When I thought of Italy, I imagined Roman ruins, cute little villages, and vineyards as far as I could see. What I didn’t image, were the beautiful, dramatic mountains.
I honestly had no idea Italy had any real mountains. But I have fallen head over heels in love with the Dolomites, the Italian Alps.
I have done some day hikes, but I recently spent the night up in the mountains at rifugios — it was such an incredible experience. Waking up to the mountains instead of getting up and driving two hours to get there was so nice. I would highly recommend staying in a rifugio if you ever have the chance.
Rifugios: Mountain Huts
Rifugios are mountain huts used by hikers as a way to see the mountains and not have to come back down into towns to find hotels or camp out. There are rifugios closer to town and others way up in the mountains that you have to hike to get to. You can stay in dorm rooms (think hostels) or rent private rooms.
Most rifugios offer half board options as well. Generally, half board includes your bed, dinner, and breakfast. At both rifugios I stayed at, we opted for the half board option. It made it so much easier not to worry about bringing food for dinner. In all likelihood, we probably would have eaten there anyways.
What To Bring
In addition to whatever you would normally bring for an overnight (here’s my packing list template if you need help getting started), there are a few extra things I’d recommend bringing:
- Flip flops or slippers: most rifugios don’t allow you to wear your hiking boots in the sleeping area, so bring another pair shoes to wear.
- Eye mask / earplugs: if you are staying in a dorm room, you can’t necessarily control when your roommates turn off the lights or what time of night your roommate decides to turn on the hair dryer.
- Cash: most rifugios we visited took card, but some of the ones in the mountains may not. You never know!
- Rain gear: jacket, a cover for your bag, ziplocks for your electronics, etc. You never know when the weather will change in the mountains! And fair word of warning: we got caught in the rain, and none of our “water proof” stuff worked. Next time, everything is going in ziplocks. Just in case.
- Layers: dress in layers! And don’t underestimate how cold it can get in the mountains, even in the summer. I didn’t pack warm enough for my first trip and was freezing the whole time.
- Headband: again, helpful up in the mountains.
- Sheets / sleeping bag: in one rifugio they were provided and in one they weren’t. Double check before you go.
- Packed lunch / snacks: both trips, we packed lunch for our first day so we could get started hiking soon after we drove up. And it’s good to always have snacks on hand.
How To Book
Booking varies and honestly depends on the rifugio. Since I was booking for a larger group my first trip, I called all the potential rifugios first. Some directed me to their websites, some said to email, and others I could have booked on the phone. Most rifugios I called spoke English well enough that I could get my questions answered.
Where We Stayed
I did two separate rifugio overnights: one to Cinque Torri and one to Tre Cime.
Cinque Torri: Rifugio Averau
This was the nicer (and more expensive) of the two rifugios I stayed in. It was clean, the food was amazing, and it had a great breakfast spread. Sheets and towels were included as well. I was able to book this one online and pay my deposit through their website. You can either hike up to the rifugio or take the chairlift (€16-17 for roundtrip). We took the chairlift up so we could explore a little before the rain became too intense.
Tre Cime: Rifugio Auronzo
This rifugio is in the perfect location for the Tre Cime hike — it’s right at the start! We were able to park at the rifugio (we got there around 6pm) so it was easy to throw our stuff back in the car the next morning before setting out (we had to bring our own sheets and pillows). I booked with them through email and had to transfer money to their bank to pay the deposit. The food was cafeteria-style and mediocre. I probably would have skipped breakfast and just eaten my own snacks to get an earlier start.
Hikes We Did
The hiking we did was very different both trips, and the weather also greatly influenced our plan. We hiked anywhere from 5-10 miles each day. Since we were just staying one night for each trip, not all of the hikes we did were in the same area.
For our Cinque Torri hike, we explored the area around our rifugio both days. We hiked around Averau the first day, and the second day we woke up for a sunset hike around Cinque Torri and explored its open air musuem.
For Tre Cime, the first day we hiked the Lagazoui Tunnels (about an hour from our rifugio) and then the second day we hiked the Tre Cime loop. More detailed trips on those specific hikes will come later!
I had wonderful experiences on both of my trips to the Dolomites and would highly recommend it. If you have any questions or want to share your rifugio experience, drop a comment below!