Want to go hut touring but wary of the pongy, crowded dorms and permanent chill? Then head to one of Martin Chester’s top five luxury huts that are more retreat than refuge
Hut is a bad word. Mountaineering is another that has plagued my professional career. They are right up there in the list of bad words that conjure up a confusing or less than satisfactory image for the reader. One reader’s mountaineer will be a lumbering, clanking bearded affair; whilst another may picture a slick and swift Ueli Steck or (God save us) Bear Grylls. It rarely conjures up the feeling of standing on a summit on skis above a pristine freeride paradise.
Hut, on the other hand, is less ambiguous. It almost always (in the mind of the uninitiated) conjures up an image of a perfunctory workers’ shack, and rarely, if ever, does it sound appealing. It is a miracle I have sold weeks of “hut-to-hut touring” at all.
But just as we might begin a foody affair with a korma rather than a vindaloo; so we can begin a life of exploring in the mountains with a little slice of luxury that will leave us begging for more.
Here, then, are the huts that you could take the reluctant friend or other half to visit – in the hope of fostering a future in the mountains. This is the list of huts for the doubting Thomas; those needing some serious persuasion; those wishing to carry a little less and savour a little more; and for those times when all of us are in need of a little luxury in the wild open spaces of our mountains.
So luxury huts are not an oxymoron – they are a very real ingredient of your next persuasive foray out of the resort and into the mountains. Here’s where to start…
1. ORESTES HUT
Real showers lurk within the Orestes Hut in Italy, the capital of high-altitude heaven
The Orestes is to huts what Milanese boutiques are to shopping – just so cool and slick, yet functional and welcoming. It is a light and lofty place, where modern manufacture combines with the elegant tradition of timber and stone. But the real magic is that the Orestes Hut is more than a fancy building: it is run by the welcoming duo of Emil and Marta. Marta has come from an almost legendary family of local Mountain Guides: the Squinobal family, and Orestes was one of the brothers.
I am biased, but there is something special about mountain people, and the Squinobal family are as much a part of the Monte Rosa massif as the rocks and glaciers themselves. As guests, one gets the impression that Marta has found the yin to her yang in Emil – and the couple bring a modern take on mountain life to complement the traditions of their heritage. You get a slice of that every time you visit.
Situated just off the Gressoney lift system, the hut is easily reached via a short walk/skin up a cat-track. But way better is to drop in down the Eagle Couloir off the Indren lift. Great Italian food, drink and coffee can be savoured whilst listening to cool tunes in bar. All whilst lounging in a ma-hoosive bean bag or a swinging chair.
Happy yet? It gets better. You can book private en-suite rooms with showers, and sheets/towels are provided, so you only need to bring a small bag for the overnight.
The next day, the optional (but highly recommended) yoga session will get you off to a flying start (or was it just the repeated visits to the coffee machine over breakfast) before a short ski will have you back in the lift system, or a short skin will take you over the col to the next valley and fresh tracks.
Access: Ski down the awesome Eagle Couloir to arrive for a well earned beer, or a short skin at the end of a long day will bring you to the hut in just 20 minutes from the Salati pistes.
Link it with: A week of freeride in the Monte Rosa massif. With a little skinning you get a lot of skiing around here, and you could also combine that with a heli-drop from Alagna to complete the superlative tour of Monte Rosa in a day.
Be sure to order: A great coffee and your choice of tunes from Emil’s Spotify account.
Website and further info: Look at orestes.eu and check out the comprehensive Polvere Rosa freeski book for as much skiing beta as you can handle.
2. Rifugio Lagazuoi
Home to the highest sauna around
I fell in love with this part of the Dolomites this winter, and I was not alone. From Jonny’s recent experience of his first hut night in the Averau (FL131) it looks like we both fell for the huts of the region, as well as the superlative skiing terrain. The hardest thing was choosing which hut to list, but I have opted for the Lagazuoi. Why? Well, it is at the top of the cable car from the Passo Falzarego and enjoys outstanding views of the Tofana and Cinque Torri groups.
You don’t even have to ski off-piste to get here – so if you are keen to persuade a significant other that there might be more to skiing than the towns, resorts and ski villages, then this might be the answer to your prayers.
The hut, however well situated, is more like a high-altitude hotel. Hence you can book exactly the kind of accommodation you require for your stay (and keep the baggage to a minimum).
The Lagazuoi is the ideal staging post for a tour round the Tofana in an arc around Cortina. You can pack little more than a toothbrush to visit the huts of the Fanes, Sennes and Ra Stua, all of which could deservedly claim a place in this article.
But in an area where clean linen and private showers are the norm, it wasn’t just the proximity to the lift that pipped the others to the post – it was the fact that the Lagazuoi is home to the highest sauna in these parts. Bravissimo!
Access: Whatever your plans, wherever you go next – just come up the lift from Passo Falzarego!
Link it with: Take your pick of a full spectrum of options: the awesome tree skiing down to Capanna Alpina (and a quick taxi back); a tour to the Fanes hut; one of the terrifying steeps from Francesco Tremolada’s book (see below); or simply cruise the pistes back to the resort.
Be sure to order: A cheeky negrone while you watch the sun set over the Tofana group.
Website and further info: Rifugiolagazuoi.com and be sure to get a copy of Dolomiti Freeride by local legend and Mountain Guide, Francesco Tremolada.
