Tour du Mont Blanc
WALKING GUIDE
View of Mont Blanc on stage 11
Tour du Mont Blanc
Tour du Mont Blanc
11 stages . 1 rest day . 12 nights

Tour du Mont Blanc: A guide to the trek

Walking guides - see all our background pages

Bare facts

The Tour du Mont Blanc is a walking trail in the French, Italian and Swiss Alps making a 180km (112 miles) circuit of Mont Blanc, starting and finishing in Les Houches near Chamonix.

The highest point reached by the standard route is 2,584m (8,478ft) and the height gain (and therefore loss) around the whole Tour is around 10,600m (35,000ft).

Trekkers typically take 11 days to complete the circuit, give or take a day or two.

Best bits

Our clients say...
We ask our TMB clients which stages they enjoyed most. Often the voting is in favour of the two stages above the Chamonix valley from Argentiere to Les Houches. We agree!

With good weather this section reveals the most stunning views of Mont Blanc on the trek, across the deep Arve valley, with the panorama from Le Brevent at 2,525m (8,284ft) being particularly good.

On a typical trek starting in Les Houches, these two stages have the end in sight and the 'home' valley of Chamonix waiting below.

Other highlights
Other stages on the Tour have their own attractions. For calming, pastoral beauty the relatively easy stage from La Fouly to Champex in the Swiss Val Ferret is hard to beat in all of the Swiss Valais region, not just along the Tour du Mont Blanc.

The Italian stages have especially good views of the Mont Blanc range, and in clear weather the views from Col de la Seigne, Tete de la Tronche and Grand Col Ferret are exceptional. Jagged snow and rock peaks are ranged along the skyline here, their glaciers tumbling down to the valleys far below.

Photos from trips: Tour du Mont Blanc

Map showing the route of Alpine Exploratory's Walker's Haute Route walking holiday

Trips 2022

Alpine Exploratory offers the following holidays based on our Tour du Mont Blanc research:

Tour du Mont Blanc
Guided Tour du Mont Blanc
Tour du Mont Blanc South
Tour du Mont Blanc North
Tour du Mont Blanc Weekend

Names - a brief note

Tour du Mont Blanc is the proper French name for the trek and is often shortened to TMB or to the Tour when in context. Tour of Mont Blanc would be the English equivalent. Tour de Mont Blanc, the most popular name among English-speakers, isn't quite right. Mont Blanc Tour or Mont Blanc Circuit are readily understood. In Italian it's the Giro di Monte Bianco.

Is it for me?

The joy of trekking
There is great satisfaction in completing stages of a long-distance trek, even more so when it's a famous one like the TMB. There might be times when the climb seems too much effort, and when you encounter bad weather; at such times the goal keeps you going. Equally there should be days when you feel all-powerful, tackling the mountain trails as if they were paths in the park!

One of the best feelings on trek can be nearing the end of a stage, once you're well into the walk, knowing that you've ticked off another leg of the quest. At such points you've also got an evening in a new village to look forward to. Travelling in a self-sufficient manner through the culturally and linguistically diverse terrain of the TMB, this all makes for a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying holiday.

Rifugio Bertone on stage 5 of the Tour du Mont Blanc
Approchaing Rifugio Bertone

Can I manage it?
The TMB is manageable for normal fit mountain walkers who are happy to walk for between 5h and 7h 30m per day along a long-distance trail. It will greatly help your enjoyment of the trek to arrive fit at the start, used to walks of similar distance and height gain to those that you are about to face.

One tough stage for many trekkers is the 21km (13 miles) walk from Les Contamines to Les Chapieux. This involves a total ascent of 1,430m (4,692ft) to cross the Col de la Croix du Bonhomme at 2,479m (8,133ft). The next-toughest stage can be the walk from Courmayeur to Rifugio Bonatti.

The villages and huts used determine the distances each day, of course, and we book many variations on our schedules according to how our clients want to approach the TMB. If you'd like a fast dash or a trip that minimises the longest days, please contact us to chat about the options.

For those wary of walking the TMB in one go, there are many towns and villages along the route suitable for rest days. Our normal schedule spends a rest day in Courmayeur, a superb little Italian town and in many ways a counterpart to Chamonix. Our favourite spots for second rest day would be Champex, a quaint Swiss lakeside village surrounded by mountains and a perfect place to relax, or Argentiere in the Chamonix valley, home to so many outdoor activities.

Of course, the TMB can also be tackled over two holidays each fitting into a week. We offer both the North and the South halves and we enjoy booking these in as excellent trips in their own right.

