I’m always looking for long hikes where I can sleep up high in the mountains. This summer’s big adventure took me to the Alps in Europe. They’re special. You can hike, eat well (French cheese, Italian pasta), stay in mountain huts and enjoy the best scenery for days and days (or even months) all while carrying a super light pack. You don’t even need hiking boots (trail shoes are all the craze) or a sleeping bag. It is a perfect summer activity for those of us who live in small city apartments. No need to store tents, big packs, boots, etc. Get yourselves a 30L pack and some trail shoes and you’re all set. Well almost.
Choose the Tour du Mont Blanc. Take 10-12 days to do it and it leaves you with enough travel and recovery days at either end while only taking a two week vacation. Another popular route is from Chamonix to Zermatt (the Haute Route), which is a bit longer and you may struggle to have a weekend to recover before going back to work if you want to stick to two weeks off. Also, it doesn’t have as many mountain huts so you’re mostly sleeping in the valley villages. There are plenty of village sleeping options on the Tour du Mont Blanc as well though. It is nice to do it occasionally during the walk so you can stock up on supplies.
What you’ll see: glaciers are everywhere, chamois, marmots, wildflowers of every possible colour (the alpine meadows were in full bloom in mid-July), the tallest mountain in Europe and the beautiful range it sits in, cows with bells, dogs with bells (everything moving has a bell on it!), mossy forests, fast flowing rivers, and tiny stone/wood villages (my favourite was in the Swiss section).
Where to stay: if you want to be up high in the mountains for the sunsets (and sunrises!), then stay in the refuges (mountain huts). I particularly enjoyed those at around 2,000m to 2,400m (highest on the track). I didn’t go off-track to any of the super high ones, but they did look spectacular if you had the right skills to get to them. Most of the refuges include dinner and breakfast (half pension/demi pension) rates averaging at about 45 Euros per night (ranging from 30-55 Euros) for a dorm room, much less if you go without the meals. Not all the huts had self-serve cooking facilities so if you’re cooking for yourself, you may need to carry a stove or eat cold food. You can often buy a la carte options so you could play it by ear. Or, you can have your hot meal for lunch (which isn’t included in demi pension anyways) — there were usually huts with food at a convenient lunch stopping time.
Hot showers are often included (yes, there are hot showers!) and there was a hot shower at every hut I stayed at (except for a cold one at Bonhomme because it was a rainy day and the water is solar heated). You can book many of these online or make reservations over the phone (most wardens speak English, but everyone speaks French).
When to go: I started the Tour in mid-July, which was perfect timing for the wildflowers. The weather was mostly sunny, warm, and settled (although a few rainy days) with highs ranging in the valleys up to 33C, but much cooler high up (still t-shirt weather, until you stop!). Not warm enough for glacial lake swims, but I don’t think it ever would be! Most of the snow had melted and there were only a few patches in a couple sections of the hike. These were easily passed through with lots of footprints to follow. Also, if you time it well, you can watch the Tour du France cycling while you’re close by — maybe the finish in Paris?
Check out my other posts for more info on the TMB:
- My route via the mountain huts
- Gear list: light, but comfortable
- Day 1: Les Houches to Les Contamines