I love you New Zealand, I really do. But the Rifugios in the Dolomites are INSANE.
Your quirky charm, your quiet hills, your plethora of sheep. You are a magical country, but I have a confession to make. I’m having a love affair with the Dolomites. Sorry, I’m not sorry!
When I moved to New Zealand, I proudly stated that it was the most beautiful country on earth. I had never seen mountains so tall and cliffs so steep, and I was convinced it was a place that could never be replaced as #1 in my heart, and that remained true until recently when I visited the Heart of the Dolomites.
Now, I’m not saying the Dolomites are my new favorite mountains, but I’m also not *not* saying it, ya know?
High alpine passes you can drive to in a car, cheap, delicious wine, creamy gelato, and vibrant Italian locals have been just a few of my favorite things but the thing that has blown me away the most?
Errr, wait. Let me rephrase that. Hut is not really the right word to describe these places. Growing up on New Zealand hut life, this is next level.
Italian huts in the Dolomites are called Rifugios here, but a more appropriate word might be Mountain Mansion.
If you are planning on doing some multi-day hikes in the Dolomites, you’re really in for a treat, just you wait. These “huts” are more like hotels, and these rifugios in the Dolomites are like houses.
Here are ten reasons why the Italian rifugios in the Dolomites have forever altered my standards for alpine sleeping.
1. The trails to them are pretty easy
Sure, some paths are more challenging to complete than others, but for the most part, you can expect smooth, well-marked trails free of bush-bashing and off-trail navigation in the heart of the Dolomites around the Agordino.
Depending on which rifugio you choose, the trails will either be jam-packed with like-minded hikers or be mostly empty.
Either way, the trails are generally wide and generous allowing you to spend more time looking up at the beauty before you and less time looking down focusing on your footwork; and forget about using your hands.
2. OMG, there are showers!
My version of a hut shower is quickly washing my face in an icy mountain stream, but in Italy, you can minimize your stink by having an actual shower at the rifugio. That’s not something you can find at the backcountry New Zealand huts.
Some rifugios offer cold showers, and while some even provide warm showers (which are an extra charge for very little water, but still!) As we arrived at Rifugio Tissi near Alleghe, we saw dozens of people lined up waiting for their well-deserved hot shower. I stayed true to my dirtbag roots and opted out, but it was nice to know that was an option.
How flash is that? Read more about hiking to Rifugio Tissi here.
3. Beer, wine and grappa, all day every day
There’s nothing I crave more than an ice-cold beer waiting for me at the top of the mountain. Is there anything better than after a hot and sweaty hike?
I’ve trained myself to patiently wait until the entire trip is done when I can indulge in a feast and a beverage, but in Italy, you don’t have to wait.
Enjoy a well-deserved tipple while taking in the unparalleled views or have a civilized glass of wine with your dinner. Goodbye sack of goon wine, Italy knows how to do hut wine properly.
Rifugios in the Dolomites have treats on tap.
4. Espresso all the time too
Listen, I’ve had some desperate times in the mountains, but I rarely, ever, ever go without some form of coffee in the morning.
I’ve tried it all from coffee in tea bags, instant coffee, Aeropress, filter, cowboy coffee; you name it, I’ve tried it.
There is no coffee I’m too good for when it comes to caffeinating in the mountains.
Do I prefer an espresso drink in the mornings? Sure, but most of the time, that is not my reality. In Italy though, it certainly is. Fancy espresso machines at the top of the mountain so you can be adequately caffeinated. Going back to cowboy coffee is going to be hard.
5. You don’t need to bring much with you either
As I was preparing for my first rifugio experience, I called my guide in a panic. What exactly do I need to bring?! I don’t have a sleeping bag or a camp stove or cutlery. I didn’t even have food to bring for a snack!
He told me in the most Italian way ever to chill out. It was all taken care of. All I needed to do was to bring a change of clothes and sleeping sheet (which he loaned me), and the rest would be there.
He was right, of course. The food, the drinks, the bedding. It was all part of the rifugio experience.
Was it strange to not have to haul a 20kg pack up the mountain? Yes. Was it the best thing ever? Also yes.
6. Italian three-course meals
My mountain meals usually consist of freeze-dried meals or a poorly executed concoction of couscous and whatever else I can find in my fridge.
Eating during hiking is simply a necessity for me. I never spend too much time or energy into planning tasty meals.
In Italy, though, you have the best of both worlds. Rifugios offer three-course meals complete with pasta, salad, polenta, dessert, and of course, wine. Going to bed with a stomach full of delicious food was a serious game-changer, especially since I didn’t even need to carry any of it with me.
7. And of course, there’s wifi available
Ok, I’ll be honest, one of my favorite parts of going to the mountains is getting away from normal life far from emails and social media and the demands of work. But rifugios in the Dolomites are fancy!
In New Zealand, there’s simply no way to stay connected in the backcountry which is a perk I’ve come to relish in the past few years. Not only is there no wifi, but there is also no power, electricity or phone reception either.
When we arrived at our first rifugio in the Dolomites, I was shocked to see the wifi name and password hanging on the wall. What the hell?!
But, as much as I love being in the mountains and taking time just to appreciate the view, I can see the perk of having wifi.
Need to let your loved ones know you’re alive and well? Easy. Need a distraction because everyone around you is involved in a heated conversation entirely in Italian, which you do not understand? Hello Instagram. Use the wifi when you need it but don’t forget to put the phone down for a bit and stare at the beauty in front of you too, ok?
8. With wifi, there must be electricity
The last time I went to a hut and didn’t take a head torch was never.
It’s never happened. I know that as soon as the sun is gone, I’m going to need a head torch to show me where the bathroom is. But in Italy? No problem.
The rifugios have electricity and keep it accessible until about 10 pm when everyone goes to bed. If you’ve spent all of your phone battery taking photos of the fantastic scenery, you can also recharge but be prepared: finding a free socket is a bit of a mission.
9. Flip flops for all
Do you know that feeling of wanting to kick off your shoes as soon as you arrive at your destination? It’s a fantastic feeling, but when I’m hiking to a hut, I usually ignore it.
I’m prepared to keep my shoes on in case I need to go outside to take photos or go to the bathroom. In Italian rifugios, they provide flip flops (which they adorably call “slippers”), so you can kick off your shoes immediately and walk around as needed. Bliss!
10. Next-level views everywhere
Rifugios in the Dolomites are adorable and amazing and offer all of the amenities you could ask for in a mountain hut. But by far, the thing that makes them stand out is the fact that they are perched in the heart of some of the most stunning mountains on the planet.
Implausibly perched on top of cliffs or tucked away into quiet valleys, it’s hard to imagine the scale of the work that went into building them.
Basking in the glory of the famous Dolomites makes every other problem in your life seem small and insignificant, and for a moment, all that matters is the beauty in front of you. (And the wine waiting for you at the table).
Have you ever seen mountain huts like these? Have you been to a rifugio before in Italy? Spill!