This Variant full circuit Tour du Mont Blanc 9 day itinerary is a spin off of the classic TMB route but adds in every variant route creating a tour that covers a diverse variety of terrain. This variant Tour du Mont Blanc itinerary has no valley accommodation bar one, shunning valley & town hotels for the peace and solitude of the high mountain huts.
This itinerary has been planned for the average walker or trekker and uses some public transport along the trail such as cable cars, chair lifts and shuttle buses. One stage of the TMB (stage 7) is taken by bus.
Good to know: This variant 9 day Tour du Mont Blanc Itinerary should only be done in good weather. Many of the variants are dangerous to trek during bad weather. If you book this as one of our self guided trips you will be advised on the potential weather just before you depart & alternative plans can be made. If you are hiking independently please make sure you consult the weather forecasts daily to check on any bad weather sweeping through.
Start point: Les Houches (a village at the bottom of the Chamonix Valley)
Day 1 – Les Houches (Chamonix) – Refuge Nant Borrant (17.2km 7.5-9hrs)
Starting in the village of Les Houches at the end of Chamonix’s valley, our itinerary takes the cable car up to the Bellevue Plateau (or add another two hours onto today’s trek by hiking from the valley floor). Admire the Dôme du Goûter and the Aiguille Bionnassay before descending to cross the raging glacial torrent by the iconic Himalayan suspension bridge. The route then passes the spectacular Bionnassay glacier before climbing up to the grassy saddle of Col du Tricot. This stage 1 variant should never be done in bad weather but is not particularly taxing. The descent into the Miage valley is however very steep.
Book ahead for a table at Refuge du Miage to enjoy lunch overlooking the impressive Dômes du Miage. It gets very busy in the peak season so call ahead to avoid disappontment.
The trail then winds up briefly before descending to the French town of Les Contamines, traditionally the stop over point for the first stage. Our itinerary pushes on for a further hour on the trail to stop at the first refuge out of Les Contamines, the charming Nant Borrant, one of the best refuges on the TMB.
By catching the free navette to Gorge du Notre Dame (only during July & August) and then climbing the steep hill up to the refuge, you’ll a 1 hour head start on a challenging day tomorrow – tackling two cols in one day.
Day 2 – Refuge Nant Borrant (via Col des Fours) – Refuge les Mottets (13.3km 6-7.5hrs)
Today is a strenuous day which is duly rewarded with incredible views over wild desolate cols. This is truly les Alpes sauvages and your heart will sing to be far from civilisation. You’ll climb over no less than THREE mountain passes Col du Bonhomme (2329m), Col de la Croix de Bonhomme (2483m), then if the weather is fine up to Col des Fours (2665m) before descending into the tiny hamlet of Ville des Glaciers and onto the nearby Refuge des Mottets.
This spectacular variant of Col des Fours leads you over a lunar like landscape and cuts out the hamlet of Les Chapieux entirely.
Tip: be sure 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! You can see all along the Montjoie Valley & the tiny trekkers climbing Col du Bonhomme as well as all along the Vallée des Glaciers and up to the Col de la Seigne.
I advise stashing your rucksack behind one of the many boulders to simply float up to the view point! Note this route cuts out the hamlet of Les Chapieux. Never attempt this variant route if the weather is nothing short of perfect.
If the weather is bad, take the traditional TMB trail from Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme and descend all the way to down to the valley floor and into the hamlet of Les Chapieux. Stop for a welcome refreshment at the friendly Auberge de la Nova.
From Les Chapieux you can choose to walk up to Refuge des Mottets or if you’re tried catch the navette (shuttle bus) from the Les Chapieux information hut. The navette costs €3.50 and ferries you in 20 minutes to Ville des Glaciers from where you can pick up the trail again up to Refuge des Mottets.
Refuge des Mottets is a former daily farm renovated to a great standard. If you choose dorm accommodation you’ll in fact be sleeping in the old cattle barn! We love Refuge des Mottets for it’s friendly atmosphere, it’s fantastic food and especially their evening entertainment!
