Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc

A Wildland Trekking guest taking in the view of the Alps hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc

My husband and I had traveled with Wildland through the Grand Canyon back in 2017 and knew we would be well taken care of in the Alps. We booked just as travel restrictions were starting to lift from COVID, but there were still many testing guidelines that had to be followed to board an international flight in the fall of 2021. 

Because of all of the uncertainty around COVID, we actually didn’t pay much attention to the trip itinerary, focusing instead on making sure we had all our paperwork in order. Our Grand Canyon trip was a “Level 3” difficulty and was very doable after following Wildland’s training guide, so we followed a similar routine to train for this leveled up tour. 

After a missed connection in Frankfurt and over 7 hours spent on the train into Geneva—we opted to take the train rather than wait for a new connecting flight that wouldn’t take place until the next day…looking back, we should have just stayed at the airport—we made it to Les Houches, crossing the Switzerland/France border by taxi.  

I was expecting charming mountain towns with shutters on the windows and big views of the mountains from every vantage point. And frankly, the trip did not disappoint. It took our group a half hour to walk a few blocks on the first day because there were so many photo ops to be had.

Mountain countryside of the alps on Tour du Mont Blanc

There are luggage transfers throughout the trip, which means most nights we were packing up our bags and bringing them to a drop zone at our hotel, or when available, directly to the vans. What I didn’t realize about the itinerary though, is that most often we were hiking directly to the next village or town, and our luggage would meet us at our chalet for the evening. 

It was empowering to walk from village to village, being able to cover that kind of distance in a single day.

Hiking in the Alps

Riverside view of the mountain peaks of the Alps

The Tour du Mont Blanc is a “level 4” difficulty trip, and it is no joke. The uphills are consistently steep and over a long distance. Most days we were hiking through at least one mountain pass, though sometimes two or three. Often we were not able to see the pass from the trailhead for that day, and if you looked too far ahead, it could feel like an endless amount of hiking. 

Itlanian Dolomites level 3 trek

Our guide, Matthieu, was exceptional. During the start of each hike he would tell us exactly what layers we should be wearing, and then would periodically stop to say “jackets off,” calling for everyone to delayer. It’s something I came to appreciate after the fact, as not all guides do this, which means stopping frequently as each hiker decides on their own to take something off or put something back on. Matthieu was a great manager for our group and the group needs. 

Every morning he would pop into a boulangerie to get a fresh loaf of bread for lunch. He always had a thermos of hot water in case anyone needed tea in the middle of the hike. On two different days we were hiking ahead of schedule and Matthieu called for a mid-hike nap. And while it sounds outlandish, those completely serene moments in the middle of the alps were some of my favorites. 

Afternoon nap in the Mountains of the Alps on the Tour du Mont Blanc

Before setting off, Matthieu would tell us what to pack and how much water we should be carrying. There are filling stations along the trail where we could refill from a glacial spring that had been piped. Eventually I asked where the water was coming from, and I’ll never forget the way Matthieu responded with “from the source” as if it was a mythical place. 

The whole hike felt mystical, even when I was hit with IT band tendonitis and had to go slower than the rest, there was never a moment when I wanted to get off the Tour du Mont Blanc trail. The endless sweeping mountain views, glaciers, sheep, and cowbells ringing in the distance made the whole experience romantic and cinematic and I would do it again in a heartbeat. 

Exploring Mountain Towns

Classic French creperie in the Alps of the Tour du Mont Blanc

After hiking across the France/Italy border, Courmayeur offered us the first good bit of town life. We arrived with plenty of time to spare, having jogged a bit at the end of our hike to catch the early bus into town. Everyone was ready for some free time and to explore on our own. The chalet we stayed in was very accessible to town and had its own little courtyard for anyone who wanted to lounge. 

My husband and I headed into town to look for a knee brace (for me) and to people-watch. Just one turn up the road and we could hear music playing. We followed the sound to an ice cream shop, everyone enjoying their treats outside and listening to a first-rate classical trio. 

There was plenty of souvenir shopping to be had, and most of the group spent their time looking for the best keepsake. We met back up for dinner and exchanged stories of the afternoon. 

Most nights we had reservations and a prix-fixe menu, with options on appetizers and desserts. They were heavy on the meats and local cheeses, though that seemed to suit the group and was representative of the region. As the only vegan on the trip, I was often eating a different meal from the rest of the group. While I did not get as much of a choice, there were always fresh veggies and a hot component of the meal. 

Though I will say everything “normal” for our trip went out the window when we made it to Hotel Alpina at Champex-Lac. The views were astounding. We had the whole place to ourselves, as there are only 6 guest rooms. The Alpina is run by a lovely couple and it seems the woman of the inn spends all of her time practicing fine dining, because we were blown away by her multi-course dinner. Even the vegan plates were exceptional. 

Vegan food on the Tour du Mont Blanc

As we crossed back from Italy into France, we were met with the option to take a gondola* off the mountain or hike it. With most of the group feeling the effects of 7 days in the Alps, all but three opted for the gondola. That left three of our group, including my husband, with Matthieu.

They passed their daypacks our way and decided to run down the mountain and meet us at the bottom. My husband still talks about that run as one of his favorite moments in the Alps. 

They made it, we made it, everyone was back together and headed to the upscale and very popular Alps town, Chamonix. We walked up to our hotel with church bells ringing and a slew of paragliders soaring down from the peaks. 

*The gondola ride is now a standard part of the itinerary for Wildland’s Tour du Mont Blanc trip. 

There is plenty of mountain-focused “high street” shopping, with Arcteryx, Patagonia, Salomon, and I’m sure many other high-end gear shops that are beyond my budget or awareness in Chamonix. I was also excited and surprised to see a variety of healthy restaurants offering smoothies and vegan-friendly options. We had enough downtime to do some shopping, strolling, and scoping out of the best bakeries to grab a snack for the morning’s shuttle back to Geneva. 

We only had one day in Chamonix, and while there was enough downtime for my taste, there was still a lot to see, including the famous Aiguille du Midi cable car. You can get some clear views of Mont Blanc from the town and surrounding viewpoints, so if you are really looking to soak up mountain culture in a high-end mountain town, I would recommend staying a few extra nights. 

We opted to spend our extra time in Geneva, where my husband and I mostly meandered around the botanical gardens and took the ferry in every direction. It makes so much sense to me that the Alps and specifically the Tour du Mont Blanc are becoming influencer favorites and are popping up on everyone’s “must see” lists. While the hiking was hard at times, the views more than made up for it. 

If you want to travel through France, Italy, and Switzerland circumnavigating Mont Blanc, Wildland takes care of all of the logistics from luggage transfers and restaurant reservations to hotel bookings and bus fare. 

Wildland’s Guided Tour du mont blanc

About Danielle Rettino

-Marketing Manager and former Wildland Guest-

Danielle became fascinated with the natural world when she found a fossilized fern as a young child. As an undergrad, she participated in two study abroad programs in England, Vietnam, and Cambodia. In 2014, she received her Master’s Degree in International Literature, writing her thesis on the return to nature in early 20th century novels. Danielle took her first Wildland Trekking trip to the Grand Canyon in 2017 and joined the Wildland team in late 2021 as Marketing Manager. When not planning her next adventure, Danielle can be found knitting, cuddling with her dog, or learning more about home maintenance.

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