Why book a remote mountain hut for your next family break?

Is overnighting in a mountain hut, high in the Alps, the ultimate exciting family sleepover? At Refuge du Mont Pourri, in the peaks above the French town of Les Arcs, the answer is a resounding yes.

By Rebecca Miles
Published 3 Mar 2023, 11:00 GMT
Hikers descending from the Col du Plan Séry in Vanoise National Park, with Mont Pourri in ...

Hikers descending from the Col du Plan Séry in Vanoise National Park, with Mont Pourri in the background.

Photograph by Alamy

As a novel place to bed down, our bunks in the Refuge du Mont Pourri make the top of my six-year-old daughter’s list. There’s a wide wonder in Evie’s eyes as we’re shown the bottom row of a bunk bed, which is four berths wide, allowing our family to sleep together side-by-side. “This is our bed?” she exclaims. “Cool!”

And the wonder isn’t restricted to the bunk room. Set in the shadow of mighty Mont Pourri’s 12,400ft peak, surrounded by a gallery of vast glaciers, our beds for the night have a spectacular setting. The traditional high-altitude hut sits at 7,789ft, deep within Vanoise National Park in the peaks above Les Arcs. Built in 1974, its purpose, like all such refuges, is to accommodate people moving on foot through the mountains.

A simple structure, the refuge sleeps up to 50 in three bunk rooms. The communal living space has large tables and a couple of sinks off to the side. There’s a wood burning stove as the central focal point, with two doors leading off to the shower room and toilet; another to the kitchen and living space used by the hut’s resident gardien.

Refuge du Mont Pourri’s remote location means supplies of fuel and food have to be delivered on foot, so nothing is wasted. Electricity use, generated by solar panels, is discouraged; guests are advised to bring torches and power banks to charge their phones. This all might seem an odd choice for a family trip, but we wanted an Alpine adventure for beginners, and Refuge du Mont Pourri, a 90-minute walk from the top of the Transarc gondola above Les Arcs (where we had a spacious apartment for a week) offered just that. 

The hike was a reminder that you’re always at the mercy of the weather in the mountains. Our booking at the refuge was pushed back two days because storms and high winds had closed the lifts, so we set off from the top of the gondola with some apprehension. Despite the sun shining overhead, dark clouds still loomed above the peaks. 

The route to the refuge signposted an hour and 20 minutes’ walk, but, with a six-year-old used to flat London life, it took us closer to two hours. We didn’t mind, as the path gently slopes down across meadows before zigzagging some 160ft up to the Crête des Lanchettes. Crossing the ridge, we passed a small sign marking the entrance to Vanoise National Park and the already impressive views stepped up a gear, as if to match their protected status.

The path descends into the valley, then flattens out as it winds its way between big boulders and across mountain streams. We spotted marmots among the tall grass, buzzards and eagles overhead, and sedimentary rocks rich with the possibility of fossils. Despite the relatively short walk, arriving at the refuge felt like a real achievement; as though we were properly in the middle of nowhere. 

It’s still only mid-afternoon, so we check in with the gardien, leave our backpacks and head back outside. Scrambling up the hill behind the refuge, we hop across a stream and slowly pick our way among delicate Alpine flowers along a narrow path heading up the valley. 

The dark clouds finally disappear over the course of the afternoon, so we order Brasserie du Mont Blanc beers, one of the few creature comforts up here, and borrow games from the refuge’s well-stocked shelves to play on a table in the sun. Apart from a tall, narrow wooden hut housing an outdoor loo, there are no other buildings in sight — just mountains, in all their jagged, mighty glory, and some distinctive Tarentaise cows, with their copper coats and bells jangling as they chew on the steep pastures below.

Dinner is served at 7pm daily. The gardien, Laurent Julien, who’s been in the post since 2005, has two friends helping him and together they prepare a four-course meal for the 22 people in the refuge tonight. Seated around communal tables, we start with vegetable soup, followed by beef bourguignon, a cheese course and chocolate brownies. We all muck in to help serve the food and clear the dishes, while attempting to join in the conversion in our best French (we’re the only Brits here this evening). 

Everyone retires early. We’ve come prepared for bed with eye masks, ear plugs and sleeping-bag liners, and the refuge supplies blankets and pillows; my worries about it being cold are unfounded. Despite there being another family in our dormitory on the bunks opposite, the room, and the night outside, is still, and sleep is sound. We all wake naturally before 7am, and I badger Evie to get dressed quickly so we can go outside to watch the sun breaking over the mountains. The majesty is a little lost on a six-year-old, but she humours me. 

She’s more interested in our breakfast: a simple affair of bread, jam, tea or coffee and juice. Everyone else is hurrying to pack up and get on with their day’s hike, but we’re in no rush to leave. The Refuge du Mont Pourri has given us enough of a taste of hut-to-hut walking to know we want more, and as we set off back along the valley towards Les Arcs, we’re already making plans for next year. Evie’s on board, providing there are more epic bunk beds and chocolate brownies for pudding.

How to do it

Refuge du Mont Pourri costs £44 per adult; £18 for under-8s, half-board.

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