It can be difficult for anyone who is accustomed to hiking in North America to grasp just how user-friendly Italy’s hiking infrastructure is. Multi-day hikes in North America (think the John Muir Trail, the Appalachian Trail or Cheryl Strayed’s PCT hike) mean a heavy pack containing several days’ worth of food (maybe inside bear canisters) in addition to a tent, a sleeping bag, and cooking utensils. Mountain huts in Italy make all of that gear unnecessary.
Hiking trails criss-cross Italy, so it’s easy to add virtually any level of hike to an Italy itinerary. The Italian hiking organization, Club Alpino Italiano (CAI), does a wonderful job of providing detailed information, maps, and recommendations for local guides. But the best part about hiking must be the mountain huts in Italy. These huts – called rifugi or bivacchi in Italian – provide not only beds but also serve delicious food, and there are many of them. Planning an Italy trip that involves sleeping in a mountain hut is not difficult, but it’s not the same as booking a regular hotel. We have advice (or we can plan it all for you).
Five Things to Know about Mountain Huts in Italy
- Mountain huts, or rifugi, are mainly owned by the CAI and were built in about the last 100 years. To find mountain huts that you might want to book, look at the list on the CAI website.
- Mountain huts are located about three hours apart on the trail. This means that hikers can walk three hours, eat a hot lunch (with wine and espresso, if you’d like) at a mountain hut, and then walk another three hours to the hut where they’ll sleep. Huts are built on all levels of hiking trail, so pick the difficulty you want and after that, identify the possible huts that work for your hike.
- There are several levels of comfort for overnight guests offered by these huts: very simple huts that provide just a bed and blankets are called bivacchi. Bigger buildings that provide heating, electricity, and often hot food, are called rifugi. There are rifugi that don’t offer overnight accommodation but are a wonderful lunch destination for day hikers.
- While it’s a good idea to book your bed in advance, usually a month or so in advance is plenty. The vast majority of these huts (exceptions are listed below) do not fill up at the same rate as – for example – four-star hotels in Venice. And, if you’re just going for lunch as part of a full-day hike, there is no need to make a reservation unless you’re a large group.
- Here’s what you need to carry on your back for a multi-day hike when you’ll be sleeping in a mountain hut: a sleeping sheet (blankets are provided), a pillowcase (to stuff clothing in, to use as a pillow), a refillable water bottle, clothing (most importantly, a change of socks) and personal items. Many huts sell sleeping sheets (it’s a sheet sewn into the shape of a sleeping bag) if you don’t arrive with one. The thing I love about this list is that it doesn’t add a lot to a suitcase, making it easy (see?) to add a few days of hiking to an Italy itinerary.
A Few Amazing Mountain Huts in Italy that We Recommend
Lagazuoi Mountain Hut
The Lagazuoi mountain hut in the Alta Badia region of the eastern Dolomites is one of the nicest mountain huts that we know of. It has lots of beds and even a few private rooms. In the summertime, it’s possible to hike through nearby WWI tunnels and in the wintertime, it’s a well-known ice-climbing destination. Wintertime visitors have the added bonus of an outdoor sauna. To top it off, the chef at its restaurant is amazing, making a lunch or dinner there a worthwhile excursion. If you don’t want to hike up, there’s a chairlift.
Rocciamelone Peak, Piedmont
Considered to be a holy mountain by the locals, the Rocciamelone Peak houses a wonderful rifugio. Located in the Italian Alps near the French border, it’s a gorgeous spot to watch the sunset and the sunrise. And, this hiking trail is suitable for any level of hiker.
Capanna Margherita Mountain Hut
This is the highest mountain hut in Europe, at 4554 meters or just under 15,000 feet. This is not an easy one to plan, though! The hut is famous, and a half-pension (bed + dinner) is not inexpensive. Also, hikers must be in good shape and able to cross a glacier in order to get to the hut.
Thanks to local Alps hiking guide Roberto Calcagno for images and expert advice for this article.
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