The Tour du Mont Blanc Trek (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! You’ll hike the classic route that that takes you through France, Italy, and Switzerland. It’s considered to be one of the best long-distance treks in the world and is at the top of many hikers’ bucket list.
Although you don’t go to the actual Mont Blanc 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.
3 Ways You Can Hike Around the Mont Blanc Massif
1. Guided TMB Trek
This is a good option if you want to leave the route-finding to a skilled guide and also want local knowledge. Our French guides will point out things along the way you’d never spot on your own. A guided tour is also a good option if you enjoy the camaraderie of meeting fellow hikers.
2. Self-Guided TMB Trek
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 one of my favourite ways of doing treks. You can avoid the mistakes that we did by planning it all ourselves – see below. After booking this tour on my own, I now almost always choose the self-guided and sometimes the guided option.
Because I’m such a big fan of self-guided hikes, we offer 6, 7 or 10-day tours. You choose whether you want to stay in huts or private accommodation. And you also have the option to carry your luggage or have it transferred.
Self-guided tours are a good option if you want the flexibility of hiking at your own pace and starting when you want to. They’re also a good option if you want to spend quality time with the person(s) you’re hiking with.
The TMB route is well-signed and we provide an in-person briefing, GPS and instructions with shortcuts when available but you still get to figure out a few things on your own. For example, you choose , whether to hike the easier or more difficult but more scenic path.
I personally love this stuff. But I don’t love researching and booking accommodations in advance and trying to figuring out everything on my own from scratch. It’s very time-consuming. I’d rather rely on experts but then have the flexibility of hiking by myself.
Related Reading: The Haute Route: Hiking Tour
3. Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc On Your Own
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 how to plan your own trek if you’re staying in mountain huts.
Resources for Planning Your Own Hike
If you choose the do it yourself option, I recommend that you plan it using a combination of this site: http://www.autourdumontblanc.com/en/, and the Tour of Mont Blanc: Complete Two-Way Trekking Guide Book by Cicerone Guides. And of course a good map and GPS tracks.
The site 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. This is very time-consuming. However, it has the advantage of being the second cheapest option for trekking the TMB.
The cheapest option for doing the TMB is camping. However, as I didn’t camp, I, unfortunately, can’t offer any advice on that.
Where Does the TMB Start and End ?
We start our 6 and 7-day tours in the nearby village of Les Houches and our 10-day tours in Chamonix.
All tours end in Chamonix regardless of the length.
TMB Insider 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. It’s a very small village where only very basic supplies are available.
Choose the Direction you will Trek
The classic route is to do it counter-clockwise which is how we did it. The advantage of 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!
You can see a map of the tour here from Wikipedia.
How Long Does it Take to Hike the Tour du Mont Blanc?
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.
On our tours, the 6 and 7-day tours are the easiest (although not easy). You’ll take public transporation – buses and lifts, skipping the less scenic parts. Our 10-day tour is the most challenging with more hiking and fewer transfers.
How Difficult is the Tour du Mont Blanc?
That really depends on your fitness and experience level.
If You’re Relatively New to Hiking
If you’re new to hiking and the TMB is your first long-distance hike, it’s a good idea to start with a 6 or 7-day tour in which you hike less each day. This is a good way to ease into long-distance hiking. The 6 and 7-day tours are also good options if you don’t hike regularly and are in OK but not great shape. Note, you need to be active. If you’re not already active then you’ll find the TMB too difficult.
If You’re a More Experienced Hiker
If you’re in good shape, hike regularly and love a challenge, then the 10-day tour is an excellent choice for you.
Of course, you may be limited by vacation time. In that case, even if you’re in excellent shape, you could still choose a shorter tour, then opt to hike some sections instead of taking the transfer. That way, you’ll make it harder.
You can use these guidelines, even if you’re planning on doing the Tour du Mont Blanc on your own.
Check out this Video:
What I Didn’t Like About Booking Through the TMB Site:
Missing Info About the TMB
The disadvantage to the aforementioned 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. And the ones you book by email can be slow (if they bother) in responding to you.
We called a few and found some didn’t speak English or German, the only two languages we speak.
TMB Booking Process
Also, each booking is dependent on the other. I.e. you want to have your reservation secured for Days 1,2, 3 before you book for Day 4. That way you ensure that you don’t have too short a day or too long.
