The Top 5 Refugios in the Dolomites
Updated: Feb 3, 2020
No active travel experience in the Dolomites is complete without a stay at a Refugi, or an Italian mountain hut. Nestled in spectacular locations throughout the Italian Dolomiti range, most are accessible only on foot. There are a few exceptions that are serviced by cable car. But many require some effort in order to get to those wonderful terraces with their exquisite views. Most are open in the summer when foot and mountain bike traffic justify operation. But a few are open in the winter and are available for backcountry skiers exploring the expansive bowls. Each one varies in style and level of comfort, varying from dormitory style bunk houses to simple guesthouses with private rooms and en suite bathrooms. Bedding and blankets are provided, so all you need to bring is a sleep sheet or sleeping bag liner and your personal belongings. In addition, almost all refugios, including those in remote locations, offer a hot meal, water, beer and wine for purchase. I trekked four days on the Alta Via 1, stayed overnight at three refugios and stopped for meals, water or a well-timed cappuccino at several more. (See my full travel Itinerary for Trekking in the Dolomites here.) Below some of my favorites selected by criteria of view, hospitality and that wonderful feeling that says you really have escaped to the mountains.
Refugio Coldai (above)
Originally built in 1905 and located on the eastern slope of Mount Coldai in the Civetta range, this refugio looks like some dream-like mountain mirage as it comes into view. At 2135m high, it sits perched just above the lakeside town of Alleghe. You can access Refugio Coldai from the Alta Via 1 hiking routes (see here for our itinerary) or from Alleghe, by taking the gondola up to Pian di Pezze and then hike or take a chairlift to Col dei Baldi. One of the best features of this refugio is the panoramic views of Mount Pelmo. Make sure to get a table near the expansive dining room windows for sunset.
Sitting nestled in a meadow at 2239 m, this refugio is another one with great views, access to wide open trekking paths and is a great stop for lunch of coffee when hiking the Alta Via 1 or road cycling in the Monte Civetta area.
It has an expansive front patio for dining or enjoying a midday beer. Which is exactly what we did after navigating our way down some pretty technical terrain. But even if you are not on a major trek, stop by Refugio Giau for lunch, have a cappuccino and take a stroll to simply enjoy the surrounding meadows and the 360 degree views.
Founded in 1883, this is one of the oldest refugios in the Dolomites. Nuvolau, perched high on a a cliff edge at 2600m, is situated between two strategic passes (Passo Falzarego and Passo Giau) and served as a lookout in WWI.
You can get close to its location on many paths which are fairly flat. But the last section from any direction requires the work of a steep uphill hike.
If you are feeling even more adventurous when departing, one path heads you towards Giau and takes you over some short via ferrate that will have you scrambling over rocks and lowering yourself down ladders.
It’s a perfect stop for lunch and a beer and can be combined with a stay or stop at Refugio Lagazuoi by a few hours walk. It's a bit of work, but believe me, the views are worth the effort.
This refugio was a welcome sight after a long day of trekking. We had come all the way from Lagazuoi, stopping for lunch at Nuvolau and down-climbing our way over some technical terrain through Passo Falzarego and Forcella Giau. We were beat. Refugio Fiume with its welcoming beds and heated dining room felt like a little slice of heaven.
Compared to refugios like Lagazuoi (below), Fiume is very rustic, with simple rooms, but is a perfect choice when hiking the AV1. Plus the views of Mount Pelmo are incredible. Due to it's more remote location on the AV1, we pretty much had the place to ourselves for our overnight stay.
Views, views, views! This gem of a refugio, sitting at 2752m, is very popular and for a good reason. Not only is it accessible from Cortina via bus and a gondola ride to the top, but the views from the expansive terrace brought tears to my eyes and literally left me speechless. I have not, to this day, seen anything quite like this view.
Lagazuoi is also one of the more upscale refugios on the AV 1 with very comfortable beds and great meals, hence the higher overnight prices. But pay it! Whether this is a starting point for your Alta Via 1 trek or you are simply coming as a day trip from Cortina, spend some time here.
Don't leave the area before doing some exploration. There is an extensive amount of of hiking and biking trails behind & below the refugio in Val Badia that are worth a few hours of your trip.
In addition, a combination of restored military tunnels, trenches and machine gun posts makes this location fun for blended exploration of nature and history. When we were there, we took the cable car up from the road, stayed overnight, then returned via the long tunnel. It travels part way down towards the road and to a path that eventually leads you to the base of the tram. If the tunnel is open and you choose to return this way, watch your head! There are steps and a cable to guide you, but the ceiling is low and it can be quite dark in areas.
If you think you want to hire a guide to help you explore this are, go local!
See my full Itinerary for Trekking in the Dolomites here.