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Europe - Trek

A slice of TMB (the Tour du Mont Blanc)

November 12, 2016
A slice of TMB (the Tour du Mont Blanc)

From the French-Italian border into the ski town of Courmayeur, and on to the Italian-Swiss border.

The TMB is a walking trail of 180 kilometres (112 miles), making a circuit around the Mont Blanc massif across the French, Italian, and Swiss Alps. It has been on many Top-10 must-do treks and I can see why.

I did the entire TMB, but I will tell you about the sections I loved the most: from Rifugio Elisabetta just across the Italian border from Col (Pass) de la Seigne until the Gran Col Ferret into Switzerland, with a delightful stop at the chic Italian ski-town of Courmayeur.

The TMB is a trek where your backpack is light and your wallet heavy – the huts pretty much have all that you will need but they come at a pretty steep price.

The mountain hut or Rifugio Elisabetta is a quirky, full-of-life, rather well-worn Alpine hut. Situated stunningly against the glacier and craggy peaks, it is a happening place with numerous hikers sharing stories at the table over some beer or wine, and Italian food.

We set off early in the morning to head to Courmayeur through the stunning Val Ferret. It took us over two hours over grassy slopes with many marmots keeping us company. Then was a gentle descent followed by a flat stretch up to Maison De Vieille for some fresh pasta lunch.

The final roll down the hill took us via the little village of Dolonne into Courmayeur.

At least ten Ferraris in different colours were parked outside our beautiful and atmospheric hotel – the Bouton D’Or.

A warm welcome from the owner Patreezia followed by a shower, and we were ready to explore the town. Via Roma is the street to see and be seen in – bars, restaurants, gelato … and chic boutiques of every luxury brand. Cafe Della Posta was one of our favourite hangouts – their cocktails and aperitivo snacks were fantastic. We also witnessed the start of the Tor Des Geants, an endurance trail running race of 330 kilometres in 150 hours, passing through the haute routes of the Alps.

The highlight of my time in Courmayeur was a visit to Punta Helbronner on the Skyway.

Ascending 3645 metres in a rotating cable car to the upper station of Punta Helbronner brings you up close and personal with the Mont Blanc peak and the many others surrounding it.

It was a special joy walking on the glacier, enjoying the mountain air and drinking a steaming cup of hot chocolate.

The middle station has an Alpine flower garden with one of the best arrays I have seen. My advice: go early in the day – less crowds and better weather.

The next morning, we left Courmayeur to walk to Refugio Bonatti. What a great day in the Alps! A steep climb for two hours and we arrived at Rif Bertone; the view from here into the valley and Courmayeur sure made the climb worth it.

After a short break for some refreshments and to take in the view, and we moved on, contouring along the mountain with all the grand peaks of the Mont Blanc massif in front of us. This stretch was breathtakingly scenic. Looking behind, we could see the Col Seigne at the French-Italian border where we came from, and ahead were glaciers, peaks and zillions of cows!

An hour or so later, Refugio Bonatti came into sight – a rather sleek and modern-looking building. Private rooms, dorms, a hot shower (you need a token though!), beer, wine, the best hot chocolate and conversation – all very civilised and just enough to get you ready to hit the trail and cross over into Switzerland at the Gran Col Ferret.

My top three:

  • Glacier walking at Punta Helbronner
  • Sunrise over Mont Blanc, seen from Rif Bonatti (The hot chocolate here comes close)
  • Restaurants and cafes in Chic Courmayeur
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About Me

I am a banker by profession, traveller by passion.

I have found time to travel to many countries and live in 2 countries (3 if Scotland ever does becomes one!) and 6 cities during my career in finance. I was a diplomat first and started in the Indian Foreign Service with my first posting being Paris – The City of Light. And began my lifelong love of travel and coffee there! An MBA followed and I’ve been in finance since.

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