COMPLETE TMB IN A WEEK - 7 DAYS

This Tour du Mont Blanc 7 day itinerary follows the complete TMB trail but ideally uses occasional public transport so is best taken during the peak trekking months of July and August. Completing the entire TMB trek in just 7 days is a definitely a challenge and only for the very fit!

Please note this itinerary is for a fast packer not the average hiker or walker.

col du bonhomme tmb
This 7 day complete TMB takes you over the highest point of the tour – the Col du Fenêtre (2245m) (photo in heading). Photo above: Col du Bonhomme

warning – variant routes

This itinerary ideally takes several variants routes. We’ve included these because the scenery is spectacular however variants Col du Tricot (day 1), Col des Fours (day 2), Col du Fenêtre (day 6) should NEVER be crossed in bad weather. You will need to hike the traditional route if you are trekking early season or if the weather forecast predicts a thunderstorm. Only variant 1 via the Col du Tricot can be safely taken early season during June and even into the first week of July. Read my article here on trekking the TMB early season.

Complete TMB in a week
7 days


Start point: Chamonix, France           
End point:    Chamonix, France   
Length: 7 days
Difficulty: Very fit trekkers

  • Day 1 Les Houches – Val Montjoie
  • Day 2 Val Montjoie – Val Veny
  • Day 3 Val Veny – Refuge Bertone
  • Day 4 Refuge Bertone – Gite Alpage de la Peule
  • Day 5 Gite Alpage de la Peule – Relais d’Arpette
  • Day 6 Relais d’Arpette – Refuge La Boerne
  • Day 7 Refuge La Boerne – Les Houches

Good to know: this itinerary takes various transport short cuts to enable this complete TMB trek to be done in only 7 days. These include the Bellevue cable car, free shuttle bus from Les Contamines – Notre Dame de la Gorge, Le Tour chairlift & gondola and Le Brèvent gondola. All of these transport options run into early September apart from the Les Contamines shuttle bus which will stop operating at the end of August.

Start point: Les Houches, a village at the beginning of the Chamonix Valley, France (1 hr from Geneva Airport)

If you’re arriving from Geneva Airport you can get a direct mini bus transfer to Les Houches which takes around an hour and fifteen minutes.

timings, distances, elevation

Timings for this itinerary are approximate and non-stop, meaning you should add extra time for stopping to take photos, rest stops and your lunch break. Expect this to always be more than you imagine. Consider adding 2 hours onto your timings per day (for a full day). Remember it’s best to set off early and arrive early – thunderstorms commonly occur around 4pm each afternoon in the peak summer months on the TMB trail.

Approaching the Col du Bonhomme – day 1

Day 1 Les Houches – Val Montjoie (via Col du Tricot)

2004m up / 1311m down / 24.1km / 6-7hrs (Les Houches – Refuge de la Balme)
1222m up / 1320m down / 18.9km / 5-6hrs (Bellevue plateau – Refuge de la Balme)

Route overview:

This itinerary ideally takes the Bellevue cable car from Les Houches to the Bellevue Plateau & picks up the path for the Col du Tricot. The timings given however include the extra 2 hours of trekking up from the valley floor, in case you do not wish to take the Bellevue cable car.

Bellevue cable car

Did you know that you can bypass the first 7km of the TMB by taking the Bellevue cable car from Les Houches. It’s a godsend to those who want to omit the first 2 hours of up (680m/7km) on the Tour du Mont Blanc. This section doesn’t have fabulous views so for me it’s a no brainer to take the cable car – its perfect for the variant Col du Tricot trail as it drops you off just five minutes away from the trail. I always take this cable car when it’s operating (early June to approx 10 Sept). Of course many others would prefer to trek this section and I begrudgingly do so if I’m trekking later in September (which is a glorious time to trek!)

After the Himalayan suspension bridge the route begins to gently climb until the spectacular Bionnassay glacier comes into full view. From here you can see the top of the Col du Tricot and it’s a steady climb up to the grassy saddle. Spend some time here to admire the views over the Miage Valley and far off the Col du Bonhomme. Spot Refuge Miage in the distant cluster of farm buildings way down in the valley below (a great stop refreshment stop if you have time). If you look carefully to your left, you’ll see a stone archway on the ‘smugglers route’ to Refuge Plan Glacier (see our adventure itinerary). The descent down is STEEP! Take it easy and use your poles. Reaching the valley floor follow the signs to reach Refuge Miage in just 5 minutes. This cluster of farm buildings in set in an idyllic rural setting and is charmingly French. The view of the Dômes de Miage (3600m) from the refuge is outstanding.

