In July 2012 I headed to France to ‘celebrate’ a significant birthday with old friends, and after a week of indulging in the finer things of life in lovely Provence, and a brief stop at the lovely town of Annecy, we headed to the Chamonix Valley to walk off the excesses! We joined a small group with the British specialist walking tour operator Exodus and stayed in a traditional chalet at Les Houches for the week. Each day we were transported by minibus to different points on the famous Mont Blanc circuit and then taken on guided walks of typically 6-8 hours per day from just below the treeline up and down an average of 1000m each day. An added bonus was the company of our guide Oliver’s fox terrier Dylan, who clearly enjoyed the walking as much as we did!
The entire ‘Tour Du Mont Blanc’ circuit, all 170km of it, is traditionally done by staying in Gites over a 7-10 day period, or 14 days if you are not rushing and like the odd rest day!
This might not be the purists version, yet I can highly recommend this abbreviated version of the Tour – we were there in July and it was unusually hot even for summer time – with temperatures reaching up to 28C some days, so waking up to a cooked breakfast, tramping with a packed lunch in our day packs and coming home to a hot home cooked meal, an outside spa, a cold beer and a comfy bed was a real treat! The chalet was in traditional Alpine style, but converted for tour groups, so every room was ensuite, although the facilities were somewhat compact in each room! The trekking was magnificent, the views spectacular, this is real ‘Heidi’ country complete with oversize cow bells, and it’s hard to imagine a more scenic place to spend a week in Europe. As we were right on the border of France, Italy and Switzerland, there were some days where we walked in two countries in one day, and the drive through the Mont Blanc Tunnel into Italy was an experience in itself!
Les Houches is well located with great bus links down the Valley into Chamonix itself, and we were given a free day midweek to enjoy this very special Alpine resort town, and of course to brave the famous Telepherique (cable car) to the (quite literally breathtaking) Aiguille du Midi. Built in 1955, this is apparently still the highest vertical ascent cable car in the world, from 1,035 m to 3842 m. You do need to take it steady at the summit as the altitude can be disorienting, but the views of Mont Blanc are extraordinary.
Our group was an eclectic mixture of couples and solos, mostly, but not exclusively from the UK, and of all ages. The 2013 version of this trip allows walkers to select their level of fitness and then their daily walks are graded ‘easy’ or ‘challenging’ accordingly. It’s a very social week, and having a shared base to come back to each night created a welcome sense of camaderie in what proved to be a great week!