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TOUR DU MONT BLANC

REFUGES

The Tour du Mont Blanc refuges are truly charming and will form part of your fondest memories of trekking this incredible trail through the Alps. Staying in these high mountain huts is a wonderful experience. As the sun disappears behind the peaks and the valley turns cold, refuges with their hearty fodder, lively chatter and flowing wine will be one of the aspects of the Tour du Mont Blanc trek you’ll treasure the most.

The single most important piece of advice of this entire site is right here. Book your Tour du Mont Blanc refuges early. And I mean early. Aim to have your Tour du Mont Blanc accommodation sewn up by the end of February latest. By planning early and booking your refuges pronto, you’ll save yourself time and stress.

Below you will find everything you need to know about the Tour du Mont Blanc refuges, from how to book, which Tour du Mont Blanc refuges are the best (and which are the worst!), what to expect for dinner and breakfast in the refuges, whether you can charge your phones, what to pack etc – it’s all there.

As always – any questions that we haven’t covered, please just ask us. Our aim is for this website to be the most comprehensive Tour du Mont Blanc resource online so if something isn’t clear, let us know. It will help not just you, but lots of potential hikers out there too.

BEWARE: REFUGES ARE BOOKING UP QUICKLY DUE TO COVID

Due to so many cancellations this year due to Covid 19 travel restrictions, refuges are being booked very early for Summer 2021. With the reality of Covid still being around next summer, many refuges may also still not be operating at full capacity to keep within regulation guidelines. I would suggest booking as soon as possible.

tour de mont blanc
Refuge Lac Blanc commands a jaw dropping location on Stage 10 of the tour

The key to bagging the best refuges on the perfect itinerary is booking your refuges oober early.

Try to book between November and February to have the pick of the bunch.

How to book your Tour du Mont Blanc refuges

Most of the Tour du Mont Blanc refuges you can book on the official TMB site www.autourdumontblanc.com. The site has an interactive route planner that can help you plan your route according to where you want to start and which direction.

However, note some refuges (and some of the best ones!) are owned privately and are not available to book on the official site. For these refuges (such as Rifigio Bonatti, Rifigio Elisabetta, Refuge Lac Blanc) you will need to enquire privately and book via email.

How early do I need to book?

Book early! I can’t emphasis this enough! If you book between November and February you will have a good chance of all of your chosen refuges being available. However for Summer 2021 I would recommend booking now or as soon as you possibly can. The demand will be high following the travel restrictions of 2020 with many hikers who weren’t able to travel, re-scheduling for 2021.

A big problem occurs if you leave booking your Tour du Mont Blanc accommodation later than this. Then only some of your chosen refuges might have availability. Then you would need to either wait, ask to go onto the refuge’s waiting list (and remain in regular contact with the refuge) to see if any cancellations occur over your chosen dates (risky) or re-schedule your entire itinerary to find refuges that are available. Trust me this is a complete nightmare. Booking super early alleviates the stress of having to re-plan your entire TMB, which will have taken you a long time to plan.

silk sleeping bag liner

DID YOU KNOW ….

Sleeping bag liners are mandatory for ALL Tour du Mont Blanc refuges.

You can rent them for €3 a night or bring your own.

We recommend RAB’s silk sleeping bag liners which add a little luxury to your TMB

Do I need to pay 100% in advance?

No, it’s not necessary to pay for your Tour du Mont Blanc Refuges 100% in advance. On the official site www.autourdumontblanc.com you will only pay a deposit and the balance will be paid at each refuge when you arrive. The deposit amount you will be asked to pay varies according to each refuge but expect to pay a deposit of between €20-40 per person per refuge.

Note that most refuges will only accept cash, so plan out how much cash you will need to carry on the trek before departing. ATMs can be found in all the large towns along the route – Chamonix, Les Houches, Les Contamines, Courmayeur and Champex-Lac.

Some private refuges that are not on the official site (like Rifugio Elisabetta or Bonatti) or even ones that are (like Cabane Combal) you won’t pay a deposit at all as they don’t have facilities to pay online and you will pay in full on arrival.

