Cultural differences between France/Italy/Switzerland

Swiss fondue

Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc means embarking on an adventure through three different countries, and includes crossing an international border at least three times. As a matter of fact, the French, Italian, and Swiss borders all intersect at the top of Mt. Dolent’s 3820 meter summit. While all three share a very similar mountain culture, there are many differences that you will notice all throughout your tour.

To start, a quick geography lesson about the TMB: from the start in Chamonix to Col de la Seigne Pass, you will be hiking in France. From Col de la Seigne Pass to Grand Col Ferret Pass, you will hike through Italy, including the wonderfully charming town of Courmayeur. From Grand Col Ferret Pass you will cross into Switzerland. Your trek will then take you back into France either on foot via Col de Balme Pass or by vehicle with a short transfer from Trient to Vallorcine.

When it comes to money, both France and Italy share the same currency, the euro, whereas Switzerland uses the Swiss franc. However, given the proximity to the border, most places along your tour in Switzerland accept euros, although they might give you change in Swiss francs (which are definitely not accepted in France or Italy).

While the common thread at the dinner table will include high-calorie filling meals to ensure you have enough energy for the next day’s hike, each country has its own unique culinary specialties.

  • In France enjoy the incredibly tasty and creamy (and yes, quite strong smelling) Reblochon cheese, often served with potatoes and bacon bits. You will also find Raclette to be the perfect meal for the mountains: while a half wheel of cheese is heated, scrape off the melting cheese onto potatoes and different types of cured ham. If not too exhausted from the days hike, wash it all down with a glass of wine.
  • The Italians also loved their cured pork, as well as pasta and polenta with any meal. As with France, expect a copious meal at dinner. After dinner enjoy a cup of “grolle” or “Aostan coffee” as a night cap. Speaking of coffee, make sure you drink an espresso (or two) while in Courmayeur or at one of the huts before you reach Grand Col Ferret Pass. The Italians make coffee like no other.
  • A trip through the mountains in Switzerland would not be complete without eating cheese fondue at least once along with a glass of Fendant white wine. For those with a sweet tooth, you will have ample opportunities to enjoy Swiss chocolate.

Nevertheless, the Aosta Valley in Italy, the Valais in Switzerland, and the Savoie in France, in addition to sharing an entire mountain range, also share a common history and mountain culture. All three speak French, organize truly unique cow fighting events (since the cows’ horns are blunted, there is more pushing than anything else), and drink grolle.