TMB Accommodation ‘Pinch Points’
It is no exaggeration to state that the TMB is exquisite. And it is therefore no surprise to learn that it is also very busy. In July and August almost every bed in every refuge, gîte and hotel will eventually be booked up and not just by TMB trekkers: weekenders and day walkers also want to experience this magnificent terrain.
However, some accommodation options on the TMB get booked up more quickly than others: the TMB has ‘pinch points’. What I mean by this is that there are certain places where the available accommodation is massively insufficient for the demand creating booking pressure. For example, there are certain places you will reach at the end of a day’s walking where the subsequent accommodation option is too far away for most people to tag onto an already strenuous day: this means that almost everyone must overnight there. Also, there are certain places which are more popular than others due to the quality of the accommodation or the sheer beauty of the surroundings.
By booking well in advance, you can ensure that you get your accommodation of choice. However, it is wise to give the booking of the ‘pinch points’ priority as these will likely fill up first. If you book everything else and then find that you cannot secure accommodation at a ‘pinch point’ then you may have to go back to square one and rebook everything again.
Common ‘pinch points’ are as follows (clockwise from the start at les Houches):
1. Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme (‘RCB’), les Chapieux and Refuge des Mottets (Stage 2c, 2d and 3a): not wanting to push too hard at the start of the trek, most break their first day at les Contamines. This means that the natural stopping point on day 2 is RCB or les Chapieux (14-19km). If you push on from les Chapieux, it is another 6.5km to the next refuge which makes for a very long day. If you cannot get a booking at les Chapieux or RCB then you will probably be faced with one very long day followed by one very short one (or vice versa). Accordingly, these two places often get booked up very quickly. Refuge des Mottets takes the overflow and so it can be hard to secure too. Try to get this section booked as a priority as very long days can be problematic near the start of a trek when you are not yet ‘battle hardened’.
2. Rifugio Walter Bonatti (Stage 5b/v5b): this refuge is well placed between Courmayeur and la Fouly so, from a scheduling point of view, it is fair to say that it is probably the best place to stop for the night. Furthermore, on the trail you often hear people talking about their future stays at Bonatti with a kind of reverence. And the older guidebooks certainly seem to have contributed to its excellent reputation. And this reputation means that it is almost always booked up (except at the start and end of the season). Personally, I find it to be a bit of a ‘TMB factory’, processing TMB walkers in an austere manner albeit offering clean and largely comfortable facilities. And it has to be said that the location is spectacular. Nevertheless, there are other good options not too far away and I prefer to stay at Rifugios Bertone or Elena (which are admittedly both 2 hours away, one before Bonatti and one after). However, if you have your heart set on Bonatti then get it booked as soon as they start accepting bookings.
5. Refuge la Flégère/Refuge du Lac Blanc (Stage 10/v10): if you cannot get one of these two refuges booked then, unless you are camping, you are faced with a massive double day all the way to les Houches or you have to take the cable car down to Chamonix for the evening. In my opinion a stay at one of these two places is a TMB highlight: they are the best locations for sunsets on the whole trek as the sun lights up the whole Mont Blanc Massif. They both fill up fast.
blogs about life on the Knife Edge