Long weekends are possible too, as indeed are trips of any length. Please contact us and we'll plan a trek for you over a suitable section of the TMB.

What's it like underfoot?
Underfoot you will experience a variety of tracks and trails on the TMB. The mountainous sections most often run on single-track paths that can be rocky in places, sometimes with steps but mostly just the bare earth. Mud is not a problem in the same way as on paths in the UK, for example! Tracks are also common - perhaps gravel forest roads, ski pistes, or rough tracks for vehicles over agricultural land. There are some sections of country lanes, of which the longest is one 4.5km stretch near the tiny hamlet of les Chapieux.

Is the route obvious?
The TMB is waymarked well throughout its length. Waymarks vary between countries, the Swiss signage being the clearest and most comprehensive by a small margin. However, it is essential for all parties on the TMB to have at least one competent navigator with a map and compass, for those situations where the route is not marked at a turning or where the clouds have closed in. The best maps for the route unfortunately still have mistakes, in a few places superimposing the TMB route along the wrong footpath, and being behind the times with changes to the routing. Our routecards, notes and maps give you all you need to complete the circuit under your own steam.

During each summer season, snow falls on typically two or three or more occasions. It tends to go away equally quickly and tends not to be deep at the altitude of the TMB, but for the time it remains it can make navigation even more challenging. Under a cover of snow, ground features are hidden and reliance on map and compass skills is key.

Is it technically difficult?
The TMB is first and foremost a walk. There is no glacier walking, no via ferrata and no rock climbing. There are however some sections where the path crosses rocky and steep ground. In particular there are three sections on the standard route, all on the two stages above the Chamonix valley, where metal ladders or steps have been installed to make the route easier across rocky ground. The hardest two of these sections can be avoided by alternative routes, but none of them should present problems to regular hillwalkers. Please contact us and we'll be happy to describe these spots in more detail. Your joining notes contain detailed information about likely hazards on the trail.

Some of the variants on the standard TMB route cross steeper, looser and more technical walking ground than the main route. Of particular note are the Col des Fours and Fenetre d'Arpette, both of which cross steep and rocky cols requiring good balance and foot placement. Our routecards describe these variants to the trail in detail.

Unseasonal weather
The typical summer's day in the Alps brings hot sun, perhaps with occasional rain or afternoon storms, but in any case paths that are clear of snow. However, fresh snowfalls occur each summer on a handful of occasions. Most often, these leave a coating of an inch or two on higher passes only, and they disappear in a day or two. However, sometimes the snow stays for longer periods and is deeper. While the TMB should be approached as a summer Alpine trek, with snow quite unlikely, it is wise to know that snow can fall even in summer.

We show this photo in order to be clear what an unseasonally wintry day can mean for the terrain underfoot. This is the TMB under a very light covering of fresh snow. It's falling, and more snow will mean white terrain everywhere.

Snow on the TMB
Snow on the TMB (Photo by Anna Stewart)

When to go?
Our Tour du Mont Blanc season runs from the start of July to the middle of September.

This short season is imposed by the weather: the chance of late-Spring snow patches remaining into late June across the higher passes, and the chance of the weather deteriorating into late September. Because we can't predict the weather for the coming summer, we have to set these dates in advance.


Where to stay

The TMB's accommodation is a major attraction of the route. At various points there are choices of mountain huts, campsites, luxurious hotels, more modest hotels, and auberges with a mix of rooms and dormitories.

Most accommodation is family-run, even in the larger places such as Courmayeur. Our TMB clients often volunteer how much they enjoy the variety of the places we book for them; we aim to give a true experience of the Alps and of the Tour du Mont Blanc. In Chamonix we book as standard our friendly and central hotels, for an unforgettable finish to the trip.

The huts on the TMB follow a common Alpine pattern, catering for big numbers of hikers in a practical and comfortable way. Dormitories are common, but private rooms are available in many of the huts too, subject to availability. (We will advise on the sleeping arrangements according to your particular schedule.) Showers are available, sometimes with a token system for a small extra payment to the warden. For food, expect a simple menu of large portions and plenty of cake, beer, coffee and soft drinks. Our standard Tour du Mont Blanc trip uses 4 welcoming huts, but we are always happy to put together 'hutty' schedules if you would like to see more of this side of the world of Alpine hiking!

Research

People at Alpine ExploratoryPeople at Alpine ExploratoryAlpine Exploratory's 2022 research on the Tour du Mont Blanc was led by Rob in June and Dan in July
Recces 2021

City breaks after trekking

Our Tour du Mont Blanc holidays come with notes on the following cities, in your info pack:

Geneva in Switzerland
Zurich in Switzerland
Bern in Switzerland

City breaks after hiking in the Alps

The Route

Here's a brief guide to the places and experiences on the TMB, on our normal 11-stage schedule.

