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The Refuge de Bellachat (2152m)
The Refuge de Bellachat (2152m)

16 of the best Mountain Huts in the Alps

Prompted by Kev Reynolds highlighting Bellachat as one of his favourite alpine huts, we have brought together a selection of more great huts and hut experiences in the Alps. They may be historic, friendly and atmospheric, ultra-modern, or perched in the most incredible places.

1. Refuge de Bellachat (2152m) (TMB)

Overlooked as an overnight option by the vast majority of trekkers tackling the Tour of Mont Blanc (TMB), who, at best, linger there for refreshment before making their final descent of the trek, Refuge de Bellachat is one of my all-time favourite huts. A small, privately owned, timber-clad refuge tucked on a narrow shelf some 370m below the summit of Le Brévent, the 28 mattresses of Refuge de Bellachat are crammed into three small dormitories, there’s only one outdoor toilet, and cold water for washing comes from two taps over a ceramic sink in an outhouse.

But these limitations are more than compensated for by the warm welcome offered by the gardienne (warden), whose father built the hut and opened it for business in 1983. In addition to the friendly welcome, excellent refreshments are served to passing walkers at the terrace tables, while appetising meals can be expected by those staying overnight. Then there’s the sensational view of Mont Blanc and the Aiguilles, with the trunk-like Bossons glacier seen just across the valley, adding to the appeal, while Chamonix itself lies 1100m vertically below the hut terrace, giving the place an airy bird’s-eye view.

In the first edition of his Cicerone guide to the TMB, published in 1977, the late Andrew Harper spoke of Bellachat as ‘the site of a derelict building, once offering well-earned refreshment to the walkers coming up the steep path from Chamonix.’ The ‘derelict building’ was, in fact, an earlier refuge that had replaced an even older one, used by muleteers and their clients on their way from Chamonix to Le Brévent, which was destroyed by a storm in 1926. In the late 1970s, Georges Balmat began to build on the same site; and by the time a reprint of the fourth edition of Harper’s Tour of Mont Blanc was published shortly before he died in 2001, Harper was describing the refuge that rose from the ruins as being ‘not only delightfully situated but [having] a warm friendliness [which] exudes from the place.’ Nowadays, a night spent at Refuge de Bellachat ensures the TMB ends on a high note, but it will need booking in advance.

If not following the Tour of Mont Blanc, an interesting hut-to-hut route taking about 4½–5 hours, follows the GR5 to Col du Brévent and continues heading north, before descending to the ruined Chalets d’Arlevé on the way to the Moëde valley. Here, the privately owned Refuge de Moëde-Anterne sits among pastures at the foot of the impressive Rochers des Fiz.

Rifugio Bonatti
Mont Blanc, seen from a dining room window at Rifugio Walter Bonatti

Another favourite hut among Tour of Mont Blanc walkers has to be this one:

2. Rifugio Walter Bonatti (TMB)

Anyone who has walked the Tour do Mont Blanc will have either stayed at, or certainly walked past Rifugio Bonatti. Well run, well equipped, busy and friendly, with a view out of the dining room windows that is second to none. The two refuges either side of Bonatti make great stops too – Bertoni and Elena both provide a warm welcome.

Some of our favourites in The Vanoise National Park...

3. Refuge de la Leisse (GR55/GR5)

Two days following a late summer blizzard and there was still patchy snow on the ground, un-thawed in the freezing air. We were trekking the GR5 and the three wooden lodges that comprise Refuge de la Leisse finally appeared as we crossed the remote Col de la Leisse (2761m), after a long cold day trudging through snow. We were shown to our bunks in the sleeping hut, which accommodated around 30 in two levels, then across to the ‘living’ hut, comprising a few chairs, a table, a sink and a small stove that valiantly struggled to make an impression on the cold air. The loo was in a tiny shed just below the sleeping hut, but where were the washing facilities? Well, either the sink inside, in full view of everyone, or, to be more private, the water trough outside of course! What made this stay special was the friendly guardian, warm filling food and the camaraderie of the fellow trekkers staying that night.

