Alpenwild’s Tour du Mont Blanc: Part 2 – Courmayeur to Champex Lac

Val Ferret above arnuva

This blog post is part two of our three part Tour du Mont Blanc Trip series. In part one we hiked from Chamonix in France to Courmayeur in Italy. In part two we travel from Courmayeur in Italy to Champex Lac in Switzerland:

Day 4 : Rest day in Courmayeur (Italy)

After three long days of hiking, it’s time for a well-deserved rest! And nowhere could be a more perfect place to relax for the day than the Italian village of Courmayeur. After a leisurely breakfast in our beautiful spa hotel, we wander along cobbled streets through the historic village of Entreves to reach the Sky Way lift.

Entreves, Courmayeur
Beautiful cobbled streets and slate roofed buildings in the historic village of Entreves. Photo by Jennifer Stretton

The Sky Way lift was opened in 2015 and is Italy’s self-proclaimed 8th wonder of the world. The futuristic lift system has rotating cabins which offer a 360 degree view of the imposing Italian side of Mont Blanc, Val Veny and Val Ferret.  In six minutes we travel from the valley floor at 4265ft to one of the highest botanical gardens in Europe at 7129 feet. Alpine Naturalist, Simone Van Velzen takes us on a tour of the gardens, and you will no doubt spot a few flowers that we crossed on our journey so far.

After an inspiring presentation on alpine ecology, we all make our way up the second lift to Punta Helbronner at 11371 feet. The altitude is apparent from the cool air and our laboured breath as we walk up the stairs to the viewing platform. The view from Punta Helbronner is truly inspiring. The South Side of Mont Blanc rises up spectacularly, leaving you in no doubt of it’s position as the highest mountain in Western Europe. Below Mont Blanc, immense glaciers fan out in all directions; tumbling down into Italy in huge jagged seracs and flowing more serenely towards France forming the world-famous Vallée Blanche ski descent. On a clear day we can see the Aiguille du Midi rising like a spear in the distance. We will visit the Aiguille du Midi in five days’ time when we arrive triumphantly back to Chamonix. Further out it’s possible to see all the way to the Matterhorn, Monte Rosa and Grand Paradiso.

The Sky Way lift is an access point for Alpinists to climb the near by peaks. Some climbers camp on the glacier below and we can make out their tents. Others stay in the arguably more comfortable Torino Hut which is accessed via a tunnel below the viewing platform. For an authentic mountain hut experience, we eat a rustic mountain lunch together in the Torino Hut. Polenta, soup, hearty stews and home-baked cakes are the order of the day. We take full advantage of our excuse to rest and stock up before continuing our hike tomorrow.

After plenty of time for photos and to watch Alpinists climbing the nearby mountains, we take the lift back to Entreves. From here it’s a short bus ride back to Courmayeur where we while away our day in the Hotel Spa or people watching in the pedestrian centre.

Day 5: Courmayeur to Arnuva along Val Ferret

The trail from Courmayeur to Arnuva has to be one of the finest balcony trails in the Alps. It’s often our guests favourite day on the Tour du Mont Blanc and for good reason!

Although the morning’s ascent is hard work, it’s easy to forgive the difficulty when you appear out from the trees to stunning views at the Bertone Refuge. It’s only fair to reward our efforts with a cappuccino on the sun deck overlooking Mont Blanc and the Grand Jorrasses.

With the majority of the ascent done, we enjoy our afternoon hiking along Val Ferret on a pleasant, undulating trail. Every time of year offers its own visual delights in Val Ferret. In spring rhododendron bursts into pink blossoms and in autumn bilberry bushes turn a magnificent orange and set the hills alight with colour.  In winter, Val ferret is a mysterious place, cut off from the world due to avalanche risk, caused by the steep valley sides and sheer amount of snow.

Tour du Mont Blanc - Ruined Buildings
Ruined farm buildings on the Balcony Trail along Val Ferret. Photo by Jennifer Stretton

Looking back, we can see along Val Veny up to the Col de la Seigne we crossed a few days ago when we walked from France into Italy. Looking ahead, the Grand Col Ferret forms the border between Italy and Switzerland which we will cross tomorrow.

