The Tour du Mont Blanc may very well be Europe’s most beautiful long-distance walk. The circuit around the Alps’ tallest peak and Europe’s second highest mountain threads through sublime settings of three beloved countries: France, Italy, and Switzerland. With over 150 kilometers of trails weaving around seas of glaciers, emerald valleys, and rustic hamlets, it is a trek that can also be adapted and customized to any length, difficulty, and wallet. This guide informs you on what to pack, how much to budget, and what not to miss on this trip of a lifetime!
What to pack for a 9-day Tour du Mont Blanc
- 3 pairs of underwear (you’ll have the chance to wash and dry them out on sunny days)
- 2 pairs of sports socks (these pairs from Icebreaker don’t slide and dry fast)
- 1 pair of wool socks (for indoor and evening wear)
- 1 pair of hiking pants (I prefer pants to shorts because of mosquitoes in the forests and evenings)
- 1 t-shirt (Active Armour’s fitted tees are lightweight, look good, and dry fast)
- 1 merino wool base layer (for sleeping)
- 1 pair of pyjama shorts
- 1 pair of trekking shoes (On’s Cloudventure Waterproof shoes are comfy and versatile)
- bandana (for sweat-wicking and to use as a scarf)
- fleece jacket
- hardshell jacket
- down sweater jacket (I didn’t end up using this as it never got that cold)
- 10 pairs of daily contact lenses (take dailies and leave the solution at home)
- glasses and sunglasses
- sunscreen (trust me, you’ll definitely need this) and chapstick (long hikes dry out my lips)
- oral care travel set
- 2 packs of tissue and wet wipes (the wipes are more luxury than necessity)
- phone and phone charger
- camera (I have a fixed-lens Fujifilm X100F) and extra memory card
- camera charger and spare camera battery (I didn’t use the spare; the charger was sufficient)
- trekking poles (Black Diamond’s carbon poles are ultra light; get ones for your height)
- 1.5 L water bottle
- Swiss Army knife
- assortment of different band-aids (mainly for blisters)
- face mask and a small bottle of hand sanitizer (COVID-19 necessities)
- cash: 550 euro and 175 Swiss francs (more on budgeting in a bit)
- camping gear (completely optional; there is accommodation along the entire TMB route)
- tent, sleeping bag, and inflatable sleeping mat
- portable gas stove and cartridge
- titanium cooking pot, collapsible drinking cup, and eating utensils
- 2 packs of freeze-dried meals
How much to budget for a 9-day Tour du Mont Blanc
In the resort towns of Les Contamines-Montjoie (France), Courmayeur (Italy), and Champex-Lac (Switzerland), you will have no problem paying with card. However, up in the mountains, cash is still king, so take enough euro (€) and Swiss francs (CHF) with you. Below are approximations of what you should expect to pay.
- Half-board (dinner, bed, and breakfast) at any of the accommodations along the TMB:
- €50 for a bed in a dormitory
- €80 for a double room
- Double room at a hotel: €100
- Coffee or a refreshment: €2.50 to €4 (the more remote, the more expensive)
- Sandwich: €2.50 (from the deli counter at the supermarket) to €10 (at an eatery)
- Two- or three-course dinner at a restaurant: €35
- One-way cable car ride: €15
Tip: When crossing into Switzerland, although it is probably more convenient to pay in euro, I advise paying in Swiss francs. Some establishments stick to a no-nonsense, one-to-one euro-to-franc conversion. Depending on the exchange rate, it means that you will most likely spend more on less if you choose to pay in euro while traveling through Switzerland.
If you’re fine with half-board and dorm beds and don’t plan to splurge on lavish dining experiences and souvenirs, bringing along €550 and CHF 175 should cover your basic individual costs for 9 days. I alternated between staying in the gîtes and rifugi (as the accommodations are frequently called in France and Italy respectively), camping, and hotels. In the end, I spent approximately €500 and CHF 165—which altogether is just shy of US $800. This does not include the cost of transportation between home and my starting point of Les Praz de Chamonix.
There is no right or wrong way to experience the Alps’ mightiest massif, and the time it takes to circle around the mountain range varies anywhere from four days to a fortnight. The factors affecting the length of your Tour du Mont Blanc include your level of fitness, how much you pack, how much distance you would like to cover per day, whether or not you want to include rest days or breaks, and whether or not you want to rely on transportation such as cable cars and shuttle buses.
