The Perfect Circle: Hiking the Annapurna Circuit | Chile's Torres del Paine Circuit | Corsica's GR 20 | Peru's Inca Trail to Machu Picchu | Italy's Alta Via 1 | New Zealand's Milford Track | England's Pennine Way | Tanzania's Mt. Kilimanjaro | Everest Base Camp, Tibet | Tour du Mont Blanc
Classic cred You'll need more than one phrasebook on this high-mountain circuit, which crosses three international borders and circles 15,770-foot Mont Blanc. But even armed with a handful of languages, you'll struggle for words to describe the ridiculously beautiful vistas gracing this 105-mile, seven- to 10-day journey. It dips into France, Italy, and Switzerland, with steep, snow-frosted mountains towering 10,000 feet over the valleys all the while. From ancient cobblestones to dirt trails, the route tops seven alpine passes. In France, you'll hike along the foot of the hulking Glacier de Bionnassay and pass the Baroque chapel of Notre Dame de la Gorge before gaining the 7,600-foot Col du Bonhomme, where an alpine hut looks out over a seemingly impenetrable nest of jagged peaks. The route then drops into Italy's Aosta region for a day and the medieval village of Courmayeur before heading into Switzerland, where geraniums bedeck the wooden chalets and cattle graze orchid-studded grasses. Then it's back to France and the 7,230-foot Col du Balme, the trek's last pass just 10 miles from Mont Blanc's summit.
Beta Fly into Paris and hop a train to Les Houches, the small ski village where you start following yellow diamonds stamped "TMB." Hiking counterclockwise saves the best views of Mont Blanc for the end. Camp along the route to save as much as $50 per day, but spend at least a few nights in mountain huts and inns to immerse yourself in the local flavor. Located about 10 miles apart, the huts offer dorm-style lodging and serve delicacies like wild mushroom polenta, coq au vin, and fondue (bye-bye, one-pot freeze-dried!). Bring plenty of cash, though. Credit cards are rarely accepted. Budget 50 euros ($65) per day per person for demi-pension (dinner, bed, and breakfast), and figure on six euros per night for camping at designated sites or near huts. Go in September to avoid summer traffic.
Local's tip French huts serve panache, a beer-and-lemonade blend that's oh-so refreshing after a stout climb. Before dinner, try a genièvre, a juniper-flavored mountain liqueur found only in the Alps. And pack slippers to wear around the hut: Boots must be left at the door.
Plan it Visit walkingthetmb.com for gear and itinerary tips. Pack Kev Reynolds's Tour of Mont Blanc (Cicerone, $20) for maps and trail data. Not into the logistics of trains, huts, campsites, and currency exchange? Go guided with Boundless Journeys. It leads nine-day treks (boundlessjourneys.com).
Cost DIY: $$ // Guided: $$$$$