After an initial short climb from the Miage Valley up and over to Auberge du Truc. From here it’s a long steady descent through the forest into Les Contamines. Have a leisurely lunch in this small French town before either choosing to walk along the river to Notre Dame de la Gorge or pick up the free shuttle bus (navette) outside the Tourist Office to Notre Dame de la Gorge where the trail heads out into the wild once more. Taking the free shuttle bus means the difference between the stated length & hike time above. Take a moment to visit the beautiful Notre Dame de la Gorge chapel next to the gushing water before setting out on the well marked path. Warning – the trail is VERY steep here along an ancient slabbed Roman road to Refuge Nant Borrant but pleasantly flanks the bubbling racing gorge for much of the ascent. Be sure to look out for the pont naturel sign leading to a natural arch on the river, just a minute from the trail. Cross the roman bridge to take in the rushing gorge below. After reaching Refuge Nant Borrant press for almost a further 3kms before reaching Refuge Le Balme.

Iunch

It’s always lovely to have lunch at one of the refuges on today’s section. Refuge Miage is popular with fantastic views (popular in peak season so consider sending an email to book a table) or 45 mins further up the trail is the humble, very authentic Auberge du Truc which has simpler fare, no less delicious!

accommodation on your first night

Accommodation on your first night will ideally be in Refuge de la Balme, or just before in Refuge Nant Borrant or Refuge des Prés. All of these refuges have small dorms and shared bathroom facilities. Refuge Le Balme does offer a private room (double + bunks) which can be booked just for two or up to four people, however it does not have a bathroom ensuite. If you’re booking online and would like to book the Le Balme private room please add a note in the special requirements box.

Refuge Elisabetta
Refuge Elisabetta (2195m) is a hut mountain hut with exceptional views.

Day 2 Val Montjoie – Val Veny

1820m up / 1335m down / 24.4km / 7-8hrs (Refuge Le Balme via Les Chapieux to Elisabetta)
1764m up / 1279m down / 21.9km / 7-8hrs (Refuge Le Balme via Col des Fours to Elisabetta)
Route overview:

Today you’ll make the climb over a whopping 3 mountain passes! Col du Bonhomme (2329m) and Col de la Croix du Bonhomme (2483m) where early in the season (late June – end of July) you can expect to cross snow patches and finally Col de la Seigne the border between France and Italy.

If the weather is fine take the alternative route just before Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme via the Col des Fours. This spectacular variant leads you over a lunar like landscape before dropping into the Vallée des Glaciers picking up the trail at Ville des Glacier.

Note this route cuts out the hamlet of Les Chapieux. Never attempt this variant route if the weather is nothing short of perfect.

do not take the variant Col des Fours early season

The Col des Fours variant should never be taken early season in June or even sometimes into the first week of July. There are numerous glacial torrents which are covered in snow. As the snow melts, snow bridges form and these can be very dangerous. There have been fatalities here in early season so please adhere to this advice.

Tête des Fours view point

In good weather take the 10 minute detour at the top of Col des Fours to the view point Tête des Fours – it is nothing short of spectacular and is the only point on the trek where you can see where you’ve come from and where you’re going to from a birds eye view – oh and the view of the Mont Blanc Massif is nothing short of spectacular as well! I advise stashing your rucksack behind one of the many boulders to simply float up to the view point!

Note: if you don’t want to take the variant but still want to go to the viewpoint, it’s around an hour return from the cairn marking the top of the Col de la Croix du Bonhomme.

If you’re continuing along the normal TMB route the well marked trail will descend all the way to the valley of to Les Chapieux, where you can stop for a welcome refreshment at the friendly Auberge de la Nova and carry on a further hour up the trail to Refuge Les Mottets. Or as we would suggest catch the navette (shuttle bus) which ferries you in 30 minutes to the parking area of Refuge Les Mottets (you’ll then have to walk down the hillside to the refuge in the valley bottom). Our 4hr timing includes taking the navette to Refuge Les Mottets.

