A mountain refuge has a magical aura about it. Part Heidi’s chalet, part shepherd’s lair, you can find them right across the Alps. They are the epitome of mountain culture but can still be off-putting if you don’t know how they work. But, in fact, refuges are great, even if you’re not a sherpa!
Why you should do this
This is not a complete list, but here are the best reasons for trying this experience:
- For the wide-open spaces. For quite a lot of the year, you have been dreaming of countries without borders, huge natural areas where the sky is the only limit. A refuge offers the possibility of going even further into the mountains, beyond the cols and the peaks.
- For the freedom. A feeling we had to forego for a few weeks… whilst it is Man’s basic precepts! Don’t worry about your telephone ringing while you’re staying in a refuge, there isn’t any reception there. Although it can be quite disconcerting at first, you will quickly get used to this lifestyle that is in phase with Nature. Say bye-bye to your daily routine!
- For the adventure. Get back to the basics. With a backpack and a map, your only limit is the horizon. Break with routine, escape from your daily cares and venture into the heart of the mountains. You won’t have to get outside your “comfort zone”: like we said, refuges are for everyone.
Our advice for an easy stay
Some of you will already have been camping, others will have gone youth hostelling, or tried bivouacking… but refuges have their own codes, which are really not complicated, we assure you. You just need to:
- Book your night stay, or at least call ahead to let them know you are coming, whether you want dinner or breakfast, etc. You will probably also get some helpful information, such as if there are ibex in the area, or if you need to bring a sleeping bag…
- Prepare your hike. Check the weather conditions, the elevation gain to get to the refuge, the approximate walking time, etc…because you don’t want to arrive at the refuge at 8pm! You live with the sun there and people tend to be up early to go hiking, so it’s best to arrive 30 minutes at the latest before the evening meal.
- Take a minimum of equipment. You don’t have to leave everything behind, but the idea is to travel light. Things you should take with you include a head lamp (to go to the loo at night), a sleeping bag-style sheet to sleep in, a bin bag (so you can take your rubbish back with you and a change of clothing (for your comfort).
- Lastly: as you can probably imagine, since there is no phone reception, it will be difficult to pay by credit card. Remember to take cash for payment and/or a cheque book.
What about taking the kids along?
Well, you should know that they will LOVE it! Whether you have a wild child or one that is really chilled, they are bound to feel right at home. Choose a refuge at a hiking distance adapted to their age, unless you want to carry them.
Don’t hesitate to talk to the refuge keeper, they will let you know if their refuge is appropriate or not and whether there are facilities and games for children. Some even have family rooms, since they really understand how much families enjoy this type of accommodation out in the backwoods.
It’s the perfect opportunity to give your children a taste for nature, which is such a precious heritage. Observe the wild animals, smell the flowers on the edge of the footpaths, enjoy a convivial evening meal in the company of other hikers: it’s hard to think of anything more fulfilling for your little ones.
Our very last argument (which is bound to win you over): it’s easy. You don’t have to put up a tent or pack food for the evening meal or watch the road… there is no stress.
Forget any preconceived ideas about refuges with France Montagnes