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.
I spent my twenty-fourth birthday on the West Highland Way. Fast-forward a year, and I’m turning a quarter of a century on the Tour du Mont Blanc. I open a couple of birthday cards before heading down to breakfast. What Residence ATC Routes du Monde lacks in charm it more than makes up for in its breakfast spread: fresh viennoiseries, fruit salad, yogurts, cereals and sliced baguette. Sit tight – we’ve not got onto the entertainment just yet. Exhibit A: a lady breakfasting in a towelled poncho (just how hard is it to get dressed before you come down for breakfast?). Exhibit B: a lady who took a seat at a table (so far, so normal) and then proceeded to touch every single mug on the table and inspect them for cleanliness (…not so normal).
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.
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.
Ordinarily, I’m not a morning person: give me an early alarm and I’ll find a way to wake up later and get ready faster. On the trails, it’s a different story. We rose at half six, packed up and joined the queue for grub on the dot of seven. Breakfast was, shall we say, unsubstantial: three slices of baguette, with jam, Nutella and butter on the side doesn’t quite cut it when you have ten or so kilometres and a sizeable peak standing between you and lunch.
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).
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.
There’s more to the Loire than its châteaux. Follow the Loire towards the Atlantic and you’ll reach Nantes, a sprawling city with a vibrant arts scene, historic buildings aplenty and over a hundred parks and gardens. We had just shy of eight hours to see as much of the city as possible, and true to form, we packed in a lot (of steps, pastries and monuments).
All is not lost if the first thing that comes to mind when you hear ‘Cholet’ is Madame Cholet the Womble; she was, as it happens, named after this little French town. When my sister, Vicki, found out she’d be spending the second part of her year abroad in Cholet, Laurence and I figured we’d hop across La Manche and pay her a visit. Since we didn’t want to run the risk of our flights being cancelled in a post-Brexit Britain, we visited in early March, just a few weeks after Vicki had moved there.