Massive hut refuge system facilitates endless mountain biking adventure in the Alps
Call it “glamping” or “luxury adventure” or whatever you like, but not everyone wants to put their life on the back burner and hit the trail. Some adventure mountain bikers hope to enjoy the ride as much as the forest, leaving the tent and cooking utensils at home. A handful of mountain huts across the Alps allow for hassle-free treks, and all cyclists need to pack is a few extra woolen shirts, cash, a foldable sleeping bag, and ample weather forecast. track ahead.
Commonly known as refugio (the Italian plural is refugi), Alpine huts can take many different forms and offer a variety of services and amenities. At the most basic level, they all provide a place to sleep protected from the elements. Some have full menus, covering food allergy needs and local flavors, followed by hot showers and private bathrooms. On the other end of the spectrum, they are gaping shells filled with bunk beds and a wood stove. Between the luxury side and the spartan side, there are some punk rock huts, where they might have already had a list of rules somewhere, and there’s a good chance someone used it to ride. a joint.
Many huts on the Italian side of the Alps are managed by the Club Alpino Italiano (CAI), and club members get a discount for their stay. Some of the structures were built specifically to house mountaineers, while many others are former military forts. Between the point where the Alps plunge into the Mediterranean Sea, to the Julian Alps of Slovenia, there are huts open all summer, and a few huts keep the fire going when the snow flies to warm the ski mountaineers. They line the peaks and ridges on either side of several borders, and it’s not uncommon for visitors to ask something like “are we in France now?” when they arrive.
I recently cycled a popular alpine route called Alta Via del Sale with a friend, and halfway through we slept at Don Barbera Refuge. We got to the shelter around 6 p.m., shortly after they started cooking dinner. Located 2,079m above sea level, people will be hungry when they reach the hut no matter where they are from. We had climbed 2,434 meters over a length of 151 kilometers that day, with a total of 10.5 hours in the saddle. Looking at another long and difficult day to follow, we were ready to binge. The last scoop of the main course had been given to the scouts trying outside, and we were served a huge serving of bean soup followed by potatoes and dessert. It was more than I could eat from a distance, and my trail partner managed to plow an extra pile of meat and beans.
Everything in the refuge must be transported by truck via military roads reinforced by bedrock, and a reasonable cost comes from the fact that visitors do not transport their food and beer or their garbage. One of the eight bunk beds in one bedroom costs € 40 per night, and dinner with beer or wine is a small extra. Helpful staff will prepare full sandwiches or picnics if you want healthy calories to transport you to the next hideaway. We added some delicious sandwiches and a quick breakfast to the bill, and it was well worth the price. People on longer excursions can cut costs by camping around every other night and stocking up on supplies before leaving the refuge.
While the list of equipment you will find 2,000 meters away is impressive, it will rarely be sport specific. The cabin we stayed at sees visitors driving large 4 × 4 gear and motorcycles on military roads, hikers arriving by singletrack, and mountain bikers who have mixed the two throughout the day. You’ll want to bring your own maintenance and repair supplies, as the nearest bike store is probably where you started. What this hut did offer, however, was delicious food, a hot shower, clean bathrooms, a soft, quiet bed, and a dry place to wake up ready for the next day’s challenge. Apart from the shower, these are things you can expect at almost any mountain hut in the Alps.
If you are interested in viewing the Via del Sale route, there are countless resources and variations online. The most common route starts in Limone, Italy, and ends at Monesi, or continue to Ventimiglia as we did. For no good reason, we chose to cycle from our homes in Turin, but this silliness is certainly not justified. You can catch a train to Limone from anywhere, then cycle to Refugio Don Barbera, and from there you’ll have a seemingly endless array of directions and options to fill as many days of fresh air as you want. your boss allows it. Rocky roads are passable on a rigid bike, with big tires and high pressure, but a hardtail will allow you to enjoy the descents much more, or turn on more single track roads.
The views from this walk are not the typical beautiful mountain scenery. Near the refuge, the paths and roads are lined with cracked stone statues, sculpted by centuries of erosion, which fill your eyes with inexplicable beauty. While trying to ride techless on these rides, I’ll definitely make room for a quality camera next time. In addition to the topographic splendor, we were treated to visits from a few different species of raptor, a mountain goat and of course more marmots than we could count, all hunting and hiding in rainbows. of wild flowers.
Although most shelters have plenty of space, it is best to contact them in advance to reserve your bed. Seven huts in total dot the Tour of the Marguareis, which includes Via del Sale, and each of them brings its own local flavor. They’ll also know where the next nearby huts are, in case you plan a full summer excursion through the Alps.