Is the Tour Du Mont Blanc a cycling tour?
The Tour du Mont Blanc is traditionally a hiking trail and this is what most people do. However, in recent years some people have cycled the route using mountain bikes. It is certainly not possible on a road bike as the terrain is rough underfoot and very little of the route is actually on roads.
For those who choose to cycle the route on a mountain bike, you need to be very fit, be experienced on this kind of terrain and have the requisite mountain skills and knowledge in case of poor weather or an emergency. It is a specialist off-road route and should take around four days to complete the full 165km route.
The route followed on a bike will be roughly the same as that followed by hikers. Almost all the hotels are located in the valley bottoms and so every day will involve a significant uphill climb – some of which can be at least a 1000m gain in altitude to reach the high passes that lead on to the next valley. As the path is a predominantly a hikers route, the terrain can be rocky and loose which makes the cycling more tricky. In addition, some sections are very steep and would be very difficult to ascend or descend on a bike. However, other sections are on reasonable angles along well-maintained paths and offer trouble-free ascents and fabulous downhills!
You would be self-sufficient for the whole route and so need to have good repair and mechanical skills. In addition, although mountain biking is very popular in the Alps, there are few cycle shops where you can pick up spare parts or get your bike repaired. The only places you can find shops is in the Chamonix Valley, Courmayeur and Les Contamines.
You can do the route by yourself and book all the hotels on the way. Alternatively, you can go via an agency who will do all the bookings, background work and provide a qualified mountain bike guide. Jamie Carr at Ride the Alps provides an excellent and experienced outfit that has many years organising mountain biking holidays in the Alps:
What is on a Tour Du Mont Blanc itinerary?
The Tour du Mont Blanc is a multi-day hike around the highest mountains in the Alps. It follows a route that is approximately 165km, crossing five major passes and traverses through France, Italy and Switzerland. Many people complete the circuit each year either travelling as part of an organised guided group or hiking alone.
The route is split into manageable smaller sections which are between 15 and 24km. Obviously these distances vary on a day-to-day basis and you can extend or shorten some days depending on your ability, ambition and time available. Some people try to do it in six days, but this often means missing out some sections. It is most sensible to allow 8 or 9 days of actual hiking with one or two rest days at appropriate points. Some people prefer to go at an even more leisurely pace and take two weeks from start to finish.
You can choose to travel clockwise or counter-clockwise. The latter is the traditional route, but is tough as you have to cross three big passes in the first three successive days. This can often mean the trip is very hard for many people and they tend not to enjoy the first few days of the trek in this direction. More people are now recognising that the clockwise route is far better because the terrain for the first half of tour is less strenuous and allows you to build your strength and trekking legs before the big three passes at the end. In addition, as many people are still going the traditional counter-clockwise route, it means that you are not caught behind long lines of other trekkers. If you go clockwise, you merely pass them going the other direction for a few moments.
On a regular trek you should expect to stay in around eight different towns and villages all with their own unique Alpine feel. Some are more traditional than others and you may well see old farming methods, festivals and perhaps the summer movement of animals to higher pastures known as transhumance. The villages have attractive old houses and sturdy old churches, some dating back to the late Middle Ages.
The route passes a number of different habitats and you will hike alongside rivers and stream, through forests and up on to high Alpine meadows. All the time you are in the shadow of some of the most beautiful and impressive mountains in the Alps. It is a route to be enjoyed and savoured.