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If you’re planning a trip to the Dolomites, you’ve probably seen the word rifugio thrown around. So you might be wondering what exactly a rifugio is? This beginner’s guide to staying in rifugios will cover everything you need to know for a smooth stay in Italy’s mountain huts.
What are rifugios?
A rifugio is a high-elevation mountain hut, situated directly along a hiking trail.
There are currently over 1,000 rifugios that make up the Dolomites hut system. Each of these huts vary greatly, but staying in rifugios in the Italian Dolomites is an incredible way to experience the region. Because there is such an extensive network of over 1,000 rifugios throughout the Dolomites, it is very easy to plan out multi-day hiking routes.
It is important to level your expectations of the level of luxury to expect when staying at a rifugio in the Dolomites. While a stay at a rifugio is an amazing experience, they are not interchangeable with typical hotel. For example, bathroom facilities are almost always shared, showers aren’t always available, and typically cost an additional fee, and rooms are typically dormitory-style.
Wild-camping is strictly prohibited in the Dolomites, so staying at a rifugio is one of the best ways to overnight in the mountains.
When do the huts open for the summer season?
Rifugios are typically open from late June until late September. Some huts will stay open in October, but only a select few.
There are also a few huts that are also open in winter, but these are less popular.
How to book your stay at a rifugio
There is no standard or uniform way to book a night or two at a rifugio. That said, in most cases you will need to email or call directly to secure your reservation. If you are booking outside of the open season (it is recommended to book a few months in advance), then email is the most likely method. For reservations at some of the more popular rifugios, you may need to send a deposit to secure the booking.
If you’re making your reservation over the phone, don’t expect any sort of confirmation email. Just plan to show up and your bed should be waiting for you on arrival.
A few of the more popular rifugios, like Rifugio Firenze, have only booking systems for an easy booking process.
Top tips for staying in Italian rifugios
Pack a sheet or sleeping bag
With the exception of a few private rooms, it is standard practice for rifugios to require you to have your own linens. This can be a bedsheet, sleeping bag, or even sleeping bag liner. I loved using my sleeping bag liner from Sea to Summit. It is compact but still super warm for chilly mountain nights.
Bring extra cash
It is important to bring enough cash to cover the cost of your stay, as well as any food or drink. A handful of rifugios do accept payment by card, however this is not always reliable up in the mountains where connection is iffy at best. There are no ATMs in the mountains to get more cash out along the way!
Make sure to book ahead of time
It is super important to reserve your space in the rifugio ahead of time to ensure availability. Most rifugios are located a few hours apart by foot, so you do not want to end up in a situation where you need to find another place to stay after dark or in bad weather.
Slippers or house shoes are required
You are not allowed to wear your hiking boots inside the rifugio, so it is best to pack some slippers or flip flops. If your luggage doesn’t allow room for this, most rifugios will have Crocs, or something similar, available to borrow for the duration of your stay.
Pack extra layers, even during summer
While the temperatures in the cities below might be soaring about 100 degrees, you can expect much cooler temperatures up in the mountains. Even during the summer months, I needed a number of layers to keep warm in the evening and early morning.
Ear plugs and eye masks if you’re staying in the dorm-style rooms
If you’re planning to stay in a dorm-style room, I recommend packing both ear plugs and and eye mask. While most rifugios are pretty good about enforcing quiet hours, you never know when you’ll get stuck with a snorer.
It is important to note that most rifugios in the Dolomites do not have WiFi. While some do have some cell coverage, many do not. While it is great to disconnect, make sure to load any necessary maps or directions ahead of time.
Pack a battery pack
Electricity may not be available 24 hours a day at the huts. While this is great for conserving electricity use, it can make charging electronics difficult. I recommend starting your hut-to-hut adventure with a full battery pack, and charging it up along the way when possible.
Become an Italian Alpine Club Member
Many of the rifugios in Italy offer discounts to Italian Alpine Club members. This is typically worth it if you are staying in at least 3-4 rifugios in a given year, as there is a cost to the membership. You can typically register for the alpine club in your own country, and this will be accepted as well. Although, you may want to double check with the rifugio ahead of time.
Dining at Italian rifugios: prices and meals
Prices vary from rifugio to rifugio, but you can expect to pay between 50-60 EUR for a bed, plus dinner and breakfast. If you’re planning to visit at least 4-5 rifugios in a year, I recommend joining the Italian Alpine Club, as mentioned above, which will get you a discount on all of your stay, and often on food prices as well.
You often have the option of ordering a la carte or enjoying a half-board set up with breakfast and dinner included. Every rifugio does it differently, with some requiring all guests do the half board. Make sure to specify this upfront with the hosts so there is no confusion!
What to expect when staying in an Italian rifugio?
Staying in a rifugio is an incredible experience, and one of the best ways to enjoy the Dolomites. However, for the most part, you shouldn’t be expecting a luxurious experience. You can expect the huts to be cozy, with a German-Austrian influence in both the decor and cooking. You can expect a good, hot meal to end your day. If you’re planning to shower, hot water might not always be available, and you should expect to pay a few euro for a quick shower.
Rifugios Packing List
- Hiking backpack – Make sure to pack a proper hiking backpack for long hiking days. For our 4 days in the Dolomites, my 26L Deuter was the perfect size. If you’re looking for something a bit bigger, Osprey makes awesome bags.
- Layers – The mountains get cold year-round, with patches of snow on the ground still in July. I recommend bringing a number of layers. A few of my favorites include:
- Hiking boots – Supportive, waterproof hiking boots are a must! I love my Columbia Hiking Boots.
- Kindle – If you’re hiking for a bit, packing a Kindle is so much easier than packing multiple books in my opinion. It took me a while to get into the Kindle, but now I couldn’t live without mine. It makes having access to good books while on the road so much easier.
- Playing cards – Similar to packing a kindle, playing cards are a great way to stay entertained during your time at the rifugios. I personally love Monopoly Deal as a quick, easy card game that can be played with up to 4 players.
- Flashlight – Packing a flashlight/headlamp is super important, even if you don’t plan to hike at night. You never know when a hike might take longer than expected, and you’ll need an additional light source to complete your adventure.
- House slippers – You are not allowed to wear your boots in the house, so make sure that you pack slippers or flip flops to wear indoors.
- Sleeping bag liner – while a full sleeping bag or standard sheets are also an option, I loved traveling through the Italian mountain huts with my sleeping bag liner.
- Reusable water bottle – some huts offer clean drinking water, some do not. Either way, it is always a good idea to come prepared with a reusable water bottle. Vapur has been my go-to for years.
- Electrolytes – In addition to packing at least 2 liters of water on any hike, I always bring along electrolytes from DripDrop.
Here are some other articles to check out when you’re planning your trip to the Dolomites:
- Road Trip in the Dolomites
- 7 Spots you Can’t Miss in the Dolomites
- A Guide to Hiking Seceda, Dolomites
- How to Get to the Dolomites, Italy
- Hiking to Lago di Sorapis
- Visiting Lago di Braies