Hiking Mont Blanc is a bucket list item. Whether you hike the full tour or just visit the region, this is a land of extremes.
As you probably know, Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in the Alps. At 15,782 ft (4810 meters), and elegantly draped with long, white glaciers, Mont Blanc soars above the nearby towns of Chamonix and Courmayeur, providing a focal point to an already stunning region. But it’s not just about Mont Blanc. Straddling the borders of France, Italy and Switzerland, the region is filled with huge peaks, long glaciers, and great rocky spires. The Aiguille du Tour, Aiguille Verte, Aiguille du Bionassay and the Grand Jorasses are all highlight-worthy themselves. And with trails that wind through forests, along lakes, over passes, into little-known side valleys, and through 3 countries, the Mont Region is filled with variety.
Let’s start with Chamonix, France, in the heart of it all. At about 3400’ above sea level, Chamonix is a sunny, warm, plaza-filled village with Mont Blanc visible from most parts of town. At the center of Chamonix a statue of Jacques Balmat and Michel Paccard points up to the mountain that they first conquered in 1786, kicking off mountaineering as a sport. Chamonix is alive with shops and restaurants, and hosts a number of special events each year. It is an alpinists dream. You’re never bored here, and enjoyable days can be spent taking in the sights in town and soaking up the sun from a nice outdoor cafe.
The Chamonix valley is surrounded by fantastic trails, and you could literally spend a week hiking something new each day. Lac Blanc, the Posettes ridge, Bionnassay valley, the Grand Balcon from Mer de Glace to the Aiguille du Midi lift, la Floria, la Jonction… the list goes on and on. Even if you’ve come to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc, you should leave some time rest, relaxation and day hikes around Chamonix. They are worth the time.
On the other side of Mont Blanc, and connected by a tunnel beneath the mountain (or by trail over numerous passes), is Courmayeur – Chamonix’s Italian counterpart. In contrast to the open plazas of Chamonix, Courmayeur is buttoned down, almost medieval-feeling, with narrow cobblestoned alleyways leading through ancient stone hamlets. The atmosphere is both fascinating and refreshing, and is a true Italian village, filled with gelaterias, cafes, shops, pizzerias and stylish Italian tourists. The mountains from the Italian side mirror this character, vertical and rocky, with a wildness that is less apparent on the French side. It’s a true Italian experience, and just plain fun.
Tour du Mont Blanc
Of course the Tour of Mont Blanc, the TMB, is the queen of alpine hikes. The most popular inn-to-inn route in the Alps, the TMB links a series of trails taking you all the way around the mountain group, from Chamonix to the quiet southern stretches of the mountains, into Italy and Courmayeur and then across the border to Switzerland. Finally, about 7 passes and 100 miles later (numerous variations make it hard to pinpoint exactly) you cross back in to France to Chamonix, making the full circuit in normally 8-11 days.
We offer many different tours in the Mont Blanc region… Deluxe Mont Blanc tours that pamper you with 4 and 5-star hotels, the Classic TMB with nights in remote hiker’s inns and others in small alpine villages, a shorter “Best of” tour leading from Courmayeur through Switzerland to Chamonix, Haute Route tours, or our Chamonix village-based tour that enjoys all the stunning hikes below Mont Blanc from the Chamonix valley. There are many ways to hike this region.
TMB as a journey
The Classic TMB a great hike, and being so popular, it is not one you should expect to be making alone. In fact, one of the joys of the TMB is that you are likely to meet others from around the world who are doing more or less the same route as you on about the same schedule. On top of that, you’ll normally spend at least a couple nights in rustic gites… small mountain inns, sometimes with private rooms, sometimes not, but always with big communal meals where it is especially fun to meet other hikers and swap stories and plans. Hiking the TMB becomes part of a greater journey, something shared with many people along the way as you forge your path to alpine villages and over mountain passes, through three countries, and around a mountain.
As great as it is, the TMB might not be the most stunning inn-to-inn hike in the Alps (we’re partial to the Bernese Oberland), it’s not the most rugged or remote (the Haute Route is much more so), it’s not the easiest or the hardest. There are good alternatives if you would like to get away and experience a great hike in a different region. But the TMB will always be a special trip that never disappoints.
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