Mont Blanc is the monarch of mountains;
They crown’d him long ago
On a throne of rocks, in a robe of clouds,
With a diadem of snow.
– Lord Byron
The regal Mont Blanc Massif straddles the borders of France, Italy and Switzerland and, at the heart of this enormous chain of 400 awe-inspiring peaks and 71 spectacular glistening glaciers, is the highest peak of Western Europe at 15,780 ft. Although mountaineers have been enticed by this region for two hundred years, Mont Blanc has been beckoning the less technically inclined, yet physically fit trekkers as well.
Tour du Mont Blanc (or TMB) is the grueling 112-mile circuit around Mont Blanc that takes about two weeks to complete. TMB has its origins as centuries old trade routes and is considered one of the best trekking routes in Europe. This trail goes through 7 alpine valleys carpeted with wild flowers, over desolate mountain passes, into small hamlets and along ginormous glaciers… all while being under the gaze of the mighty Mont Blanc. The breathtaking, idyllic landscape, which is home to such wildlife as the ibex and chamois, competes only with the charming villages with their diverse cultural, culinary and architectural contributions from three different countries.
You can start this classic trek in the quaint French resort town of Chamonix and head in a counter clockwise direction. The mountain paths are solid with some areas having rockier terrain littered with talus. Other parts of the route will have cables and ladders, some will have tracks and country lanes.
A typical day of trekking TMB includes ascending up cols, crossing high passes that reveal dramatic jaw-dropping panoramic views of the mountain ranges at every vantage point and then descending down valleys to old world storybook hamlets and villages. The landscape constantly changes from jagged peaks, glaciers and snow topped mountains to pristine wildflower meadows, beautiful lakes and dense forests. The only constant in the scene is the ever-present Mont Blanc.
TMB crosses several high passes around 8,200 ft with the highest point being 8,478 ft. and the highest vertical gain of 35,000 ft. The highlights of the classic route are The Brévent at 8,284 ft, Bemada Testa at 8,313 ft. and Grand Col Ferret at 8,323 ft. There are variations to this route to make the adventure more challenging and rewarding. The variant’s highlights are The Col des Fours in France and the Fenetre d’Arpette in Switzerland, with both having an 8,743 ft altitude.
You will end each day physically taxed, yet visually fulfilled. Since the trail passes through such exquisite places like Les Contamines, Courmayeur and Champex there is the opportunity to experience the warmth of alpine hospitality. You refuel your energy while dining on unique local cuisine and retire for the evening in accommodations that run the gamut: first class hotels, delightful inns, simple hostels and mountain huts.
The region’s best trekking season is between July and September. Now is the time to pack your most comfortable hiking boots and brush up on your French and Italian. Treat yourself to Mont Blanc and the experience of the best hut-to-hut trek in Europe with its stunning alpine landscapes, charming people, postcard views and culinary delights of the French, Italians and Swiss.