We’re in the queue for breakfast at seven sharp, already eyeing up the bowls laden with yogurt, granola and cereals, plates of fresh bread (a wonderful sight after endless slices of stale loaves at Rifugio Elena two mornings prior) and selection of hot and cold drinks. Over breakfast, the two Canadians we’re sat with tell us how they shimmied along a snowy ridge to make it to Refuge Robert Blanc a few nights ago; we’re rather relieved we decided against venturing up there.
After a false start – I almost left my camera behind, as it had ended up tucked under my duvet – we set off. Outside Champex-Lac, the TMB forks: to the east, the main path (also known as the Bovine trail); to the west, the Fenêtre d’Arpette. We’d hoped to take the latter, but there was a lot of snow on that route and crampons were required so we had to give it a miss.
We pass clusters of chalets with logs neatly stacked outside, wending our way along the valley floor. The Bovine trail climbs upwards, snaking through forest. Every so often, we catch a glimpse of the valley through the conifers.
We’d heard a few people say the Swiss section of the TMB is the least exciting – in fact, a number of guided tours skip a large chunk of this part of the trail – and I’d be inclined to agree. If you like rolling hills and forests, you’re in for a treat. If you prefer craggy peaks and jaw-dropping vistas of the Alps, you mightn’t be quite as enthused by this section of the route.
True to its nickname, cattle are grazing alongside the Bovine trail. We spot the Alpage de Bovine up ahead and, since we’re making good time, stop for a snack. There’s a decent selection of homemade treats to choose from; we share a slice of their tarte aux pommes, and wash it down with a Coke (in my case) and a chocolat froid (in Laurence’s). The Alpage de Bovine accepts both Swiss Franc and Euro, and their exchange rate is pretty darn good – to the point that if you paid in the local currency, Swiss Franc, you’d actually be paying more for some items.
We while away a half hour or so at Alpage de Bovine, then make tracks. We pause for lunch – and a chat with a few walkers – at Col de la Forclaz before making our way downhill towards Martigny-Combe. We’d unwittingly left it rather late when it came to booking accommodation, and as a result tonight’s abode is slightly off the route – but well worth the detour.
First off, there were heaps of tasty wild strawberries growing alongside the path. Secondly, our Airbnb host had pet chickens – most of which roamed freely in the garden, but one had a penchant for parading up and down the stairs. When we first heard it making its way upstairs, we thought it was a dripping tap and were mightily confused! We later learnt that this particular chicken had survived a fox attack a couple of months back, and had since taken up residence inside the house. Finally, it was hands-down the quirkiest Airbnb I’ve ever stayed in; our host painted in his free time, and the converted schoolhouse was full of oil paintings. Good things can come to those who book accommodation at the last minute, I guess!
- Every few days, Autour du Mont Blanc publishes a brief update on trail conditions. If you’re considering taking a variant route, it’s worth checking this before you set off in case conditions aren’t favourable.
- Book accommodation in good time, especially if there are relatively few options where you’re planning to finish a leg of the TMB. We booked about six weeks ahead and found that lots of places were already booked up (large tour groups don’t help here!). As soon as you’ve booked your flights, plan your route and book your beds.