6 Reasons Why You Should Hike the Tour Du Mont Blanc
Ah, the Alps: Europe’s famed and most expansive mountain range system. The Alps stretch approximately 750 miles across eight European countries, gathering the international attention from hikers, climbers, mountain bikers, and adventure-enthusiasts alike. While there are trail systems that weave throughout the range, there is one trail in particular that is known to be one of Europe’s most popular hiking trails: The Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB).
The TMB is a world-renowned hiking trail, circling 110 miles around Mont Blanc massif. It’s a challenging trail that demands both mental and physical strength, rewarding hikers for their hard work with constant views of mountains, glaciers, and waterfalls.
The TMB Dream
I spent 10 days hiking the TMB alongside my parents this past June/July. Being on the TMB was a longtime dream of my dad’s. Thwarted by the onset of COVID-19, my dad was unable to partake in an annual 100km race held along the TMB. It was hard pill to swallow knowing that something he dreamed of and trained for had been quickly snatched from his grasp. Though because of the pandemic, my dad and I were able to sift our focus towards other long-distance trails (shoutout to the Bruce Trail and Sunshine Coast Trail!). With a handful of thru-hikes under our belts, we felt it was time to reignite his desire to conquer the Alps; however, instead of running the course, he would be backpacking the entire 110mi route. And rather than doing it alone, he would be accompanied by me and my mom.
The three of us have different fitness levels: Dad is an ultramarathon runner, I’m an avid long-distance hiker and fitness junkie, and mom… well, she likes the outdoors to an extent. She doesn’t tend to push herself past her comfort zone too often. She typically taps out after 5-10km stints along the trails and looks forward to a glass of wine at the end of the day. Our differing levels of fitness and passion for the outdoors is a true testament that the TMB is a trail that appeases varying people and fitness abilities. I must say, my mom crushed it!
I may be biased, but I believe everyone should attempt the TMB at some point in their life. It’s an incredible trail that highlights some of the most breathtaking views in Europe, while also giving you ample opportunity to rest, soak in the culture, and connect with a trail that is drastically different to those typical to North America. If that’s not enough, I’ve listed 6 solid reasons why you should hike the TMB. So buckle up and prepare to be swayed by these 6 reasons to hike the trail. Fair warning: You might be tempted to book your flights straight to Europe once you’re finished reading.
1. The TMB is the perfect mix of grit and comfort
The Tour du Mont Blanc is broken up into 11 stages. The classic TMB itinerary takes 11 days to complete; however, depending on your fitness level and how much time you’d like to spend at certain locations along the way, you could hike the trail anywhere between 7-11 days. When planning your itinerary, there are several ways you can plan out your days depending on where and how you’d like to spend your evenings. Hikers can plan their days around (1) staying in refugios/hotels, (2) camping, or (3) doing a mix of both.
Though this is definitely the most expensive option, you’ll never have to worry about camping in the rain, you’ll have guaranteed meals every morning/night, and you’ll have access to warm showers. Refugios are strategically placed along the trail, typically located at the top of long ascents and at the end of each stage. The meals at most refugios are incredible, as they serve three-course meals at dinner and a simple spread of breads, cheeses, and meats in the morning. They also offer a wide selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, a daytime menu, and various snacks. Hot tip: try the charcuterie boards/local cheese plates whenever possible. There’s something about local European cheese that’s super satisfying after a long day of hiking. My favourite locations along the trail were Refugio Elisabetta (Italy) and Hotel Bouton d’Or (Italy).
Camping entirely along the TMB can be challenging considering there are several sections along the trail that you are not allowed to camp on. Though challenging, it is not impossible. Camping offers a more rugged experience on the TMB. Several camping locations with have you placed at the foot of towering mountains or next to trickling rivers. You might even find yourself falling asleep to the sound of distant cowbells as farmers are corralling their animals back into their stables for the night. My favourite camp spots were Nant Borrant Wild Camping (France) and Camping Des Glaciers (Switzerland).
A Mix of Both
For a perfect balance of grit and comfort, I highly suggest doing a mix of both camping and staying in mountain accommodations. Over 10 days, my parents and I did a 50/50 split between camping and staying in refugios/hotels. In doing so, we were able to satisfy our craving to sleep under the stars, while also selfishly looking forward to enjoying a glass of wine and a hot shower at a refugio on harder days.
