June 30, 2016
We were finished in Mürren now, and heading off for the main event of the holiday: hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc. That’s provided that Rosemary’s knee isn’t too painful and can tolerate 11 days of walking up and down mountain passes. There’s only one way to find out.
Anyway we headed to the train station from where we headed back to Geneva. Our connection in Spiez was a few minutes late and we barely made the connection in Bern, and after that we arrived at Geneva airport around 12:30 pm. But we had booked our shuttle bus to Les Houches—the official start of the Tour du Mont Blanc—for 1:30 pm, so that was fine.
Our ChamExpress bus was an 8-passenger van, and it was running late so we left closer to 2 pm. We drove through a boring industrial part of France and arrived in Les Houches at about 3 pm. The bus dropped us off right outside Gîte Michel Fagot, our home for tonight, and we met our hostess Ameline. She told us the rules of the house and then showed us to our room, which had two sets of bunks plus lots of shelving. Our roommate was a Frenchman who told us (after we got the French-comprehending part of our brains turned on) that he was hiking the GR-5 and planned to be in Menton by July 8.
Dinner wasn’t until nearly 8 pm but it was very good: three courses, starting with phyllo pastry stuffed with apples and goat cheese. The main course was ragout over spaghetti and finally dessert was poached pear with chocolate sauce and whipping cream. Good thing we are walking tomorrow!
July 1, 2016
The gîte was a hive of activity before 7 am, so we got up soon after that and packed our packs. Breakfast was bread and jam plus tea or coffee, and we sat with a group of Americans who would be starting the TMB tomorrow. The day was absolutely beautiful although a bit warm, and the Aiguille du Midi was clearly standing guard over the town. We said our goodbyes and off we went.
It was a bit confusing to find the start of the trail, mainly because it differed from what our book said. But we met another hiker who told us where it was. From the start we went up steep steps which had us gaining altitude very quickly. Rosemary’s knee didn’t mind the steps that much but she found the climbing difficult because not having hiked for the last two months, she was rather out of condition.
Our first goal was the Col de Voza, and after climbing up trails and back roads through holiday cottages and ski areas we arrived there, surprisingly, after just over three hours. Here there was a large hotel—with a tennis court!—and also a station of the Tramway du Mont Blanc. The tramway was built over 100 years ago. We sat at a picnic table there and ate our lunch, with the thumping music from the hotel bar in the background. But the views of Mont Blanc were gorgeous so we dawdled for quite a while.
From here the trail went down the gravel road on the other side of the pass. And now Rosemary’s knee was in trouble. It was very painful with every step, so descending was very slow. Our route took us through a string of little villages, with houses adorned with beautiful baskets of geraniums and other flowers. Eventually we found ourselves on a wooded trail along the river which ran past Les Contamines, our destination for today.
But Rosemary was worn out so Paul went ahead to find the B&B and then to return and carry her pack. That didn’t help much—she was almost in the Les Contamines car park when he returned—and we realized that the day of reckoning had arrived. The first day of the Tour du Mont Blanc would be the last.
We continued on to the B&B, La Ferme du Bon Papa, and met our hostess. Our room was beautiful, very large with a comfortable-looking bed and ensuite shower and toilet rooms. But even though Rosemary was exhausted, we still had work to do. We went down to the Tourist Info to use their free wi-fi and cancel all of our TMB reservations, except Courmayeur. We could get there by bus. We tried to find somewhere to stay tomorrow night but couldn’t, so we decided to head back to Chamonix and deal with that tomorrow.
After checking out all the restaurants in Les Contamines we ended up at the pizza place. But this being France, you could buy wine at a pizza place. So we got a small bottle of rosé from Provence. At least we could celebrate Canada Day even if we had nothing else to celebrate.