With that said, most guides divide the tour into roughly ten stages, or étapes. There are many great resources available online for estimated walking times, elevation gains and losses, where to stay, and where to camp in each étape. Below is an outline of my 9-day itinerary through the glistening French Haute-Savoie, the wild Italian Valle d’Aosta, and the rolling hills of the Swiss Valais.
Note: I did not arrive in, depart from, or stay in Chamonix. Many people, however, choose the option to spend a night in the charming resort town upon arrival or just before departure.
Day 1: La Flégère — Les Houches
via Planpraz • Le Brévent • Refuge de Bellachat
From Les Praz de Chamonix, a cable car awaits to take you to the mountain station of La Flégère. From Flégère, walk to Planpraz on a well trodden and magnificent balcony path—the Grand Balcon Sud. The way to Planpraz is mostly dirt scattered with spots of scree, with small cairns marking the trail.
Upon reaching Planpraz, you can enjoy a sandwich savoyard layered with cured ham and melted, buttery goat cheese at Le Comptoir de Planpraz before taking another cable car up to the mountain of Le Brévent and then making the long descent down to Les Houches via Refuge Bellachat.
Close to the Refuge Bellachat, keep an eye out for wild chamois and horned bouquetin—alpine ibex. Here, high above the Chamonix Valley, is one of the best places to look for them. As it has been illegal to shoot ibex in this part of France for over 100 years, they are not wary of humans.
2x cable car rides: €30; sandwich savoyard: €10; sirop à l’eau at Refuge Bellachat: €3.50; demi-pension en dortoir (half-board in a dormitory) at Gîte Michel Fagot: €50
Making reservations by phone or email at a TMB gîte or rifugio is straightforward and easy. When booking a half-board, know that breakfast is usually served around 7:00 AM and dinner at 7:00 PM, and guests are usually in bed by 9:30 PM. (Days start and end early on the Tour du Mont Blanc!)
Evening meals at these accommodations are surprisingly good and the menus change regularly. We were treated to a three-course meal at Gîte Fagot: bruschetta savoyarde with local cheese and meat; chicken drumstick with grilled vegetables; and a dessert bowl of fruit salad, caramelized popcorn, and mango sorbet.
Day 2: Les Houches — Les Contamines
via Bellevue • Col de Tricot • Miage • Chalets du Truc
Today’s itinerary is a variant of the tradition walking route but promises spectacular views. Begin the day by taking the cable car from Les Houches to Bellevue and save yourself a two-hour uphill climb. The path winds through a forest before opening up onto a sloping valley at the foot of the impressive Bionnassay Glacier.
Continue onwards to the Col de Tricot, or Tricot Pass, from where you can take in views of the French Alps and the pleated landscape of Haute-Savoie—the land of creamy Reblochon cheese. After a steep descent down to the sun-drenched valley of Miage, enjoy a picnic lunch from the nearby refuge and cool your feet in the glacial stream cutting through the valley.
From Miage, a steep half-hour climb will bring you to the alpine pastures of Le Truc. Savor a coffee or a diabolo before making the final descent down to the cute and lively resort town of Les Contamines-Montjoie through France’s highest nature reserve.
This is a great day to discover some quintessential French foods and drinks. Most of the mountain refuges serve sirop à l’eau, flavored syrup diluted with water—and diabolo, which mixes syrup with sparking lemonade. Commonly regarded as children’s drinks, they provide a great energy boost on hot hiking days. In Les Contamines, a plethora of restaurants offer a taste of the regional cuisine from Haute-Savoie, or Upper Savoy: fondue savoyarde, tartiflette, and souris d’agneau—braised lamb shank.
Day 3: Les Contamines — Les Chapieux
via Notre Dame de la Gorge • Refuge de la Balme • Col du Bonhomme • Col de la Croix du Bonhomme • Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme
Day 3 begins with a beautiful river walk along the rolling Bon-Nant that gradually turns into an easy hour-long hike on a paved Roman road leading to the baroque chapel of Notre Dame de la Gorge. From there, the way to La Balme is a steady climb through lush forests of ferns and orchids up glistening glens.
Upon reaching the Col du Bonhomme, you’ll be treated to unbeatable views of glaciers, pastures, rivers, as well as glimpses of Les Contamines and the Col de Tricot behind you. The ascent culminates at Col de la Croix du Bonhomme, from where the long walk down to the tranquil plains of Les Chapieux begins.