2. The trail takes you through 3 different countries
As if hiking in the Alps wasn’t enough, the TMB takes you through three different countries: France, Italy, and Switzerland. It was like speed-dating each country, catching a quick glimpse of their rich culture, food, and customs all throughout the hike. I particularly grew appreciation for each country’s food and local people we met along the way (perhaps because I was always thinking about food and was extremely delighted to be served by a smiling server after a gruelling morning ascent).
If you’re a foodie, then the TMB was meant for you. There is ample opportunity to sample each country’s staple foods and drinks all throughout the hike. We gouged on cheese plates in France, sipped on Aperol Spritzes in Italy, and enjoyed fondu and omelettes in Switzerland. We essentially wined and dined our way throughout the three countries, satisfying our hiker hunger and feeling fuelled for the next coming days.
The hospitality we experienced along the trail was unmatched! Between staying in refugios/hotels and meeting local hikers along the way, we felt that we were always welcomed. Refugio staff were kind, informative, and ready to showcase the best of their country. Local hikers were also incredibly kind and willing to chat, point us in the right direction, and/or share stories about their own adventures throughout Europe. Shoutout to Joel and Francesco from Refugio Elisabetta, who were extremely hospitable towards my parents and ensured that our stay in Italy was an unforgettable experience.
3.You ascend more vertical feet than Everest
With over 35,000 feet (10,000+ meters) of ascending/descending, you can brag to all your friends that you pretty much climbed Everest. It’s an accomplishment that you can carry with you for life.
4. You don’t have to carry a lot of gear
Avid long-distance hikers know that a lot of the weight we carry comes from our food and water. Well, this isn’t a point you should stress over on the TMB. Water is abundant! The melting glaciers feed into waterfalls and rivers that commonly intersect with the trail. Similar to access to water, there is near constant access to food along the trail. Thanks to frequent towns and refugios, hikers are able to stock up on groceries in town and/or eat full meals at refugios along the way. Trust me, you’ll want to keep your pack weight down whenever possible considering how punishing the ascents and descents can be. So ditch the food/water weight and hike lighter. Your knees and back will thank me!
If you plan on staying in refugios/hotels the entire time, you don’t need to carry a tent and other sleeping gear with you. Bonus!
5. You’ll never get bored of the views
When reading TMB guide books, there are a handful of sections that past hikers characterize as “boring.” I didn’t skip a single mile of this trail and can wholeheartedly tell you that there was not one single “boring” stretch. Even short road walks had my jaw on the floor as I was constantly surrounded by snowcapped mountains and the sound of distant rushing waterfalls.
One thing that constantly blew our minds were the glaciers. Slightly blue and stretching from the top to the middle of most mountains, the glaciers had the three of us were continuously in awe. I remember my dad saying, “I feel lucky to be here in this moment, because who knows… I may come back one day and all these glaciers will be gone.” It is an unfortunate reality that the glaciers have melted drastically over the past few years, but it leaves us feeling lucky for the beauty and history we were able to see with our own eyes.
6. You’ll meet people from all around the world
This may be my favourite element of hiking the TMB. Because this trail is well-known around the world, it attracts hikers from all corners of the globe. We met Dutch marathon runners, a Swedish PhD student, a lifelong adventurer from the UK, a group of high schoolers from the US, and many more colourful individuals from different countries. Everyone had a different reason for hiking the TMB, though we were all connected by the fact that we were collectively attempting something so unique and challenging together.
My favourite moments were spent sitting around the dinner table at a refugio or resting at the top of a mountain with fellow hikers. We walked away from this hike with countless memories that were shared with strangers – people that we will most likely never see again, but people we will never forget.
An Unforgettable Experience
It’s hard to put into words how impactful this hike was for me. It was the perfect balance of challenge and rest. Each day, I went to bed knowing I had accomplished something extremely difficult: something I may never be able to replicate again in my life. I felt humbled, grateful, and at peace. Being on the TMB was exactly where I needed to be. And it was so much more special because it was something I was able to experience alongside my parents. I’m proud of all of us and what we were able to do together. Sappiness aside, go hike the TMB. And consider dragging along your parents. It makes for a rather unique experience, that’s for sure.
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