2011 Mountain activities

Dreaming of wide open spaces?  Wishing you could live the legend of the great mountaineers of the past century?  Or simply seeking an authentic mountain experience?  Mountain refuges are the answer.  Far from cliché tourist accommodation, they are exciting alternatives to your standard hotel.  Here, an overview.

Dreaming of wide open spaces?  Wishing you could live the legend of the great mountaineers of the past century?  Or simply seeking an authentic mountain experience?  Mountain refuges are the answer.  Far from cliché tourist accommodation, they are exciting alternatives to your standard hotel.  Here, an overview.

Mountain refuges were originally created as spaces where one could escape from danger, providing shelter from a harsh environment.  They appeared first of all on the high mountain passes, for the benefit of travelers, during their alpine crossings.  In France, the first mountain refuge was constructed in 1793 at Montenvers, at the edge of the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice) glacier; the majority of the refuges were built during the second half of the 19th century.  Most of these were rudimentary constructions; shepherds’ huts with collective sleeping arrangements.   

Although their standards are not so lofty as those of « classic » hotels, today’s refuges resemble less and less their rustic predecessors.  Maintaining their logic of public access – meaning accessible prices for all – modern refuges take into account the demand for increasingly comfortable conditions, as well as environmental factors.  Between 2000 and 2009, the Club Alpin Français undertook the renovation of over 20 refuges, as a contribution to the territorial tourism policies of the mountains.

The renovation of the Refuge du Goûter, at Mont Blanc, is the perfect example of how these modern concerns were taken into account.  The new refuge, situated 200 metres from the original, and whose opening is set for June 2012, will carry the HQE label, indicating the high environmental quality of the construction.  Electricity will be provided principally by solar panels and wind turbines, the WC will use recycled water,  and a central double flux will retain exhaust heat in order to heat the air coming in through a rotating exchanger.  The objective of these initiatives, however, is to make the refuges more respectful of the environment and more comfortable for visitors, not to transform them into  luxury hotels.  The refuges will retain two important characteristics: accessibility by foot only (or by ski, in winter), and a guaranteed conviviality among their guests, who can share knowledge, stories and advice.

Refuge du Goûter (Saint-Gervais-Mont-Blanc, Haute-Savoie)

The highest supervised refuge in France, at 3817 metres, open from June 10th until the end of September, welcomes climbers on the heights of Mont Blanc.  100 places.  Fees: 27.50 euros per night, breakfast 7 euros, dinner 24 euros.  Reservations required, call +33 (0)4 50 54 40 93.

Refuge du  lac de Rabuons (Saint-Etienne-de-Tinée, Alpes-Maritimes)

Situated at an altitude of 2573 metres, on the shores of a three-hectare lake, on the Tour du Grand Cimon route, this stone-walled refuge, staffed from mid-June until the end of September, counts 36 places and proposes a meal service.  18 euros per night.  Call +33 (0)4 93 23 04 11 for reservations.

Refuge de l’Etendard (Saint-Sorlin d’Arves, Savoy)

Opening out to the Glacier de St Sorlin in the south, and the Aiguilles de l'Argentière to the north, on the shore of Grand Lake (or Lake Bramans), this refuge at an altitude of 2430 metres, renovated in 2007, is the starting point for numerous family hikes.  Meal service and hot showers are available.  26.60 euros per night, call +33 (0)4 79 59 74 96 for reservations.  

Refuge La Ferme du Tornieux (Sallanches, Haute-Savoie)

This alpine chalet, at an altitude of 1450 metres, built in 1892 and transformed into a restaurant in 1984, is now an inviting refuge with comfortable beds (sheets provided, rare in the refuges), 2 dormitories as well as a number of private rooms (for 2, 4, or 6 persons), and a washroom with 4 WC, 3 sinks and  4 showers with hot water.  Demi-pension accomodation: 65 euros per night.  Reservations +33 (0)4 50 93 78 54 / (0)6 50 26 66 94

Centre de montagne du Jura – Chalet Nordique les Tuffes (Les Rousses, Jura)

Ideally situated in the Parc Naturel du Haut-Jura, at an altitude of 1217 metres, on the French-Swiss border, this « refuge », completely renovated, has shared rooms for 2 to 6 persons, a room outfitted for disabled guests, a bar, a spacious dining room with meal service, and all this at only 1 km from the GR 9 and the Grande Traversée du Jura.  15.50 euros per night, 37.50 euros for accomodation + dinner + breakfast.  Reservations +44 (0)3 84 60 02 95

Refuge du Plain du Canon (Saint-Maurice-sur-Moselle, Vosges)

This unstaffed refuge is situated slightly below the St. Maurice route at the Ballon d’Alsace, at the edge of a clearing in a national forest, on the north-western slopes of the Ballon d’Alsace.  A small, prefabricated building with electricity and potable water, perfect for accessing the GR 7 and the GR 533.  Keys can be claimed at the CAF Nancy: +33 (0)3 83 32 37 73

Refuge des Oulètes de Gaube (Cauterets, Hautes-Pyrénées)

From its newly renovated granite promontory at 2151 metres of altitude, this refuge offers a superb view of the Vignemale massif. One can admire the north face, the Piton Carré, the Aiguille des Glaciers, and Chausenque. Accessible from the Gaube valley from the Pont d'Espagne (Spanish bridge).  85 places, possibility for meal service.  20.60 euros per night. Reservations: +33 (0)5 62 92 62 97

Gite d’étape des Hauts-Plateaux (Corrençon-en-Vercors, Isère)

Ideal for hikers and cross-country skiers, this completely renovated gîte is located at the entrance of the Réserve naturelle des Hauts Plateaux du Vercors, on the GR91.  Welcomes individuals and groups. 13 euros per night. Reservations : +33 (0)6 48 05 68 48

Refuge des Bouillouses (Les Angles, Eastern Pyrenees)

Located at an altitude of 2005 metres, near Lake Bouillouses, a favourite fishing spot, this refuge counts 59 places, hot showers and meal service. It is an ideal base camp for hiking, alpinism, mountain biking, climbing, and via ferrata.  15.50 euros per night.  Reservations +33 (0)4 68 04 93 88

Refuge du Viso (Ristolas, Hautes-Alpes)

Poised on a plain at 2460 metres, surrounded by lakes and mountain pastures, therefuge du Viso is a favourite for mountaineers en route for Mont Viso, the Pointe de Rome and the Pointe d’Udine. Renovated in 2002, it has a capacity of 65 guests and meal service. 20.20 euros per night. Reservations +33 (0)4 92 46 81 81

Photos :  Pascal Colpe, Philippe Royer

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