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Science | What is an Alpine Hut? What you need to know before hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc!

Alpine huts, or 'refuges', play a vital role in the Tour du Mont Blanc. Not only do they provide accommodation along the way, but they are also windows into the rich culture and history of the Alps. Whether it's delving into remote nature or enjoying a peaceful night on a remote summit, the huts offer a unique experience for hikers.

This article will provide an in-depth look at the facilities, accommodation habits, catering services and the unique position of these alpine huts within the trekking routes, providing a comprehensive and professional guide for those who are about to embark on a trekking journey around Mont Blanc.

What is a mountain refuge


First of all, should we call an alpine hut a "hut" or a "refuge"? The answer is "refuge". In the English-speaking world of the Tour du Mont Blanc, we prefer to use the term "refuge" to refer to an alpine hut. Not only does this usage cross linguistic boundaries - it is consistent across French and English - but it also echoes the Italian word "rifugio".

The alpine hut accommodation experience is a core component of the entire 160km Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) Grand Circuit trek. Our Tour du Mont Blanc trekking route runs through the top of the mountains and requires that each night's accommodation makes full use of these specific alpine huts and does not retreat to standardised hotels at the bottom of the mountain.

What is a refuge like


Alpine huts vary widely in terms of facilities and comfort, with most huts designed for trekkers usually offering a more spacious and cosy environment than higher altitude alpine huts. Huts at higher altitudes, on the other hand, are usually smaller and intended for rock climbers and mountaineers, and may only have simple beds and a limited capacity of up to six people. In contrast, alpine huts on well known trekking routes like the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) are able to provide accommodation for between 40 and 100 people, with excellent accommodation and cleanliness. This level of accommodation is similar to traditional youth hostels.

Even though the alpine huts are located in the middle of nowhere, they have all the amenities. Almost every hut is equipped with a bar, where everyone enjoys a refreshing drink on the terrace at the end of the hike. All huts have showers, the use of which is limited in time. Everyone needs to bring their own towels and we recommend bringing a lightweight microfibre towel. The bathrooms are separate shared facilities for men and women, and each floor is equipped with a corresponding toilet.

In addition, if people need to dry their clothes, shoes or other gear, the huts provide drying rooms. Most cabins are also equipped with electrical outlets (it is recommended that you bring a European-style power converter) for charging mobile phones or other electronic devices.

With regard to accommodation, alpine huts usually offer sleeping accommodation in the form of mixed dormitories, the size of which varies depending on the hut. Some dorms can accommodate up to four people, while others can accommodate up to 20. Beds may be bunk beds or closely spaced alpine-style bunks, which means that space for everyone's personal gear may be more limited.

Pillows, blankets or bedding will be provided in the hut. Bedding will not be changed daily so it is advisable to bring your own sleeping bag liners. Lights out is around 9pm and ear plugs and eye masks are recommended so that you can sleep more easily even if others are moving around or snoring.

Food and drink


On the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek, breakfast and dinner are usually provided by the alpine hut. If people have special dietary requirements, such as vegetarian food, they need to inform their guide or hut staff in advance. Usually these dietary requirements can be accommodated. If people do not feel they have had enough to eat, they can also ask the staff for a larger portion of food.

Breakfast. Breakfast in the alpine huts is usually continental and the start time varies from hut to hut, but it can usually be served buffet style from 6.30am. Breakfast will always include bread and a variety of condiments (e.g. honey, jam, chocolate sauce), and usually cereals, yoghurt, milk, fruit, cheese and a variety of cold meats. In Italian chalets, there will also be cakes! Tea, coffee and juices are also available for everyone to help themselves to.

Dinner. Alpine huts all have a set dinner time, usually 7pm. Be careful not to be late or you may miss the first course! The staff will advise the group of the dinner time when they arrive. Each group will have a regular table and sometimes share a table with other hikers. This is a social occasion and a great opportunity to meet other trekkers.

Dinner usually consists of three simple dishes, starting with soup and bread. Soup is usually served in a large bowl and it is customary for people to serve each other soup and help clear the dishes when everyone has finished. The main course is usually something like pasta, rice or potatoes served with a meat dish such as a stew or casserole. There are usually vegetables on the side as well. Desserts are usually simple like yoghurt and fruit, mousse or fruit salad. In French chalets, local cheeses are often offered for tasting as well. At dinner everyone can order their own drinks, which will be paid for at the end of the meal.

Drinks. Every alpine hut, no matter how remote, has a bar! Here, everyone can have a few soft drinks, tea, coffee, beer and wine according to their favourites, noting that all of these have to be paid for separately. These drinks are usually a little more expensive than usual as all supplies in the alpine huts are delivered by helicopter and there is no direct road access.

Drinking water. Drinking water is free in alpine huts. In most huts and lodges, tap water is perfectly safe to drink unless there are clear instructions advising otherwise. There are also many fountains along the route where people can fill their water bottles. The water comes from a controlled source on the mountain and signs will indicate if the water is unfit for drinking. It is recommended that you carry at least 1 litre of water with you each day you set out, as some sections of the trail may not have refill points for long periods of time. Guides will advise you on the amount of water to carry each morning to avoid carrying unnecessary weight.

Alpine Hut Etiquette. It is very important to follow alpine hut etiquette. When everyone first arrives at the hut, it is a good idea to have the items you will need for the next day. Stay neat and organised and avoid leaving your personal belongings lying around. Do not unpack your backpack while others are sleeping; try to do this before dinner.

The dormitories are for sleeping only.After 9pm, everyone can head to the dedicated social area at the Alpine Hut. After a day of hiking, everyone is usually tired and has to prepare for an early start the next day, so please be respectful of each other and avoid making noise late at night. If you need to go to the bathroom at night, try to avoid shining your torch in people's faces.

Is a mountain refuge safe


Sharing a room with others for the first time can trigger some nervousness, and female hikers in particular may feel more uneasy when sharing space with unfamiliar men. However, alpine huts are extremely safe places. There have never been any reports of inappropriate behaviour or theft of equipment in these huts. The people here are extremely friendly, and everyone has only one common purpose - simply to enjoy a peaceful night in the mountains and get some rest.

People can also try to find a place to sleep among group members who know each other, which may make them feel more comfortable.

Wearing thermal underwear is a common choice for everyone in an alpine hut. Thermal underwear carried on hiking trips or as a back-up comes in handy here. The dining hall can occasionally be slightly chilly, so thermal underwear plus a light jacket is recommended. At night, the dormitory temperatures are usually more comfortable and a thin t-shirt and bottoms are sufficient for lounging. The cabins provide enough pairs of shoes for indoor wear, so there is no need to bring flip-flops.

Finally, one of the highlights of alpine hut accommodation is its unique alpine location! Often these huts are inaccessible by road, which means that once the day hikers have left after dark, you'll be sharing this peace and quiet with other staycationers. Don't forget to take the opportunity to enjoy this rare moment of quiet. Whether it's stepping out of the hut to watch a magnificent sunset or looking up at the stars at night, these will be unforgettable memories for all.

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