You’ll stay in the cavernous Refugio Elisabetta in Italy, a high mountain refuge with epic views from it’s incredible location perched at the base of two glaciers.

Iunch

If you’re taking the Col des Fours variant then the only real option for lunch at refuge would be Refuge Mottets. If its early season or bad weather and you are trekking the traditional route then Auberge de la Nova would be a good option.

accommodation on your 2nd night

Accommodation on your second night is in the Val Veny. Accommodation is limited here to just two refuges, Refugio Elisabetta or Cabane Combal.

Val Veni TMB
The emerald lake of Lac Combal with Col de la Seigne in the distance – day 2/3

Day 3 Val Veny – Rifugio Bertone

1350m up / 1552m down / 20.6km / 6-7hrs (from Elisabetta)
Route overview:

Today’s hike takes you up out of the Val Veny floor climbing steadily up to the highest point, a spur from Mont Favre. Looking back you can see the monstrous moraine of Glacier Miage dwarfing Cabane Combal and on a clear day all the way back to Col de la Seigne. From here you’ll trace the contours of the south flank of the Val Veny, following the rise and fall of the mountain side with jaw dropping views of sawtooth peaks and Monte Bianco opposite.

From Rifugio Maison Vielle during peak season (Aug & Sept) you can opt to take the chair lift and connecting cable car down to Dolonne which is a 10 minute saunter into Courmayeur. The descent from Maison Vielle is brutal so if you’re weary or just want a longer lunch in the lovely Italian town of Courmayeur this is definitely a good option. We highly recommend Pizzeria Ristorante du Tunnel who serve the largest pizza we’ve ever seen!

After a leisurely lunch it’s 4km uphill to your bed for the night at Rifugio Bertone.

Iunch

A good location for lunch would be Rifugio Maison Vielle.

accommodation on your 3rd night

Accommodation on your third night will be at Rifugio Bertone, a fantastic refuge just 2-2.5 hours up from the Italian town of Courmayeur.

If you want to cut this day down due to sheer exhaustion, injury or to perhaps include a rest day in Courmayeur there is an option to take the bus from Visaille to Courmayeur. Visaille can reached in just under 2 hours from Rifugio Elisabetta or just under an hour from Cabane Combal. Turn right after the bridge just before Cabane Combal – it’s a 30-40 minute walk to the village of Visaille where the bus departs on the hour.

trient glacier
The descent from the Col du Fenêtre boasts incredible views of the Trient Glacier – day 6

Day 4 Rifugio Bertone – Gîte Alpage de la Peule

1193m up / 1095m down / 20.9km / 6-7hrs
Route overview:

You’ll be hiking the gentle southern ridge of the Val Ferret valley today before the climb over the Grand Col Ferret (2537m), the border between Italy and Switzerland. Home will be at a working dairy farm, the Gîte Alpage de la Peule nestled into the mountain side on the other side of the Col.

This itinerary follows the easier route along the contour balcony trail from Rifugio Bertone as you’ll be tackling the Grand Col Ferret today as well. For those really wanting to push themselves there is an option to take the Mont de la Saxe high ridge route to Tête de la Tronche which offers insane views of the southern buttress of the Mont Blanc Massif. However, again this route should not be taken in bad weather.

Iunch

A good place to have lunch would be at Hotel Chalet Val Ferret before you start the Grand Col Ferret climb.

accommodation on night 4

Accommodation tonight will be in the working dairy farm Gîte Alpage de la Peule, just over the border in Switzerland. If you prefer a private room you will need to descend a little further to hotel options at Ferret or La Fouly.

trekking the TMB
Jaw dropping scenery continues on day 4 as you skirt along the balcony trail of the south side of Val Ferret

Day 5 Gîte Alpage de la Peule – Relais d’Arpette

743m up / 1187m down / 22.7km / 5-6hrs
Route overview:

You may be up early this morning – the Alpage de la Peule is an authentic working dairy farm and the cow bells clang at dawn. It’s mostly downhill today. The Swiss section of the TMB is altogether a more mellow landscape with rolling green pastures, pretty meadows and lush forest. You’ll descend into Ferret and then La Fouly.

