Nestled at the foot of Col de la Seigne, Refuge des Mottets lies in shadow. On with the flip flops and, for good measure, the micro fleece; breakfast calls. We cross the yard to the breakfast room, find our places at one of the breakfast tables. Here, there’s lots of orange juice to go round, pots of coffee and tea, jugs of hot milk, jars of muesli and honey puffs and a choice of bread, complete with butter and jam; it’s infinitely better than Gîte le Pontet’s meagre offering.
Bags re-packed and boots laced up, we hit the trail. Refuge Robert Blanc was but a pinprick on the snowy mountainside. (Five points to Ravenclaw if you can spot this incy wincy mountain hut in the photos above and below.) Down in the valley the cows with their cowbells jingled across the pastures, like ‘Jingle Bells’ minus the sleighs and bob-tails. Ahead, the path steadily zig-zagged towards Col de la Seigne.
The Tour du Mont Blanc is fully deserving of its status as one of Europe’s finest long distance walks; the views – especially on the French and Italian sections – are stunning, other-worldly. Atop Col de la Seigne (2,516m), a small trig point is the only indicator of the Franco-Italian border.
We paused awhile at the top to take in the views; France behind us, Italy ahead. Cloudless skies meant clear views of Mont Blanc’s snowy dome-like summit. I was lost for words. Still am, if the truth be told: there’s something about these snow-capped, granite peaks and verdant valleys that’s beyond words.
Au revoir, la France. Ciao, Italia (and pizza and gelato). On our descent into Val Veny, one of the guys from our breakfast table spotted the first of many marmots on the crest of a hill. We passed Rifugio Elisabetta, a popular resting place on the TMB. Hikers leant against the outbuildings, seeking shelter from the sun and tucking into picnics.
For a stretch, the TMB follows a Roman road alongside Lac de Combal. Today was a day for wildflowers of all varieties: flowers with delicate cobalt-blue petals; daisies, sunshine yellow and pure white; succulents topped with dusky pink flowers emerging from crevices in the rock.
Inevitably, the path didn’t stay flat for long. (Where’s the fun in that, after all?) After Lac de Combal, it climbed quickly, up and up. Time for lunch, we figured. We stop in the shade of some derelict barns beside the path and devour what’s left of our lunch supplies. My Jelly Babies have succumbed to the heat and become a sticky, molten Jelly Blob. They still taste decent, though Laurence isn’t tempted.
Clouds rolled in as the day wore on, but they didn’t – couldn’t – detract from the views of the glacier-capped massif across the valley. What I loved about the Tour du Mont Blanc was the variety: the jagged peaks, moraine-covered glaciers, woodland, expansive pastures and alpine lakes, and, so often, all in the space of a day.
Approaching Lac Chécrouit, we came upon four ‘frames’: hollowed-out logs angled towards a particular peak. Simple, yet so effective. We spotted a few familiar faces at Maison Vieille – another popular stop on the TMB – before descending into Courmayeur. We didn’t know it at the time, but this particular descent is known for being a beast: endless switchbacks – steep ones at that – through woodland, gnarled tree roots underfoot. We were mightily relieved when we emerged into a field at the bottom of the hill, with Courmayeur in sight.
We located our hotel for the night, freshened up and headed out to explore the town. First stop: Crème et Chocolat (Piazza Brocherel 2), for a well-deserved gelato. We treated ourselves to two scoops each; I went for melon and raspberry, while Laurence opted for passion fruit and mango and coconut and ginger.
Sated, we spent what was left of the afternoon meandering around Courmayeur and stocking up on supplies for the next few days on the trail. A quick skim of Trip Advisor revealed a few pizzerias in the vicinity of our hotel and, since time was on our hand, we swung by a few to check out the menus before settling on family-run Pizzeria la Remisa (Viale Monte Bianco 1). We shared two pizzas – one ham and mushroom, the other pepperoni – and even after a day of working up my appetite on the trail, it defeated me. Luckily, our server was only too happy to wrap my last two slices in foil so I could enjoy them the next day.
- Just below Col de la Seigne lies Abri du Randonneur. If you’re caught out in bad weather, this little shelter is open all day, every day from early June through to the end of October.
- For this section of the TMB, you’ll need a copy of the IGN 3531 ET map.
- We stayed at iH Hotels Courmayeur Mont Blanc, which was centrally located and reasonably cheap (€90 via booking.com, including breakfast but excluding city tax of €4.50).