Breakfast: €11; coffee at Refuge de la Balme: €3; lunch: pre-packed apples, cookies and granola bars; dinner: pre-packed freeze-dried meals; camping at Les Chapieux: free
There is no place that serves food between Refuge de la Balme and Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme, so it’s best to bring a sandwich or some food along. The day’s climb is not steep, but it is constant, with parts between Col du Bonhomme and Col de la Croix that veer upstream on slabs of rock and granite, which may be slippery and tricky to do in rain without the aid of trekking poles. Chances are that you will also cross paths with a mule and its driver on at least one occasion during your walk around Mont Blanc. In the summer months, these mules carry food supplies up to mountain huts such as the Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme every other day.
The campsite at Les Chapieux is free to use and a beautiful place to pitch a tent, with magical twilights and grazing livestock. However, it is an isolated location with no mobile phone reception in the valley, and Wi-Fi can only be purchased from L’Epicerie des Chapieux for €2 for 30 minutes. For those who decide not to camp, there is also the refuge Auberge de la Nova.
Day 4: Les Chapieux — Courmayeur
via Les Mottets • Col de la Seigne • Rifugio Elisabetta • Chécrouit • Maison Vieille
This is the longest day yet, so to make the journey easier, take the shuttle from Les Chapieux past the hamlet of La Ville des Glaciers to Les Mottets, one of the most idyllic-looking mountain refuges on the Tour du Mont Blanc.
From the refuge at Les Mottets, it takes roughly two hours to reach frosty Col de la Seigne—the border between France and Italy and the second-highest point of this itinerary. The descent from Col de la Seigne to the floor of the Val Veny is one of the most beautiful stretches of the entire walk and a fantastic introduction to Italy’s secluded Valle d’Aosta—Aosta Valley. Enjoy jaw-dropping views of the spiny east face of the Mont Blanc massif, the glaciers spilling down from the clouds, and the landscapes embroidered with colorful wildflowers. Here is also a great opportunity to look for marmots.
Leaving the dramatic Val Veny behind, a ski lift by Maison Vieille will take you down to the lovely Italian resort town of Courmayeur, where you can sample the local flavors of Valle d’Aosta such as polenta mixed with Fontina cheese and carbonada valdostana—Aostan beef stew.
Breakfast at Auberge de la Nova: €12; sandwich from L’Epicerie des Chapieux: €5.50; shuttle bus to Les Mottets: €3.50; ski lift to Courmayeur: €15; dinner and wine for 2 at Ristorante La Terrazza: €67; double room at Hotel Ottoz Meublé: €50 per person
Although this day is very long, it is not particularly difficult, especially if you do end up taking the shuttle bus from Les Chapieux or the ski lift at Maison Vieille. (Just be sure not to miss the last ski lift.) One thing to note is that the border crossings between countries are not noticeably marked at any of the frontier passes: Col de la Seigne, Grand Col Ferret, or Col de Balme. If you would like a rest day on your walk around the Mont Blanc, Courmayeur has a vibrant atmosphere and its decadent restaurants make this a good location to take a longer break.
Day 5: Courmayeur — Arp Nouva
via Rifugio Bertone • Rifugio Bonatti
Leaving Courmayeur, say “arrivederci” to Val Veny and “salve” to Val Ferret. The ascent from Courmayeur zigzags from the bottom of the valley to almost 2000 meters, making it one of the more demanding hikes on the Tour du Mont Blanc. The Rifugio Bertone marks the end of the climb, and from there, a delightful balcony trail that overlooks the entirety of Val Ferret and the east face of the towering Mont Blanc massif leads to Rifugio Bonatti. The path is lined with alpine flowers and undulates above and below the forest line. Beyond Bonatti is a fairly easy descent down to Arp Nouva (also written as Arp Nouvaz and Arnuova), where the Chalet Val Ferret lies at the foothills of the mountain.
Sandwich from Carrefour: €2.50; aranciata from Rifugio Bonatti: €4; mezza pensione (half-board) and double room at Chalet Val Ferret: €80 per person
The best time to make the climb from Courmayeur is in the morning, ideally right after breakfast, when temperatures are still cool and the sun is not overpowering. In general, ascents are best done early to avoid overheating.
This stretch of the Tour du Mont Blanc has arguably the fewest choices for accommodation of the entire circuit. Between Courmayeur and the Italian-Swiss border, only Rifugio Bertone, Rifugio Bonatti, Chalet Val Ferret, and Rifugio Elena lie on the trail. The narrow balcony path, while beautiful, is unsuitable for camping. Hence, I suggest making a reservation sooner rather than later. I emailed Chalet Val Ferret a week before my stay and booked their very last room, which was lucky indeed, as Rifugio Bertone is too close to Courmayeur, Rifugio Bonatti was all booked out and Rifugio Elena was closed.
