Mont Blanc: Three Day Hikes on the Italian Side
Mont Blanc: Three Day Hikes on the Italian Side
For some great day hiking in the Alps, try the valley trails on the Italian side of Mont Blanc. There, you’ll find plenty of options that take you to stunning views away from the crowds. Plus, you can get to lifts and nearby trailheads easily on local buses.
This post describes three of my favorite day hikes in the area. In some cases, the trails lead to huts that serve food and drinks (and magnificent views!). But you might want to pack your own picnic lunch and enjoy an al fresco meal instead. Either way, the choices are endless.
To set the stage for you, here’s some big picture perspective on this spectacular area.
A Massive Massif – Mont Blanc
Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps (roughly 15,771 ft.), straddles three countries: Italy, France, and Switzerland. From end to end, it’s about 25 miles long. Across, it’s anywhere up to 10 miles wide.
In recent years, more and more long-distance hikers have done a full circuit of the massif. Called the Tour du Mont Blanc, it’s one of the most famous and popular long-distance trekking routes in the world.
But if you do that, you have to be prepared for a major trek. In most cases, it takes at least 8-10 days, often much longer, to go all the way around the mountain. For most people, the best way to go is with one of the many tour companies that offer a range of options and prices.
Day Hiking Base: Charming Village of Entrèves
If you want a great base for day hiking, try staying in the small, charming village of Entrèves. While it’s just outside of “downtown” Courmayeur, it feels far away.
Most importantly, Entrèves offers easy access to Val Ferret and Val Veny, two nearby valleys which have many day hiking options. Also, the public bus system, which stops in Entrèves, offers convenient access to trail heads in both valleys.
Also, it’s worth noting that both Val Ferret and Val Veny are part of the Tour du Mont Blanc.
Val Ferret and its Glacial River
Val Ferret is a long valley that extends into Italy from a high pass on the Swiss border. An outstanding feature of the valley is the Dora di Ferret River, which flows mightily throughout it.
On either side of the river are beautiful trails, which rise up into the mountains. Also along the river are some quaint restaurants that open for lunch and dinner. Or, to more fully enjoy this beautiful valley, bring a picnic lunch and enjoy it by the river.
Hike to Refugio Bertone
For an easy and scenic day hike near Entrèves, try the trail to Refugio Bertone that starts at the Planpincieux bus stop. Some of the best views on this trail are of glaciers rolling down from the high peaks near Mont Blanc. Incredibly, these rock walls rise over 3,000 meters above the valley floor.
As much as I hate to admit it, eating at mountain restaurants with glorious mountain views is often a highlight of my hikes. Refugio Bertone, like many others, offers a variety of dishes for hungry hikers, like hearty bean soup, salad, and cheeses. Plus, you can even order a glass of locally produced wine.
Hike to Refugio Elena
For this lovely day hike, there are two possible routes. Going up, we climbed the shorter, steeper, but grassy trail. Looking back along this stretch, the views of the magnificent Val Ferret towards Val Veny are magical. On this trail, we came across many long distance hikers who were doing the full Mont Blanc circuit.
Since the lunch options are limited at Refugio Elena, we decided to snack and simply take the wide mule track back down the mountain.
On the descent, the landscape is very rocky, with a direct view of the Pre de Bar glacier. When you walk down this track, you get a sense of the power of water to shape a rugged landscape.
Val Veny – Hike to Lake Combal
Though it’s a broader valley than Val Ferret, Val Veny is a very pretty place in its own right. It opens out onto the heart of the Mont Blanc massif.
If you take the bus to the end of the line in Val Veny, you’ll be at the trailhead for Lake Combal. From there, you’ll be on a very special hike.
Even though the first part of this trail is on pavement, don’t worry. In the second half of the hike, you get a sense of the grand scale of the Mont Blanc massif and the beauty of its glacial rivers.
After you fuel up, be sure to climb up higher above the hut to pretty Miage Lake, which was formed by glaciers. Note its heart shape.
When we visited the lake, we were lucky to see a herd of ibex up close. Since it was mating season, some of the males butted heads, an amazing sight! (An ibex is a wild goat with thick horns that can climb up steep rocks.)
L’Aiguille du Midi Cable Car
Both Courmayeur on the Italian side and Chamonix on the French side offer easy access to the Mont Blanc massif. In fact, the L’Aiguille du Midi Cable Car, which crosses up and over the mountain, connects the two towns across the national border. As the cable car passes over mountaintop glaciers, there are spectacular views the whole way.
Where to Stay – Auberge de la Maison
If you want to stay in Entrèves, the Auberge de la Maison is a great base. With lots of dark wood and oil paintings throughout, it oozes tradition. Plus, the hotel staff, like this waitress, dress in the traditional clothing of the area.
One of the best things about Auberge de la Maison is its fine cuisine. Using locally sourced cheeses, honey, produce, and wine, it offers up some very memorable meals.
Getting to Mont Blanc
The easiest way to get to the Italian side of Mont Blanc is to fly to Geneva and then drive to Courmayeur or Entrèves. Or, you can take a cab from the Geneva airport. In either case, the ride takes about 2 hours. Along the way, you’ll go through the amazing Mont Blanc Tunnel. It’s over 7 miles long!
Why Hike Near Mont Blanc?
In many ways, the Italian side of Mont Blanc is quieter and less touristed than the French side. With the town of Courmayeur as the local “big city” (population: 2,800), the area mostly keeps its rural feel.
At the meeting point of two lovely valleys, Entrèves, a small village of Cournayeur, is a perfect base for exploring the area. From Entrèves, you have easy access to many great day hikes which pass by mountain huts serving lunch.
In fact, few places offer such great day hiking options than the valleys on the Italian side of Mont Blanc.