Worth watching out for.
- John Cleare
Mont Blanc, that grand marvel, not only of Europe, but of the whole world
Francis Trench, A Walk Round Mont Blanc, 1847
In 1767 a scientist by the name of Horace B�n�dict de Saussure walked around the massif of Mont Blanc, looking for a route to the summit of the unclimbed mountain.
Since then many thousands of trekkers have followed in his bootsteps and some have gone on to follow him to the top of the mountain itself. Others are just content to enjoy the startlingly beautiful Mont Blanc massif with Mont Blanc itself as the centrepiece.
At 4810m (15,781ft), Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in western Europe and one of the most famous mountains in the world, does not stand alone. The snow-dome summit is the highest point of a spectacular massif of peaks stretching 60 miles by 20 miles.
The heights of Mont Blanc and its adjacent peaks, such as the Grandes Jorasses and Mont Dolent, allow for the development of vast glaciers that slip from the high slopes and through the side valleys.
Some might dare to say that this is the most magnificent mountain scenery in Europe. You may even be forgiven for thinking, at times, that the Alps are like a mini Himalaya.
The trail (105 miles, 168km) that circumnavigates the massif, passing through France, Italy and Switzerland, is the most popular long-distance walk in Europe. Anyone who has completed it will understand why, for every day the beauty of the mountains, valleys and forests is a constant and welcome companion.
On the last day of the circuit, when your feet complete the circle around the icy massif, you'll undoubtedly feel that every tiring climb – and there are a few – will have been worth the effort.
Those responsible for planning the present-day course of the trail deserve a big pat on the back; throughout its route the Tour takes in some of the most magical viewpoints, largely by avoiding the deep valley floors and, instead, sticking to the high slopes opposite the massif.
The result is a grandstand view across the valleys and onto the snowy peaks.
The superb landscape is not all that the Tour has to offer. Passing through three countries means there is plenty of cultural interest too. French is widely spoken, even in Italy, and most of the staff in the service industry can speak English.
Nevertheless, they will appreciate it if you at least try to speak the local tongue. So, if you are not already a speaker, remember to brush up on your schoolboy (or schoolgirl) French and Italian; a ‘bonjour’ here and a ‘bon giorno’ there will usually bring a smile.
The trail is waymarked and poses few difficulties. That said, it is a strenuous trek involving significant ascents and descents, crossing high passes and, in places, passing over rough ground.
Despite this, there are plenty of home comforts on offer after a hard day's trek. The trail passes through some beautiful villages, all of which offer good-value accommodation and restaurants for tired, hungry walkers.
There is also a fantastic network of mountain huts providing food and lodging in the remoter spots. While those who prefer to camp can do so at organized campsites and, occasionally, outside the refuges.
A trek along the Tour du Mont Blanc, be it the whole thing or just a few miles, is a wonderful way to experience the Alpine environment and is within the capabilities of any reasonably fit person. So, read on, get inspired and start trekking.
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