It’s up to the management of each gîte or rifugio as to how they manage their occupancy during the pandemic. While some have kept communal dining tables and breakfast buffets are still self-service, others, like Chalet Val Ferret, operate more stringently: each party has a designated dining table, and guests must be helped by staff at the breakfast buffet.
Like in France, the evening meal comprised three courses and were delectable. The primo piatto, in standard Italian fashion, was pasta: penne bolognese with a luscious hint of red wine—possibly the best bolognese sauce I’ve ever tasted. The secondo piatto, or main course, was tomino allo speck—goat cheese wrapped in cured smoked ham—with a side of garden salad and balsamico dressing. For dessert, an apple strudel with pine nuts transported me to Südtirol on the other end of the Italian Alps.
Day 6: Arp Nouva — Champex
via Rifugio Elena • Grand Col Ferret • La Peule • La Fouly • Praz-de-Fort • Les Arlaches • Issert
Another day, another pass! It is a fairly easy ascent from the bottom of Val Ferret up to Rifugio Elena. A balcony trail then leads up to Grand Col Ferret, the highest point on this itinerary and the frontier between the Italian Valle d’Aosta and the Swiss canton of Valais. The cross into Switzerland is a distinctive one, as the Mont Blanc massif gradually and completely disappears behind you, replaced by unraveling hills and the softer peaks of the Valais Alps: Grand Combin and Mont Vélan. The walk from Grand Col Ferret to La Peule is gentle and pleasurable, eventually merging with the Chemin de Bouquetin, or Ibex Trail, before reaching La Fouly.
At this point, the Tour slows down, winding through the trio of villages of Praz-de-Fort, Les Arlaches, and Issert in the heart of the valley of the Swiss Val Ferret (not to be confused with the Italian Val Ferret from the day before, which is a geographically separate valley). An intense rise through the forest marks the final sprint to the lofty Champex-Lac with its bejeweled lake.
Orangina and apricot cake at Alpage de la Peule: CHF 7.50; fruits and nuts mix, cup noodle, canned goulash, 2x protein bars: CHF 20; camping at Camping Les Rocailles: CHF 16.50
If it wasn’t for the sheer distance, this would definitely be the easiest day on the trail. Most classic guides divide this day into two stages, with an evening spent at La Fouly. At this point, you also begin to gain a sense of the different characteristics that each country imparts on the Tour du Mont Blanc: the French part is arguably the most impressive, with sparkling rivers and infinite vistas; the Italian side is wild and rough, offering a more jagged portrayal of the mountains; and the Swiss section is the most mellow, with quaint villages and hillocks singing with the sound of cowbells and lawnmowers.
The Valais is also the only place on the entire Tour where I saw signage in Franco-Provençal, or Arpitan, the common tongue spoken in the valleys around Mont Blanc before the institutionalization of French and Italian.
Day 7: Champex — Col de la Forclaz
Day 7 has more forest bathing and pastoral landscapes in store. The ascent from Champex to the alpine pasture of Bovine follows an old route that farmers used to herd their cattle. On a hot day, it’s best to start climbing early. On rainy days, you may find parts of the path submerged under running water. Keep an eye out for wild blueberry and strawberry shrubs along the way. Upon reaching Bovine, you’ll be treated to a magnificent view of the Rhone Valley, the city of Martigny, and the homeland of the beloved St. Bernhard dogs.
The descent from Bovine to Col de la Forclaz is pleasant and easy. You can choose to walk further and stay at the bottom of the Trient Valley in La Peuty to shorten the following day’s walk. However, the Hôtel de la Forclaz is a very hospitable place with friendly service, an onsite campground, the most comfortable dorm beds and duvets, and hearty country dinners. To drink, try a Valais fendant, a slightly sparkling white wine that you’ll be hard-pressed to find outside of Switzerland, as the Swiss consume 99% of the wine they produce themselves.