La Fouly sits at the foot of two mighty mountains, Tour Noir (3, 836m) and Mont Dolent (3,823m) which incredibly is the tri-point where all three of the Tour du Mont Blanc countries, France, Switzerland and Italy’s borders meet!

The main villages and hamlets of this valley are Ferret, La Fouly, Prayon, Praz de Fort, Les Arlaches, Issert and Som la Proz. All of which you will pass through apart from the last when you will turn uphill for the last 90 minutes to Champex-Lac (pronounced Champay-Lac).

The route hugs the left side of the valley, following the west bank of the river La Drance de Ferret and parallel to the main valley road which can easily be heard as your hiking. In wilderness you are not!

The best part of today is that you’ll wander through a couple of charming Swiss hamlets. The tiny Les Arlaches with it’s interlaced wooden roofs are a real gem. Before long you’ll start the climb up to Champex-Lac – the only climb of the day. At the top you’ll be rewarded with the beauty of Champex-Lac. Nicknamed ‘Little Canada’ it’s not hard to imagine why – this beautiful lakeside town is surrounded by hills of pine and is genuinely a beautiful spot. You’ll press on though out of town for a further 5km up taking the beginning of the variant route up to the Relais d’Arpette where you can relax and bed down ready to tackle, weather permitting one of the most exciting sections of the TMB trail – the Col du Fenêtre.

Iunch

I would order a packed lunch (pique-nique) from your refuge for today’s lunch or buy something from the well stocked supermarket in La Fouly as you pass through. There is one place to eat in Praz-de-Fort however it may be closed early or late season and it’s hard to depend on.

accommodation on night 5

Accommodation on night 5 is in the Relais d’Arpette, a popular refuge on the variant stage 8 of the TMB which crosses the Fenêtre d’Arpette. This refuge is around 30-45 minutes up from Champex-Lac. Rooms are private or dorms.

col du fenêtre variant stage 8
Day 6 – the lofty heights of the Col du Fenêtre at 2665m is shared with the Col des Fours as being the highest points on the TMB trail. The Col du Fenêtre though is a much more challenging climb across rugged terrain

Day 6 Relais d’Arpette – Refuge Col du Balme/Gîte d’Alpage Les Ecuries de Charamillon/Tré-le-Champ

1981m up / 2228m down / 22km / 7-8hrs (to Tré-le-Champ)
1904m up / 1612m down / 18k / 6-7hrs (to Gîte d’Alpage Les Ecuries de Charamillon)
1904m up / 1316m down / 16km / 6-7 (to Refuge Col du Balme)
Route overview:

Today is a long day combining two variant stages into one. We must again make you aware that you cannot hike the Col du Fenêtre if the weather is less than perfect. It’s the most technical terrain on the entire TMB and unlike the rest of the trek, the trail is not marked well and can be lost. The boulder field just before the Col requires a lot of attention and trekkers need to be mindful of loose screw and rocks that dislodge easily and can be fatal to trekkers below. Set off super early though and you’ll be in for a treat. When you finally summit the Col you will feel a real sense of achievement – it’s the only place on the trek I’ve experienced other trekkers congratulating each other a real sense of camaraderie.

stage 8 variant tmb
Day 6 – descending from the Col du Fenêtre the Trient Glacier tumbles down the mountain side

The descent from the Col du Fenêtre is nothing short of astounding. Hairpin bends wind down the rocky descent with the incredible Trient Glacier trailing down beside the trail. This huge hunk of ice will mesmorise you during your descent and will surely be one of your unforgettable memories of this incredible trek.