We stop for a picnic lunch in a meadow with views in all directions. The Grand Jorrasses feels close enough to touch . We have plenty of time to contemplate the brave alpinists that descend its hanging glaciers into Italy after climbing the North face from Chamonix.

Val ferret mont blanc
An Alpenwild group posing for photos on the balcony trail above Val Ferret. The Italian side of Mont Blanc is visitble in the background, peaking out of the clouds. Photo by Jennifer Stretton

It’s hard to tear ourselves away from our comfortable perch high above the Valley floor, but even greater comfort awaits. After a few more hours hiking, we descend to our hotel for the evening. Whilst it is more basic than other hotels we stay in; Chalet Val Ferret is often a favourite for Alpenwild guests. In a secluded position at the end of the Valley, the family owned hotel offers home Italian cooking and cosy rooms. The bar next door has a beautiful grassy terrace to relax on in the sunshine and gaze up at the glaciated peaks above.

If you have the energy, it’s worth staying up late. There’s so little light pollution in the Valley that it’s perfect star-spotting territory.

Tour du Mont Blanc - Chalet Val Ferret
Chalet Val Ferret sits nestled at the end of Val Ferret. An afternoon sunbathing on the grass outside and a hearty home cooked Italian meal is the perfect end to a days hiking! Photo by Jennifer Stretton

Day 6: Arnuva (Italy) to Champex Lac (Switzerland) over Grand Col Ferret

Today we cross another country border and enter our third country of the Tour du Mont Blanc – Switzerland! As with most days on the Tour, the ascent starts straight away.

The first hour of the day is gentle enough up to the Elena Refuge. Here we enjoy our last Italian coffee before continuing more steeply up some switchbacks towards the Grand Col Ferret. The Grand Jorrasses, Aiguille du Triolet and Mont Dolent keep us company on our climb and remind us to look up from our feet. (Fun fact – Mont Dolent lies on the border between Italy, Switzerland and France.) We stop for a break to look for high mountain refuges camouflaged amongst rocks and to pick out the precarious trails that lead to them.

Grand Col
Hiking up to Grand Col Ferret in Summer 2018. Photo by Jennifer Stretton

Towards the top of the climb, the trail flattens out and we arrive at the wide Col. This forms the border between Italy and Switzerland. Like the border between France and Italy, the border marker here is also a very unassuming cairn. This is a testament to the ease of travel between countries in Europe.

Following the trail on a pleasant descent into Swiss Val Ferret, our first sign of civilisation is a dairy farm which couples as a refuge. We stop here for a drink before continuing down to the village of La Fouly where our transfer to Champex Lac awaits.

We usually arrive in Champex Lac by late afternoon. This gives us plenty of time to enjoy everything the charming village has to offer. Situated on the shore of a pristine Alpine Lake, Champex Lac has been attracting tourists for centuries. It’s the perfect place to relax on a sunny afternoon. If you’re feeling energetic you can even rent a paddle board or even go for a swim in the Lake. The cold water is perfect for rejuvenating tired legs!

Tour du Mont Blanc - Campex Lac
Beautiful Champex Lac. Photo by Verbier Tourism

More in this Tour du Mont Blanc article series

Part 1 – Chamonix to Courmayeur

Part 2 – Courmayeur to Champex Lac (this article)

Part 3 – Champex Lac to Chamonix 

Jennifer Stretton

About Jennifer Stretton

Jen grew up about as far from the mountains and nature as you can get—in Birmingham, UK. When she first visited the Alps on a university climbing trip, she immediately fell in love with the place. After graduating with a degree in Geography, Jennifer spent the next few years travelling the world, volunteering with conservation charities and freelance marketing to fund her adventures. In 2015 she settled full time in the Chamonix Valley and began training to become an international mountain leader. An avid climber and environmentalist, Jen’s passion for the mountains and the natural world is contagious. When she’s not guiding, Jennifer spends her free time climbing, skiing, travelling and trying to keep up with her dog on trail runs. Sociable, caring and always smiling, Jen is the perfect guide to keep you laughing and motivated on your journey. She looks forward to meeting you next summer!

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