Claps of thunder roused us during the night; lightning danced across the inky sky. By first light, the storm had passed and only a few grey clouds lingered. The Tour du Mont Blanc was calling – but first, breakfast (or, more accurately, breakfeast; our Airbnb host put out a seriously good spread).
Fuelled up on toast, tarts and (fruity) tea (amongst other things), we set off for the starting point. Compared to the previous day, it was cool and cloudy; ideal, given there’s a fair amount of ascent on the first stretch up to Col de Voza (1,657m). Every so often, we came across a truck negotiating the narrow track and found ourselves clinging onto the sturdier trees which lined the route. We saw only a handful of people on our way up and, at the time, put it down to the fact we were starting the trail mid-week. Later, we discovered that lots of people skip the first hill and catch the cable car to La Chalette, so they can then walk downhill to Col de Voza.
Several trails converge at Col de Voza, and it’s a popular spot for hikers and (mountain) bikers alike; on our way up, we’d crossed a few VTT (vélo à tout terrain, or mountain bike for non-French speaking readers) tracks, complete with scary-looking jumps and drops. We took a short snack-stop at the top, then headed on towards Bionnassay.
We’d pretty much done our quota of uphill for the day; from Col de Voza, it was mostly downhill to Les Contamines-Montjoie. (Hooray!) Ahead lay alpine meadows brimming with wildflowers, mountains cloaked in greenery and quaint villages.
Before long, we crossed the Torrent de Bionnassay, which is fed by the glacier of the same name. Towering above is the Aiguille de Bionnassay, its summit a snow- and ice-capped knife-edge ridge; a mountaineer’s domain, and a gateway to the summit of Mont Blanc.
Since we were making good time, we decided to push on to La Gruvaz before breaking for lunch. Lots of the little villages we passed through had water fountains; a welcome find on what was quickly becoming a rather warm day. With the Torrent de Miage behind us, we plonked ourselves down in the shade and promptly scarfed down three pains au lait (in my case), a third of an enormous brioche loaf (in Laurence’s), bananas and slightly molten Mars bars.
From La Gruvaz, we made our way down through Tresse d’en Haut, past La Chapelle and on to Les Contamines-Montjoie. When we arrived, we wasted no time in scouting out ice lollies at the local supermarket (Carrefour was closed for a classic, lengthy lunch break; mercifully, Sherpa was open) and sampling a grillé myrtilles from Aux Délices de Montjoie (think buttery shortbreads sandwiched together with blueberry jam). One of these days, I need to have a go at recreating that sweet treat in my kitchen.
We’d reserved beds at Gîte le Pontet, which is a mile or so south of Les Contamines-Montjoie, but decided to have a wander round the town before continuing to our accommodation. If you’re looking for a quintessentially Savoyard village, look no further than Les Contamines-Montjoie: many of the village’s old farmhouses have been restored in the traditional style, and the baroque church and surrounding garden oozes charm.
31,816 steps after leaving Les Houches, we arrived at Gîte le Pontet. We freshened up – making good time on the trail means no queue for the showers – and spent the rest of the afternoon resting our legs. Our first tea on the trail was a decent, three-course affair: slices of cantaloupe melon and watermelon for starters; pasta bake (to say I’m not a fan of pasta would be an understatement; I hate the stuff, but I ate some since it was that or go hungry) with salad and baguette; and a delicious raspberry chocolate brownie for pudding.
- The TMB is well-signposted, but signposts are no substitute for a map – especially if you plan on taking some of the variantes. This leg of the TMB is covered by the IGN 3531 ET map.
- Gîte le Pontet offers both dortoirs (dorms) and camping; for the latter, you’ll obviously need your own tent. In July 2019, half-board in a dorm cost €40pp; their rates vary depending on the season, so check their website for the latest information.