The Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is not only one of the most popular hikes in Europe but one of the best treks in the world!
The 160km, 8000+ elevation gain trek around the highest peak (4810 m) in Western Europe is a classic! Having completed it through France, Italy, and Switzerland, I can highly recommend it. Although you don’t go to the peak itself (that involves mountaineering), it’s tough. It will challenge you both physically and mentally, but with a little bit of planning, you can choose how much of a challenge you want.
There are a variety of ways that you can hike the TMB:
You can choose from guided hikes, some, that include a donkey, like Coco, pictured below. He/she will carry 7 kg of your gear. I kept running into him along the way on our tour and rewarded him for his efforts with fruit – even though he wasn’t carrying any of my gear. What can I say? He has the same name as my cat, so I took to him immediately. And I had apples to spare – see below!
There are also self-guided treks of the Tour du Mont Blanc, in which a tour operator consults with you and makes all the arrangements best suited to your needs and wants. This is the option that I highly recommend. That way you can avoid the mistakes that we did by planning it all ourselves.
We’re pleased to offer 6, 7 or 10-day tours in which you choose whether to stay in huts or private accommodation. You also choose whether to carry all your luggage or have it transferred. AND, you can choose whether to do a self-guided tour or a guided tour.
Another alternative is to plan your TMB adventure on your own. It’s the most time consuming, but also the cheapest option, especially if you’re camping. Below you’ll find the how to plan your own trek if you’re staying in mountain huts.
So how do you plan your own Tour du Mont Blanc Trek?
If you want to design it yourself, I recommend that you plan it using a combination of this site, and the Tour of Mont Blanc: Complete Two-Way Trekking Guide Book by Cicerone Guides. And of course a good map.
Choose Your Starting Point for the TMB:
We started in Chamonix, known as the Capital of Extreme for all of its climbing, mountaineering and rafting activities. But the traditional starting point and where most people start is in the nearby village of Les Houches.
Travel tip: If you do decide to start in Les Houches ensure you buy everything you need in Chamonix first. We walked from Chamonix to Les Houches and had to take the bus back to Chamonix again to buy an iPhone cable since I couldn’t find one in Les Houches.
Choose the direction you will trek the Tour du Mont Blanc:
The traditional way is to do it counter-clockwise which is how we did it. The advantage to doing it this way is that you will keep running into the same people. If you want to hike with others, it’s easy enough to meet up. We did a combination of hiking on our own and with other people, we met on the trail, including a fellow Canadian! You can spend as much, or as little time with other people as you choose. It’s really up to you!
Decide How Many Days Is Right For You:
Don’t start by saying that you will do the trek in so and so many days. Take a look at the itineraries for the self-guided and guided tours and see whether the 6, 7 or 10-day tour, is the best choice for you. You can use these guidelines, even if you’re planning on booking your accommodation on your own. On some days, you will have the option of an easier or more challenging route. On these days see how you’re feeling. I.e. how sore you are and how tired you are. It’s also critical to consider the weather. We had one day that I wanted to take the longer route, but the heavy rain made it inadvisable.
Check out this TMB Video
Use a combination of the TMB site, book, and map to plan each day:
If you’re doing the trek totally on your own, refer to the TMB site, listed above. It shows you the availability of the refuges (mountain huts) and how long it takes to hike to the other hut. You’re also able to book the huts directly through their site. While this is time-consuming, it has the advantage of being the second cheapest option for trekking the TMB. The first is camping but as I didn’t camp, I, unfortunately, can’t offer any advice on that.
What I Didn’t Like About Booking Through the TMB Site:
The disadvantage to the TMB site though is that it doesn’t provide the elevation gain, nor the distance. It’s also only possible to book some refuges by phone. We called a few and found some didn’t speak English or German, the only two languages we speak.
Also, each booking is dependent upon each other. I.e. you want to have your reservation secured for Days 1,2, 3, before you book for Day 4, to ensure that you don’t have too short a day or too long. Furthermore, after we confirmed our booking, two refuges contacted us a few days later to tell us they were full.
As a result, we had to do all of our bookings again twice, starting from scratch. While it is doable to book everything yourself, it’s also time-consuming. It took us ~12 hours from start to finish. That’s why if you’re short on time, I highly recommend doing a self-guided Tour du Mont Blanc and letting someone else make all the time-consuming bookings for you. After doing this once, I wouldn’t do it again. On future hikes, I used self-guided tours for hiking the Dolomites, Wicklow Way in Ireland and the last 100 km of the Camino de Santiago in Spain.
Lastly, some of the refuges are nice, some less so. We stayed in a four-bedroom at one which was nice, but the dorm room was awful! The beds were both inches off the floor and from each other – keeping in mind that you may be sleeping next to a stranger! We also heard horror stories of refuges that were filthy. We stayed in one in Switzerland after a 13 1/2 day of trekking that wasn’t exactly disgusting, but not exactly clean either. It added to my already sour mode.
Note: I am not able to tell you the mountain huts that I wouldn’t recommend since it was three years ago and things may have changed. I’m also eager to avoid a lawsuit, which I know has happened to other bloggers who have said less than complimentary things about hotels (not on the TMB). It’s also as a courtesy to our paying clients.
That’s another advantage to doing a self-guided or guided tour is that they have the insider knowledge of which accommodations offer something special and which ones to avoid!
Also worth noting: If you’re choosing a longer trek that often means going up two separate cols/mountain passes. Keep in mind that you will likely be much slower later on in the day when your legs are already tired.
Also, remember to purchase Travel Insurance. You hope you won’t need it, but mountain rescues are expensive if you do, so better to be safe than sorry!
