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Courmayeur is one of Italy's best-loved ski resorts, but powder and après-ski aren't the only benefits of the area. During summer it becomes a paradise for hikers and long-distance trekkers. As the snow melts, it reveals a network of ancient paths which wind past the peaks of Mont Blanc, Monte Rosa and Gran Paradiso, and through the borders of Italy, France and Switzerland.
If hiking in the Alps has a firm spot on your bucket list, base yourself in Courmayeur. The resort is a handy centre for reaching some of the Alps' highest peaks—as well as some of its most exhilarating hiking trails.
The Tour du Mont Blanc circular trail
Spanning more than 100 miles over three countries, the Tour du Mont Blanc is renowned as one of the best walking routes in the Alps. It begins and ends in Courmayeur, and over the course of the trek you'll traverse various terrains, including mountain passes, lush forests and some challenging climbs with cables and ladders.
As well as getting up close and personal with the range's highest mountain, you'll also be able to enjoy the company of wildlife such as mountain goats and marmots as you wend your way around. It takes a fortnight to walk the full route on our Tour du Mont Blanc Hotel Trek, but, if you're in a hurry, you can take on the most outstanding sections with our one-week long Mont Blanc Highlights tour.
The Monte Rosa trail
The ten-day Monte Rosa trek begins in Italy and ends in Switzerland, and dips in and out of the Aosta Valley and Piemonte on its way to Zermatt. The once-in-a-lifetime views of the Alps are rivalled only by the experience of stumbling across quaint mountain villages, where local culture and customs still prevail over the hectic buzz of modern life.
The route uses old paths which explore sweeping meadows and shady pine forests. As well as taking in wooden chalets and stone farmhouses, you'll also pass through trendy resort towns like Saas-Fee. At nearly twice the altitude of the Mont Blanc trail—4000m most days as opposed to 2584m—it can be extremely challenging.
The Gran Paradiso
This classic hike cuts through Italy's Gran Paradiso National Park, and covers all sorts of ground, from alpine glaciers to verdant grasslands. Keep your eyes peeled for royal eagles soaring overhead as you make your way through the park, as well as mountain ibex who'll show you how mountain climbing is really done.
Most people start this trek at the Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele hut, however the newer Rifugio Federico Chabod hut is a much more impressive beginning. The trek is longer if you begin here, but it starts with a glorious tramp through forest and up glaciers before joining the original trail at 3500m elevation. With steep, snowy slopes and a dash of rock climbing to reach the summit, it's worth remembering that Gran Paradiso is Italy's highest mountain—even if it looks small in the shadow of Mont Blanc.
The Matterhorn Tour
One of the world's most photographed mountains, the Matterhorn perches on the border between Italy, France and Switzerland. It was the last of the alpine peaks to be conquered and is still one of the most dangerous—even the most experienced mountaineers find it a challenge. Luckily for the rest of us, there are some wonderful trekking trails on the lower slopes of the mountain, many of which use paths which link the three countries.
Note that this long-distance route is best for those looking for a serious challenge. As it's far more technically difficult than the Tour du Mont Blanc, it's best to cut your teeth with a few other alpine tours before giving it a shot. For those who are fit and experienced enough to handle it, the rewards are fantastic. You'll cross two glaciers (and you'll need some mountaineering equipment for the Haut Glacier d'Arolla) as well as passing by lakes, forest and barren rocky landscapes.
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