Once you reach the buvette you’ll cross the wooden bridge and start the uphill slog to Refuge Les Grands. The Tibetan style path carved out of the rock will leave you in awe. Stop at the refuge for a cold drink and press on high along hugging the mountain flank until eventually you’ll spot Trient far below and the Trient glacier disappears behind you. You’ll soon see Refuge Col du Balme with it’s iconic red shutters – a tiny dot on the Col du Balme saddle – another frontiere marking the boundary between Switzerland and France. The gentle balcony walk contours around until you pass the refuge. Re-bonjour! You’ve come in a complete circle and once again the Chamonix Valley is in sight. Look to the far end of the valley to spot Les Houches where you set off. Our itinerary descends now to the valley floor just past the refuge via the chairlift and gondola to Le Tour. It’s then a 30 minute saunter to Tré-Le-Champ where you’ll rest your weary limbs in the historic and charming Auberge la Bœrne.

lunch

If you choose to take the variant across the Fênetre d’Arpette you will need to organise a packed lunch as there is no-where to eat on the trail until Buvette du Glacier which is too late in the day. This section is particularly dry so you will need to carry extra water with you.

If you are trekking the traditional route (Bovine) you can stop to have lunch at the wonderful L’Alpage du Bovine, one of the most authentic experiences on the trail. If it is raining it may not be possible to eat here without a prior reservation as their interior is tiny (only 20 seats). In good weather there is plenty of exterior seating.

accommodation on night 6

Accommodation tonight is ideally in Refuge Col de Balme, but could be slightly off the trail in Gîte d’Alpage Les Ecuries de Charamillon, or further down in Tré-le-Champ in cosy Auberge de la Bœrne, one of the oldest and most historical refuges on the trail. Those who would prefer private rooms can go on to a hotel in nearby Argèntiere.

alternative stage 9 tmb
Day 6 Skirting high on the variant stage 9 – day 6. Trient Glacier is in the background with the Col du Fenêtre clearly visible as the V in the ridge line

Day 7 Refuge Col de Balme/Auberge la Bœrne – Les Houches

1801m up / 2187m down / 25.5km / 8-9hrs (full route down to Les Houches)
2138m up / 1065m down / 15.5km / 5-6hrs taking Plan Praz cable car down
Route overview:

Trekking the north flank of the Chamonix Valley, this itinerary divides stages 10 and 11 of the Tour du Mont Blanc with a detour up to the infamous Lac Blanc. Hiking through the Aiguille Rouge National Park, you’ll have a good chance of seeing marmots, chamois or bouquetin. If you want to complete the entire Les Houches to Les Houches circuit though you’ll need to set off uber early today – it’s a challenging day ending with a knee crunching descent into Les Houches. It may be too much for some and if this is the case there’s the option to take the Plan Praz cable car down to Chamonix centre rather than pressing onto Les Houches.

It’s a 2 hours climb up to Lac Blanc for trekkers of your speed. The route climbs steadily until you reach the infamous TMB ladders – a series of 13 ladders and metal ware built into the rock. It’s the most exciting physical aspect of the entire Tour du Mont Blanc. See notes at the top of this page for how to avoid these ladders if you suffer from vertigo. At the Tête aux Vents, a large cairn (2132m) which borders the national park you can choose to detour up to Lac Blanc or traverse along the trail to La Flégère. Lac Blanc (2,352m) has an almost mythical stature – however if you’re not staying overnight at the refuge you’ll most probably experience the hoard of day trippers who access the lake via the cable car and chair lift. It’s still worth a look but downgrade your expectations. The magic here happens when the day trippers leave late afternoon. If you have an extra day in your schedule it’s worth booking Refuge Lac Blanc and experiencing the incredible serene peace that descends each evening.

tmb étapes
Day 7 – the descent after Le Brévent allows you to get up a wide screen view of the glorious icy dome of Mont Blanc – Western Europe’s highest mountain!

Follow the balcony trail past La Flégère and continue to Plan Praz. The entire route along this balcon walk has incredible views of Mont Blanc weather permitting. It truly is astounding. Often it seems like a painted landscape it truly is surreal. Descend via the Plan Praz cable car to Chamonix centre or if you’ve still got energy – you’ve set off early and want to complete the entire circuit from start to finish you’ll need to continue onwards. The best way to do this is to take the cable car UP from Plan Praz to Le Brévent which gives again, insane views of Mont Blanc. The long descent from Le Brévent is hard on the knees but is beautiful with wild red and pink azaleas popping with colour. This area again is known for common sightings of chamois. Expect to fall into Les Houches – this is a huge day but also completing the whole TMB in just 7 days is no easy feat. Well done!

lunch

A good location for today’s lunch stop would be at the restaurant at the top of the Brèvent summit.