Travel: The ultimate challenge

November 8, 2011


Travel editor ANNE GORRINGE finds trekking in the Italian Alps an unforgettable experience…

I didn’t expect to sleep with three guys on my birthday…and get a medal for it. But, what can I say? I was naive. It was a tough – but unforgettable – day. One that had taken me on an 18k journey through the Italian Alps and one which, quite simply, pushed me to the limit.

Physically, I was drained. Spiritually, uplifted. I’d seen stunning, picture-book scenery, crossed the top of a mountain, struggled with fatigue and (thankfully) been encouraged by my five fellow trekkers whose support kept me going when the going got tough…

Left: Looking back on my colleague, James, and the route we hiked up to reach the top of the Malatrà  Pass

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. The trip actually started the day before when I landed in the arrival hall at Geneva Airport.  A travel company, offering bespoke trekking holidays, arranged for a driver to collect a group of us to travel via the Mont Blanc tunnel and into Italy.

By the time our car pulled in at a farmhouse in the Great St Bernard valley, lunch and our Italian mountain guide, Gianni, was waiting for us.

Ok, so I’d been on a couple of long walks on the Somerset hills, but I’d never walked in the Alps. Would I let them down? And, was I really fit enough to spend three days walking in the Aosta valley on terrain which, once it snows, becomes a playground for skiers?

A quick change of clothes and it was time to ease ourselves in with a three hour walk. Our driver sped off with our luggage and, by the time we arrived at dusk at the Hotel des Alpes in Saint-Rhémy-en-Bosses our bags were waiting for us. So far, so good!

However, I knew that the next day – my birthday – would really test my mettle. Hiking up, and over, the Malatrà Pass (to a height of 2,928 m), carrying a pack with everything I’d need for an overnight stay in a mountain hut. It was going to be tough…

We were lucky with the weather being warm and sunny and, yes, I’ll admit, the four hour walk to the top was hard-going. There were times when I felt like giving up and, the last 200 metres to the top, over a slippery shale path, took concentration and effort. But I’ll never forget that view when I reached the top!

Right: On top of the world! The view that waited for me, with Mont Blanc in the distance, at the top of the Malatrà Pass, and at a height of 2,928 m.

We reached the Bonetti Hut, having trekked up and down 1000m altitude exhausted, but happy.

A hot shower and, better still, a birthday beer later, there was nothing and there was nothing to do but take in the amazing views.

I’d been on-line in advance of the trip to check there were plenty of bedrooms – 12, according to the website. What it DIDN’T explain was that the said ‘rooms’ were actually more, er, dorms, which is how I came to spend the night on the bottom of a bunk bed with three blokes on the top bunks who all admitted to a tendency to snore…

Above: Arriving at the Bonetti hut, named after the famous Italian climber Walter Bonetti…and the view of the glacier from the front door

The red wine at dinner proved an invaluable sleeping aid! For 43 Euros staff provided us with B & B and a three course meal. Plus, as my companions had ‘tipped off’ the Italian staff that it was my birthday, they also presented me with a wooden ‘medal’ – and a giant-sized jam tart!

Left: Birthday treat: staff present me with a wooden medal

That set me up for the next day, and the descent down into the town of Cormayeur. At the bottom of the track our trusty driver was there to take us for a quick detour quick detour up the Mont Blanc Cable to the top of the mountain, where we had lunch.


Above: View from the top of the Mont Blanc cable car

Then it was time to check into individual rooms in the relaxing four star Hotel Cresta et Duc in Cormayeur. Pure luxury after the bunk beds…

It also meant we were on hand to see the start of the world’s longest ‘ultra-trail’ run the next morning.

Each September, 500 athletes set off from this pretty Italian town to run an amazing 330km through the Aosta valley on paths among the five highest in the Alps. This Tor des Geants (tour of the giants) race takes them through – Mont Blanc, Matterhorn, Monte Rosa, Gran Paradiso and Grand Combin.

In six days, or less they have to complete the course and will climb a total of 24,000 metres over 25 mountain passes 30 alpine lakes, 2 national parks all at an altitude of between 300 and 3300 metres.

The winner is simply the first the runner to complete the route in the shortest time – some choose to run through the night. It’s an incredible feat.

Our trip had been organised to give us a taster of what it was like. We trekked the last 30k of the track in nearly 3 days and, in some small way got to experience just how tough it is for the athletes.

Right: We trekked the last 30k of the route the athletes pass

This year’s winner completed the WHOLE 330k, from start to finish, in an incredible three and a half days!

Entry for next year’s Tor Des Geants 2012 race opens in January. In 2011, all 500 places were filled in just four days. Get training now if you’re interested! Or, like me, hook up with some friends for a holiday to remember and try the shorter version.

Above: The start – and finish line of the Tor des Geants race in Cormayeur

Being in Cormayeur to see the race start was amazing. And, once we’d cheered them off, there was still time for me to take a detour on the way back to the airport to the spa at Pre-Saint Didier for a well-earned birthday treat…


Day 1
Pick-up from Geneva Airport and transfer to the Great St Bernard Valley. A 3 hour hike from Prailles Superier to Saint-Rhémy-en-Bosses and an overnight stay and dinner in Hotel Des Alpes

Day 2

My birthday and seven hour trek. Taxi to the start of the trek (Arp du Jeu) The climb up and over the Malatrà Pass (2,928 m) is amazing. Then, we descend towards the Bonatti mountain hut (2,056 m) where we spend the night.

Day 3

Set off in the direction of the Bertone mountain hut (1,991 m), then a steep walk down towards Courmayeur (1,300 m) which takes four hours. The route runs alongside the Mont Blanc chain, a series of pinnacles and rock faces protected at the base by wild glaciers. Night spent in the Hotel

Day 4

Time for breakfast before watching competitors depart for the world’s longest endurance race,  the "Tor des Geants"  at 10am. Then an afternoon relaxing aching muscles in the Pre-Saint-Didier natural spa before transfer to Geneva Airport and home.


Where to stay:-


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