If sleeping in a mountain hut located at the heart of the Dolomites, a UNESCO Heritage Site, isn't on your bucket list, it absolutely should be. On a trip to the Trentino region of Italy this summer, I had the opportunity to stay at Rifugio Roda di Vael (2,283 m) in the middle of the Catinaccio Group, and while it was my first time sleeping in a mountain hut, it certainly won't be the last.
The experience was every bit as relaxing, challenging, and bucket-list-worthy as I imagined.
Note: Our entire itinerary, including sleeping at Rifugio Roda di Vael, took 24 hours to complete.
For the sake of simplicity and length, I divided this post into two parts. This is Part I, and it covers our hike to the mountain hut and our overnight stay.
Part II covers our hike the morning after through the Catinaccio Group and toward Vigo di Fassa.
The map below marks our the entire itinerary, which can be done in reverse as well (Vigo di Fassa –> Carezza). Head over to Mapcarta for the original map.
There are a number of different ways to get to Rifugio Roda di Vael (also known as Rotwandhütte). We started at the Paolina chairlift in Carezza, which goes to Rifugio Paolina (2,125 m).
As luck would have it, as soon as we got out of the car, a torrential downpour started. Luckily, we left the worst of it behind once we got off the chairlift, and we were lucky that it started while we were still able to get some very fashionable raincoats!
It was a good reminder that you should be prepared for every season when you're hiking through the Dolomites, as you often encounter at least a couple of seasons during your adventure, if not all of them.
The hut we were hiking towards is located in a valley, just behind the mountain peaks that can be seen from the chairlift (see the top-left picture). All we had to do, was hike behind it, and voilà ! No big deal.
We turned to the right of the Rifugio and took path no. 539, which started off with a fairly steep climb. At least, it felt that way after spending a week doing all sorts of adrenaline-pumping activities through Trentino! (You can check out my experience going via ferrata, canyoning, and hiking from Passo Rolle).
Although challenging, the ascent was definitely rewarding, snaking up through the pastures in the shadows of Punta Masare on our left, and with the Latemar Group, one of the smallest groups of the whole Dolomites, peaking on our right in the distance through the clouds. The view was enough to distract you from your muscles aching.
The path started leveling out, and we noticed a large bronze eagle in the distance. We learned that the monument, sitting at an altitude of 2,349 m, is dedicated to Theodor Christomannos, a pioneer of tourism in the Dolomites.
Theodor Christomannos was a keen mountaineer, who pioneered the development of high mountain tourism.
Among his many projects, he's famously known for being involved in the construction of The Great Dolomites Road, which runs through breathtaking scenery, from Alto Ridge, through Trentino, and to Cadore, and links the local populations to tourism. His vision was to link the whole Dolomite area and to provide access to the individual valleys.
The existence of the road led to many hotels and mountains huts being built. In fact, Christomannos was one of the construction sponsors for Rifugio Roda del Vael, which opened in August of 1906.
Finished in 1909, the road contributed significantly to the tourist development of this mountain area and is now traveled by millions every year. Without Christomannos and his far-sighted vision for tourism, this area would not be what it is today, and in fact, this hike might not even have been possible.
After the monument, we continued right on the trail no. 549, a flat path from here on out! It's also where the backside of the peaks visible from the chairlift became visible, with the valley opening up before your very eyes. It's incredible how much the scenery changes after only an hour of hiking.
Our guide blew our minds when he informed us that millions of years ago, the area opened up before us was a coral reef, completely underwater. Mother Nature is truly amazing. I couldn't help but think about how this landscape (and our current coral reefs) would look like millions of years from now.
With that, we turned another corner and we spotted Rifugio Roda di Vael in the distance.
The entire hike is 2 km and normally takes about 45 minutes from Rifugio Paolina if you continue at a consistent pace. It took us longer than an hour, which is expected when you put six content creators with cameras in jawdropping scenery!
History of Rifugio Roda di Vael
The mountain hut opened in 1906, but it wasn't until 1983 that it was renovated and enlarged. Originally equipped with 20 sleeping places, it's since been expanded to 59 beds, split between 3 bedrooms (of 4 beds each) and 2 large dormitories.
In 1986, a new electricity generator, four water containers, rainwater collecting pump, and a service suspension railway were built. As a result, there are now two coin-operated warm showers, making your stay even more comfortable.
It's had a few managers over the last 100+ years, most of them being alpine guides who held the position long-term (some as long as 30 years).
The hut has been managed by the Deluca family since 2005. Roberta, who took over from her husband in 2011, is so passionate about life at the refuge and so welcoming, you feel it in every interaction with her and her tight-knit staff.
It feels like staying overnight with a family, and that's a special experience to have, amplified even more by being in the middle of such dynamic scenery.
Staying at the Refuge
The refuge is open from May 28 to October 9, snow conditions permitting. It's best to contact Roberta ahead of time to confirm it's open before you plan your hike.
Everything used at the hut, including the delicious and locally-sourced food, is brought from Vigo di Fassa town twice a week using the suspension railway.
We placed our dinner orders as soon as we got to the refuge, to give the team time to organize everything.
The menu is filled with local dishes and appetizing options, and you really can't go wrong with any of the plates. Whatever you end up choosing, I recommend leaving room for the apple strudel, it's not to be missed!
Sunrise in the Mountains
One of the perks of sleeping in nature aside from the crisp mountain air is being able to catch a killer sunrise! We had lights-out at 10 pm, which I was perfectly fine with me after a day of hiking. I slept so well, and before I knew it, it was 5:15 am and time for sunrise!
I stumbled outside, which is not something I normally do when I travel, but again, it's not every day I get to wake up at 2,283 meters above sea level.
Seeing mountain life come alive at the crack of dawn is worth the effort of waking up early. The serenity in the air is almost better than coffee (hey, I said almost!).
The hut's mascot, the ever-friendly Spritz was up early as well, and I couldn't have asked for better company!
Post-sunrise, we were surprised to find a hearty breakfast already waiting for us.
Soon after, travelers started packing into the dining room, ready to start a new day with a great breakfast, before continuing on through the Dolomites.
What To Bring
There are a number of things you should keep in mind when sleeping in a mountain hut. Firstly, you will be carrying all your stuff with you, so try packing as light as possible. If you can, bring only a backpack with everything you need for the night(s) you're spending in the mountains. Don't bring more than you need!
The hut provides pillows, but you'll need to bring other bed linens. In addition, consider limiting the number of electronics you bring with you and/or need to recharge or bring portable batteries with you. Mountain huts run on generators, and with 59 beds available, there isn't enough electricity to run operations and have each person charge one or two items, especially at the same time.
Here's a handy list of what you should consider bringing with you:
- Sleeping bag
- Coins (for showers)
- Portable batteries
- Extra layers, regardless of the season
- Camera, to capture the breathtaking views
Trekking Back Down
After breakfast, we packed up and started our trek through the Catinnacio Group towards Vigo di Fassa, via the Ciampediè cable car. We took route no. 545 down for a beautiful 2.5-hour trek through stunning scenery.
Other Mountain Huts in the Area
Below are the main points of interest if you're looking to visit Rifugio Roda di Vael. The red markers are the starting point (town + chairlift) I mention in this post. The yellow markers are where we ended up (chairlift + town) after our hike through Catinnacio. However, you can do the route in reverse — start from Vigo di Fassa and end in Carezza.
If you're planning a longer hike through the Catinaccio Group, you can find a list of all the mountain huts you can eat or stay at during your time here.