Furthermore, after we confirmed our booking, we were contacted a few days later by two refuges to tell us they were full. As a result, we had to start our bookings from scratch. This happened twice.
It took me hours and hours to plan our TMB adventure, then replan, then re-plan our route again. It’s doable but very time-consuming. It took us approximately 12 hours to book and plan everything. And it was incredibly frustrating.
An Alternative Solution to Organizing Your Epic Trek
That’s why if you’re short on time, I highly recommend doing a self-guided or guided tour of the Tour du Mont Blanc. You let someones else make all the time-consuming bookings for you. Note: even for us, the bookings are time-consuming. Sometimes we physically go to the huts to confirm a booking, because they don’t respond.
After planning the TMB on my own the first time doing this once, I wouldn’t do it again. That’s why I started offering tours – to help make it easier for fellow TMB hikers who want to hike without all the hassle. You can see the other hiking tours we offer here.
The Disadvantage of Not Knowing Which Mountain Huts to Book
Lastly, some of the mountain huts/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!
There are other refuges not known for their cleanliness. We stayed in one in Switzerland after a 13 1/2 day of trekking that wasn’t exactly disgusting, but not exactly clean either. And the staff was unwelcoming. Neither helped my tired mode.
Why I Can’t Tell You Which Huts Not to Stay In
I know you’re curious and you want the names of the refugios to avoid, however, I”m not able to share this information for two reasons.
- I’m eager to avoid a lawsuit, which has happened to other bloggers who’ve said less than complimentary things about hotels (not specifically for this tour).
- It’s a courtesy to our clients who book their TMB Self-Guided Tour through us and are paying for our expertise.
That’s another advantage of doing a self-guided or guided tour. We have insider knowledge of which accommodations offer something special. And which ones to avoid!
Other Things to Keep in Mind When Hiking the TMB:
On some days of the TMB, you will have the option of an easier or more challenging route. These days see how you’re feeling. For example, if you’re really sore or tired, you can choose an easier option. If you’re raring to go, then choose the more challenging route that day.
If you’re exhausted, or your legs are burning, don’t be afraid to choose the easier route. It’s important to challenge yourself on multi-day hikes but without overdoing it. That can easily wreck the rest of your hike.
Weather on the TMB
It’s also critical to consider the weather. We had one day that I wanted to take the longer route to do the difficult but incredible Fenêtre d’Arpette (2665m), a splendid pass that’s one of the highlights of the trip.
Unfortunately, the heavy rain made it inadvisable so we did the easier Bovines Route instead. It’s important to consider safety. Besides, if it’s raining heavily, you likely wouldn’t have the spectacular views that you were searching for on a more challenging route.
When you’re hiking in the mountains the weather can change quickly. All the mountain huts will have the weather posted. If not you can ask.
I recommend getting an earlier start and taking a shorter lunch break on days when the forecast is calling for a thunderstorm in the afternoon.
The TMB is well-marked. You’ll mainly be hiking through mountain passes and meadows of wildflowers and lush green valleys. It’s absolutely stunning.
If you choose the 10-day trek, that often means going up two separate cols/mountain passes. It’s good to keep in mind that you will likely be much slower later on in the day. So don’t count on your usual hiking speed.
Should I Get Travel Insurance for the Tour du Mont Blanc
YES! You hope you won’t need it, but mountain rescues are expensive – a minimum of €5000. And they can easily be much more expensive depending on your location and the complexity of the rescue.
I also recommend purchasing Travel and Trip Cancellation Insurance. You usually book your trip and accommodations months in advance and while each accommodation has its own refund policy most of them aren’t very flexible.
I recommend World Nomads because it includes mountain rescue and repatriation insurance which isn’t covered by many other insurance policies.
Also, unlike many insurance policies, it also covers pandemics so if you become ill or unable to travel due to COVID, they’ll cover you. Check out their site for the specific details to see what’s included and what’s not.
I had a friend hiking in the Dolomites who required a helicopter rescue because she tore ligaments in her knee which required surgery to repair.
Sometimes injuries aren’t life-threatening but if you tear ligaments, slip and break your ankle, you won’t be able to hike down on your own. It’s better to purchase travel insurance (being sure that it includes mountain rescue, and hope that you don’t need it.
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 out our TMB Packing List!
Our 8 Day Schedule of Trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc
This is NOT a recommendation but is what we did. I’m providing it 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. Again, I wouldn’t recommend what we did.