Stage One
We start in Les Houches, the village at the foot of the valley not far from Chamonix. (The TMB does not pass through Chamonix itself - all travel details are included in your joining notes.) The first climb, up to Col de Voza at 1,653m (5,423ft), is not too bad in the overall scheme of things, but may be a tough start for legs that have yet to fully warm up! At the col, the main route is a gentle descent to the Montjoie valley through the villages of Bionnassay, le Champel, la Villette, la Gruvaz and Tresse before the final pull up to Les Contamines. A good alternative, harder but with close views of the Bionnassay glacier, is the high-level route over Col de Tricot at 2,120m (6,955ft).

Stage Two
From Les Contamines the route plots a course due South. Follow the Torrent le Bon Nant along forest tracks to the famous church of Notre Dame de la Gorge. Here the climbing begins! An initial ascent along a steep track, built by the Romans, brings you to the flat upper valley beyond la Rollaz; higher up, pass the Refuge la Balme and complete the main part of the climb, reaching Col du Bonhomme at 2,329m (7,641ft). A traverse round to the Col de la Croix du Bonhomme at 2,479m (8,133m) finishes the climbing - relax here to take in the new views to the South over the Beaufortain mountains. All that's left now is a grassy walk downhill to the hamlet of Les Chapieux.

Stage Three
The next stage climbs and then descends to Rifugio Elisabetta. Along the way, the Italian border is crossed at the Col de la Seigne. Start the walk by climbing gently along a lane in the narrow trench of the Vallee des Glaciers, reaching the Refuge des Mottets. The climb to the Col starts here and is not too demanding. Arriving at the Col at 2,516m (8,255ft) the view ahead is of the highest scenic quality. It stretches as far as the Grand Col Ferret, 3 stages away, along the lengths of the Val Veni and Italian Val Ferret. On the left hand side of these valleys is the Mont Blanc massif in all its splendour, with the best view of Mont Blanc itself since leaving Chamonix. Drop down from the col to reach the Rifugio at the lip of the Vallon de la Lee Blanche, below a trio of glaciers.

Balcony Path on stage 1 of the Tour du Mont Blanc
Balcony Path on stage 1

Stage Four
Today's destination is the Italian resort of Courmayeur. Begin by descending towards Val Veni with the huge Glacier du Miage prominent to your left. The TMB takes a high route along the Northern slopes of Mont Favre in order to gain better views of Mont Blanc across the valley. From Col Checroui the TMB descends rapidly down steep ski runs to the village of Dolonne and then Courmayeur itself. Courmayeur is a bustling and lively town with all facilities and a noticeably Italian feel, in contrast to Chamonix and the settlements met on the route so far.

Stage Five
The next stage, which has much climbing, passes Rifugio Bertone on the way to Rifugio Bonatti. Options exist to make this stage easier or harder. A highlight of the day, in fact of the whole Tour, is the traverse of the long grassy ridge of Mont de la Saxe which acts as a lookout for the Mont Blanc range opposite - while this is a variant rather than the main TMB trail, we recommend it over the lower 'Armina' route for its fantastic outlook. Cross Col Sapin at 2,436m (7,992ft) and Pas Entre Deux Sauts at 2,524m (8,281ft) before dropping down to the Rifugio. Named after the famous Alpinist Walter Bonatti this is a modern and comfortable hut known for its generous and delicious food. Its position on a grassy shelf opposite the Grandes Jorasses is enough to recommend it!

Stage Six
Follow the recently re-routed TMB path from Rifugio Bonatti on a traverse of the hillside, before it begins the stiff climb to Grand Col Ferret. Glacier de Pre de Bar dominates the view to the North, flowing down from Mont Dolent on the border of France, Italy and Switzerland. At the Col at 2,537m (8,323ft) the whole of your Italian adventure can be seen, from its start at Col de la Seigne. Now you are in Switzerland. Begin by descending gently to the farm buildings of la Peule, then lower down to the Swiss Val Ferret. Pass the village of Ferret to arrive in La Fouly, a calm village amidst some of the most charming scenery of the whole trek.

Stage Seven
Wander down-valley past meadows, the river (la Drance de Ferret) and through woods. Walk along the top of a wooded glacial morraine, the Crete de Saleina, arriving soon after at the village of Praz de Fort. Pass les Arlaches and Issert in the valley floor. So far today the route has been gradually downhill. Now start a gentle ascent all the way through woods to Champex and its high position in a saddle between the mountains le Catogne and la Breya. This stage is the easiest and lowest of the Tour, not crossing any passes, but it is full of charm.

