A short happy life on the Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB)

Mont BlancA guest post by Chris Sanders.

Ok, I confess – this post has almost nothing in common with Hemingway‘s short story about Francis Macomber… and that’s probably a good thing!  But I thought a “short happy life” was the best way to describe a recent adventure that ended all too soon…

Last August, my wife Wendy and I embarked on a three week vacation to the Alps, with the full intention of hiking the Tour de Mont Blanc.

The tour de Mont Blanc (or “TMB” for short) is a spectacular Alpine hike on trails that circumnavigate Mont Blanc – Europe’s highest mountain. Over the course of ~12-14 days, hikers venture across ~ 100 miles of trail and traverse parts of three countries: Switzerland, France, and Italy. The TBM is demanding (the accumulated height gain and loss is ~32,800′) but the views are spectacular and the experience exhilarating! Nearly 10,000 people complete the TMB every year – the majority of whom are European.


Although Wendy and I trained (I use that word loosely) to complete the entire TMB, sadly, we only hiked for 4 days – 4 long and arduous days – before succumbing to a variety of ailments including tendinitis, sprained knees, and the unexplainable desire to lounge around in the vineyards of Switzerland… we do plan to return one day and complete the TMB – it is truely unique and wonderful experience – plenty of “the-hills-are-alive-with-the-sound-of-music” type moments, but next time, we’ll hike much slower and travel much lighter!

Anyway, here are a few memories from our short happy life…

  • Getting there and getting started – Most people begin the TMB in Les Houches, France (not far from Chamonix). Les Houches is most easily accessed by flying into Geneva and taking a ~45min-1 hour shuttle bus to Les Houches. There are several shuttle bus services that pick up from Geneva airport you can book ahead. Wendy and I did not book ahead but easily found a ride with a shuttle that was going to Chamonix and had only one person aboard. Les Houches is a small village but given its popularity as a winter ski village and its connection with the TMB, there are plenty of accommodations.
  • The accommodations – for our first night in Les Houches, we booked ahead via the internet at a cozy place called Hotel du Bois (http://www.hotel-du-bois.com/). Our second night was our first in a refuge – a dormitory style accommodation in the mountains called La Roselette. We shared a dorm room with two large families who were traveling via van with their children – actually, it was pretty quiet as the children went to sleep early. At La Roselette, we ate dinner at a communal table, which consisted of soup and turkey curry (not exactly typical regional food, but good nonetheless). Our third night was in a nice and cozy refuge called Nant Borrant (http://www.lescontamines.com/refugenantborrant/). The owners – an older couple- were super nice, the place was packed. Wendy and I enjoyed a couple of beers in the outside garden. At dinners, again served in a communal setting, we met an older couple from Montserrat – they invited Wendy and I to visit them… The forth night we opted for a small hotel outside of Les Contamines called Le Mont Joly (http://www.montjoly.com/). We recommend all the places we stayed!
  • Chamonix and Courmayeur– Both of these towns are on the TMB, though we arrived via bus on the fifth day of our trip. We could have done without Chamonix – ultra touristy and teeming with Europeans on holiday…in the winter time, Chamonix is a great ski resort, but in the summertime, its a “tourist trap” kind of place – where all the restaurants are the same, the food is mediocre, and so on…Now, Courmayeur- which is just a short bus ride through a tunnel under Mont Blanc is a totally different scene! Courmeyeur is in Italy – in fact it is an elite Italian resort village that was  largely undiscovered by the common man until the recent tunnel highway. Wendy and I stayed in Courmayeur a few days in order to get our Italian fix.
  • Mont Blanc– Ok, so we didn’t hike up Mont Blanc, but we did something almost as spectacular – we took the cable car (actually three of them) up to a look out station just below the summit! Truely incredible..freezing cold up there. We took a hot chocolate in the tiny bar at the lookout station…there was a picture of Pope Benedict, who had recently made the same cable car trip! This is one activity you must do if you ever find yourself anywhere near Chamonix or Courmayeur!

Ok, so I have many more memories of the short happy life on the TMB…if you want to know more, just ask! Or better yet, share your memories from the TMB…Ciao for now!

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