Tour des Combins

A trail guide 2020

Hiking the Alps: Tour des Combins

Every so often, I like getting out and about in the mountains. Preferably a walk with a backpack, a good set of walking boots and the best lightweight food I can find. Walking far into the remote, but beautiful wilderness and setting up a tent gives me a near limitless sense of peace and freedom. I experienced this recently with a couple of friends on an adventurous hike through the Swiss Alps. Our goal? Completing the Tour des Combins!

Route selection was a key part of this trip. The Western Alps covers a vast area and we needed to focus on a selected region, or else things could quite easily get out of hand. In planning, our gaze was drawn to the Grand Combin massif. A 4314m peak: not anything to joke about! The Grand Combin was not the only 4000m peak in the area, and their presence made for superb views during the route. The Grand Combin is located in the southernmost region of Switzerland, with much of the massif sprawling over the border into Italy.

Although technically possibly, an attempt on the summit didn’t really take our fancy. Instead, we took the opportunity to circumvent the mountain via the paths of the “Tour des Combins”. The Tour takes you over a well trodden path around 100 km long. It isn’t an easy 100 km: we encountered high passes and rugged terrain nearly every day, so we scheduled 6 days to complete this, averaging about 16.5 km per day

Grand Combine North View Hiking during holiday

Where to start?

Leaving the car parked near camping Forêt des Mélèzes & Village Sioux in Mauvoisin, we were able to start our hike before the intense heat hit. The campsite itself was located in an exceptionally beautiful valley and is surrounded by mountains with numerous waterfalls and made a great start to the walk.

We identified one alternative starting location in the mountain village of Bourg-Saint-Pierre. There is a campsite as well as several restaurants and hotels to be found here. In this town you will have a magnificent view of the surrounding mountains. We decided against starting our walk in Bourg-Saint-Pierre as the presence of the stores made this into a natural resupply location for our 5th day.

Our first campsite was reached after a relaxed 10 hours walk. It began by following a road which turned into a path until we reached a small trail going straight up. By the time we reached our first possible campsite we had reached our limit, however. But the spot itself was nothing to whine about as shown on the picture below. 

About the Hiking trail

The trail you will traverse while attempting the Tour des Combins is well-used and well-marked. So do not be surprised when you regularly walk into other hikers! But not to worry: it is still quiet enough to achieve that sense of freedom.

The route passes over rugged terrain including several high passes around 2800m. The climbs to the passes were rough steep climbs, however, the alpine meadows made for wonderful scenery. Obviously, what goes up must come down and rapid descents on the opposite side provided great panoramic views and the breathing space to enjoy them!

The route does take you through both Switzerland and Italy. Both countries having different rules when it comes to free camping. In Switzerland this is generally not a problem, in Italy it’s generally prohibited. We were forced to stealth camp several times in Italy, due to the refugias being locked down because of the Coronavirus, though! If you are forced to do so remember to leave no trace behind!

The route spanning the west site of the Grand Combin is on more leveled paths. It’s also somewhat less beautiful because you’ll be seeing the highway E27 between the Great St Bernard Pass and Bourg-Saint-Pierre. Luckily, most of the E27 runs through a tunnel and won’t be too disturbing to the eye.

It seems possible to take a shortcut at two locations on the route. However, the trails involved are barely visible, and we missed one path completely. In addition, the shortcut we took went over a path so steep that it would probably have been faster to stick to the official route. The old path over the summit is no longer safely accessible due to rocks on the melting glacier, according to locals. The bridge is therefore strongly advised. So, although it is possible we’d advise you to stick to the official trail if possible!

Finally, it’s fun to know that the Mont Blanc can be spotted when you are about half way! It’ll be far away, but definitely visible in all its glory if the weather allows it!

Awesome view during vacation in Swis Alps

Finishing the trail

Regardless, it might be better to reserve a full 7 days for this trip, so you can really enjoy the mountains and have a day in hand in case of bad weather. This way you can take your time and you’ll have more room to enjoy the whole endeavor a lot more! Your legs will likely also be thankful to you for it. I know mine would have been!

On the final day we arrived back on the camping site around 20:00 we embarked from a week earlier. We were lucky to find a restaurant near the campsite still open (Hôtel Café Restaurant de Mauvoisin). The restaurant was a welcome reminder of civilization, with friendly staff, nice beers and food ranging from Cheese-fondue to steak.

In case you’d decide to follow in our tracks I’d strongly advise to finish the Tour des Combins on this spot as well as a celebratory beer is definitely in order!

We hope you enjoyed this Tour des Combins trail guide, let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Alps hiking photo gallery : Grand Combin

Here, some picture to give an impression of the views you may enjoy. If freedom isn’t paramount on this mountain hike I would not know where is!

GPX Trail Details: Tour des Combins

As visible the trail forms a full circle. Although some maps show shortcuts, we found the usefulness of these to be rather limited! Expect to walk the same route we did!

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Thank you for reading this Tour des Combins trail guide. We hope you have gained the information you were looking for! We would love to see your thoughts on our guide. In addition, we’d  also like to read if you, yourself decided to walk this trail and what your experiences are! See you in the comment section!

4 Responses

  1. Hi,

    First of all, thanks for the nice report.
    Thinking about walking this route with 2 friends this summer. How was it to find suitable camp sites on the route? We’re afraid that it isn’t very easy with this rocky route?

    Also, was it easy to refill the water bottles along the route?

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Mike,
      Thank you! There were enough camp sites, if you are willing to go free-camping. It’s rocky here and there, but still possible. That said, it was easier on the Swiss side. Officially, free camping is not allowed in Italy, but so far we’ve never had any issues if you keep it low profile. The other option would be to use the refugia’s, of which there are plenty. Water is no problem and plenty available. Always bring something to purify it with, just in case (e.g. when in valleys with cows). Keep in mind that aside from the refugia’s you will have to carry food for several days as we’d only come across 1 shop.

  2. Hello! I really enjoyed the insight you guys provided. Thank you!

    I am a solo hiker looking to cross this hike off my bucket list. I am curious to know if one can just show up and start hiking and pay as you go? Or do you have to prebook before doing the hike? I am travelling from Canada. I couldn’t find anywhere online that informed me how much it costs to do this trail. Any insights? I would greatly appreciate it 🙂

    1. Hi Francisco-Javier, trails in Europe are (as far as I know) always free. If you want to use the refuges (mountain hotels basically) it’ll cost money, and you’ll have to book those. But in basis there is no fee and anyone can just start walking.
      It’s also different from the US as you do not pay for entrance for nature parks, you won’t see any entrance gates either. Have a good hike!

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