04 October 2014

Rifugio Hopping in the Alps

Rifugio Selleries in Val Chisone Italy
As the mountain huts of the high country begin to close their doors for the winter I wanted to share with you a few thoughts and photos that have been lurking in my unpublished blog posts since this summer. 
It is my humble opinion, that one of the greatest pleasures of mountain life in the Alps of Europe, is the very civilized tradition of  hiking up to the mountain huts or rifugios, as they are known here in Italy for a meal, or drink or an overnight stay. The summer season has slipped away before I could extol the joys of hiking and staying up in the part of the world where chamois and Ibex make their home, where the marmots whistle and warn each other that people are on their way, and the occasional grazing contented cow or two will dot the mountainside.
Cows on the way to Rifugio Selleries - Val Chisone
I want to pique your interest into making sure that you put this experience at the top of your "must do someday" to sooner, rather than later, so you don't miss out on, what I consider to be, a most special experience. There is still time to hike in the high country before the weather sets in and there are a few huts that stay open all winter, but the majority of huts are put to bed for the winter. The people that run them, just like the cows and sheep that have spent their summer grazing up high, come down from their alpine eyries and do something different for the winter. 
Val Pellice
I have always had a passion for hiking since probably my teenage years of traipsing around in the woods with friends seeing the wonders of nature even in my backyard in the hollers of backwoods southern Illinois. We camped a bit as a family growing up, but we usually had a little camper and almost never used tents. Tent camping was a revelation. To be able to get to places whose beauty was so breathtaking and humbling, was intoxicating and definitely something I wanted to do as often as possible.  Fast forward past the many backpacking trips in the Rockies when I made my home in the high country of Colorado to living in "the" Alps, the Italian alps. Now having lived in the Alps of Slovenia, Switzerland, Austria, and Italy for a number of years, I have been fortunate to be able to revel in the joys of skiing or walking up to a mountain hut just to have lunch. 
Val Pellice
Who knew that there would be people living at these huts and serving up food and drink for weary hikers so they wouldn't have to drag all that equipment and food around and just be able to breath in the beauty of the wildflowers, animals and skies of blue and sometimes weather that that makes you wonder what were you thinking? But then you get to the hut and there is hearty sustaining food for the asking, reviving or numbing drinks, warm water (usually, but not always warm) and either bunks or small private rooms to rest those weary bones. I have also been fortunate enough to sometimes stay overnight and on a  few occasions been able to link a few days of hut to hut travel. What a fantastic time it is to be able to stay up in the mountains and walk to your next destination knowing you aren't going to have to find a proper tent spot, fire wood or crack out the camp stove and boil something. I must admit that I do sometimes miss that freedom, but hey, you gotta try this style of camping some time. It will spoil you rotten and you are supporting a livelihood of people who are there to provide you this most excellent service. Staying in a mountain hut is not fancy, definitely rustic, and always interesting. That at least has been my experience. 
Rifugio Selleries - Val Chisone
Basic Hut Information
When making your plans remember that most mountain huts are open from approximately June to mid June to the end of September, but that can vary depending on how high up they are and how fast or slowly the snow melts in the spring. We have a variety of huts in our valley and there is a wonderful circular itinerary close to us called the Monviso Tour / Val Pellice that circles Monviso mountain, which is the highest peak in our range of Cozie or Cottian alps. The circular takes a minimum of 5 nights in alpine huts and walks between them are gauged in manageable distances. It is good to factor in a couple of extra days just in case the weather is uncooperative or the snow hasn't gone or arrived unexpectedly. That doesn't always happen but weather does happen, so it is good to have some extra time too just in case you need to use it.
There are various huts listed on the itinerary with numbers to contact once they are back in business for the season. Most huts have quite a lot of room for travelers, so there usually isn't a problem to get a place to sleep, but usually helpful to make a reservation during the busiest period during August when most of Europe is on holiday. My understanding too is that huts can not turn you away even if all of their dedicated beds are full. They must offer floor space and shelter as is the tradition of the high country. I did see that happen once in Austria when we came down in the mooring there were people scattered all over the floor. Probably not the most comfortable night, but better than being outdoors without the proper gear. 
Most stays are modestly priced at € 25 for sleeping with breakfast, add another €20 for dinner and if you would like a sack lunch for the trail that is around €10. They provide a blanket and sometimes a pillow, but you need to carry a sheet sack so that you are cocooned in our own person sheet. these are relatively in expensive at most camping stores and are availably here in Pinerolo also. So a nights stay in a dormitory room with three meals comes in around €55 ($70 / £43, prices will fluctuate depending on the exchange rate for non European visitors).  These are 2014 prices.
Drinks are usually a separate charge. Some have private rooms for a slightly higher price, usually another €10 person, give or take. The prices reflect the effort it takes to get much of the food supplies up to the huts. Some huts are supplied by trucks, mules or helicopters, so there is some expense involved for the hut masters. 
A phrase book is always handy if you are short on languages spoken other than English.
I have always found the food to be good and the drinks, especially the alcoholic ones very welcome. 
That is some basic information that you can put into planning when you make your way to the Alps for some breathtaking vistas, chance meetings with others on the trail, flora and fauna, and awe inspiring days out.
Polenta and venison stew
latte macchiato

Can't commit to more than the day? Well, there are still a number of huts that make for a great day out with a hearty and delightful lunch up, sometimes, in the clouds and certainly closer to the heavens. 
Start planning your hut trip now so you have something exciting to anticipate for the next nine months. 
If you have any doubt that it's worth the effort, come and stay with us before your hut to hut adventure and we can help you plan it or visit us afterwards and enjoy a bit of pampering and reentry into putting up your feet and relaxing.  We can even teach you to make some local specialties if you want to join in one of our Cooking Together classes whist you are here. Our Bella Baita is a great choice for starting or ending a trip or just making this base camp for your alpine adventures. We'll be in the garden or kitchen whipping something up for your arrival. Ci vediamo presto! (See you soon!)
You can never have too much fun in the Alps!

No comments:

Bookmark and Share