The summer season starts in the mountain huts, equipped with a health protocol revised on May 22. You don’t need to be an experienced climber to find welcoming and high-rise corners. Our selection of well-guarded shelters in the northern and southern Alps.
At an altitude of 2,225 m, walking shoes and socks just removed, a couple seated on the terrace of the Pilatte en Oisans refuge sip a local beer while admiring the effects of the sunset on this incredible glacial cirque. In the distance, the cries of children running behind the hens which slalom between the stones and the snowfields.
Contrary to popular belief, mountain huts are by no means reserved for experienced mountaineers and climbers! These high altitude nests, rustic and a bit unusual, are privileged places of exchange and conviviality. Family audiences are welcome to take advantage of the exceptional environment as well. A simple overnight stay in these high-altitude territories also delivers, in addition to a good breath of fresh air, a rich experience of reconnecting with nature.
Mathilde Dahuron keeps this refuge facing the Ecrins and makes it a point of honor to welcome all audiences at the gates of the high mountains: “We take the time to welcome the families and explain to them how the shelter works. It’s our role to make everyone feel comfortable. Generally the children are it very quickly ”, smiles the babysitter. This young mother, also a mountain guide, has designed the site in this direction: outdoor play areas with badminton nets and pétanque ground; inside board games, piano and video projector in case of bad weather.
Being up there is also an opportunity to learn and share: “Usually people don’t come here to hang out, this which is very good because we have messages to pass on. ” Discussions are informal, on the terrace or during meals that are taken on large tables. All eyes are sharp on the ancient rocks to see ibex and marmots and in the evening, regardless of age: all eyes sparkle at the sight of such a pure and starry sky.
Shelters during Covid-19
The health protocol published on May 22, 2021, broadly repeats what was put in place last summer with adjustments for each accommodation. Thus, in addition to the usual measures (mask, gel and compulsory reservation), the dormitories will remain partitioned and sleeping bags must be brought to compensate for the absence of a duvet. With the protocol linked to the hotel industry as a reference, the dining room will be reserved for customers sleeping in the refuge and the service on the terrace open to all. The dining room service will be limited to tables of 6 people. An attendance register will allow contact cases to be traced. The reception gauges, on the other hand, will be made more flexible: they can be adjusted according to the groups welcomed.
All information on reception arrangements is given before the stay by the caretaker.
The BA-BA for a stay in a refuge
In a refuge, limited space and cohabitation make organization necessary. In order not to make any mistakes and to enjoy your stay at altitude as well as possible, here are some tips and rules to follow:
- Contact the caretaker in advance to book overnight stays and meals. on this occasion do not hesitate to give the age of your children and your special requests (high chair, cot, etc.).
- Think of headlamps for possible night visits to the toilets without having to wake up the whole dorm!
- You do not go into a refuge with your mountain shoes, clogs (type ‘crocs’) are available but for your children, plan slippers in their size.
- Although the duvets and blankets are cleaned regularly, it is advisable to bring a sleeping sheet.
- Some hikers get up at dawn, meals are taken very early (from 6.30 p.m.) and shelters must be silent after 9.30 p.m.
- Not all shelters accept credit cards: bring cash or a checkbook to pay on site.
How do you find a suitable refuge for your family?
The French Federation of Alpine and Mountain Clubs (FFCAM), which manages 120 shelters in the French massifs, has published two specific guides listing 60 shelters suitable for families in the areas of Savoie Mont-Blanc and the Ecrins massif. The places are selected according to the ease of access (from a few minutes of walking to 3 hours of ascent), the layout of the refuge and the services available. For the version Pyrénées, a little more patience, it will be available from summer 2022!
The environment is also taken into account: the proximity of lakes and rivers where to fish and bathe, the variety of fauna and the accessible summits. The babysitters offer an adapted kitchen, specific activities, dedicated spaces, workshops, games, and a multitude of special attentions that will delight the smallest of hikers.
Find the Family Shelters guides downloadable from the FFCAM website and available from all the Tourist Offices in these areas.
What rate should you expect?
