Italy

Tour du Mont Blanc - Day Six (Refugio Bonatti to La Fouly)

Refugio Bonatti - Refugio Elena

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Striding out from Bonatti at 7:15am with a good breakfast behind us we knew it was going to be a long day. One of the more difficult sections of the TMB, the route to Col Ferret was always going to be a challenge, especially in adverse weather conditions. The initial track from the Refugio is steady going. It's a well worn path that cuts across the hillside towards a farm and then weaves downhill through the trees to Arnuva where there is a tearoom and outdoor seating. Whether you are able to stop in the tearoom or not (we couldn't, it was closed) it is the last flat ground you are going to see for some time. The path begins to wind uphill across open grass, increasing in altitude until you reach Refugio Elena. The refuge is well placed at a the end of the valley with the huge Glacier de Pré de Bar behind it which spills out onto the mountainside. Elena is only open until mid-September. Therefore it was closed and there were no facilities but it can still be used to shelter from the elements and as an opportune spot to look up at the hill you have yet to climb.

Looking back to Bonatti

Looking back to Bonatti

Refugio Elena to Grand Col Ferret

This is probably one of the harder sections of the standard TMB and for us the poor weather certainly made it seem so. Taking around 1h30m to reach the summit of Grand Col Ferret, the track is relentless. I have no comments regarding the view due to driving rain and sleet which along with the cloud made visibility very low. After an arduous climb, the path evens out to reach a triangulation point at the top. At 2534m you feel pretty high up and Switzerland beckons. Apparently the panorama is incredible...

Grand Col Ferret to La Fouly

A muddle of signs

A muddle of signs

Passing by Grand Col Ferret, the path then leads gradually downhill. After an hour of walking you will reach La Peula where you can find a variety of food and drinks. Despite welcoming this watering hole, the cost of the first rest in Switzerland doesn't come cheap. Even though this is a great spot to warm your hands by the fire, you can expect to pay at least 18CHF for two sandwiches and two cups of coffee. Prices nearly as steep as the climb!

Leaving La Peula it takes another hour to reach the tiny hamlet of Ferret and then a further 45 minutes to reach La Fouly, mainly walking alongside the river and in the process crossing a very wonky bridge. As with lots of places in Switzerland, La Fouly is a cute, little town with extra large price tags. The main campsite in the town is Camping du Glaciers which has fantastic amenities, including a heated room to sit, cook and enjoy the company of others. However, camping here will set you back 24CHF a night for two people and it is by far the cheapest option available. Switzerland is expensive and even going to the local supermarket to buy food involves taking out a small loan. You can still visit on a budget though. We bought soup and bread, cooked it at the campsite on a fellow camper's stove (thanks Kevin!) and then played cards with friends we had met along the trip. Great fun.

Wonky bridges near La Fouly

Wonky bridges near La Fouly

Tour du Mont Blanc - Day Four (Refugio Elisabetta to Courmayeur)

Note that for this day we did not take the traditional route due to inclement weather. The official TMB route is said to be a glorious journey with incredible views. However, when we undertook this section the rain was pouring and the visibility low. Therefore we took the variant route through Val Veny.

 Refugio Elisabetta - Refugio Monte Bianco

Wait, is that blue sky!? 

Wait, is that blue sky!? 

Descending down from Elizabetta in the early morning mist makes you realize how close you are to nature. The rain was pouring, our packs were heavy and our boots were soggy but the river ran wild and the air was fresh. The path (which can be observed from the Refugio) runs straight down the middle of the valley and at the end of a very straight track there is a split. The right path leads uphill and is signposted Courmayeur, the left path leads straight on across the bridge and is labeled Monte Bianco. The latter is the one to take in bad weather. Although it's not an incredibly exciting journey, the views are still spectacular with huge cliff faces to look at the whole way down.

Cloud shrouded mountains on the way to Courmayeur

Cloud shrouded mountains on the way to Courmayeur

 Refugio Monte Bianco - Courmayeur

Day four in the rain! 

Day four in the rain! 

Again, this route should not be taken in preference to the standard route except in bad weather. There are no real notable viewpoints, it involves quite a lot of road walking and you have to be on the lookout for cars going way too fast. On reaching Courmayeur, it is more pleasurable. Whilst having the alpine feel of towns we had already passed, Courmayeur also feels very Italian. Narrow winding streets, cobbled stones, miniature balconies, pizzerias, coffee shops and wine bars all contribute to this feeling. With no campsites near Courmayeur and the possibility for wild camping off the cards we decided to book into 'the cheapest hotel in the town.' The place whose name escapes me now cost €57 per room, per night. Despite the fact that it was a shared bathroom and the decor hadn't been changed since the Romans were around, the balcony was cracking! Hungry for food, we strolled the streets in the hope of a cheap and cheerful meal. We were surprised to find plenty of options for main courses under €15. Courmayeur caters for a high society, especially during ski season and yet there are many hotels that are very reasonably priced. You can tell that the town is used to a rich crowd as intermingled with all the cute Italian stuff is Prada, Gucci and Fashion for Dogs. And real estate, lots and lots of real estate.

9 miles.

Winding streets of Courmayeur

Winding streets of Courmayeur