible with the closest airport in Geneva only 1.5 hours away.
This route is obviously for those who like the outdoors and hiking, but just how fit do you have to be for it? First, think how do you feel about being outside (no matter what the weather) for 5-9 hours daily and being active most of that time. The weather in the mountains can change quickly so it’s not all rainbows and sunshine! It’s not easy walking because there is a lot of ascending and descending daily but it’s not incredibly hard either. For example I exercise (mainly running) 3 times a week and I was comfortable hiking the route.
The paths are well marked and well maintained but very different. Sometimes it’s nice wide paths, sometimes narrow rocky trails and sometimes you can’t see the route from the snow. I was very happy to have fully water proof boots as I did come across quite a few streams that I could not cross without getting my boots wet. So if you are up for an active trip and have or are willing to get the necessary gear (waterproof boots, trekking poles and comfortable backpack are essential) I say go for it!
How to hike Tour du Mont Blanc independently?
So now you are convinced you should go hiking on this beautiful route. Fantastic! How to go about it? If you feel like a true champion and want to take your large backpack on the trip carrying everything you need for your 5-10 day trek, go right ahead! I have immense respect for those hikers I saw along the way with their big (and heavy) backpacks but there is just no way I would do that. Not on my first attempt at long distance hiking anyway! And probably not on my second attempt either, if we’re being honest. So I had arranged most of my stuff to be transferred between my accommodations every day (YES, there is taxi service specifically for this!) and just carried my daypack – 3 litres of water, cameras, lunch, snacks and rain gear. It was an amazingly light way to hike.
There are guided small group tours available, but in my opinion this route is easy and safe enough to do self guided. If you are savvy about hiking, making travel arrangements and can plan your route well in advance, you can do this by yourself – with the helps of maps of course, so be sure to purchase the IGN maps for this route. Accommodation reservations are highly recommended though, as it would be very disappointing to arrive to a mountain hut to find out it’s full and it’s another two hour hike (or more!) to the next one. So think self guided, but well planned.
No matter what way you choose to explore this area I cannot recommend the Tour du Mont Blanc enough! It is a stunning hike and relatively easy as it’s not remote or hard to reach. The scenery alone is worth every step on this tour. And one last tip; many people do this route anti-clockwise but I would recommend definitely doing it clockwise. This way the views get better day after day and you start to wonder just how much more beautiful this hike can get!