USA TODAY: Picked up an outdoor pursuit during COVID? Take it to the next level with an active vacation

USA TODAY: Picked up an outdoor pursuit during COVID? Take it to the next level with an active vacation

Hut-to-hut hiking, skiing and mountain biking

A signature of the Alps, rifugios (Italian for "refuge") are high-mountain restaurants, many of which offer lodging. These are individually owned and traditionally focus on regional cuisines – fondue and raclette in Switzerland, polenta and sausages in the Dolomites – usually at very reasonable prices and with stellar views. They are beloved by hikers as a place to have a wonderful hot lunch you don’t have to carry, or a rest stop for coffee and dessert or beer and wine.

But increasingly, they are being used as waypoints for multiday mountain trips in summer and winter that maximize time in nature and eliminate transfers from trailheads to hotels in towns below. More full-service inns up on mountains than “huts,” rifugio accommodations range from dorm-like to luxury. Some offer hot tubs and saunas but almost all feature decks, views and delicious alpine fare. Yet, they are often more affordable – and memorable – than conventional hotels.

“You become more engaged with your environment than when you’re at a hotel,” said Kimberly Rubio of Dolomite Mountains, a specialist in ski, hike and bike vacations in Italy’s Dolomites, a UNESCO World Heritage area. Because the Dolomites have an especially large concentration of rifugios and are home to the world’s largest interconnected ski lift and trail network, Dolomiti Superski, this is one of the most popular areas for hut-to-hut trips, and Dolomite Mountains trips for alpine or backcountry skiers, cyclists (road, mountain or e-bike) and hikers.

Hut-to-hut trips are special because of the combination of elements: beautiful landscape, fantastic cuisine and beverages, cozy rifugio accommodations, welcoming hosts, actively experiencing nature, yet enjoying creature comforts – all without having to carry a heavy pack” (tour operators move your luggage).

While week-long hut trips are very popular in the Dolomites, elsewhere in the Alps, huts are often combined with town hotels on famed hiking routes such as the Tour du Mont Blanc (Switzerland, France and Italy).

There are similar rifugios in South America and Patagonia, while more rustic huts are widely used for multiday trips in the Rockies, Norway and Iceland.

By Larry Olmsted

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