Warming Up for the Tour du Mont Blanc

Before setting off on the Tour du Mont Blanc, we had a couple of days in Geneva and Les Houches to relax, stock up on supplies (long time no see, BN Biscuits!) and squeeze in a short hike up Col de la Forclaz.

We were up in the wee hours to catch our bus to London Luton Airport; an uneventful ride, save for an episode with two not-so-young passengers attempting to board with tickets linked to their child’s Young Person’s Coachcard. Bag drop and security were a breeze, and before long we were enjoying steaming cuppas airside. We snoozed through the flight – snatching sleep here and there was a common theme of our first day – and landed in Geneva just after nine.

Geneva Airport issues free travel passes to all inbound passengers, and we made sure to collect ours before passing through arrivals and heading off in search of a train. We boarded one just in the nick of time; the same couldn’t be said for the poor woman who was left on the platform while her luggage journeyed into Geneva without her. It went a little like this:

Woman [W] taps window.

Ticket Controller [TC]: non, on départ. (The Swiss are very punctual, you see.)

Train, true to TC’s words, departs. W runs down the platform.

TC: (the penny – or should that be the centime? – drops) Ce sont ses bagages ? (points at two suitcases, one large, one small, by the door)

All passengers nod. TC shoots off to do some ticket checking and returns just as we pull into Genève Cornavin, at which point she passes the suitcases to her colleague on the platform.

Whoops. Just as well the next stop was the city centre, or that poor lady could’ve been waiting a while to be reunited with her bags. With a few hours to fill before our Flixbus to Chamonix, I gave Laurence a whistle-stop tour of Geneva – in 36°C steamy, sauna-like heat. First up, Starbucks; Swiss prices dictated that we shared a tropical mango iced tea. Refreshed and refuelled, we set off for the sights: in the space of three hours, we managed to hit up the horloge fleurie (flower clock), vieille ville and Jet d’Eau, plus a street food festival in Jardin Anglais.

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Related: Swiss Bliss

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Having sought out some shade, we picnicked by Lac Léman; the view of the Jet d’Eau is one I could never tire of. All too soon, it was time to venture over to Geneva Bus Station. Our bus was like an oven on wheels, but that didn’t stop me from drifting off to the Land of Nod; Laurence managed to stay awake and single-handedly ensured we didn’t miss our stop.

From Chamonix, it was just a short ride to Les Houches. We quenched our thirst at La Chavanne (incredibly slow service, but it did the job), checked into our Airbnb and then headed down the road to Kitsch Inn (77 Place de la Fruitière) for tea. We both opted for their ‘Le Grand Dru’ burger, which was super scrummy and seriously filling.

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Needless to say, I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. I’ve only stayed at a handful of Airbnbs which provide breakfast, and this one trumped all of them – even the steady supply of fresh bagels in Montréal, and that’s saying something. We’re talking breakfast banquet here: a fresh pot of coffee and a choice of teas; toast with butter, strawberry jam and marmalade; yogurt; fresh fruit; and tartlets piled high with yogurt-cream and blueberries. Yum.

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We spent the morning pottering round Les Houches and, lovely as it was, quickly came to the conclusion that a walk was in order. So much for those ‘rest days’ we’d pencilled in; neither of us could resist the siren calls of the trails. We swung by the boulangerie for a baguette and the supermarket for some snacks, then nipped back to our Airbnb for our boots and map. Destination: the Alpage de Charousse, a scenic alpine meadow which had the stamp of approval from the local tourist office.

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As we hauled ourselves up the hill, views of the Chamonix valley unfolded beneath us: a carpet of greenery on the valley floor and slopes; snow-capped summits to the right. The Alpage de Charousse is a fairly short walk from Les Houches – forty-five minutes, or thereabouts – and is well worth visiting. When we reached the meadow, we decided to pause for lunch. Out came the baguette, bananas, coconut biscuits . . . and what felt like the entire valley’s fly population. Jolly good.

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Since time was on our side, we decided to venture up Col de la Forclaz (1,533m). There wasn’t much in the way of views along the route or at the top, as it’s mostly switchbacks through forest, but it was good to reacquaint ourselves with hills. (Let’s face it, there aren’t any in Cambridge, and I was woefully ill-prepared for them.) Back in Les Houches, we treated ourselves to a scoop of mango sorbet and sank into the deckchairs outside the tourist office. Now: a well-earnt rest. Later: Carrefour. Tomorrow: the TMB.

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Tips:

  • If you’ve flown into Geneva Airport and are taking public transport into the city centre, don’t forget to claim your free travel pass. Head to the ticket machine just to the left of the automatic doors into arrivals, press the button and it’ll spout out a ticket.
  • Chamonix Bus connects Chamonix with Les Houches, Servoz, Argentières and Vallorcine (and the various villages in between). A day ticket costs €3. Check their website for timetables.
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2 thoughts on “Warming Up for the Tour du Mont Blanc

  1. How quaint the town looks! It’s also very impressive you did a smaller hike before the TMB, but for a seasoned hiker like yourself, it must’ve been warm-up (I would’ve been exhausted!). Switzerland looks stunning in the summer, and it’s great you got to see it outside of the winter months!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Les Houches is a picture-perfect ski resort/hiking base 🙂 We caught the tail end of a heat wave, so it was a warm-up both literally and figuratively! Between living in Alsace (just a train ride away from Basel and other Swiss cities), visiting Geneva a couple of summers back and this trip, I think I’ve now seen slivers of Switzerland in all four seasons… there aren’t many countries I can say that for!

      Liked by 1 person

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