Several weeks have now passed since we completed the Tour du Mont Blanc and the memories of different parts keep popping up from out of the blue to bring an inner smile - it truly was one of the best treks that we have done. With 12-days on the track, it was also the longest mountain trek that we have done and in some ways the hardest. Even now we find it hard to believe that we climbed (and descended) over 11,000m in that time, a bigger altitudinal gain than any trek we have done in the Himalayas or Andes. Some people do it quicker, but you would need to be ultra fit. More importantly, taking a bit more time gives you a chance to better appreciate the incredible mountain landscapes and to smell the flowers ..... and there were lots of them. Walking early in the season offers the delights of a brilliant display of wildflowers and alpine herbs. There is also a lot more snow about, which enlivens the alpine panoramas and adds a bit of spice to the walking. In this regard, we were lucky, we had both a snowy landscape and brilliant weather for virtually the whole 12 days. A large high pressure system had parked itself over central Europe, bringing fine hot weather (a heat wave on the plains and in the valleys - a pleasant temperature on the ridges and passes).

Logistically, it was not difficult. Another advantage of walking early in the season meant that there were fewer people on the track and we were able to get a place in the refuges by 'phoning 1-2 days ahead. Only once did we have a problem, when we discovered that Rifugio Elisabetta was "full" with a big group of school-kids on an adventure camp. However, the manager of the refuge at Col du Croix de Bonhomme spoke to the manager at Elisabetta and we were squeezed in - people help each other in the mountains. It was also a big advantage that we could speak French - for historic reasons it is the lingua franca of the Tour and being able to speak it helped with accommodation as well as opening up the camaraderie of the refuges and conversations over dinner.

The refuges were an experience in themselves for people used to carrying all their gear and food on their back to camp in the open or, at best, to set up in a simple mountain hut. On the TMB (and I suspect European tracks in general), it was mattresses, pillows, hot showers, cold beers and delicious meals at the end of each day - luxury. At an average of 40 euros for dinner, bed and breakfast per person, it was not cheap walking, but luxury nonetheless. You can carry your own gear and camp if you wish, but with a minimum of 9,000m of climbing you would need to be very fit and, for us, the refuges were an essential part of the TMB experience. While we still love walking in more remote areas, it is an interesting mix to have such wild landscapes with civilisation so close at hand.


They say that 25,000 people walk the TMB each year, so it must get crowded in the peak July-August period. However, the majority of people we encountered on the track were only exploring part of the route, staying in one of the valleys or doing sections linked by public transport. We only met a dozen or so who were walking the full circuit. This again was different to the trekking we have done in other mountain areas of the world. Accessibility and the fact that you can start and end the walk at a number of different points adds to its attraction and its users. We did meet up with a few guided groups - but it is not difficult to walk independently. Whatever you choose - all, parts, guided or independent - if you are tempted to do the Tour du Mont Blanc, don't hesitate - it really is one of the World's greatest treks.