4. Chalet-refuge de Rosuel (GR55/GR5)

Rosuel is a surprise – an elegantly curved grass roof mirrors the hillside behind, allowing this modern refuge to nestle unobtrusively in the Peisey-Nancroix valley in the northern Vanoise. With dormitories of 4-12 beds, this is a 50-bed accessible palace, with mountain views. Its proximity to road access ensures a rich variety of meals, drinks and snacks, and when the day visitors return to Landry and Val d’Isere, the facilities are to be enjoyed by trekkers. We had been staying in a variety of abodes on our GR5 trek, tiny huts where we were two of only three visitors, a hotel in Samoëns, the bustling Refuge Moëde Anterne, and a variety of other accommodation. This was different – modern, warm and well equipped.

5. Cabane de Moiry (Chamonix to Zermatt, Tour of the Cabanes de Val d’Anniviers)

One of the most popular stops on the walker’s route from Chamonix to Zermatt, this refuge has a taste of both the modern and traditional. The original 100-year-old stone hut was extended in 2010 to provide a series of 4-bunk dormitories and a dining room with full length panoramic windows over the Moiry icefall. It’s worth the effort to climb to over 2800m, but once there you will undoubtedly be surrounded by walkers and trekkers. By 5pm all the day-trippers will have departed, and you can watch the alpenglow growing over the icefall. Magical!

6. Cabane des Dix (Chamonix to Zermatt, Tour of the Val d’Hérens)

Our first stay in Cabane des Dix was in the summer of 1998. Our children were then aged 8 and 11 and we had walked up from Arolla to give them a taste of adventure. In those days the ladders from the Pas de Chèvres dropped down easily to the Cheilon glacier, where we then simply walked across directly to the Dix hut. The hut was full of walkers and climbers, and the next day our son and ‘dad’ made an expedition to climb Mt Blanc de Cheilon, while our 8-year old and I waited out the morning. We’ve stayed a few times since then, the old timber framed hut standing firm on its own little pinnacle of rock at 2928m in a wild glacial landscape. The toilet and washing facilities have changed for the better since that first trip, but the atmosphere remains as friendly as ever.

Two interesting huts on the Tour of Monte Rosa:

7. Gandegghütte (Tour of Monte Rosa)

This hut is perched on a ridge between the Unterer and Oberer Theodul glaciers at 3028m high above Zermatt, on the route to cross to Italy over the Theodul Pass. It’s a good point to get to when trekking the Tour of Monte Rosa, providing a high base from which to tackle the glacier crossing. The position is spectacular, and often busy at lunchtimes serving delicious food to hikers who may or may not have taken the Trockenersteg lift! It’s a great vantage point to greet competitors on the Ultra Tour of Monte Rosa too, providing a good early indication as to who might struggle and who might make it all the way round this gruelling ultra marathon.

8. Rifugio Barba Ferrero (Tour of Monte Rosa)

A fantastic welcome awaits at this small hut in Italy, with a spectacular view of the south side of Monte Rosa, on the Tour of Monte Rosa. In 2004 we arrived at the hut and were shown to a small room in the accommodation building. The hut can only accommodate 12 so it’s cosy. At that time the guardienne was a wonderful lady (and Euventas fan) who literally didn’t seem capable of stopping laughing and smiling – even when she realised she would need to climb to a higher hut to bring her all-too-friendly dog back home!

Memorable huts in the Dolomites:

9. Rifugio Attilio Tissi (Alta Via 1: Dolomites)

Few mountain huts accessible to walkers can claim a more spectacular site. Rifugio Tissi is quite literally perched on the edge of a precipice, a rock promontory at 2250m with the awesome western face of the Civetta looming immediately above. You are treated to two incredible views – looking back to the Civetta, the sheer face is transformed as the sun sets, while looking west, you can peer over the precipice to see the small towns of Sala and Masarè far below. It’s a great place to stay especially after a tough day over the Pelmo.

10. Rifugio Nuvolau (Alta Via 1: Dolomites)

Continuing the theme of rifugios in the Dolomites, this refuge also has a spectacular location, standing at 2575m next to a sheer drop at the foot of the Monte Averau. It’s a little further south from the Rifugio Cinque Torre, and just a short walk to the Monte Nuvolau from where there are impressive views. This traditional hut has bunks in rooms ranging from 3 to 8 beds.

Switzerland, then Austria...

