Get yourself fit to really enjoy the Tour du Mont Blanc
As I mentioned in my previous blog there are several ways to walk Mont Blanc. You can do a highlights tour (typically about 7 days) or the full circuit (14 days). You can go on a guided walked or do it alone but regardless the fitter you are the more you’ll enjoy it.
Anyone in good health who is used to hill walking/mountain hiking should find the tour within their capability. Some of the days are quite long, averaging six to seven hours, sometimes involving an ascent of 1000 metres, followed by a similar descent. The paths are well-worn and maintained and there are only a couple of places with rails and chains.
I made a real effort get myself fit doing a lot of hill work and steps. Believe me, when you are ascending 1000 metres you’ll be pleased you put in the ground work.
The route is non-technical and no special equipment is required although walking poles are a great asset especially when descending as it can take a lot of pressure off your knees. Early and late treks in the season can encounter snow, as ours did on the higher passes, but it did not affect our itinerary.
The full circuit is graded four and the highlights tour three but it’s just because it’s a shortened duration.
Do we do a guided or unguided tour?
There are so many ways to enjoy the Tour du Mont Blanc with hiking companies offering a variety of guided and unguided walks. My advise is unless you know the Mont Blanc area well there are far too many opportunities to take a wrong turn even though it’s well sign posted.
However, if you do choose to walk unguided many of the tour companies will still organise your accommodation, food and bag transfers and give you enough maps and briefings to keep you safe.
My personal preference is for a guided tour because:
- A guide takes the stress out of the day and minimises the decisions you’re making while on holiday.
- Your accommodation, food and transport will be taken care of on a guided tour.
- You don’t have to carry your belongings.
- A guide with local knowledge can be very informative about the region, geography, plants, wildlife and much more.
Do we walk the full Mont Blanc circuit (14 days) or a highlights tour (7 days)?
The obvious difference is the duration of the walks. If time is not your friend the 7- day highlights walk will deliver six of the most picturesque sections of the walk, straddling France, Italy and Switzerland. Some of these tours are based out of Chamonix so you come back to the same chalet each evening (like the tour I did) however, other tour will have you sleeping in a different place each night and will arrange transport to link the sections of the circuit together.
If time is no problem, you’re fit and you love hiking circumnavigate the whole of Mont Blanc. As it is a circular trek you’ll start and end in Chamonix.
What to do on your rest day?
On your rest day won’t actually be resting as there’s so much to see and do. My pick is to head straight up to the Aiguille du Midi (the highest point that can be accessed by cable car in the Chamonix Valley) early to avoid the queues and keep going all the way to Italy on the Panoramique Mont Blanc. It will blow you mind. Follow this up with a trip to the Mer Glacier in the afternoon and enter an ice tunnel but more on that later in my following blogs.
What’s the accommodation like?
There is a great variety of accommodation available for hikers walking the Tour du Mont Blanc.
One of the great benefits of the tour I did, was to come back to the same chalet each night. Unpacking for the week was a good feeling as well as knowing we did not need to carry our bags, only our day pack.
Our chalet was a 10-minute walk into the heart for Chamonix and was quaint and looked like all the other Swiss chalets with colourful geraniums in the flower boxes. It had seven simple, double bedrooms with ensuites, a communal dining and living room and the best hosts / cooks anyone in the world could wish for. English couple, Sarah and Rich managed the chalet and fed us. After a delicious buffet style breakfast each morning, we made our lunch with fresh, crfspy baguettes filled salami, cheeses and all the trimmings. But the best part of our foodie day was to come. Arriving back in the chalet each evening, tired and hungry Sarah had baked a delicious cake soon to be followed at 7 pm by a three-course meal and you will be please to know – WINE.
Obviously, if you are going to walk the full Mont Blanc circuit you’ll be staying in a range of different accommodation. There are huts on the mountain called refuges where sleeping is typically communal. We stopped at a couple over the course of our walk for snacks and drinks and they were all well maintained, sleeping quarters looked cosy and meals were provided. There is also a range of other options including small hotels in the villages, B & B’s and alpine inns. It’s just a matter of choosing the tour and the standard of accommodation you’re happy with.
Our tour operator was Exodus Travels and we booked it through Adventure World in New Zealand although I am sure you can go direct. Everything about the tour was excellent including our guide, the organisation, our chalet and our wonderful chalet hosts/chefs Sarah and Rich. This is the tour we did – Mont Blanc Highlights.