If you’re looking for recommendations check out our self-guided and guided Tour du Mont Blanc treks. You’ll get an idea for a much better itinerary.
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’ll 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: Trient to Chamonix: Start to finish time: 10 hours, 25 km, 900 m elevation
Hiking Times on the TMB
Eating with Dietary Issues at the TMB Mountain Huts
I have a gluten allergy and told all of the refuges before we left. Despite that, two of them were unaware of my allergy. My guess is that they were either busy and forgot. It’s also possible that the language barrier played a part. In the huts, someone will usually speak some English (of varying levels), but keep in mind that the main languages are French, Italian, and German depending on where you are.
One place made up for it quite well. While another one served me a salad. Safe to say that it didn’t exactly hit the spot after hiking for hours.
Breakfast on the TMB
A typical breakfast is toast with some butter or jam. None of the refuges had gluten-free bread. Instead, I requested a piece of fruit. The breakfasts in the refugios are very light so if you like t oeat a big breakfast I recommend bringing some energy bars with you.
Lunch on the TMB
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. Three or four apples were substituted for the sandwiches.
An Alternative Solution if You Have Specific Dietary Needs
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.
You’ll be staying at more hotels/inns. They’re better equipped to handle dietary preferences. At the mountain huts, there are two options for dinner. A regular meal and a vegetarian one. Everyone gets the same three to four-course meals unless you make special arrangements.
You can find out more about what it’s like to stay at a mountain hut here.
To Reserve or Not to Reserve Refuges in Advance?
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 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 refugios we stayed at, did have space. However in the following years, the TMB has gotten busier and the refugios are often full, especially Refugio Elisabetta and Refugio Bonatti. We sometimes have difficulty finding space as early as January for July dates. I highly recommend booking your tour or accommodations in advance.
TMB Insider tip: If you don’t have reservations for a mountain hut, then try to get an early start and arrive early. That way you may get a spot before it does come full with other hikers who have the same idea.
What’s the Accommmodation Like?
The refugios are a luxury in the mountain but VERY simple by normal accommodation standards.
Dormitory accommodations vary anywhere from 4 to 40+ beds. I’d recommend avoid anything with more than 20 beds wherever possible. (We don’t book these for our clients as we don’t think it provides a good experience).
Some refugios offer private double accommodations. These will also be very simple and you’ll still share a bathroom as the refugios usually have two bathrooms, one for women, one for men.
When you stay in a refugio you’ll need to bring a sleeping bag liner. They’ll provide blankets and a pillow so don’t worry about being warm enough.
A mid-option is booking private double accommodation. With this option you’ll get a mix of sleeping in refugios and simple guest houses where you will have your own bathroom some nights.
If you’re looking for luxury, then you’ll want to book the 6-day luxury tour which includes accommodation in 3-star hotels, except for one night when only a 2-star accommodation is available. On this tour you’ll have your own private bathroom every night except for one.
While the refugios aren’t luxurious, they’re often in a gorgeous setting and it’s a great way to experience local culture and mix with locals. It’s truly an authentic experience.
Pamper Yourself at the Beginning and End of Your 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. If you want to do the full route I’d recommend 10 days. 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, my partner at the time wisely prevented me. It would have been nice to have had an extra day or two. That would have significantly reduced the hours we hiked on some of the very long days.
I liked all the refuges we stayed in, with one exception.
The Closest Airport to Chamonix
The closest airport is Genevan Airport. You’ll find great deals on Skyscanner.
Getting from Geneva to Chamonix
The easiest way to get to Chamonix, the start of the TMB is with a shared shuttle which takes ~90 minutes and needs to be booked in advance. Do a Google search for “transfer from Geneva to Chamonix” and you’ll see lots of different options.
Or take this private transfer which starts from €29.97.
I also recommend spending a day in Geneva if your schedule permits.
Is the TMB Worth It?
For me, YES! It was definitely a sense of accomplishment. And I enjoyed most of it. I don’t believe anyone who says they enjoyed every second of the TMB. There are some tough parts! And there are times you may question why you’re doing it.
Even better, it left me a lasting gift that is still giving. The gift of personal strength, both on and off the mountain. Little did I know that the Tour du Mont Blanc would start an obsession with long-distance hiking. I now do at least one long-distance hike each year. Check out How a Hiking Trip Can Change Your Life.