To me, the 105 mile Tour du Mont Blanc encompasses all that is great in the 'great outdoors' - from the majesty of the spiring mountains to the fresh sweet smell of the alpine ﬂora, the piercing blue still glacial lakes beneath the grandiose glaciers, the gushing torrents racing to the deafening waterfalls, the loud whistle of the invisible marmot juxtaposed with the silent grazing of the charming ibex - the ancient past that time has not forgotten. The TMB really is to reach the sublime; what isn't there to love?
This is an energetic trek taking in the best of the French, Italian and Swiss alps, crossing three high mountain passes, sleeping in a variety of remote mountain huts such as Lac Blanc, Rifugio Elisabetta and Refugio Bonatti to boutique guest-houses in the busy towns of Chamonix and Courmayeur. Be ﬂexible and organise your own trek using the cicerone guide written by Kevin Reynolds - he became a bit of a hero to us. Then to top it off, why not paraglide from the Aiguille du midi - I thoroughly recommend it.
Cicerone Guide: www.cicerone.co.uk/product/detail.cfm/book/532
Google map: bit.ly/JkliOu
A selection of the numerous mountain huts:
Information for the Aiguille du Midi:
An opportunity to get right up close to Mont Blanc- Europe’s highest mountain.
Grand Balcon Nord 6.5 km – allow three hours.
Chamonix in the French Alps is one of the best known centres for walking in the summer and rightly so.
One of the most spectacular yet easiest walks is the Grand Balcon Nord which has you strolling through a veritable rock garden at 2000 metres and even offers the possibility of meeting a marmot or two.
From Chamonix take the Aiguille cable car to the half way point at Plan de l’Aiguille which is the starting point for your route - although it is spectacular, and literally breathtaking, due to the altitude, to take the cable car right to the top station – and then start your walk on the return journey.
The well signposted rocky mountain trail undulates north east, meandering through miniature rhododendrons, gentian and azaleas, with stunning views down to Chamonix and over the narrow valley to Plan Praz and La Flegere standing at 1877m - this is the Grand Balcon Sud and another fine walk affording views over Mont Blanc and Les Aiguilles (the needles).
As you reach the junction of the path to Montenvers mountain railway you can take the route directly there or turn right and zig zag easily up the extra 150m to grab great views of the stunning pinnacles of the Aiguille Vert at 4122m, Les Drus and the Mer de Glace (sea of ice).
Catch the picturesque little train from Montenvers back down to Chamonix. Remember to check what time the last train and cable car operate as it’s a long walk down!
This walk can be done in reverse and an early start will give you the opportunity to watch the sun come up from behind Les Aiguilles.
The Aiguille du Midi is what every tourist comes to Chamonix for. It's the highest cable car in the world and the €38 return ticket is worth every cent. In just eight minutes you're whisked from Chamonix town centre to Plan d'Aiguille where you change cable cars and in another eight minutes you're taken up to the Aiguille du Midi station where you're rewarded with stupendous views of Mont Blanc and Italy.
Fortunately, I chose the right time to go (7.30am) as the light shone on Mont Blanc in just the right way and there were only six tourists on the highest terrace which looks over Mont Blanc, be warned though the cable car does get cramped with all of the skiers with their skis and poles taking up every inch
Note to parents - children under two are not allowed on the cable car.
Aiguille du Midi cable departs from Place de l'Aiguille du Midi cable car station - just a 30 minute walk from Chamonix train station (but bizarrely there are no signs showing you the way from Chamonix train station).
Great new hotel in Chamonix with shop for kit rental, beer garden with it's own climbing wall and a cool bar and restaurant downstairs. Open year round with regular events/parties in the bar.
964 Routes Des Gaillands, on the South side of Chamonix by the lake and climbing wall. www.verthotel.com
Tel +33 0450 531 358
Two thousand metres up and with blissful views, La Bergerie serves a very good gratin and decent steak. Those who are squeamish about offal will want to avoid the andouillette (tripe sausage), which is large and horrible.
But if you're willing to wait for service and don't mind paying over the odds for Evian (water has to be hiked up the mountain), it really is a beautiful spot.
At the top of the Planpraz telepherique
Tel: 04 50 53 05 42
This is a traditional-style gite with a great view of the Bossons Glacier and Mont Blanc massif. The owners are very friendly and the food served is typical of the area. Ask to see their collection of shot glasses!
La Crèmerie du Glacier 333, route des Rives
Nearest station: Les Bossons
This gargantuan hanging wall of ice is one of the visually defining features of Chamonix. It's often lit up at night when it takes on a very surreal air, but the best time to see it is by day, from close up. A pleasant stroll through the woods above Les Bossons takes you to the edge of the ravine, from where you can often see huge chunks ofice falling off. Don't get too close!
Les Bossons, Chamonix
Take the draglift up to the top of the nature reserve, from where you get an unusual perspective on the valley. From here it's plain to see just how enormous Mt Blanc really is, as it dwarfs l'Aiguille du Midi in a way you don't notice from elsewhere in the valley.
Le Tour, Chamonix
Send your feedback or queries to firstname.lastname@example.org