A walking holiday in the European Alps is the stuff of great memories and offers many rewards. However, many people worry about what it’s like to stay in a mountain hut. Here’s our guide to staying in an Alpine mountain hut:
Hut names and info
Alpine huts are called a Refuge in French, Rifugio in Italian and Hutte in German. The style, size and standard of huts across Europe varies considerably. It's a good idea to ask for information before you book a trekking tour. If hut-to-hut walking turns out not to be your thing there are usually other more comfortable accommodation options, such Complete Tour du Mont Blanc (comfort). There are many advantages to staying in high altitude huts, including cost and convenience. Staying overnight at altitude reduces the amount of ascent and descent required on to hike each day. It can be a lot of fun meeting new and like-minded people in the huts. And if you need an early start, staying in a hut at higher levels makes this very easy.
Mountain huts can be busy in the high season, and some close in the quieter season, so it is a good idea to book ahead. If you are booking a trip through Macs Adventure they will take care of reservations. Most huts run a policy that guests should arrive by 6pm each night. Hut wardens may release bookings that are not taken up before 6pm and getting there before others will be an advantage in terms of getting a good place to sleep. Sleeping huts, rather than camping, requires a lot less kit to be carried on your back.
You are not usually allowed to wear your walking boots inside the hut. Leave boots in a boot room and take advantage of slippers supplied by the hut. An alternative is to take a lightweight pair of sandals with you for indoor use.
Where you sleep
Many mountain huts are small and in big demand in the high season. You will find that dorms of six people or more are standard and some might sleep 10 or more. Some dorms cater for up to 40 people. The earlier you arrive, the more chance you have of choosing where you sleep and if you are with friends you will be able to sleep in the same room. Most huts operate a first-come-first-served sleeping arrangement. Since most people only stay for one night you should be able to pick from pretty much all the space available, depending on you arrival time. A few huts have smaller or private rooms for couples. You will need to ask the Macs Adventure team if this is your preference and you should be prepared to pay more for this.
Sleeping set up
A standard mountain hut dorm will include bunks with a pillow and a woollen blanket on your bed. You will be expected to bring your own sleeping bag liner. These can be bought or made and are usually a light silk/polypro sheet bag type of thing. The bedding in huts isn’t changed every day so a sleeping bag liner makes this feel more acceptable. Check before you go if you require a sleeping bag although it is unusual.
Most huts have communal washrooms. The traditional huts also have cold water only and just wash basins rather than showers. Modern huts will have bathrooms and showers with running hot water. The showers are usually operated by tokens that you have to pay for.
Food and drink
Water, soft drinks and alcohol is usually sold in the huts and many also offer a set dinner menu and a breakfast. Some huts also sell lunches. Larger huts might have a restaurant set-up, while smaller huts will serve meals in a common-room with big communal tables. Note that the hut warden will often assign a seat for you and your group, where you are expected to eat while you staying at the hut. Dinner is usually soup, a main course and a salad. The portions and quality vary from hut to hut. If the hut does not have drinking water you will need to pay for bottled water. This will be expensive but remember that you get goods to a hut is usually tricky and expensive.
When you leave
Don’t forget to eat breakfast before you go. This is usually a basic meal of cereal, bread, jam, cheese, coffee or tea. You will need to pay and many huts accept cash only.
Tips and kit for staying in a hut
- Arrive well before 6pm if you can to make sure you get a good sleeping spot.
- Bring cash as cards are not usually accepted.
- Alpine Club membership card (if you have one).
- Sandals for indoor wear.
- Don’t forget your sleeping bag liner. (A bag shape made from a sheet. Make it yourself or buy one.)
- Use ear plugs if you can’t sleep through snoring.
- Head torch.
- Carry a light rucksack if possible.
- Drink plenty of water and do not overdo the alcohol because you will be staying at high altitude.
- Keep your personal gear well organised and arranged according to the system of the hut eg boots in the boot room.
- Get up promptly in the morning, fold blankets and remove all items from the room. Be quiet as you do this because other people may be staying in bed and having a later breakfast.
- Many people do not settle easily into hut sleeping but rather than becoming anxious and frustrated try to simply rest as much as possible.