Massif du Mont Blanc
Photo by Max Timchenko.
Hiking the Mont Blanc TrailLast summer, Tim and Kathy Turner took a break from the Mont Blanc hiking circuit for a night at Refuge des Mottets, a French backcountry lodge decorated with cowbells and old iron cookware. The Turners, from the United States, were the only trekkers there besides the jovial members of a French hiking club. All enjoyed a hearty, family-style dinner of beef bourguignon, tomato salad, and homemade bread. After the meal, the lodge’s owner pulled out an accordion, and the club burst into song. “Everyone was swaying back and forth, locked arm and arm,” says Tim. “These were classic French anthems—tunes that every Frenchman knew.” For more than 200 years, hikers from Europe and farther abroad have explored the ancient hunting and trading routes that make up the 112-mile Mont Blanc trail. Named after the highest peak in the Alps, the trek winds through France, Italy, and Switzerland, looping around the Mont Blanc Massif range, past conifer forests, glacial waterfalls, and alpine meadows covered in bright blue gentians and golden buttercups. The co-owner of tour company Distant Journeys, Andrea Ellison Mulla, led the Turners on the 12-day trip. “Andrea often knew three generations of locals at spots along the route—the grandmas, mothers, and daughters,” says Kathy. “We’d stop by a hotel or shop whether we needed to or not, just to say hello or have a coffee.” At night, the travelers stayed in comfortable mountain village lodges, some with wooden balconies draped in red and pink geraniums, or at rustic, family-owned refuges. Tim recalls, “Cultural barriers break down very quickly at the refuges. Everybody comes together to wash the day’s hiking clothes in tubs and string them up on clotheslines. Then you sit down at big, communal tables for a meal of risotto or polenta, plus plenty of beer and wine.” As the Turners experienced, sometimes a spirited round of singing follows. What the couple will remember the most, though, is the way the Europeans approached the trail. “They know how to hike. They just slow down and enjoy it all,” says Tim. “In the States, we’re too damn fast. You don’t need to get there as quickly as possible. Talk to people along the trail. Stop, take off your backpack, have a snack. You’re on vacation.” —Kelly Lack
over 4 years ago
Tour du Mont Blanc, Hut to Hut Hike
Over the years, what we’ve found is that every route, every path, has a story to tell. There are Roman roads leading over ancient bridges, and old contraband routes climbing up to still-deserted passes. There are grassy footpaths following mazes of dry stonewalls arriving at long-abandoned abbeys, and there are high mountain trails skirting vales of waterfalls arriving at remote alpine refuges. There are narrow, cobbled lanes through perched Provencal villages winding past old washstands and stone fountains. They are waiting to speak to you, these trails that begin in the morning with the rustling of packs and the downing of hot coffee, that unfold over miles of one foot placed in front of the other, and end with a hearty meal in good company and a bed to tumble into. Come join us! _____ This is an AFAR Exchange Partner. For more information about AFAR Exchange, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
over 4 years ago
Traveling Well, Hut-to-Hut
Over the years, what we’ve found is that every route, every path, has a story to tell. For us, the key to hearing these authentic voices is to travel well, but without excess, in ways that are environmentally respectful, and in keeping with local traditions and customs. Staying in small inns, hotels, or mountain huts, while carrying our own packs and using local transportation, lifts, and trams, brings us closer to the heart of a place. Keeping our groups small minimizes impact on our surroundings, and assures for flexibility and a higher quality of personal attention. Our trips are about the rewards of physical endeavor and the benefits of connecting with other people and other cultures in real ways. Above all they are an expression of our abiding respect for our natural world, for its beauty, its power, and the gifts it holds for those who are willing to travel its contours simply and slowly. _____ This is an AFAR Exchange Partner. For more information about AFAR Exchange, please contact email@example.com.