Mont Blanc routes & highlights
Make the most of your time
Conquering the summit of ‘La Dame Blanche’, as the French call Mont Blanc, is a highlight for many, but only for those who are experienced in alpine techniques. Mont Blanc highlights are best seen by taking on the Tour de Mont Blanc trail which circumnavigates the massif at lower altitude for 170km, through Switzerland, France and Italy. There are various ways to approach the Tour but, whichever way you choose, you will conquer cols, see glaciers, alpine villages, mountain refuges, rock hopping wildlife and forest covered valleys for days on end. It's no wonder hikers all over the world are lured into the seductive arms of the White Lady.
This historic path between this starting point at Col de La Forclaz and Champex is the one used to take cows to graze in the mountains during the summer months. You walk through rich woodland and fecund flower meadows, with dramatic rock faces all around, reminding you why farmers opted for this route which goes round rather than, more treacherously, over the top.
Ski central for many, it is actually the omni-outdoorsy capital now, staying open to hikers and adventurers all year round, unlike some ski resorts. Chamonix is the place to stay if you want to do centre based hiking treks, heading to the Lac Blanc, Aiguillette des Houches and the Ferret Valley during the day, and collapsing at the sublime Chalet Chamonix by night.
The end point of a wonderful trek along the traditional Bovine Route across the mountains, this is a beyond pretty mountain town and great resting point to help heal those less than pretty blisters. In Switzerland, its location on the Lac de Champex doesn’t come cheap though when you want to eat or drink. Remember, this is Switzerland, so you need to change your mindset to mega bucks.
With so many villages kissing the foot of Mont Blanc, this ancient ex-spa town is one of Italy’s finest. Because as well as Mont Blanc, this village looks out at 14 other peaks, making it look like it just fell straight out of a snow dome. The Aiguille du Midi cable car links Courmayeur with Chamonix on the other side of Mont Blanc.
Grand Col Ferret
One of the highest points on the Tour de Mont Blanc at 2,536m, with views that’ll be etched on your brain forever. Not just of Mont Blanc but also of the Grandes Jorasses, peaks that are like the right hand men to the Queen, lying only 600 metres below her. Complex climbing territory, only for experienced alpinists. Even the view will bring tears to your eyes.
Located at 2,452m, this is the highlight of many a hike. You get two stunning views for the price of one here, the snow covered peak pushing up from the massif in front of you, while it’s reflected image shimmers on the surface of this glacial blue lake. The lake is also snow covered for parts of the year, which explains its name.
Yet another high point, this one at 2,525m, with panoramic views of the massif and the Chamonix Valley. This is a more populated high point than some, with a cable car that brings visitors up to the peak. The views of the Mer de Glace, the largest glacier in France at 7km long and 200m deep, are also spectacular.
The starting/end point for many taking on the Tour de Mont Blanc, our recommendation is to start in Switzerland, as it is much quieter. You will stop here on the way, however, to sleep and be stunned by views of the Chamonix Valley. When you look up at the slopes, you will see why it is the training ground for the French National Ski Team. Piste perfection.
Mont Blanc summit
Only for the experienced, you can get to the summit at 4,810m using one of two routes: the Gouter Route, aka Voie Royale, takes you up to the famous Refuge de Tete Rousse, then onto the Gouter Refuge, the last sleep before the summit. The more challenging Cosmiques Route aka ‘La Traversee’ covers Mont Maudit, the Col de la Brenva and then finally to the mama mont.
A small mountain hamlet, it is also home to the Trient Glacier, and popular spot for those training in alpinism before taking on the summit. You can get fabulous views of the glacier though without having to undertake its greatness on foot. The Trient valley as a whole is a hiker’s delight, with gorges, caves and exhilarating footpaths.
Mont Blanc breakdown – The main itineraries
Tour de Mont Blanc: Sometimes known as TMB, you can do this in one week or two weeks, depending on how challenging you want your Mont Blanc vacation to be. Either way, you get to marvel at the massif by circumnavigating its 170km at a lower level, using the trekking paths that link the seven main valleys surrounding the prestigious peak. Note: you do not climb to the summit on the TMB. Although many people start in the Chamonix Valley and go anti-clockwise, a great way to approach it is starting in Switzerland and go clockwise, as it is quieter. Either way, you will be traversing Mont Blanc’s mountainous tripartite terrain of France, Italy and Switzerland. The highest you climb on the TMB is 2,537m, staying in a variety of accommodation types according to your budget or comfort thresholds. Camping on a col is not for everyone, especially when you can have a hot tub with a view of one.
Climb to the summit: This is one of those challenges of a lifetime, with the pinnacle of this highest peak in the Alps standing strong at 4,810m. Covered in snow and ice all year round, you do need climbing experience to take this one on, as you will be using ice picks, crampons and a lot of courage to conquer the more elevated cols and glaciers. There are two options for getting to the summit: the Gouter Route, aka Voie Royale, or the more challenging Cosmiques Route aka ‘La Traversee’. The usual, and traditional, accommodation on the ascent is in mountain huts.
Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn: This route follows a classic ski touring route called the Haute Route, which are then used by hikers in summer. You spend two weeks hiking 100km through the valleys of the Haute Savoie in France to the Swiss Valais. Starting at the Chamonix valley floor, you ascend to start a journey which takes you beneath ten of the twelve highest mountains in the Alps. As you are way up there, you will sleep in mountain huts or in tents along the way.
Centre based trekking : this might be considered Mont Blanc ‘Light’ by the hardcore alpinists, but if they could come back to the hot tub overlooking their beloved beauteous beast of Mont Blanc every evening, with dinner and wine waiting, they might see this as Mont Blanc ‘Sorted’ instead. Taking on some of the mountain’s most celebrated hikes every day, such as Lac Blanc, Aiguillette des Houches and the Ferret Valley, you have the joy of minibuses to help with transits to and from your hike every day, for eight days. Hikes range from 9-15km a day.