Stage Eight
Champex might be hard to leave with its picturesque lake and calming air. The TMB splits into two for the journey to Trient: the main route climbs through woods to the alp of Bovine at 1,987m (6,519m) while an alternative route climbs higher to the Fenetre d'Arpette at 2,665m (8,743ft). Neither route is easy, but the Fenetre route involves high, rocky walking that some will find especially tough. Arrive at Col de la Forclaz directly on the Chamonix-Martigny road, or drop to the quiet Swiss village of Trient in the valley.

Stage Nine
Leaving Trient, pass the hamlet of le Peuty and begin the steep climb to Col de Balme at 2,131m (6,991ft). Once at the col the nature of the TMB changes remarkably, for now you are in the realm of Chamonix and all that that entails. The view to Mont Blanc is suddenly revealed upon reaching the Col, this time from the French side, and is one that will hopefully accompany you for the next two and a half stages. The peaks, needles and rocky spires of the massif will rearrange themselves throughout your walk to Les Houches. Back to the current stage, follow the Tour over the narrow ridge of Aiguillette des Posettes at 2,201m (7,221ft). Descend along the crest to Tre-le-Champ, a hamlet from which the views of Aiguille Verte are especially good. From here it is easy to reach Argentiere, the informal centre for the upper Arve valley.

Stage Ten
The next two stages make the link to Les Houches and will see you walking high above the Chamonix valley. Climb from Tre-le-Champ into the Aiguilles Rouges nature reserve, giving one of your best chances to spot ibex (bouquetin) and chamoix. Pass the rock needle of Aiguillette d'Argentiere before climbing up the rocky hillside on ladders. Lac Blanc is a very worthwhile diversion. The climb to this famously scenic lake at 2,532m (7,717ft) can be incorporated into the stage or treated as an out-and-back. Either way, traverse further along the hillside to reach the hut and cable car station at La Flegere. This connects with Les Praz, between Chamonix and Argentiere in the valley below.

Stage Eleven
Pick up the route at La Flegere and prepare yourself for a very scenic introduction to the day. For about 90 minutes your route takes you across the rocky hillside on an easy path, high above the forests on the North-West side of the Arve valley. Looking up at the hillside from the valley below, you wouldn't think it possible. The route follows the well-known Grand Balcon Sud. Reach the cable cars at Planpraz, connecting to Chamonix, and turn up towards Col de Brevent. Here the GR5 - from Lake Geneva to Nice - joins our route. The link from here to the summit of Le Brevent at 2,525m (8,284ft) is intriguing - it passes through a high rocky hollow and then along the steep hillside with a short section of ladders. The summit viewpoint is perhaps the best position yet from which to look at Mont Blanc, as well as the Col d'Anterne area to the North. The Brevent has a cable car link to Planpraz and Chamonix. The final part of the TMB is now beckoning, down rocky slopes past Refuge de Bellachat and further down into forests, arriving at Les Houches. This is the end of your trek!

The TMB in context

The TMB compared to treks in the UK
Compared to most long-distance routes in the UK, the TMB has lower daily distances but more ascent. On the Coast to Coast route in England, for example, the average stage length is twice as long but most stages do not climb as much. An extra factor is that the TMB's altitude is higher throughout, as it is on most Alpine treks. (The highest point in England is under 1,000m whereas on the TMB even the valleys are around 1,000m!)

The TMB compared to the Walker's Haute Route and AV1
The TMB sits below the Alta Via 1 and the Haute Route in its difficulty. These are three of the classics of Alpine walking. Compared to the AV1, the TMB has more daily distance and elevation gain, but covers generally more hospitable terrain with fewer of the bold mountain settings and the steep drops to the side. The uphill walking tends to come in more concentrated chunks, with typical mornings being spent climbing to a pass, instead of the ascent being spread out during the day. Compared to the Haute Route, the TMB is notably less challenging, because the Haute Route is right at the top end of Alpine walking terrain.

Comparing our 5 big Alpine treks
The Haute Route is substantially the toughest, suitable only for trekkers with particularly solid experience, balance and fitness.

The Via Alpina includes three rocky cols that approach the Haute Route's level of challenge, though the route as a whole is more forgiving. The same applies to the Adlerweg but in its case one col (the Eppzirlerscharte) stands above the rest as very difficult, and it can be skipped by descending and taking the train. The Adlerweg is notable for some long days on wide tracks.