11. Berghotel Obersteinberg (Tour of the Jungfrau Region)

If you are a fan of traditional Swiss mountain accommodation, then this might appeal. This is a hotel, with rooms and dormitory accommodation, but don’t expect it to be modern. The charm lies in candle-lit suppers, for there is no electricity, except meagre amounts for the kitchen only. The location is incredible. You are high in the national nature reserve above Stechelberg, at the southern end of the Lauterbrunnen valley. Across the way you have a view of the Talbach waterfall, while cradled above by the mighty peaks of the Tschingelhorn and Breithorn. Rooms, if you have booked well ahead, have china basins for washing, while the dormitory is housed next door, with a basic loo block and sink for washing, next to that. There are other places to stay in this magical upper valley – the nearby Tshingelhorn Berggasthaus and the Trachsellauerien Berghaus lower down, as well as the higher unmanned Schmadri hütte.

12. Rotstock hut (Swiss Via Alpina 1)

In fairness, we have not stayed here, however it would certainly make a fine stopover, or destination. We have however sampled lunch here on several occasions and would recommend the cuisine! The Rotstock hut is located strategically at a junction of two main routes, with views towards the Schilthorn in one direction, and the Mönch and Jungfrau in the other. The Via Alpina 1 takes trekkers from Mürren over the Sefinafurgga Pass at 2611m to Griesalp, while a fork more directly north from the hut leads to a stiff climb up a spur and ridge leading to the Schilthorn. Either way, it’s a great spot!

13. Chamonna Tuoi hut (Tour of the Silvretta and Rätikon)

The approach to the Tuoi hut in the Silvretta Alps is through the Tuoi valley so filled with flowers in late June that it’s hard to step anywhere for fear of squashing multiple blooms. Ahead rises the mighty Piz Buin, but our destination for the night was the Tuoi hut, sitting on a level shelf at 2250m. The relaxing atmosphere, warm stove and good food was complemented by the clean refurbished dormitories and warm duvets. Views out of the windows were incredible, and we slept well before crossing over to Austria to the Jamtal.

14. Rifugio Cima Lebera Müllerhütte (Tour of the Stubai)

Atmospheric and spectacular are words that spring to mind. This small high hut (3145m) sits almost directly on the Übeltal glacier on the Austro/Italian border. We had enjoyed a spectacular day climbing the Wilder Freiger from the Sulzenau hut in the Stubai Alps, and this overnight stay was our starting point for the Wilder Pfaff the following day. Sunset was amazing, despite the bitterly cold conditions. The views across alp upon alp in the gathering gloom spellbinding. It’s a small, slightly cramped hut, but with atmosphere in spades!

And finally, in the southernmost French alps:

15. Refuge des Merveilles

In the southern French alps lies the Mercantour national park, and this hut sits just above the imaginatively named Lac Long Supereur. Its name literally means the refuge of wonders, and its situation is glorious. It’s a big solid stone building, and traditional inside too. It was late June and as we arrived the wind was rapidly rising; the temperature plummeting and we were happy to be snug inside. That night, a few campers moved into the hut, sleeping where they could on the floor downstairs. The wind howled and the substantial stone hut was literally shaking. We even felt thankful that the dormitory window was shut! The following morning all was white, adding to the deep late lying snow on the ground. Our foray into the vallée des Merveilles to see the famous rock carvings would have been challenging had we not had crampons, but luckily most of the carvings were visible above the snow, and we returned for a second night in the hut before heading on towards La Madone de Fenestre.

16. Refuge de Longon (GR5 French Alps)

What a night to remember! It was 16 September and the last night that this tiny dairy farm would be open. The following day the family would pack up and head down to the valley. A group of about eight of us had congregated outside in the late afternoon sun, and we were soon surrounded by the mule, a few cows and the family’s pastou (sheepdog). We slept on mattresses spread around in a clean stable, and the food was, how can we put it, dairy based! We had grilled cheese tuilles to snack on with our drinks before the meal, then into the house for cheese fondu, followed by fromage blanc, followed by the cheese course. During the main season a wider menu is offered, however we were clearly using up the last of the food stocks! Some time during the main course the mule wandered into the dining room and was shooed out vigorously. We all had so much fun and laughter, and there was an air of excitement and anticipation for the final two or three days to Nice.