When my kids were young I wanted to take them on one of the world’s most beautiful hikes, the Tour du Mont Blanc.
It’s a 105-mile hike around the highest mountain in Europe. The trail crosses several high mountain passes. It’s route also meanders through gentle alpine meadows and mountain towns in France, Italy and Switzerland.
The whole route can be hiked in seven to ten days.
You can even break it up into sections, taking some by bus or train.
I thought it would be nice to give our youngest children a ride for an occasional break from hiking.
You can eat lunch in alpine village pastry shops or take it along to eat at scenic mountain sites along the trail.
Or still more enchanting, eat at one of the mountain huts along the route.
Nights can be spent in rustic mountain huts or in comfy rooms in fine vacation hotels.
I always thought it would be a treat for my kids when they ranged in age from toddlers to teens. And wouldn’t it be highly educational?
But we were never able to set aside enough time between the various activities of our six children to take the trip.
A Birthday Surprise
One day my daughter Katie said, “Dad, I want you to have your dream hike for your eightieth birthday. You always talked about the Tour du Mont Blanc. But we could never pull it off. So I’m giving it to you for your birthday.”
What a great eightieth year birthday gift!
So we got out guide books, maps and route descriptions.
We talked to friends who had hiked the route.
We settled on dates early in the hiking season at one of our friends suggestion. Katie arranged to take enough time off work.
We gathered our gear together and flew to Paris.
While in Paris why not add a few days at each end to mosey around town a bit?
So after a couple of days knocking about the Latin Quarter, we gave our excess baggage to our hotel manager to hold for our return and headed over to Gar de Lyon for the fast train to Gervais, France.
Then the Mont Blanc Express to Chamonix, the jumping off point for our trek.
We arrived mid-day in Chamonix, with high spirits.
We decided to add a few miles to it by hiking the opposite way from our starting point to spend our first night in some small alpine village.
From descriptions we’d heard about the Tour du Mont Blanc we felt sure we’d find plenty of lodging in towns a few more miles away from our starting point in Chamonix. So we enthusiastically hiked off in the opposite direction, to add a few more miles to our TMB.
We had a nasty surprise.
We hadn’t realized it, but we had come early alright. Too early!
The ski season had just ended. And the hiking season had not yet begun.
So the first little village on this day’s hike was dead. No one around.
Nothing open. No open hostels!
In our disappointment, we were leery about hiking on to the next town for fear it too would be a closed down as well. And we’d be SOL our first day in the Alps.
Fortunately there was still bus service. So we bussed back to Chamonix.
What I hate to admit was that we also found that in our planning we had succumbed to the “living-room syndrome,” overestimating distances and climbing we could do.
And now out there with our packs we faced reality. We struggled far more than we expected.
So okay, we would adjust to that and hike shorter distances each day. No problem.
Then the real crusher.
In the morning when we visited the tourist office to review our hiking plans, we discovered that key arial lifts we expected to use would not be operating.
Nor were some of the high mountain huts open. There was just no way we could hike the Tour du Mont Blanc according to our plans!
A whole year’s planning was out the window! What a blow!
We went to a restaurant for lunch and commiserate.
OK, we were in the most splendid mountain country in the world.
While we couldn’t have it our way, taking our dream hike.
We could give up our disappointment, and instead find a way to enjoy ourselves. Why let a simple set-back spoil our fun.
We decided upon an alternate plan.
We would do day hikes from the great alpine towns in the three countries.
Hike out in one direction from the town, and return to town at night.
Hike the opposite direction the next day and return to town.
We could move from town to town by bus or train to avoid the highest huts.
Golly there are over a dozen beautiful towns around the mountain.
So that afternoon we hiked to Les Houches, stayed the night there and hiked the next day to Les Contamines, stayed there and hiked as far as we could into the higher mountains, and back to town for the night.
We stayed in some great towns around Mont Blanc in the three countries.
The Best of the TMB!
So we made the best of it.
And Kate added the crème de la crème to our trek.
She insisted that we eat gourmet meals each evening at the best restaurants in town.
Then too, we found a high mountain hut that was open where we had lunch one day.
The scene was so spectacular and the food so special that we hiked back to it three times just for lunch.
I mean five miles each way for lunch!
We also enjoyed gelatos when we returned to town early enough in the afternoons not to spoil our appetite for our gourmet dinners.
And in the evening after dinner we wandered about the towns window shopping.
I’ve got to say, we turned a lemon into really delicious lemonade!
So much so that I’d almost suggest this type of hiking around Mont Blanc, if you wouldn’t mind missing of course the “idea” of hiking the “authentic” Tour du Mont Blanc route.