"Mont Blanc is the Monarch of mountains; They crowned him long ago, On a throne of rocks — in a robe of clouds – With a Diadem of Snow."
- Lord Byron
For centuries, Mont Blanc has served to inspire, a monument to natural power and grace. The highest peak in the Alps is a worthwhile venture for the worldly traveler, full of history, thrills, and stories yet to be written. Learn all about the wonders of Mont Blanc, and discover why this European destination deserves its place on your bucket list.
At 4,808 meters, Mont Blanc is the highest peak in western Europe and one of 11 main summits across the 40 kilometer-long Mont Blanc massif. The massif runs in a southwest to northeast direction. It extends from Italy on the lower end to Switzerland at its most northerly point.
Mont Blanc lies in the middle of the massif toward the southern end, straddling the Aosta Valley on the northwest tip of Italy and the Haute-Savoie region on the east side of France. The Mont Blanc massif is part of the Graian Alps stretch, though some argue that the range is a feature of the Savoy Alps.
Due to its location, ownership of the mountain has been a battle between Italy and France for ages.
For 150 years, France has claimed they own Mont Blanc with two other principal peaks, Dome du Gouter and Punta Helbronner. French officials argue that the Italy-France border places the peak squarely in France. Italian leaders, by contrast, have the mountain split in half by the border.
By most accounts, Mont Blanc falls in French territory, and the government certainly treats it as such. The government sets boundaries and regulations, and some have argued that they have strategically formed the land to favour Mont Blanc's location in France.
Controversy continues to this day. In 2020, French authorities set protection zones affecting the Gigante glacier, which has been part of Italy since 1860. Despite France's ongoing efforts to display its power over the entire mountain, Italian officials and locals continue to fight for their beloved Monte Bianco.
Despite cartographers and royal families working diligently to map and claim ownership of the mountain, expeditions to the summit didn't begin until the mid-18th century.
Mountaineer Jacques Balmat and Dr. Michel Paccard were the first to reach the peak in 1786. Horace-Benedict de Saussure, a Swiss scientist, sponsored the climb, giving a handsome reward to the first person to scale it. One year after the first ascent, Balmat ushered de Saussure to the summit.
Later expeditions, including the first ascent by a woman in 1808, became more common, but the lack of access to the mountain limited the number of explorers. In 1870, a road was constructed to open the area to more people.
An observatory was built on Mont Blanc in 1893. The structure lasted until 1906 when a geological shift forced its shutdown.
In the late 1950s, workers on both sides of the mountain began construction of the Mont Blanc Tunnel. Italian workers began digging on one end and French crews started on the other, eventually meeting in the middle to complete the nearly 12 kilometer-long tunnel. The tunnel is an essential transport section for much of the trade coming from Italy.
Today, Mont Blanc is a popular tourist destination, welcoming over 30,000 visitors each year. Despite the perils of earlier ascents, hundreds of experienced and novice climbers now scale the mountain each day.
The area of Mont Blanc is predominantly covered by glaciers that regularly recede and advance. The most notable of which is the Mer de Glace ("Sea of Ice"), resting on the northern side leading into France.
Global warming has taken its toll on glaciers across the Alps, exposing the underlying rock and forcing tourists out. Mont Blanc consists primarily of crystalline quartz and feldspar to make a granite core, which you can spot in jagged peaks around the mountain. A shell of gneiss covers the granite on the rolling access side of the mountain.
Risks and Safety
There are always risks while traveling abroad, so be sure to plan your itinerary and take advantage of expert guides while touring Mont Blanc.
Despite the number of ascents each year, scaling Mont Blanc can be dangerous for unaccompanied unskilled climbers.
The risk in the summertime is overcrowding. Up to 200 people climb the mountain daily. You may experience delays and tight movement among the crowds around the mountain huts, so it's crucial to plan your climb carefully.
What to Know If You’re Traveling with Children
Whether you plan to climb Mont Blanc or trek the 170 kilometers of the Tour du Mont Blanc, it's inadvisable to bring along children under the age of 10.
If the kids are a little too young for the hike, there are plenty of smaller hikes, skiing opportunities, and events around Mont Blanc at all times of the year. Even taking in the splendor of the mountain from the safety and comfort of the base is well worth the trip.
Although it's not one of the most technically challenging climbs, Mont Blanc is one of the deadliest ascents in the world.
The ascent is so dangerous due to a combination of its accessibility and the fact that so many inexperienced climbers underestimate its difficulty. Estimates vary, but it's generally agreed that over 1,400 climbers have died on Mont Blanc.
Getting to Mont Blanc
The tourist side of Mont Blanc is easy to access from Switzerland and France. Flying into Geneva offers the most convenient tours and transportation to the mountain.
The village of Chamonix, the site of the first winter Olympics, sits at the base of Mont Blanc. The most popular hiking in Mont Blanc, the Gouter Route, begins in Saint-Gervais-Les-Bains, another French town.
Departing from Geneva, you can reach Mont Blanc by long scenic tours or shorter, direct train and bus routes. Depending on the weather, it takes roughly 1-2 hours to travel the 90 km route from Geneva to Chamonix.
