The Tour du Mont Blanc is among the most famous, popular and beautiful multi-day hiking trips in Europe. It is 170 km/105 miles long and surrounds Mont Blanc massif, the large mountain range found at the meeting point of three countries – France, Italy and Switzerland.
The massif is 46 km (29 miles) long and 20 km (12 miles) wide. It is made up of a number of peaks over 4,000 meters/13,123 feet, including the Alps’ highest peak and the one which gives the range its name – Mont Blanc, standing at 4,808 m/15,774 ft.
In addition to the lofty peaks, the Mont Blanc massif also includes the two largest, most impressive glaciers in France and Italy.
The “official” hiking route around the massif takes 11 days, with plenty of options to choose between paths of varying altitudes.
Length: 170 km/105 miles.
Cumulative climb: 8,917 m/28,605 ft (if not doing variants)
Maximum Altitude: 2,665 m/8,710 ft
Duration: 10-12 days
Lodging: huts (‘rifugio’ in Italy, ‘refuge’ in France)
Season: mid-June to the third week of September
You can do the trip clockwise or counter-clockwise. There is no major difference between these two options, except for the fact that most hikers go counter-clockwise, as this is how most guidebooks describe it. So the question of which direction to go is primarily social. Hiking the trail counter-clockwise with the flow of travelers, you will meet the same people at the huts every evening and have the chance to get to know people and even develop friendships. Walking clockwise, it is likely that each evening at the hut will bring new faces.
The start and endpoint of the route is in the beautiful small town Les Houches, in the Chamonix valley.
The ski village Chamonix is 8 km away, functioning as the center of the valley, and giving it its name. It is also a convenient base for before and after the hike.
Costs: the cost of lodging in a dormitory + half-board, which includes a fine supper with appetizer and dessert and basic breakfast costs around 60-70 euros. The huts in Switzerland are more expensive than those in France or Italy.
Gear: A good rule of thumb is to aim for a light pack, which will enhance your trip. There is no need for a sleeping bag but you should bring a liner for hygienic purposes. A light jacket and rain gear are musts. The total weight of your backpack (not including water) should not exceed 9 kg/20 lbs. maximum.
Where to fly and how to get to the start of the hike with public transport:
Geneva, the nearest big city to the trailhead, is located a distance of 75 km from Les Houches and 83 km from Chamonix.
The fastest, most convenient way to get from Geneva to one of the towns in the Chamonix valley is to take a shuttle from the airport that will let you off right at your hotel. The price is 25-28 euros per person and travel time is around an hour and a half. You must reserve a shuttle spot in advance.
Link to the shuttle company that offers the service:
Where to stay in Les Houches or Chamonix?
This depends on what you prefer – Les Houches is a small, very quiet town whose main advantage is that in the morning you will wake up just a short walking distance from the start of the trail.
The beautiful Chamonix is more interesting, vibrant and lively, and has a wide selection of outdoor stores, restaurants and pubs. It is more fun to hang out in for a day or two, following your hike. There is a convenient bus that connects between the two towns of Les Houches and Chamonix.
The first hiking day is a pretty long one, about 16 km, but the walking is easy and it is possible to complete in about 6 hours without extra effort, so there is no need to stress in the morning.
In any case, since it is a circular route, it is advisable to stay at the same hotel the night before your hike begins and the night after it ends, so that you can leave some of your luggage that you will not need for the trip at the hotel.
- The most beautiful viewpoint on the hike, and among the finest in the Alps, is found at Rifugio Lac Blanc. Don’t miss it! The Rifugio is just a short detour off the main route and you can combine a visit there with a rest stop on the walking day from Tre-Le-Champ to Rifugio La Flegere.
- On the way there, you will climb a few vertical metal ladders, however the trail is not dangerous and does not require special safety equipment to hike it.
For those who are interested and manage to snag a spot, it is entirely worthwhile to stay at the Rifugio and enjoy the magnificent sunset over Lac Blanc.
- For those who are interested in shortening the last day of walking, there is a very convenient option. Right next to the Rif La Flegere (the last one on the route), there is a cable car which descends to the town Les Praz and then there is a bus to Chamonix and Les Houches.
- One of the most impressive places on a trip in the Mont Blanc range is not even on the hike! Rather, it is in the middle part of the cable car route that crosses the range from Chamonix to Courmayeur in Italy.
- The cable car route, which leaves from the center of Chamonix, is made up of 3 parts. The first, which most tourists do, goes until the Aigulle du Midi peak, at an altitude of 3,842 m/12,604 ft., which offers a beautiful viewpoint over the area. This mountain also serves as a base camp for climbers of Mont Blanc.
- From the cable car station at Aigulle du Midi, you take another, smaller cable car that fits 4 passengers, that goes to the Pointe Helbronner peak, at an altitude of 3,462 m/11,352 ft. The peak is the border between France and Italy and provides amazing views of the Italian side of the hike and of the Aosta valley, but the main attraction is the trip there in the small cable car that travels a distance of 5 km/3.1 miles, practically horizontally, at a height of hundreds of meters above the glacier below. The ride provides magnificent views of total wilderness from a bird’s-eye-view.
- The ride is not cheap but it is a unique experience. From Pointe Helbronner, you can take another cable car towards Courmayeur or return the way you came back to Chamonix.
Since the hike passes through a great many populated areas, it is easy to just do sections of it. A common hike shortcut is to simply cut it halfway.
Following are a number of options for shortening the hike:
4-5 day route
The towns of Chamonix and Courmayeur are connected by a cable car and a bus that passes through a tunnel under the mountain range. Therefore, it is easily possible to shorten the trip to 4-5 days, starting and finishing as usual from Les Houches (with or without a stay in Courmayeur). This route is actually the first half of the full hike.
There is the option of doing the reverse route, clockwise, in a 6-day course.
The first half, counter-clockwise is prettier and more impressive (except for the Rif Lac Blanc trip which, as said, is the prettiest point on the route)
9-day (near) entire route
In this option you will hike the route counter-clockwise, as usual, but with 2 exceptions/variants:
- You will skip one part of the hike in Switzerland, taking a bus between the two towns of La Fouly and Champex. This part is not especially impressive and you can skip it without feeling guilty for having missed the view.
- From Tre-Le-Champ, you will walk via Rif Lac Blanch, to the cable car at Rif La Flegere, which should take about 5 hours (not including a stop at Rif Lac Blanc) and from there you will descend into the valley to the town of Les Praz.
The last cable car from Flegere to the town of Les Praz (which goes every 15 min. during the day) is at 17:00 (5:00 pm) until July 14th and between August 21-September 9. From July 15-August 20, the last car is at 17:45 (5:45 pm).
From Les Praz there is public transport to Chamonix and Les Houches.
What we loved: gorgeous hike with classic alpine views – lakes, forests, glaciers. It is straightforward hiking and lodging in the huts is very comfortable with great atmosphere and food.
What we loved less: the hike passes through many populated areas and crosses lots of country roads. There are few spots on the way that give the sense of wilderness, which somewhat took away from our experience.
Overall: the classic hiking trip in Europe for good reason – beautiful, convenient, accessible, not too hard and… full of hikers. Recommended as a first multi-day hike in Europe.