Last year, I spent a week hiking the Italian Dolomites just north of Venice. They’re a breathtaking part of the world.
Last year, I spent a week hiking the Italian Dolomites just north of Venice. They’re a breathtaking part of the world, and one I felt honored to get to see firsthand.
There’s no camping in the Dolomites. Instead, you hike from rifugio to rifugio. These mountain huts vary in their accommodations, but all offer lodging and a hearty meal, which is just what you need after a long day’s hike.
Here are 10 things you should know before your hiking trip to Italy.
1. Hot Water and Showers Aren’t Guaranteed.
While my friend and I only encountered one rifugio that didn’t offer hot water and showers ( Rifugio Nuvolau) check the website or reviews to make sure you’ll be able to shower off at the end of a long day. It’s quite a shock to find that all you can do is take an icy sponge bath!
2. Food is Typically Included in the Price.
When reviewing prices, you’ll often see “full board” or “half board.” The first covers breakfast, lunch, and dinner, while half board is just breakfast and dinner. The price is baked into your room rate, so it’s nice not to have to pay separately. Wine or beer is usually not included, though quite affordable.
3. Some Are Harder to Reach Than Others.
Many rifugios are reachable by car, but a few, like Nuvolau, aren’t. That was reachable only by a grueling trail, though I did note that the owners hauled up food and supplies on a chairlift. This is rustic at its best.
4. You’ll Make New Friends.
One of the most memorable experiences I had at the rifugios was meeting other hikers from different countries. The dining rooms are usually intimate, and it doesn’t take long before you find yourself sharing a bottle of wine with a group of rowdy Austrians!
5. You Might Share a Room with Your New Friends.
Some rifugios offer private accommodations, but most don’t, so be ready for roommates. Still, if you travel in off season, you’ll be less likely to share. At Rifugio Pralongia, we lucked into a room with bunk beds to accommodate 8 people...and it was just us!
6. They’re A Fantastic Opportunity to Try Local Cuisine.
I had some of the best meals of my life in these rifugios: polenta with wild mushrooms, homemade spaghetti bolognese, ample and crisp french fries, Austrian dumplings...the list goes on. Push yourself to try something new each time.
7. Reservations are Recommended.
We hiked the Dolomites in September, which is less crowded than the spring and summer, but we still found that some of the more popular rifugios — like Lagazuoi — were fully booked. So make your reservations in advance. Some places, though not many, will take reservations online.
8. Rifugios Make Great Rest Stops.
The way we mapped out our hike on the Alta Via 1, we ended up passing a rifugio around midday each day. That made a great excuse to stop for a caffelatte or lunch, and to rest our weary bodies.
9. Some Rifugios Will Lock Their Doors.
At Nuvolau (the one without showers), we were told that the owner would lock the door at 5 pm, so we’d better get there before then. It can be stressful if a hike is taking longer than you expected, and with no cell service, you’d better budget plenty of time if you risk not having a place to sleep.
10. They’re An Amazing Part of the Journey.
Rifugios aren’t hotels, per se, and they provide the perfect ambience for a hike in such natural, rugged beauty. With the views, sounds of cowbells in the pastures below, and the restorative cuisine, they’re as much a part of your Dolomites experience as the mountains.