The average rate for one night in a refuge per adult (dinner and breakfast included) is 40 €; for a child aged 8 to 18 it is around € 10 and for children under 8, most of the time, it’s free!
Our five favorite shelters
Refuge de l’Étendard: Grandes Rousses massif, Savoie, 2430 m
This refuge, which can be reached after a 2-hour walk on the easy Vallon route, is ideally located on the shores of Lake Bramant. If the more courageous opt for swimming, the others learn about fishing or set off to attack the surrounding streams and climbing rocks. The exceptional site of the Saint-Sorlin glacier is only a further 2 hours’ walk away, but long-time walkers can attempt the ascent of the Aiguille de la Laisse at 2,879 m and perhaps touch the snow. This refuge is judiciously organized with small dormitories of 4 to 10 people so that families can stay together. In addition, the beds are equipped with very cozy duvets!
Refuge de l’Étendard, Saint-Sorlin-d’Arves, 73530 Albiez-Montrond. Phone: 04 79 59 74 96.
Refuge des Souffles: Valgaudemar, Hautes-Alpes, 1975 m
Nicknamed the “little Himalayas of the Ecrins”, this wild valley keeps all its promises … The legs are still a little numb from the effort of the rather steep walk of the day from Villard Loubière, but the mind and the heart, they , float as in weightlessness. Up there, the terrace at the foot of the larch forest allows you not to miss one of the most beautiful sunsets on the mythical peaks above 3,000 m. Comfortable and modern with its small dormitories and hot showers, this refuge is bordered by the GR 54 which allows you to reach another, that of Olan or to taste the water of Lake Lautier.
Refuge des Souffles. 05800 Villard Loubière. Phone: 04 92 55 22 91.
Refuge de Sales: Haut-Giffre massif, Haute-Savoie, 1,877 m
In the heart of the Sixt-Passy nature reserve, the 700 m ascent is nicely punctuated by waterfalls. Halfway, a torrent clearly invites you to take a break: ibex, marmots, and even the rare bearded vulture are part of the decor. Up there, a vast mountain pasture unrolls its green carpet to run endlessly. Giant wooden games, football cages, and other tricycles are available, not to mention the sandbox. Inside, a library is dedicated to children and many board games are available. For getaways, “nature discovery” backpacks lent by the caretaker will answer all questions for 8-12 year olds.
Refuge de Sales. Ordinary Vicinal Road N ° 4 from Salvagny to Montagne de Salles, 74740 Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval. Phone: 09 88 18 42 93.
Pilatte refuge: Oisans massif, Isère, 2225 m
On its rocky promontory above the glacial cirque of Pilatte, this breathtakingly decorated refuge makes the link between the middle and the high mountains. An ideal observation site, accessible in particular from the village of Bérarde in a wild Oisans with a view of Ailefroide and the Ecrins. But up there, there is no lack of space and you will never see a badminton and pétanque pitch so high up! Inside, there is a piano available to all, many games as well as the personal collection of comics of the guardian Mathilde. During the day, if the smallest hikers stay on the surrounding trails, the apprentice climbers will aim for the Gioberney summit via the initiation race with ropes, crampons and ridge races.
Refuge of Pilatte. 38520 Saint-Christophe-en-Oisans – La Bérarde. Phone: 04 76 79 08 26.
Refuge des Garins: Bauges massif, Savoie, 1100 m
In addition to the 18 “hard” places, the Garins refuge has two yurts of five places in the middle of the mountain pastures, ideal for families.
This pretty stone cottage between forest and meadow has the advantage of being particularly accessible while offering a feeling of end of the world. You can get there in 1 hour from the village of Chatelard or practically by car, parking it 4 km further. Between Annecy and Chambéry, in the heart of the Bauges Natural Park, it borders the GR96. In addition to its 19 “hard” places, two 5-person yurts are set up in the middle of the mountain pasture. The hikes can be accompanied by a donkey, which will carry the picnic or the tired little hikers, and will spice up the outing. On site, the babysitter Véronique divinely cooks her selection of fresh and local products …