Ah, the Alps: Europe’s most famous and extensive mountain range system. The Alps stretch for around 750 miles across eight European countries, attracting international attention from hikers, climbers, mountain bikers and adventure seekers. Although there are networks of trails that criss-cross the entire 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 famous hiking trail, circling the Mont Blanc massif for 180 km. It’s a challenging trail that requires 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 last June/July. Being on the TMB was a longtime dream of my father. Thwarted by the outbreak of COVID-19, my father was unable to participate in an annual 100 km race organized along the TMB. It was a tough pill to swallow knowing that something he dreamed of and trained for had been quickly ripped from his grasp. However, due to the pandemic, my dad and I were able to focus on other long distance trails (thanks to the Bruce Trail and the Sunshine Coast Trail!). With a handful of hikes under our belt, we felt it was time to rekindle his desire to conquer the Alps; however, instead of running the course, he would run the entire 110-mile course. And rather than doing it alone, he would be accompanied by me and my mother.
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 loves the outdoors to some degree. She doesn’t tend to step out of her comfort zone too often. She usually hits after 5-10km runs along the trails and looks forward to a glass of wine at the end of the day. Our varying fitness levels and passion for the outdoors is a true testament that the TMB is a trail that soothes different people and physical abilities. I have to say my mom crushed it!
I may be biased, but I think everyone should try TMB at some point in their life. This is an incredible trail that showcases some of the most breathtaking views in Europe, while giving you ample opportunity to rest, soak up the culture and connect with a trail that is radically different from the typical ones. of North America. If that’s not enough, I’ve listed 6 great reasons why you should browse the TMB. So buckle up and prepare to be swayed by these 6 reasons to hit the trail. Fair warning: you might be tempted to book your flights directly to Europe once you’ve finished reading.
1. The TMB is the perfect blend of courage and comfort
The Tour du Mont Blanc is divided into 11 stages. The classic TMB route takes 11 days to complete; However, depending on your fitness level and how much time you want to spend at certain spots along the way, you can complete the trail in 7-11 days. When planning your itinerary, you can plan your days in several ways depending on where and how you want to spend your evenings. Hikers can plan their days around (1) staying in huts/hotels, (2) camping, or (3) doing a mix of the two.
While 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/evening, and you’ll have access to hot showers. Huts are strategically placed along the trail, usually located at the top of long climbs and at the end of each stage. Meals at most huts are amazing, 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 drinks, a daily menu and various snacks. 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 favorite spots along the trail were Refugio Elisabetta (Italy) and Hotel Bouton d’Or (Italy).
Camping entirely along the TMB can be difficult given that there are several sections along the trail that you are not allowed to camp on. Although difficult, it is not impossible. Camping offers a more robust experience on the TMB. Several campsites have you placed at the foot of high mountains or next to flowing rivers. You might even fall asleep to the sound of cowbells in the distance as farmers bring their animals back to their barns for the night. My favorite camping spots were Nant Borrant Wild Camping (France) and Camping Des Glaciers (Switzerland).
A mixture of both
For the perfect balance between courage and comfort, I strongly suggest doing a mix of camping and staying in mountain accommodations. For 10 days, my parents and I split 50/50 between camping and staying in shelters/hotels. In doing so, we were able to satisfy our urge to sleep under the stars, while selfishly looking forward to enjoying a glass of wine and a hot shower in a refuge on the most difficult 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, getting a quick glimpse of their rich culture, food and customs along the way. I particularly enjoyed the food from each country and the locals we met along the way (perhaps because I was always thinking about the food and was extremely happy to be served by a smiling waiter after a grueling morning climb).
If you are a foodie, then TMB is for you. There are plenty of opportunities to sample each country’s staple foods and drinks along the trek. We dug into cheese plates in France, sipped Aperol Spritz in Italy, and enjoyed fondues and omelettes in Switzerland. We basically drank and dined across the three countries, satisfying our backpacking hunger and feeling fueled for the next few days.
The hospitality we experienced along the trail was unmatched! Between staying in huts/hotels and meeting local hikers along the way, we felt we were always welcome. Refugio staff were kind, informative and ready to showcase the best of their country. The local hikers were also incredibly kind and willing to chat, point us in the right direction, and/or share stories of their own adventures across Europe. Kudos to Joel and Francesco from Refugio Elisabetta who were extremely hospitable to my parents and made sure our stay in Italy was an unforgettable experience.
3.You climb more vertical feet than Everest
With over 35,000 feet (over 10,000 meters) of ascent/descent, you can brag to all your friends that you’ve practically climbed Everest. It’s an accomplishment you can carry with you for life.
4. You don’t need to carry a lot of gear
Avid long-distance hikers know that much of the weight we carry comes from our food and water. Well, that’s not something you should stress over the TMB. Water is plentiful! Melting glaciers feed the waterfalls and rivers that generally intersect with the trail. Similar to access to water, there is almost constant access to food along the trail. Thanks to towns and frequent huts, hikers can stock up on groceries in town and/or eat full meals at huts along the way. Trust me, you’ll want to keep your pack weight as low as possible considering the punishment of the climbs and descents. So ditch the food/water weight and walk lighter. Your knees and back will thank me!
If you plan to stay in huts/hotels all the time, you don’t need to carry a tent and other sleeping gear with you. Prime!
5. You’ll never get bored of the views
When reading TMB guides, there are a handful of sections that former hikers describe as “boring”. I didn’t skip a single mile of this trail and can tell you with all my heart that there wasn’t a single “boring” section. Even short road trips had my jaw on the ground as I was constantly surrounded by snow-capped mountains and the sound of distant waterfalls.
One thing that has constantly blown us away are the glaciers. Slightly blue and stretching from the top to the middle of most mountains, the glaciers continually amazed the three of us. I remember my dad saying, “I feel lucky to be here right now, because who knows… maybe I’ll come back one day and all those glaciers will be gone. It’s a sad reality that the glaciers have melted drastically in recent years, but it leaves us feeling lucky for the beauty and history we’ve seen with our own eyes.
6. You will meet people from all over the world
This is perhaps my favorite part of the TMB hike. 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 longtime British adventurer, a group of American high school students and many other colorful people from different countries. Everyone had a different reason for riding the TMB, even though we were all connected by the fact that we were collectively attempting something so unique and challenging together.
My favorite times have been spent sitting around the dinner table in a hut or resting on top of a mountain with other hikers. We came away from this hike with countless memories shared with strangers – people we’ll probably never see again, but people we’ll never forget.
An unforgettable experience
It’s hard to say how much this hike impacted me. It was the perfect balance of challenge and rest. Every day I went to bed knowing that I had accomplished something extremely difficult: something that I may never be able to replicate 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 that I got to experience alongside my parents. I’m proud of all of us and what we’ve been able to do together. Aside from the sap, go hiking at the TMB. And consider dragging your parents. It’s a rather unique experience, that’s for sure.