There are free shuttles dotted across the Tour du Mont Blanc, giving trekkers cheap ways to cut off various legs of the journey. While visiting Mont Blanc in Chamonix, Le Mulet offers free transportation around the area.
Busses to Chamonix and the French side depart from the Geneva Central bus station. The trip takes a little over two hours, an inexpensive and faster alternative to train trips. Visitors can also take a bus through the tunnel from the Italian side, a popular option for those doing an abbreviated journey around the Tour du Mont Blanc.
Things to do in Mont Blanc
Mont Blanc is rich in history, culture, and action, a perfect spot for an exotic vacation with the family. The mountain provides days of hiking, climbing, and skiing no matter when you visit.
Ski Mont Blanc
If you're looking for great skiing in Mont Blanc, there are several opportunities around Chamonix. While families can ski Les Grand Montets, off-piste expert skiing exists at La Vallee Blanche. Accessible only by cable car, this renowned backcountry route requires a guide.
Cable car rides up Aiguille du Midi offer some of the finest views of Mont Blanc and the richest experiences in Chamonix.
For adventures a little closer to earth, the Montenvers-Mer de Glace train provides an equally wondrous view out on the mountains, glaciers, and village of Chamonix.
Camping Lac Blanc
As a watershed for the Rhine and Po, there are countless waterways and lakes around the massif. At over 2,300 meters above sea level, there is snow around the lake all year, but campers can find a refuge to camp in during the summer.
From Chamonix, the hike is just under four miles. As part of the Tour du Mont Blanc, Lac Blanc offers some of the most gorgeous views of the Alps.
Mont Blanc Hotels - Best Ones to Stay At
While staying in Chamonix, you'll have a wide selection of hotels to choose from, with rooms starting under $100 and going up to over $600 a night. Popular hotels include the Hotel Mont Blanc, Hotel Le Chamonix, Hotel Aiguille du Midi, and the Grand Hotel des Alpes.
Hotel Mont Blanc
When you make plans for hiking or skiing in Mont Blanc, the 5-star Hotel Mont Blanc is a prime location. The hotel is located on the Alleee du Majestic in Chamonix.
Rates exceed $500 at most times of the year, and it's best to book well in advance of your trip. The lavish hotel is still an excellent value, an experience unto itself with its fine-dining restaurant, an upscale spa, and fully-adorned rooms.
Hotel Le Chamonix
For skiing in Mont Blanc, a stay at the Hotel le Chamonix supplies beautiful mountain views and amazing convenience to ski lifts and local restaurants. At around $150 per night, it's also one of the less expensive options in town.
Best Times to Visit Mont Blanc
Even the breathtaking scenery of Canada fails to rival that of Mont Blanc. No matter what time of year you visit, the treacherous cliffs and glacial flows present some of the most photogenic views you can find anywhere in the world.
Summertime is the safest and most popular time of year to climb Mont Blanc. During this time, Mont Blanc weather and temperatures are mild. The ascent is not only safer but also more satisfying, as you get a clearer view from the top.
Weather is unpredictable around Mont Blanc, but hikers get the best conditions from June to September. You'll have to balance the hiking ease with the crowds. It's also when the region becomes oversaturated with tourists.
Hiking in September can help you avoid the crowds, but the weather begins to get more uncomfortable as it approaches winter. Hiking in May can also help you get some quiet, but the trek is more dangerous. Melting snow and displaced rocks can make it even riskier.
August is an ideal time weather-wise for hiking, but your trip may conflict with the Mont Blanc trail race, an annual event on the Tour. Between the race and the crowds, it's often best to plan a summertime trip in July or early September.
Experiencing Mont Blanc on skis is for the expert skiers/mountaineers. The off-piste experience is best from April to June.
Guides meet skiers at their hotel to plan the route. The ascent on skis is a two-day affair, with an event stopover in a mountain refuge. The trip back down the mountain can be done in a day.
Piste skiers at Les Grands Montets and neighboring resorts can enjoy skiing from December until May. To experience the best conditions on La Vallee Blanche, visit between January and March.
Mont Blanc Weather
Mont Blanc has snow all year-round, but summer in the Chamonix valley supplies bright, sunny days for an array of summertime activities. There's excellent camping, hiking, biking, kayaking, and rafting activities around the region. While the summer stays relatively sunny, June is the rainiest time of year in the region.
The mild weather of summer lets you explore in t-shirts and shorts, giving you endless views of grassy slopes juxtaposed against towering snow-capped peaks. The highs during the warmest months stay around 20C.
On Mont Blanc, the weather rarely gets above freezing, even during the summer. Winters are frigid, with lows around -24C from December through February.
No matter what time of year you visit, it's crucial to check local weather information. The weather can shift unexpectedly, especially as you go up in elevation. Before hiking any region of the massif, check the risk of avalanches and rockfalls.
Escape to Mont Blanc and Find Your Adventure!
Mont Blanc is an experience for all, even those taking in the grandeur from the relative safety and comfort of a Chamonix hotel. From skiing to hiking to vibrant nightlife, there are thousands of possibilities nestled in this magical region.
When you're out creating new memories in Mont Blanc, don't forget to pack peace of mind by getting travel insurance. Get started on a quote to find the best rates for your trip.