Mont Blanc Circuit, camping or hotels

You will certainly need your bed after a day walking in and around Mont Blanc, the most popular version of which is the Mont Blanc Circuit or Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) as it is also known the world over. And the good news is that there is a vast array of accommodation, to suit your budget or bravura. This 170km long distance walking trail follows a series of well established, well marked trails on the lower levels of the Mont Blanc massif and is usually broken down into about 11 segments. You will walk through three countries, as this massive massif is a multinational one, sharing its magnificence with France, Italy and Switzerland. Hardy hikers may take it on in a week, taking a route to higher levels and staying at remote inns or ‘auberges’ along the way.
The hotel version

The hotel version

The star of the show on Mont Blanc walking holidays is the TMB walking trail rather than the hotels where you stay. Think of the White Lady – as local people call Mont Blanc – as the prima ballerina, and the surrounding hotels her ‘corps de ballet’. In short, if you choose a Mont Blanc holiday where you stay in hotels rather than camp or stay overnight in mountain refuges, you aren’t going to be going five star. Two or three stars usually, although if you look out the window at night you are likely to see a million of them.
When you book a hotel version of the Mont Blanc Circuit you will have your bags transferred for you at each stage of the walk, and your meal costs are usually included too. Hearty breakfasts, of course, packed lunches and then dinners when you arrive in at the end of a long day of walking. Drinks such as wine or beer, coffee or tea after dinner are not usually included in the cost of your holiday.
Hotels are typical mountain chalet style and usually family run, small and chocolate boxey. As you stay in different places every night on most Mont Blanc walking holidays, their facilities or style will vary. They will undoubtedly have great views, en suite rooms and you may even find a hot tub or two along the way. It is important to note that these hotels are usually small and, in some cases, your hiking group takes over the whole place. Solo travellers, therefore, will usually need to share a room with someone of the same sex, but your tour operator will be able to update you on this, depending on the number of people in your group. In more basic ‘auberge’ style accommodation there may sometimes only be twin beds, so don’t always expect a double if you are travelling as a couple. But your tour operator will always do their utmost to cater for everyone’s requests. In short, you will have a proper bed, good bedding, bathroom facilities and great mountain fare. And a good night’s sleep.
Centre based

Centre based Mont Blanc walking holidays

If you haven’t time to take on the whole circuit, and don’t feel a need to tick off all the TMB boxes along the way, there is an option to trek the highlights in a week staying in the same place every night, usually in Chamonix. This is by no means ‘TMB Light’, though. You still walk between nine and 16km each day, over five days, with some steep ascents thrown into the mix but the views are always worth it. Your views of Mont Blanc and surrounding peaks from the chalet accommodation in Chamonix are equally exquisite, especially if you are sitting in the hot tub, while dinner is being prepared and the wine is chilling.

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Mont Blanc holiday, Tour du Mont Blanc

Mont Blanc holiday, Tour du Mont Blanc

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Hello campers

Hello campers

Chloe Knott is a Mont Blanc and all round alpine expert at our Mont Blanc walking holiday supplier, Exodus:
"If you have a metal water bottle, at the end of the season when it is getting colder, you can fill it with hot water at night, put it in a sock and use it as a hot water bottle in."
If you choose to walk the Mont Blanc Circuit, camping along the way, then it will most likely be supported camping. You arrive at your campsite to find our support team has erected the dining tent and got the kettle on. You will have to get your own tent up, but they are easy peasy, quality ones, so that won’t take long.

You will mostly be staying in established campsites so you will also find hot showers and cold beers – there are meant to be fun times too. The big advantage of camping is that saves you a lot of money, but you still enjoy a lot of the comforts. Like breakfast, lunches and dinners being meals made for you – which is bound to make you a very happy camper. Be prepared for a couple of nights at more basic campsites, however, when you are trekking through more remote terrain. No showers, but ‘hell yeah’ views when you wake up in the morning.
You will need to bring your own sleeping bag and mat, but these will be transported for you by your support team along with all the camping equipment. It is recommended that you bring a four season sleeping bag because at some elevations you might have a glacier as your bedfellow. Most small group walking holidays with camping have two people per tent, with a supplement for travellers who opt for a tent of their own.
Taking refuge

Taking refuge

On some Mont Blanc Circuit trips you will be staying in mountain refuges. These are buildings that are generally owned by the Club Alpin Francais (CAF) especially for climbers and hikers and often in some of the most exquisite locations. In Italian they are known as ‘refugios’ and the Swiss call theirs ‘cabanes’. Refuge may sound a bit plebeian for the Swiss perhaps. And refuges are most definitely plebeian, but in the real sense of the world. They are all about people. The common people, who love these great commons – the Alps.
Mountain refuges are cheap as chips and hiking heaven. If you don’t mind roughing it a bit, with dorm rooms, shared bathroom facilities but views that look like James Bond could parachute in at any second. Even 007 would have to deal with the guardian of the refuge though, the most important person in these remote mountain environs. The guardian allocates your bed, will tell you off if you wear your hiking boots inside (boot room, please) and also guards the WiFi password, if there is such a thing. Mountain refuges book up well in advance, which is another reason for travelling with a tour operator who will handle all of that for you.

It is important to remember that mountain refuges aren’t hotels. They are mountain community clubs sleeping between 20 and 200, and places where people compare blisters and boots, backpacks and back problems, walking poles and walking woes. They are also the places where you get to sample the best local cheese or a top after dinner ‘digestif’. And they are definitely places where the acronym TMB can take on another meaning altogether. Too Much Beer (not recommended at high altitudes!) and Too Much Banter. Expert refuge users always pack their ear plugs.

Sometimes you might be pitching camp at refuges, if they allow tents. Otherwise, in terms of bedding, you will need a sleeping bag liner, which is sometimes called a ‘sac à viande’ (literally meat bag in French), but you will be given a blanket at the refuge.
Examples of mountain refuges that you might stay at along the TMB include Refuge Elena, where you can catch the morning glow off the Pre de Bar glacier. Or Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme, a perfect spot before embarking towards the eponymous col at 2,483m.
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: s9-4pr] [Top box: Exodus Travels] [The hotel version: Exodus Travels] [Hotel meals: Heather Cowper] [Bedroom: Exodus Travels] [Hot tub: Exodus Travels] [Hello campers: Exodus Travels] [Camping, Switzerland: Jerome Bon] [Refuge: Laurent Lebois ] [Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme: Jerome Bon]