Exploring Mont Blanc, a place of challenges and extraordinary natural beauty, and one of the most famous tourist destinations in the Aosta Valley.
Alpine scenery, hiking trails, cable cars and ski areas: Mont Blanc, “top of Europe” with its 4805 m of height, offers its visitors picture perfect spots, as well as unique and unforgettable experiences that we can live in different ways relentlessly both in summer and winter.
But Mont Blanc also has its own history, which mountain lovers will certainly appreciate, and a series of attractions scattered throughout the surrounding area, including picturesque villages, fabulous spas and valleys surrounded by nature. So let’s find out together the most beautiful sites and activities not to be missed when visiting this gorgeous region.
Mont Blanc: one of the most visited spots in the Alps
Straddling France and Italy, the spectacular Mont Blanc is one of the most visited spots in the entire Alpine chain, reached by several million tourists every year.
Since the past centuries, the appeal generated by the beauty of this mountain and of the surrounding valleys has always been remarkable: in 1741 English journalists William Windham and Richard Pococke were the first to tell of their excursion on the “mer de Glace” (Sea of Ice), generating great curiosity throughout Europe in what was a sort of dawn of the birth of winter tourism.
In a short time, rich tourists, mostly English, arrived in the remote mountain centers of the Kingdom of Sardinia to admire the mysterious glaciers and the peaks of the unconquered mountains.
In 1770 the first hotel was inaugurated in Chamonix, on the French side. In a short time, it was joined by many others luxury hotels, and Chamonix and Courmayeur became the most sought-after holiday resorts, frequented not only by nobles or writers, but also by the first climbers, in a historical period in which tourism had not yet become a mass phenomenon.
Conquering the summit of Mont Blanc
The first ascent to the summit of Mont Blanc dates back to 1786: the expedition of two young explorers, Jacques Balmat and Michel Gabriel Paccard, both from Chamonix, took over 14 hours to reach the top of the mountain (where they remained only 34 minutes!)
This climb marked the origin of alpinism, and in fact over the years there were numerous other ascents to Mont Blanc: the first woman to reach the summit, together with her 14-year-old son and the guide Jacques Balmat, was Marie Paradis in 1808 (thanks to this feat, Marie was nicknamed "Marie du Mont Blanc"). The first climb in winter, instead, took place in 1876 committed by Mary Isabella Stratton, Jean Charlet, Michel Balmat and Sylvain Couttet.
Even today, the walls of Mont Blanc are a popular destination for mountaineers from all over the world. To get the best out of the experience of climbing, feeling the snow under the crampons and admiring a breathtaking view from the "top of Europe", you must already be experienced mountaineers and have the right equipment.
It’s also a good idea to rely on Alpine Guides, possibly choosing to take the climb during the summer. On the way there, you’ll have the opportunity to stop for the night and recover your energies in one of the many mountain huts and bivouacs.
Skyway Monte Bianco: an experience not to miss
The experience on Skyway Mont Blanc is one of the attractions we should not miss when visiting this area.
In fact, embarking on the Mont Blanc cable cars means to live an amazing journey traveling to the sky to discover majestic landscapes. Thanks to the cable car, the climb from Courmayeur to the 3466 m of Punta Helbronner can be enjoyed by everyone (although we must always pay attention to the dangers of high altitude).
Two cableways sections connect the three stations of Pontal d'Entrèves (at 1300 m altitude), Pavillon/The Mountain (2200 m) and the spectacular Punta Helbronner/The Sky (3466 m). The stations are structured as protected spaces of glass and steel, harmoniously inserted in the environment, while the cabins rotate on themselves to offer passengers a complete view of the surrounding peaks throughout the whole journey.
Along the way of the Skyway Mont Blanc we can stop to visit a picturesque Alpine Garden or take the children to the Skyway for Kids playground. Inside the station of Pavillon/The Mountain there are other attractions, such as the wine cellar of Cave Mont Blanc, the interesting exhibition Hangar 2173 which tells the history of the cable car, and many other services (two restaurants, a bar, an event room and a small shopping center).
Once arrived at the last station, we are welcomed by a large circular panoramic terrace that offers a breathtaking 360º view of most of the “four-thousanders" of the Western Alps. Here we can explore the multimedia information points, moving between an exhibition in the Crystals room, the glazed floor of the Sky Vertigo and a bistro, where you can enjoy an high-altitude snack before or after reaching the Rifugio Torino through a lift and a pedestrian tunnel.Discover more on Skyway Mont Blanc❯
The Mont Blanc Garden
At 2175 meters, on the southern slopes of Mont Blanc, there’s the highest botanical garden in Europe, the Saussurea Alpine Garden, which houses over 900 alpine species.
The garden was established in 1984 by the Donzelli, Gilberti and Ferretti Foundation, dedicated to the protection and study of Mont Blanc; the name comes from the Saussurea Alpina, a flower called this way in honor of Horace-Bénédict de Saussure, the scientist promoter of the first ascent of Mont Blanc.
Visiting the Botanical Garden means completely immersing yourself in a unique Alpine environment; it means admiring the wonders that nature offers even at these altitudes; it means discovering fascinating and emotional legends, like the one about the birth of the Edelweiss.
A beautiful place to live, accessible not only via the cable car but also walking along the 2.5 km path that starts right near the Skyway station. The garden is open only in the summer months, while in winter we can have fun with spectacular walks on the Snowshoe Camp.
Mont Blanc and surroundings: Courmayeur and Entrèves
In addition to the spectacular landscapes, we can enjoy the high mountain atmosphere also by discovery of the characteristic villages around Mont Blanc, starting with Courmayeur.
Courmayeur is a town surrounded by nature at over 1200 meters above sea level, with a small and charming old town that we can appreciate walking aimlessly along the streets and small squares, which sometimes look like real balconies overlooking an idyllic Alpine scenery, without forgetting to appreciate the historic buildings of medieval origin.
Courmayeur is ideal for overnight stays, although the hotels in the village of Entrèves, just a couple of km to the north, are equally valid and often have lower costs.
Entrèves is even smaller than Courmayeur and has fewer amenities, but still conveys that charm of a small ancient village, as a place out of time in which we can find the quiet that only the mountain can transmit.
In Entrèves there is the starting station of the Skyway Mont Blanc, as well as many paths perfect for trekking and suitable for hikers of all kinds: from the itineraries for experienced hikers to explore during summer months, such as the one that leads to the Madonna del Monte Chétif, beautiful viewpoint with a majestic view of the Mont Blanc massif; to winter snowshoeing around the chalets of the beautiful Val Ferret, north-east of Entrèves, an activity suitable for all.
How to reach Mont Blanc
The ideal base for exploring Mont Blanc and its beautiful surroundings is the town of Courmayeur. Arriving there by car is probably our best option, because in this way we can move more easily between the valleys and quickly reach the various attractions, hiking trails or ski resorts.
The closest metropolis to Mont Blanc is Turin, which is about 150 km and almost two hours by car away. From Turin we have to follow the A5 motorway (Turin-Aosta-Mont Blanc) and head first towards Ivrea, then towards Aosta, to finally get to the exit of Courmayeur.
Coming from France, instead, we must pass the Mont Blanc Tunnel, from which Courmayeur is only a few kilometers away.
If we want to get from Turin to Mont Blanc by public transport, we have to take the train to Aosta, from where we can reach the station of Courmayeur by bus. The Turin-Aosta route is also accessible by FlixBus, starting from Turin Vittorio Emanuele station. The timing is similar, so we need to check the departure times for our specific needs to choose the best option.