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.
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.
Fuelled up on multiple croissants (our hotel had not one, not two, but five different types to choose from), yogurt, apricot tart, fruit, bread and juice, we hit the trail. Yesterday, Courmayeur’s piazzas and winding streets bustled with gelato aficionados, window shoppers and holidaymakers. This morning they’re empty, save for a few walkers trickling out of the city towards Rifugio Bertone.
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).
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.