How to Pack for the Tour du Mont Blanc:
I’ve written a comprehensive post on this indicating every essential item while eliminating those that you don’t need. Check it out!
Our 8 Day Schedule of Trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc:
Note: This is NOT a recommendation, but is what we did as many of you have asked for our route. We had some long days, including a 13 1/2 hour one. If you’ve ever hiked for that long in the pouring rain, you know that’s not much fun. Also worth noting is that our start to finish time includes a short lunch stop and breaks in between. We walked every kilometre and didn’t take any public transportation. I will take ten days when I hike it again.
Day 1: Chamonix to Refuge Fioux. Start to finish time: 3.5 hours, 14 km
Day 2: Refuge Fioux to Refuge Nant Borrant: Start to finish time: 9.5 hours, 25 km
Day 3: Refuge Nant Borrant to Refuge Mottets: Start to finish time: 9.9 hours, 22 km, 1300 m elevation
Day 4: Refuge Mottets to Refuge Mont Blanco: Start to finish time: 9.8 hours, 17 km, 740 m elevation
Day 5: Refuge Mont Blanc to Refuge Bonatti: Start to finish time: 7.1 hours, 21 km, 800 m elevation
Day 6: Refuge Bonatti to La Fouly: Start to finish time: 6.5 hours, 18 km, 600 m elevation
Day 7: La Fouly to Trent: Start to finish time: 13.5 hours, 35 km, 800 m elevation
Day 8: Trent to Chamonix: Start to finish time: 10 hours, 25 km, 900 m elevation
Allow Additional Time for Breaks/Stops/Slower Hiking Along the TMB:
The times mentioned in the book and on the TMB site do not include breaks/stopping for route finding etc. Nor do they account for going slower on a long day. If it says 6 hours, you probably want to calculate for somewhere between 7-8 hours.
We had one long day listed as just over 9 hours of hiking. That seemed long but doable. It ended up taking us over 13 1/2 hours (including breakfast and lunch stop). By the time we finally hit the second bit of elevation, we were already 22km into our hike. We did the remaining 700m of elevation at a tortoise pace – in the rain, without seeming Mont Blanc the entire day. Several years later, I look back on that day and still shudder. Anyone who was familiar with TMB Trail would have known that trekking from La Fouley to Trent was not a good idea – especially when you’re carrying a heavy backpack!
Inform the TMB Refuges of any Dietary Issues Prior to Your Arrival:
I have a gluten allergy and told all of the refuges before we left. Despite that, two of them claimed to be unaware of my allergy. My guess is that they were either busy and forgot, or there was a language barrier (French, Italian, and German are spoken with varying degrees of English depending on the refuge). One place made up for it quite well; another one served me a salad. Safe to say that it didn’t exactly hit the spot after hiking for hours.
It was also a problem at breakfast where typically just bread was served. None of the refuges had gluten-free bread, so I requested a piece of fruit instead. We ordered lunches to go the night before from each hut. Despite being informed ahead of time, lunch was usually sandwiches which I couldn’t eat. As a substitute, I’d be given 3 or 4 apples instead.
If you have any special dietary needs, many of the mountain huts won’t be able to accommodate them satisfactorily. In this case, I highly recommend the private accommodation option versus the mountain hut option, in which you’ll be staying at more hotels/inns which are better equipped to handle dietary preferences. At the mountain huts, dinner is the same three to four-course meal for everyone unless you make special arrangements.
To Reserve or Not to Reserve Refuges on the Tour du Mont Blanc Trail?:
As we planned our trek ourselves, we reserved all of our refuges along the TMB in advance. We wanted to enjoy our holiday and not be on our phone each day trying to call ahead to see if there was space. We also didn’t want just to show up and find out there was no space left.
The disadvantage of this is that it allowed us no flexibility. The advantage was that we never had to worry about finding a place to sleep and – in theory, each place knew in advance about my gluten allergy.
As it turned out, all of the refuges we stayed at, did have space. Reservations may not always be necessary, but often the only space left was in a dormitory, and we preferred to sleep in private rooms when possible.
Travel tip: If you don’t have reservations for a refuge, then try to get an early start and arrive early, before it does come full with other hikers who have the same idea.
Pamper Yourself at the Beginning and End of Your Tour du Mont Blanc Trek
We stayed at the Hôtel Les Aiglons, Resort & Spa the night before our trek and at Boutique Hôtel Le Morgane on the last day of our trek. Both are four-star eco hotels in Chamonix, complete with a spa! After staying in refuges, it was pure bliss. We sat on our huge patio enjoying the killer views of Mont Blanc, as we rested our blistered, aching feet. Trust me, on the final day; you’ll likely be tired, so it’s worth a bit of a splurge!
So How Did Planning our Own TMB Trek Planning Work Out?
Overall it worked out OK for us. We did it in 8 days ( 7-12 days is the recommendation). We did have several long days, which were manageable, but our 13 1/2 hour day was way too long. I was THISCLOSE to calling a taxi for the last 3km but sustained. In truth, J.P. wisely prevented me. It would have been nice to have had an extra day or two to reduce the amount of hiking we did on some days. I liked all the refuges we stayed in, with one exception.
But the best thing about the TMB?
WE DID IT! AND ENJOYED MOST OF IT! I don’t believe anyone who says they enjoyed every second of the TMB. There are some tough parts! Even better, it left me a lasting gift that is still giving, the gift of personal strength, both on and off the mountain!
Check out my Tour du Mont Blanc Packing List!
Note: Originally published in 2013, updated in Jan, 2016