Day 3 – Refuge Les Mottets – Cabane Combal (10.7km 4-5hrs)
Today you’ll switch from Bonjour to Ciao as you climb the Col de la Seigne (2516m) on fresh legs and walk over the frontière into Italy.
From the col it’s all downhill onto the wide, flat valley floor of Vallon de la Lée Blanche. Pass Refuge Elisabetta, a basic cavernous refuge, commanding an exceptional view perched on a spur of the Pyramides Calcaires, with not one, but two glaciers (Glacier d’Estellette and Glacier de la Lée Blanche) spilling down behind it. The refuge has a good terrace if you need a refreshment before heading on the further 45-60 minutes along the ancient arrow straight Roman road to your accommodation for the night – the picture postcard A frame Refugio Cabane Combal.
Day 4 – Cabane Combal – Refugio Bertone (16.8km 7.5 – 9hrs)
Today’s hike takes you up out of the Val Veni 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 Veni, following the rise and fall of the mountain side with jaw dropping views of sawtooth peaks and Monte Bianco opposite.
From Refugio 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. We’ve included this chairlift/gondola in the planning of this itinerary (11.8km 5-7hrs) – the descent from Maison Vielle to to the Courmayeur is brutal plus you’ve got another 776m of elevation to climb after lunch to get to your bed for the night at Refuge Bertone (2000m). We highly recommend lunch at 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 Refugio Bertone.
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.
Day 5 – Refugio Bertone (via Col Sapin) Chalet Val Ferret (15.1km. 6-7.5hrs)
Today you’ll be taking the variant Col Sapin (2436m) from Refugio Bertone instead of the gentle contour of the Southern ridge of Val Ferret. Again you’ll only take this variant in good weather – if not follow the easier, faster traditional route to Chalet Val Ferret.
From the junction path near Refugio Bertone the path climbs steeply up to Mont de la Saxe. From here the ridge line trail heralds jaw dropping views of the south wall of the Massif du Mont Blanc from Col de la Seigne which you climbed over from France yesterday all the way along to Grand Col Ferret which you’ll climb tomorrow into Switzerland. On a clear day this panoramic view is incredible!
The path then descends steeply to Col Sapin (2436m) across Vallon d’Armina onto Pas Entre-Deux-Sauts (2524m) and into Vallon de Malatra before popping out just above the infamous Refugio Bonatti. The trail then continues a gentle traverse before dropping down to the valley floor & to your bed for the night at Chalet Val Ferret.
Day 6 – Chalet Val Ferret – Relais d’Arpette (16.3km 6-8hrs)
Today you’ll climb over the Grand Col Ferret and cross into Switzerland! The gentle Swiss alpine meadows are in stark comparison to the jagged wild landscapes you’ve trekked through in Italy and France. Take it easy as the trail descends to Ferret and the 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!
From here you’ll catch a local bus to Champex-Lac, a beautiful little town next to a pretty lake. 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.
Day 7 – Relais d’Arpette (via Col du Fenêtre) Refuge du Col de Balme (17.5km 7-9hrs)
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 is 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.
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 your home for the night – Refuge Col du Balme with it’s iconic red shutters – a tiny dot on the Col du Balme saddle – another frontière marking the boundary between Switzerland and France.
Day 8 – Refuge du Col de Balme – Refuge Lac Blanc (12.2km 6-8hrs)
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.
Day 9 – Refuge Lac Blanc – Le Brévent – Les Houches (8km 3-4hrs / 17.3km 6-7km)
Today you have a number of exits available to you on the trail. If you need to cut your trip short and leave for home today you can either take the gondola down from La Flégère to the village of Les Praz (10 minute bus ride to central Chamonix) or continue along the balcony route until Plan Praz (8km 3-4 hours) and take the Plan Praz gondola down to central Chamonix. Longer options are taking the Le Brévent cable car up from Plan Praz (17.3km 6-7hrs) and then hiking down to Les Houches, or the longest option (which we would advise against if you want to get into Les Houches during daylight hours is to trek the entire trail to Les Houches (19.8km 8-10 hours or perhaps even longer!)
From Refuge Lac Blanc 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!