Tour du Mont Blanc fini. Hello, lie-in, I thought. Alas, it’s not to be: I wake up at half six, sans alarm clock. (Trust me, there’s no chance of me waking up at that hour without an alarm these days.) I doze for another couple of hours; half-eight is a bit more like it. Time for a spot of pastry-hunting. There’s no shortage of boulangeries and cafés to try in Chamonix, but we opt for tried-and-tested Le Fournil Chamoniard. I chomp my way through a pain aux raisins; Laurence opts for a croix de Savoie myrtille (a cross-shaped pastry, filled with crème pâtissière and blueberries) and a café au lait.
The early bird catches the worm – or, in our case, the lift up the hill to rejoin the route at Col de la Forclaz. We’d had to veer off the route the previous day, as all the auberges and refuges around Trient were fully booked, so when our host said he could drop us at the top of Col de la Forclaz on his way to work we gratefully took him up on the offer. We chat about this and that – the lack of sunlight in winter; how Facebook newsfeeds overflow with GIFs and the like – on the short drive up the hill and part ways at the top.
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.
Today’s leg of the Tour du Mont Blanc had several seasons rolled into one: a damp, drizzly start (on went the waterproof trousers and jackets, only to be removed a quarter of an hour later when the rain cleared) followed by blazing sunshine and, later, scattered showers. Having made the most of the breakfast spread – think freshly-baked bread, cold cuts of meat, fruit, orange juice and steaming mugs of hot chocolate – we set off for Champex-Lac.
There was no need for an alarm clock at Rifugio Elena: noisy snores from a neighbouring bunk woke us from our slumber, and a rather inconsiderate person from the far side of the dorm came over and drew the curtains next to our bed. Farewell Land of Nod, hello breakfast: bacon (or was it warm ham?), sausage, a dollop of yogurt mixed with plum jam, (more) stale bread, and a slice of a jammy shortbread tart.
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.
Traversing France, Italy and Switzerland, the Tour du Mont Blanc (or TMB, for short) is an iconic hike, and one which had sat on my wish list for nigh-on six years. The TMB is 170km (or thereabouts, depending on any variants taken) of snow-capped cols, alpine pastures (minus the cast of The Sound of Music) and lush valleys; an adventure like no other. / Traversant la France, l’Italie et la Suisse, le Tour du Mont Blanc (ou TMB, en abrégé) est une randonnée iconique, qui est sur ma liste de merveilles depuis presque six ans. Le TMB, c’est 170km (à peu près, dépendant des variantes) de cols toujours enneigés, d’alpages (sans la distribution de La Mélodie du Bonheur) et des vallées verdoyante; une aventure sans pareil.
Overlooking Geneva is the majestic Mont Salève. It’s not actually in Switzerland at all; it’s firmly in France, just across the Franco-Swiss border. Its limestone cliffs are the backdrop to an already picture-perfect Swiss city, and the views from the top are breath-taking. I’d seen them before, but was only too happy to see them again.
Hugging the southern shoreline of Lac Léman (more commonly referred to as Lake Geneva), Switzerland’s second most populous city is a melting pot of cultures, global organisations and languages. Cosmopolitan Geneva is the perfect size for a weekend break – or in our case, a mid-week break – and despite Switzerland’s reputation for being an expensive place to visit, there are plenty of low-cost attractions for those travelling on a shoestring.