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.
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.