3. Refuge de la Roc De la Pêche
Expect top-class desserts at the Roc de la Perche, ran by a former pastry chef
Just when you thought Italy had the monopoly on cool huts (OK – they do really) we snuck over the border into France. The Roc de la Pêche almost created the concept of luxury hut life and I have been aware of it for almost 25 years now. Their excellent website spells it out perfectly: “The Roc is an unusual French Alpine refuge.
Although not a hotel, it has cosy rooms with en-suite bathroom, a dining room furnished by a traditional wood sculptor, a Jacuzzi, a hammam and a sauna. The guardian is a mountain lover, who used to be a pastry chef; he prepares delicious gateau and traditional dishes. All this comfort in an alpine refuge at 2000 metres!”
This eloquent description hints at the fact that there is so much more to a stay in this hut than a… well, hut! Like many of the huts surrounding this selection, the refuge is easily reached in summer, but becomes a true winter wonderland once the snow takes hold. Put the skins on, and it will take around three hours to get there.
The norm is for en-suite rooms of four to six beds, but out of season it is possible to negotiate a double room for an extra slice of luxury with a significant other!
Access: Skin up the track from Pralognan at a leisurely pace: a great way to introduce the art of skinning and the freedom of the mountains that a hut can bring.
Link it with: Loads of great day touring options. Check out the hut website for ideas, and tap up the knowledge of the guardian for conditions.
Be sure to order: A piece of the legendary gateau. You might have to conjure up a birthday or notable anniversary to be eligible – but well worth it!
Website and further info: See rocdelapeche.com for everything you need to know.
4. Cabanne des Becs de Bosson
Old meets new at Becs de Bossons
Situated at just under 3000m altitude, the Cabane des Becs de Bosson is the jewel in the otherwise impressive enough crown of the Grimentz/Zinal lift system. This Swiss hut has always been a cosy bonus just off the top of the Grimentz lifts, but since its recent extension, it has become something really special.
It is possible to access the hut from either high point of the lift system, and Marcel – the guardian – will give you the beta on the best approach, depending on conditions. Either way, a short foray on skins through some spectacular scenery will bring the hut into view, and it only takes a leisurely hour at worst. Leaving the bustle of the lifts behind, you access a world of untracked snow and pristine winter wilderness.
Marcel hangs out in the tiny kitchen of the old (and rather quaint and cosy) hut, leaving the stunning picture window (and the seat by the wood burning stove) free for you to enjoy. This is the great thing about the result: all the old world charm of a traditional building; all of the new light and beautifully engineered timber of a modern hut extension.
And the view! Sitting by the fire watching the sun go down over the Valais; or feeling snug in the warmth as you watch a storm lash snow against the windows, it is a really special place to hang out.
The rooms are not quite the superlative en-suite arrangements of the Italian huts – but are beautifully new and well appointed. Duvets replace the old Swiss hut blankets and, if the water supply allows, there are showers and warm washing facilities. Be prepared for the harsh winter weather to put this out of action though.
Access: A short skin through either col, off the top of the Grimentz lift system.
Link it with: A week of off-piste skiing around the area; a less frequented classic descent to the Moiry dam; or a descent of the Réchy Valley before skinning back in to the Grimentz system and out to St Jean.
Be sure to order: Marcel is a star in the cake department – so check out the myrtille flan (or the pastry of the day) to see what he has on offer.
Website and further info: Visit cabanedesbecs.ch for hut details; skizinal.com for a great valley base; and Nick Parks for off-piste guiding and ski touring.
5. Monte Rosa Hut
Carbon cheap, visually rich
While this is closer to the archetypal mountain hut in terms of location and function, it deserves a special place here for the architecture and location alone. For the view from the outside looking on, as well as from the inside looking out, it is hard to beat the new Monte Rosa Hut.
Situated at the foot of the ascent of the Monte Rosa, this has always been an important and busy hut. The old building was recently replaced with an eco-friendly architectural masterpiece, a visual feast of baco-foil and Swiss engineering. If you choose to skin up from Zermatt, you could congratulate yourself on a tour with a teeny carbon footprint (so long as you didn’t fly to Switzerland in the first place, I guess).
This stay might be carbon-cheap, but it is visually rich. Under the dramatic north faces of Liskamm and the Breithorn, yours is a world of tumbling icefalls and cascading glaciers. It is a truly stunning place to stay the night – if only the skiers of Zermatt had any idea that such a wild and dramatic place was within the grasp of the average skier.
This is glaciated terrain, so a sense of respect, the right equipment and a few essential skills are required to get here (and down again) in winter. A guide can take care of all that for you.
Access: The best approach is out of the Stockhorn lift of the Zermatt system and via a stunning glacial descent (with breathtaking views) to the hut.
Link it with: An ascent of Cima di Jazzi on the way down; the descent of the Grenz Glacier from Monte Rosa; or a day tour over to Saas Fee (and maybe even the Strahlhorn if you’re going well).
Be sure to order: The architecture is more special than the catering – so enjoy good hearty hut food, but order a glass of Fendant as the sun sets. This young Swiss white wine, rarely exported, is a refreshing tipple with which to savour the alpenglow on the peaks around you!
Website and further info: Visit section-
monte-rosa.ch and bmg.org.uk to find British guides to help you facilitate the experience.