Rösti au fromage, apricot cake, and 2x hot Ovomaltine at Alpage de Bovine: CHF 32; demi-pension en dortoir (half-board in a dormitory) at Hôtel de la Forclaz: CHF 67; café au lait, fendant (white wine) and tea: CHF 11.80
In case there’s any doubt, the -x and -z suffixes in place names like Champex and Forclaz are always silent. From the 9th century onward, clerics had the idea to employ the unused consonants of the Latin alphabet x and z to indicate an indigenous pronunciation. When the final letter ends in -x, it signals that the stress of the place name should fall on the last syllable. In the case of -z, the stress is on the penultimate syllable. This holds true for all the territories which spoke Franco-Provençal or Arpitan in the past. Therefore, the occurrence of the silent -x and -z suffixes marks the survival of a common heritage in these valleys which now speak mostly French or Italian.
Day 8: Col de la Forclaz — Tré-le-Champ
via La Peuty • Col de Balme • Col des Posettes • Aiguillette des Posettes
The morning begins with a beautiful half-hour walk down to La Peuty along a quiet rill. Once you reach the bottom of the valley, you can opt for a small detour to the village of Trient or continue on to Col de Balme and the French-Swiss border.
Enjoy a most beautiful climb from the valley floor, through the green light of the forest, up to the picturesque mountain pass of Col de Balme. The magnificent Mont Blanc massif emerges to greet you immediately at the border crossing into France.
From Col de Balme, it is a scenic half-hour stroll to Col des Posettes, followed by a tougher two-hour trek across rocky terrain to Aiguillette des Posettes. Although the climb up and down from this mountain ridge is demanding, the views are always spectacular. The day ends at Tré-le-Champ, a charming village above the town of Argentière.
Crêpe à la crème de marrons (chestnut crêpe) and Orangina at Refuge du Col de Balme: CHF 9.50; camping en demi-pension (half-board camping) at Auberge La Bœrne: €35; diabolo and blueberry pie: €9.50
If you follow this itinerary, then you’ll likely reach Aiguilette des Posettes shortly after midday. There is no refuge at Aiguilettes des Posettes, so bring a lunch pack with you or eat a full meal when you arrive at Refuge du Col de Balme.
At Tré-le-Champ, the Auberge La Bœrne manages a beautiful campground where it’s possible to camp at half-board and pitch your tent next to a babbling brook under the Alps. Typically, half-board and full-board reservations are best made in advance, but travel restrictions caused by coronavirus has reduced the amount of people completing the circuit this season by half, so many accommodations do have beds for walk-ins.
Day 9: Tré-le-Champ — La Flégère
via Col des Montets • Lacs des Chéserys • Lac Blanc
Cherish your very last climb this morning from Tré-le-Champ up into the nature reserve of Aiguilles Rouges, or “red needles”. You’ll emerge once again on the Grand Balcon Sud, the same path you set out on on Day 1. Continuing in the direction of Lac Blanc will lead you to a trio of small lakes, the Lacs des Chéserys, where you can go for a polar plunge to the backdrop of the full glory of the Mont Blanc massif. After this highlight, press on to the photogenic Lac Blanc before closing your circuit at La Flégère!
Lunch pack: €10; cable car to Les Praz de Chamonix €15
The area around Lac Blanc is no doubt the busiest part of the tour, but also the stretch with one of the most phenomenal views. If you are up for the challenge of a quick Alpine swim, the second of the Lacs des Chéserys you come across is the most secluded from hikers above and below. If you would like to visit Chamonix, upon reaching La Flégère, you can either repeat your walk to Planpraz from Day 1 and take the cable car down to the city, or take the cable car from Flégère to Les Praz de Chamonix and then the bus or train onwards to Chamonix proper.
Three final things to keep in mind
1. Do look back. The views behind you and the landscapes you’ve already traversed may be even more stunning than the vista ahead. In fact, there are some who choose to walk the Tour du Mont Blanc clockwise instead of the traditional counterclockwise direction just for a different point-of-view.
2. Listen to your body. On the scale of long-distance walks and treks, the Tour du Mont Blanc is not considered extremely difficult. However, this doesn’t mean it’s not challenging: many of the mountain passes are quite demanding. It’s important to listen to your body and find your own walking pace. Don’t feel pressured into walking faster or further than you feel comfortable with.
3. Have a good trip! The Tour du Mont Blanc should be first and foremost fun, but there are days when the air is hot and humorless or moments when the rain is unrelenting. Tender knees, cramping quadriceps, and painful blisters may also accompany you for parts of your trip. If you ever feel that it becomes too much, do what makes your walk easier: throw away things you don’t need to lighten your sack, take a shuttle bus, or modify your reservation and take a rest day. You’re on vacation, not in a marching regiment, so enjoy your time in the Alps!