Lured by the prospect of sensational weather, amazing scenery and trails, friendly locals and delicious post-run food, Fitzy and I headed off for a day of trail running around the stunning Italian mountain town of Courmayeur on, as some refer to it, “the sunny side of Mont Blanc”.
Located in the Aosta Valley in north-west Italy, around a 90 minute drive from Geneva via the Mont Blanc Tunnel, it’s no surprise that Courmayeur, like it’s French neighbour to the north, Chamonix, is a trail running paradise. It features in the legendary 170km Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) and hosts the start of the UTMB’s “little sister”, the 101km CCC, or Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix, which, according to the organizers sets off in “an atmosphere that only Italians can provide, a rare emotional moment to the music of Vangelis”. Golly. It also boasts it’s own 105km Gran Trail race, not to mention the 330km Tor des Geants among others. It even has a Canmore Trail Culture equivalent in the Courmayeur Trailers.
Plan A for the day was to run some run-able parts of the Val Ferret, a truly stunning valley that heads north-eastwards along the bottom of the Mont Blanc massif, with stunning views of the Grandes Jorasses.
However, the closure of the Val Ferret due to the extreme avalanche risk put paid to that and so we headed a short distance past Courmayeur to the village of Palleuseiux. Our plan B was to pick a up the number 1 hiking trail from Palleusieux back up the Aosta valley towards Dolonne and Courmayeur along the banks of the Dora Baltea river. Again, the avalanche risk scuppered our plan but undeterred, and after a quick map consultation, we continued down the valley a few minutes to the small spa town of Pre Saint Didier. From here, plan C was to pick up the number 6 hiking trail, and proceed up and into the, hopefully sun drenched and relatively snow free, Thuile Valley and basically take it from there. And that’s what we did, and wow, as Plan Cs go it was superb. It might have been a relatively short 8km out-and-back-ish but what it lacked in distance it more than made up for in ascent (1,416m), challenging trails and incredible views.
On Strava, it all looked like this:
We began at the rather luxurious looking QC Terme Pre Saint Didier thermal baths from where you can pick up a trail that leads you into the bottom of a very steep-sided gorge before heading up the side of the gorge along a series of relatively steep but mostly run-able switchbacks:
..with some beautiful views…
After around a kilometer or so, the trail flattens out and takes you to the the Parco Avventura Mont Blanc. Follow the trail to the car park at the far end of which you will see a sign for the number 6 hiking trail. Follow the number 6 which continues to wind it’s way up (emphasis on up) along the side of the valley:
At around the 2.6km mark, we caught a first glimpse of the valley opening up and got a sense that good things weren’t all that far off:
And sure enough, it wasn’t much longer before we reached some abandoned buildings…
from which we were presented with views like this:
At this point, the trail splits and you can either continue to follow the number 6 and now number 3 hiking trails along the valley towards the village of Elevaz or, as we did, follow the marked trail that continues to zig zag up the side the valley. After around 1km we completely lost the trail under a foot of snow and resorted to a combination of bush-wacking and post-holing, albeit with a great backdrop:
This continued for the next 700m, more or less straight up towards Monte de la Nonna in the hope that at some point we would be able to see back along the Aosta Valley towards Mont Blanc. That point soon arrived and we were not disappointed. First there was Monte Corme to the east:
And then Mont Blanc in all its splendour:
By this stage, overwhelming though the views were, we were also beginning to fixate on the delicious food aspect of this Italian road trip and promptly retraced ours steps to the trailhead:
…drove back to Courmayeur and got on with the serious business of ordering foccacia e birra in very poor Italian:
Ciao for now.