What are the cancellation terms?

Each refuge is different with regards to cancellation times. For example at Rifugio Bonatti you can cancel last minute up to 12am the day before your arrival (they ask you cancel by phone if you are cancelling at such short notice). Other Tour du Mont Blanc accommodation, for example many of the hotels on the route such as Hôtel la Grand L’Ourse in Trient, you will need to cancel a month before arrival if you don’t want to lose a proportion of the amount you’ve paid.

You will be informed at the time of booking of the cancellation policy of each refuge so check carefully. It’s obviously worth checking before booking to find out each Tour du Mont Blanc accommodation provider’s policy on Covid and whether you will get a full refund if you cannot travel due to government restrictions. Be aware that most refuges last year were only offering the chance to re-schedule bookings rather than giving refunds if your cancellation was directly related to covid ie: you can’t fly or travel to start your trek.

tour de mont blanc refuges
The last refuge before climbing Grand Col Ferret into Switzerland, Refuge Elena is a newly renovated hut boasting over 128 dorm beds & with private rooms

What to expect at the high altitude mountain huts

Each Tour du Mont Blanc refuge is different, having it’s own characteristics & quirks. Some of the rough & ready refuges are cavernous catering for up to 73 hikers in limited conditions but command exceptional views with their wild high altitude locations.

Your experience of these huts, namely Rifigio Elisabetta or Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme will be wildly different to a more intimate experience in a smaller refuge such as Nant Borrant or Cabane Combal.

Of course not all refuges are equal. And that’s particular true on the Tour du Mont Blanc. There are exceptional refuges and downright awful ones. We give you as much information as we can in our posts below.

Hikers also need to be aware of what they need to bring with them to the refuges and what is provided. For example sleeping bag liners are mandatory in all the Tour du Mont Blanc Refuges, and since Covid-19, all hikers now need to bring their own personal sleeping bag.

There is also some basic hut etiquette that you should be aware of – namely taking off boots before entering the hut and using the hiker’s indoor shoes that the refuge provides (normally crocs). We discuss all of this in our post – Refuge Etiquette – tips for what to expect in TMB huts

“When the TMB stays high, people tend to spend the night in refuges that dot the route. Most are great and some are stupendous: what they lack in space and comfort, they make up for with food, booze, company, locations and sunsets.”

Andrew Gilchrist – the guardian

Demi pension or room only?

The Tour du Mont Blanc refuges normally offer two types of accommodation – demi pension (half board) or bed only. Some refuges only offer demi pension.

Demi-pension will include a 3 course dinner, a bed for the night, and breakfast. It will not include any drinks (apart from a carafe d’eau – water on the table). Soft drinks, wine and sometimes stronger alcoholic beverages can be bought as extra. We have always found wine to be very good value in the refuges.

Demi-pension tariffs vary according from refuge to refuge but expect on average to pay around €55 for a dorm bed demi-pension per person. There’s generally no reduction on price for children which is a real blow to families trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc making it very expensive to complete the trail.

If you’re trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc on a shoestring, I’d still recommend booking half-pension as it’s not really worth trekking with your own food. It’s heavy to carry and most refuges don’t allow access to the kitchen.

Room types in the Tour du Mont Blanc refuges

You can choose from dortoir ou chambre in booking your Tour du Mont Blanc refuge accommodation.

Dortoir is dormitory accommodation, always mixed sex and can range from cavernous dorms with 30 people in, to cosy small 4 bed dorms. Some refuges only offer dormitory accommodation.

Dorms are much cheaper than a private room however can be very basic – some only have sleeping platforms rather than bunks. Some dorms even have three tiered sleeping platforms! Dorms, being the cheaper option, often book out first.

It’s always better to be in a smaller dorm to get a better night’s sleep. (Always, always pack ear plugs and an eye mask. Read our TMB packing list here).

My advice to get the best dorm set up is to have a look at the sleeping arrangements for each refuge you think you’d like to stay at. Their private website (if they have one) or on the official TMB booking site, will normally tell you what bed set ups are available. If you book early enough you can request a smaller dorm over the large ones. This tends to work well. Another advantage of booking early!

