The inns and huts of High Swiss Alpine trails are a treasure to be enjoyed only by those willing to push their limits hiking in the Alps. A great example of one of these hikes is our Haute Route, Huts & Inns.
Refuges or huts typically offer dormitory style rooms, doubles, or triples, usually with separate shower and bathrooms. They seem to compete to produce excellent, hearty meals, especially appreciated by ravenous hikers who depend on the extra fuel for demanding days hiking and climbing. Guided alpine hiking trips are an ideal way to safely access these retreats.
Far from heavily traveled tourist routes with double-decker buses dropping off loads of passengers, these charming huts and inns are mainly reached along specific hiking routes. They represent a tradition of refuge from the potentially harsh surrounding climate and terrain, a respite for travelers on foot who have traversed the high Alps for centuries, initially for survival and ultimately for pleasure.
They have evolved along with the burgeoning tourist trade to offer more amenities. Some are still spartan when compared with luxury inns and hotels found in many Alpine villages, but all have evolved. Today, many refuges apply the most forward-thinking environmentally responsible designs, with innovative water treatment facilities, solar and wind generators and modern kitchens. Resupplying these remote, difficult-to-access huts was always a challenge, but is now more manageable thanks to the use of modern helicopters.
The extensive system of Swiss Alpine huts or refuges developed in support of the popular new sport of mountaineering during the second half of the 19th Century. The sport grew in response to the growth of crowded, stressful urban centers following the industrial revolution. The mountaineering trend, in turn, spawned a new source of income for isolated villages beyond the longstanding agrarian economy, namely, tourism, with the system of huts as its backbone.
The Swiss Alpine Club, the first mountaineering organization in continental Europe, built many of the huts, beginning with the Grünhorn hut, or Grünhornhütte, in 1863. In 1865 they built the Hornli hut for those intrepid climbers waiting to attack the fearsome peak. Additional locations were built as time went on, and today, there are over 1,300 huts scattered across the Alps, most of them owned and run either by private families, or by Alpine clubs. Many are staffed with varying levels of service and accommodations available, although some are simply a spare shelter for climbers, with no staff and only the basics provided. Swiss Alpine Club’s 152 huts, for example, are open year-round, with about two-thirds of them staffed either permanently or part-time.3
Refuges, as they are called in France, are found in several Alpine nations. Called cabanes in French-speaking Switzerland, or hütte in German-speaking Switzerland, they are typically found at high altitude mountain passes that have served as important trade routes for centuries. One of the most historic, the Grand Saint Bernard in the Col du Grand Saint Bernard, can trace its roots to a hospice established around 1050 by Saint Bernard, in aid of struggling travelers and pilgrims.Among its historic claims to fame, the Saint Bernard location can boast a connection to the beloved dogs of the same name. The religious community began the practice of breeding and training dogs for use in helping area travelers in distress.
A guided Swiss Alps hiking tour is the best way to ensure a memorable experience, accessing the most fully equipped and staffed of these characteristic mountain retreats, for a once-in-a-lifetime experience—or perhaps just the first of many. Expert local guides will have personal knowledge of the inns and huts on your itinerary, and make your reservations well in advance. Often, they know the proprietors and may themselves live in a nearby village.
We carefully prepare detailed itineraries, including stops at some of the most welcoming refuges and inns in the Swiss Alps and along other mountain routes. Please contact us for more info on the best tour routes to access these historic Alpine treasures.