Folks, the TMB is full. The Tour of Mont Blanc – the most popular hiking trek in the Alps – has reached its capacity. Sure, there are large mountain towns like Chamonix and Courmayeur with plenty of hotels, and you can still go there. But the small mountain villages, like les Contamines and Champex, and the more isolated huts and hikers’ inns, like les Mottets and Grande Ourse… they are pretty much booked out – complet – for 2022.
This is new. In 24 years, I’ve never seen the Alps’ busiest hike get quite this busy. OK, the TMB is no longer something you can plan relatively last minute. So what alternatives to the Tour of Mont Blanc are worth considering?
What to do when the TMB is full
People love a lot of things about the Tour du Mont Blanc. That’s why it’s so popular.
- Mont Blanc is a truly impressive mountain, and the towns are lively, fun and memorable.
- Hiking around Mont Blanc a bucket-list achievement, crossing a new pass day after day, with a new goal at the end each day, and a big goal to finish the circuit. It’s impressive.
- The TMB is a fantastic inn-to-inn experience, filled with mountains, quiet valleys, friendly fellow hikers, and quaint inns. The culture is rich and strong and adds to the allure.
Luckily, the Tour du Mont is not the only great hike in the Alps. In fact, there are many alternatives to this classic tour that are, frankly, better. There are even more impressive mountains, and epic challenging routes to be found in many areas. And, truth be told, the TMB and their hard-working innkeepers suffer from a touch of exhaustion. Every day a hundred hikers leave and a hundred hikers come. It’s a beautiful trip, but there are other places with more charm.
Here’s a short list of great options to consider if you were hoping to hike the TMB, but find yourself planning something else.
1) Hike from Chamonix and Courmayeur on a Village Retreat Tour
A village-retreat tour is a wonderful thing! You have a great room in a comfortable hotel, you unpack your bags, get settled and really start to unwind. After breakfast, head out on the trail. From Chamonix, head up to lac Blanc, to Col du Balme, to Bionnassay. From Courmayeur, hikes to Elisabetta hut and Col Checrouit, and to Bonatti hut and Grand Col Ferret are absolute highlights of the full tour.
After a full day on the trail, return to your inn, where innkeeper knows you by name. Maybe you’re in a friendly, family-run 3-star hotel, or perhaps you’ve decided to splurge on a luxurious 5-star stay. In that case, the spa beckons. Later head out to explore one of the many great restaurants in town.
How does this compare to the TMB?
This is the closest alternative to the Tour of Mont Blanc. You can experience as much as 70% of the TMB route as dayhikes from Chamonix and Courmayeur. The epic mountain scenery, the charming villages – it’s all there. Not only that, but you can get off-the-beaten-path on a village-based tour. Mer de Glacier, the Bérard valley, or the stunning glaciers of la Jonction (my favorite hike in Chamonix) are just a few of the hikes you don’t get to experience on a TMB circuit.
Our Chamonix Mont Blanc Dayhikes tour stays 6 nights in a 3-star hotel and leads you all over the Chamonix valley. It’s a great, relaxing trip, but you don’t have to stop there. Upgrade hotels, add two or three nights in Courmayeur. How about 5 nights in 5-star hotel in Chamonix and 3 nights in a charming 5-star retreat near Courmayeur? We can make that happen for you. See Mont Blanc in style.
2) Hike the Haute Route Instead
The full Hiker’s Haute Route, from Chamonix to Zermatt, is our most rugged tour. Our classic itinerary features three nights in rustic huts, and there is a big, steep, strenuous pass to cross nearly every day. It’s a wonderful challenge, and not for everyone. Plus, the first three night suffer from overlapping the TMB, so it is also hard to book. But our Best of the Haute Route tour... perhaps that is for everyone.
Have you heard of the Val d’Anniviers? No? Well we have a treat for you. Midway through the Haute Route, the Val d’Anniviers is a hidden gem that embodies everything we love about this tour. The mountains are stunning, glaciers tumble in every direction, there are high rocky trails, lush meadows and postcard-perfect villages. It’s wonderful.
Start in the tidy village of Grimentz, a warren a darkened timber houses covered in geraniums, and hike up and up and up to the Moiry hut, on the short list for most beautiful huts in the Alps. Their large picture windows framing the glacier outside actually make the view more impressive. Then from Zinal, another impressive small mountain village, hike from the French-speaking Anniviers to the German-speaking Turtmann valley, capped by the striking Bishorn mountain, and finally, Zermatt. Zermatt is amazing, with the best hotels in the Alps, trails that could fill many days, and the most powerful mountain in the Alps. The Matterhorn is worth seeing.
How does this compare to the TMB?
If you want an epic challenge, it’s hard to beat the Haute Route. Rugged, remote and really truly in the mountains, the Haute Route is a real “guide’s tour”. That is, when you ask a guide what their favorite hike in the Alps is, chances are it’s the Haute Route. The Haute Route is a fantastic accomplishment, and if you are looking for adventure, you will find it here. Crossing pass after pass to Zermatt, finally ending at the foot of the incomparable Matterhorn, is sure to set you soaring.
Our Best of the Haute Route tour is a great TMB alternative. The tour itself is a quick one – only 5 nights – but add a few nights in Chamonix at the beginning, and a couple extra nights in Zermatt, and you have a bucket-list trip worth bragging about.
3) Choose the Beautiful Bernese Oberland
The Bernese Oberland has the most stunning scenery, a kind of fairy-tale Alps that starts with the North Face of the Eiger, but does not end there. Hike past mountains, glaciers, huge waterfalls, quaint farms, hard-to-believe lakes, and plenty of authentic alpine spaces that haven’t changed much in centuries. There’s a farmer cutting grass with a scythe, and a Swiss family out on a hike to favorite hut. This is where we started out, and I’ve said it often… the Bernese Oberland is the best inn-to-inn hike in the Alps.
How does this compare to the TMB?
If you don’t care about the TMB specifically, but love the idea of of a good inn-to-inn hiking in the Alps, look no further, because this is your trip. The Bernese Oberland is not nearly as crowded, and has a more relaxed pace that is getting harder to find on the TMB. You get the big mountains, and unbelievable scenery, but with an authenticity and a peacefulness that’s so rewarding. I’ve always felt the hike to Obersteinberg is the best hike in the Alps, and I can’t count the number of times people have asked for “more Obersteinberg’s please!” when planning their next trip.
Our Classic Bernese Oberland Traverse has been our signature tour since 1999, and it’s still the best. It’s 10 nights of pure alpine bliss, hiking from mountain inn to village to mountain inn. You’ll have a private room each night, wonderful food, peaceful space, and beautiful memories. We have deluxe versions and quicker “Best of” versions, and can customize in any way you can imagine. But if you want to trust us, go to Bernese Oberland. You will love it.
But I want to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc!
We are still organizing TMB hikes for 2022. We’ve had to make a number of adjustments to our classic itinerary – a taxi to a nearby village here, a small section skipped there – but it works. We offer both 5-star Deluxe Tour du Mont Blanc and 3-star Classic Tour du Mont Blanc itineraries that, so far, we have been able to pull together. Maybe not for long. Even these adjusted itineraries are getting difficult to piece together. Our best advice, if it needs to be the TMB, is to start planning for 2023. Making plans by the fall of 2022 is not too soon, and waiting until early 2023 is probably not going to work.
The TMB is reaching capacity, and I don’t see it changing soon. There are only so many inns on this one specific route. But happily, there are a lot of Alps, and they are fabulous. See you on the trail!