When we were planning for the Tour du Mont Blanc hike a big question was what was available for meals and drinks. We did a lot of research into what meals were provided at the rifugios and mountain huts, what we should bring from home, and where we could buy food from grocery stores or supermarkets. This is an overview of what we found out ahead of time and what we learned on the trail about the options for Tour du Mont Blanc food and drink on our independant trek.
Food at the Refuges and Mountain Huts
We had booked rifugios with half-board for 10 of our 12 nights, meaning that they provided our dinner and breakfast. Everything we had read said that even if the food is not inspired you won’t leave hungry, which we found to be true. Some places had particularly good food, such as Gîte Michel Fagot in Les Houches, Cabane du Combal and Refuge du Peuty (next to Trient). Dinners at others such as Bon Abri in Champex and Refuge Lac Blanc were just ok.
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As North Americans we have always found most European breakfasts to be a little light on substance, particularly on protein. We both prefer to have a fairly hearty breakfast. The rifugios tend to serve bread and jam, cereal, juice, tea, and coffee. Occasionally there is yogurt and we only got eggs once. We decided to bring small containers of peanut butter with us from home, as well as nuts and beef jerky for more protein. We considered protein bars or energy bars but when comparing weight and grams of protein it turns out that nuts are better choice to carry. We also bought cheese from supermarkets along the way to add to our breakfasts.
As well, most places allowed you to order a pack lunch for the next day. These also varied in quality and quantity from just ok to quite impressive and tended to cost between €10-12. We describe the specific food including the main course from each hut in more detail in our TMB refuges and accommodation guide.
Most rifugios serve lunch to passing hikers at some point during the day but we chose not to use that option as you may not reach one exactly when you get hungry, so you might have to eat earlier or later then you would prefer. In the past, we have found that eating a big meal in the middle of the hiking day makes us sluggish so we prefer to split our packed lunch in two and have the first part around 10:30 or 11am and the second around 1pm. This also lets us stop whenever we find a picturesque spot of the trail to enjoy the view and have a break.
All rifugios have beer and wine as well as other drinks – i.e. coffee, hot chocolate and tea for your after-hike beverage or with dinner. It was very relaxing to sit back and enjoy a cold beer and, usually, an amazing view at the end of a hike.
In general, the rifugios that are located in or near a town tend to have better food and facilities but we would still recommend staying at the more isolated mountain huts as well. We stayed at Bon Homme, Bonatti and Lac Blanc and they each had truly spectacular locations.
Supermarkets and Grocery Stores
We knew that we would want to get food from supermarkets whenever possible for lunch and snacks. In order to not carry more extra food than necessary (every ounce counts on those hills) we looked up all the stores that would be along the route, the opening hours and if they are closed any days of the week. We marked the locations and hours on google maps so we would know when we had to order pack lunches, when we could assemble our own and how many days we wouldn’t have access to any grocery stores.
The main things we bought were bread/baguettes, cheese, cured meats (most places had the choice of packaged or a deli counter), chocolate, apples and nuts. We also bought 6 eggs in Champex and asked the rifugio if we could use their kitchen to hard boil them and used them to supplement breakfast and snacks for the next two days. Overall, we preferred to buy our own food as it was cheaper and we could have exactly what we wanted.
The towns where we went to the market were Les Houches, Les Contamines, Courmayeur, La Fouly, Champex, and Chamonix. There is also supposed to be one in Argentiere but it wasn’t on our route. There were also bakeries in some of the towns that had cookies, individual quiches, cinnamon buns, baguettes etc. We used the ones in Les Houches, Champex and Chamonix to get extra snacks and fresh bread which really helped to supplement the Tour du Mont Blanc food options.
Food in the towns along the TMB
Of course, the larger towns of Les Houches, Contamines, Courmayeur, La Fouly, Champex and Chamonix also have restaurants and hotels. We stayed in excellent hotels in Courmayeur and Chamonix. The breakfast in Hotel Triolet in Courmayeur was significantly better than anything we had in any of the rifugios and very filling. We also had amazing pizza at Du Tunnel in Courmayeur for a very reasonable price.
Allergies or Specific Diets
Most meals included meat, eggs, cheese and bread so if you are gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, or non-dairy you will need to plan ahead more than we did. Most refugios offered vegetarian options – usually egg based. We also hiked a bit with someone who was celiac and they tried to accommodate her but she often just ended up with less food overall. Its important that you carry more food with you to make up for this and ensure that you have enough calories consumed each day to make it through the steep climbs. This makes it doubly important to know where each supermarket is and its hours to be able to stock up at each opportunity.
Water Sources on the TMB
We wanted to strike a balance between always having enough water and not carrying more than we needed to up the long inclines. We found that every rifugio/village/town had drinkable water (except Lac Blanc) and there are other water sources such as streams along the way. We were generally able to get away with only carrying a 600ml bottle each and occasionally, if it was more than 2-3 hours until the next water, we would fill up a foldable 1-litre bottle. I always drink extra water whenever it is available at breakfast or before leaving the rifugio or when filling up my bottle so that I can feel comfortable carrying less water in between. We carried Aquatabs with us (see our packing list) so that we could treat any water as necessary (i.e. streams and Lac Blanc). There are varying opinions as to whether stream water need to be treated but I prefer to be safe rather than sorry. We prefer to carry water bottles rather then a water bladder as they are easier to refill. Most people who use bladders fill it up with the total amount they need for the day and carry it the whole way. Each litre of water weights 2 pounds so it can really add up. However, people tend to drink more often with a water bladder so if you carry water bottles instead, make sure to keep up your water consumption to avoid dehydration.
We never went hungry and were often pleasantly surprised by the food and drinks along the TMB, although we were happy that we brought some food from home and were able to supplement in supermarkets along the way.
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