Tip: you can see on the official TMB booking site the dorm set ups when you add your night’s accommodation to your basket before you pay, so you can use this as a research tool as well.

If privacy is an issue for you or you don’t fancy bedding down on a sleeping platform facing a stranger, then book a chambre, a private room. These cost a little bit more but can be worth it for a better night’s sleep. For example half board at Refuge Bonatti costs €60 in a dorm and €80 per person in a 2-4 bed private room. Private rooms normally do not come with an en-suite bathroom.

We have a full post on which refuges offer what accommodation. You’ll need to read this if you only want to book private rooms throughout your Tour du Mont Blanc adventure. The wonderful A frame refuge, Cabane Combale actually offers all of it’s 1-6 bed dorms (really just private rooms) en-suite facilities! Happy days.

READ MORE ABOUT THE TOUR DU MONT BLANC REFUGES
tour du mont blanc Italy
Rifugio Bonatti, with Mont Dolent and Glaciers de Pré de Bar and Triolet in the background

Take dinner at the TMB refuges whilst camping

If you’re planning to camp along the TMB route then a great option is to eat at the refuges. Not only does this give you an experience of some of the amazing refuges along the way, it’s also a fantastic way to socialise with other hikers and to enjoy a warm, hearty meal after a long day on the trail. It’s definitely a better option that slogging along the trail with days of food added to the weight of your camping gear.

If you aim to eat at the refuges, it’s best to contact them in advance to see if you can book your dinner. Obviously though, some hikers camping along the trail want the freedom of NOT being stuck to an itinerary. Walking for as far as you can and then pitching your tent gives a huge amount of flexibility. In this scenario I would always ring ahead towards the end of the day when you have an idea of where you will camp so that you can give an hour or so notice. Always pack some emergency dehydrated meals (we love Real Turmat) in case the refuge cannot provide you with a meal.

CAMPING

Camping along the TMB trail is relatively easy with campsites being in all towns & villages on the route.

In France you are permitted to ‘bivouac’ meaning you can set up camp at night fall and pack up before 9am. For the French high altitude sections many refuges allow hikers to camp in the vicinity of the refuge.

Camping in Italy is much harder. The Italian refuges do not permit camping of any kind outside the refuge as the Italian law is that camping is only permitted over 2,500m. However there are campsites in Courmayeur and at HOBO at La Visaille in the Val Veny on the alternative stage on Stage 4.

In Switzerland it is also illegal to camp and TMB campers should head to the official campsites (Glaciers la Fouly, Rocailles campground in Champex-Lac and the Val d’Arpette campsite)

Refuge Le Tour Chamonix
Refuge du Col de Balme (2191m) on stage 9 has a bird’s eye view of the Chamonix valley. Serving delicious Savoyard food (try the Tartiflette!) this newly renovated refuge has 26 dorm beds & allows camping outside

Can I expect a hot shower at the TMB refuges?

There’s nothing quite like a hot shower to revive your aching body after a long day on the trail. Hobbling into your refuge after 7-10 hours on the trail, you might indeed be dreaming of a hot shower (or a large glass of vino!).

All of the refuges on the Tour du Mont Blanc trail have showers bar tiny Refuge Bellachat (stage 11) which makes up for the lack of facilities with it’s jaw dropping view of Mont Blanc.

Whether or not you’ll get a hot shower depends on which refuge your in and how many trekkers have showered before you. Sometimes it’s just good timing.

In most refuges you’ll need to pay extra for the shower. This varies from €2 to a whopping €5 at Refuge Lac Blanc. Don’t expect hot water just because you’ve paid!

In most refuges showers are limited in time. Others aren’t such as in Bonatti but that doesn’t always guarantee hot water.

It’s always worth asking the refuge staff about the best time to shower. Some will give you an insider tip.

The best advice we can give is to have low expectations and not to expect piping hot showers. A good tip is to try to shower as early as possible by being in the first wave of trekkers to arrive at the refuge. Set off early in the morning and aim to arrive mid afternoon if possible.