The AV1 is more consistent in its difficulty but is especially demanding of good balance, with steep, rocky and wild situations calling for mountain experience.

The TMB is a superb all-rounder that mixes tough, solid mountain days with gentler ones, allowing trekkers to sample the harder terrain as at the Fenetre d'Arpette (a variant, shared with the Haute Route) while not requiring any extremes.

It's worth noting that each trek has different possible schedules, governing the physical difficulty, and on many days different variants affect the terrain difficulty.

Below we compare the stats of our 5 big trips:

Two weeks of Alpine trekking in a circuit from the Chamonix valley
Lac Blanc on the Tour du Mont Blanc
Distance: About 180km or 110 miles
typically done over 11 stages

Ascent: About 10,700m (35,000ft)

Highest point: Just over 2,500m (8,200ft) and the route crosses several passes around 2,500m

Terrain: Good mountain paths, rockier and looser sections, cables and ladders, tracks and country lanes

Accommodation: Hotels, huts and auberges in a varied mix

Season: Early July to mid-September
A week and a half of Alpine trekking from Dobbiaco to Belluno
Cinque Toree on the Alta Via 1
Distance: About 120km or 75 miles
typically done over 10 stages

Ascent: About 6,650m (22,000ft)

Highest point: Just over 2,750m (9,000ft) and the route spends much time over 2,000m

Terrain: Good mountain paths, some rockier and looser sections, tracks and country lanes

Accommodation: Mostly mountain huts, plus hotels at start and finish

Season: Mid-July to mid-September
Two weeks of Alpine trekking from Chamonix to Zermatt
Col du Tsate on the Walker's Haute Route
Distance: About 200km or 125 miles
typically done over 14 stages

Ascent: About 12,900m (42,300ft)

Highest point: Just under 3,000m (9,800ft) and the route crosses several passes over 2,900m

Terrain: Good mountain paths, rocky and loose sections, wild remote cols, cables/ladders, tracks and lanes

Accommodation: Hotels, huts and auberges in a varied mix

Season: Mid-July to mid-September
Three weeks of Alpine trekking in the Tyrol from St. Johann to St. Anton
View of Innsburuck on the Adlerweg
Distance: About 387km or 242 miles
typically done over 19 stages

Ascent: About 14,400m (47,240ft)

Highest point: Just over 2,250m (7,380ft) and the route crosses a number of cols above 2,000m

Terrain: Good mountain paths, forest tracks, some rockier and looser sections, tracks and country lanes

Accommodation: Hotels and huts in a varied mix

Season: Early July to mid-September
Three weeks of Alpine trekking across the width of Switzerland
Lauterbrunnen Valley on the Via Alpina
Distance: About 349km or 219 miles
typically done over 18 stages

Ascent: About 19,960m (65,485ft)

Highest point: Just over 2,800m (9,180ft) and the route crosses three passes above 2,300m

Terrain: Good mountain paths, rocky and steep cols, grassy cols, tracks and country lanes

Accommodation: Good hotels and no huts (but can be added)

Season: Mid-July to mid-September

Hike the Tour du Mont Blanc with Alpine Exploratory

Alpine Exploratory offers four self-guided options for the TMB, plus one guided trip. As well as the full circuit from Chamonix we offer half-routes which we call North and South. These end and start, respectively, in the roughly half-way resort of Courmayeur. Our weekend trip explores the final 3 sections of the trip high above Chamonix. We're also pleased to book shorter or longer sub-sections of the route according to your available dates. Please contact us to discuss options.

Tour du Mont Blanc
Guided Tour du Mont Blanc
Tour du Mont Blanc South
Tour du Mont Blanc North
Tour du Mont Blanc Weekend
Tour du Mont Blanc Highlights

Our self-guided holidays give you what you need to complete the route under your own steam. We book your accommodation in a mix of hotels, huts and auberges and we give you our detailed routecards, the local maps, and lots of notes. Importantly we will advise on the ideal schedule and accommodation to suit your approach to the TMB. Our guided trips are similar but give you the benefit of an Alpine Exploratory leader to show the way.

Please ask us any time for more details. Please feel free to describe your walking experience and preferences, and we'll suggest which trek you might enjoy most.

Keep up with us on Facebook, Instagram, and our Blog for photos and updates from our own travels and clients' trips.


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Forcella di Lech on the Alta Via 1
  Typical Tour du Mont Blanc Sign    Photos from the Tour du Mont Blanc


Alpine Exploratory
Alpine Exploratory is a system of knowledge on the best mountain trekking in our areas, giving clients superb holidays based on this exploration.

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