I didn’t leave the Hotel Col de Fenetre until after 8.30 this morning, my latest start on the Tour du Mont Blanc.
This was partly because I was enjoying the coffee so much and it was such a peaceful setting in the tiny village of Ferret. My destination was the famous Rifugio Bonatti, across the border in Italy.
I took what the guidebook describes as the usual route but of course had it all to myself as hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc clockwise. I also suspect many people now take the valley route to La Peule alpage – it is easier but I can’t believe it is more beautiful.
It is a steep climb then an undulating path that crosses pastures and passes through rich wildflower meadows. The summer alpine wildflowers are incredible everywhere on the Tour du Mont Blanc but the Swiss wildflowers are definitely a cut above the rest. In places they were growing shoulder-high!
I passed a shepherd’s hut where the herdsman was enjoying a morning coffee in the still, sunny morning.
The alpage (farm) of La Peule is in a lovely position at the head of the Valle Ferret. There are tables on a terrace, a small café and two very photogenic Mongolian yurts.
After a break there I headed up the ‘gentle’ track to the Col de Ferret. It took me a long time with several stops along the way to watch the herds of cows enjoying the mountain pastures and the views.
I got to the Col by midday and spent quite some time there, enjoying the hazy views of the Italian Val Ferret, with Mt Dolent still dominating the scene. Mountain bikers were carrying their bikes up from the Italian side.
Descending from the Col I saw two chamois leaping across a seemingly impossible traverse on a steep slab of grey rock opposite. The clattering of loose rock alerted me to their presence.
I experienced the first precipitation of my Tour du Mont Blanc today, which felt strange after all the baking hot days. It was nothing more than a few fat raindrops sending up dust clouds from the path where they are instantly absorbed. Great banks of cloud rolled slowly over the massif.
The trail zig zags steeply down to the very civilised Rifugio Elena, from where I watched hordes of day walkers and rock climbers at play in the valley.
It was still another couple of hours hiking to cross the valley floor and then rise up again before traversing along, passing several eerie abandoned farmhouses, to the Rifugio Bonatti.
This Italian mountain hut was built in the 90s and is the newest of the accommodation anywhere on the Tour du Mont Blanc, named for famous Italian mountaineer Walter Bonatti.
It is an outstanding design, with great facilities. I didn’t get the best sleep as the dormitories line up the beds in a row on a platform but that was a small price to pay for staying in such a place. It also has awesome views from the windows and terrace over the Mont Blanc Massif.
The showers are hot and the beer is cold (and on tap). I loved hanging out in the cosy dining hall and the meal included that delicious vegetable soup again, followed by a meaty stew with mashed potatoes and a fruit salad for dessert.
I have to say that serving lentils with dinner was a bold move on the part of the cooks at the RIfugio Bonatti. There was a symphony of sounds in the 14-person dormitory that night! Along with the inevitable snoring…
By Natasha von Geldern
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