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Incredible Hut-to-Hut Hikes: Hiking the Mont Blanc Trail

By Kelly Lack

Jan 17, 2012

From the July/August 2011 issue

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Go on an epic hut-to-hut with these outfitters.

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Last summer, Tim and Kathy Turner took a break from the Mont Blanc hiking circuit for a night at Refuge des Mottets, a French backcountry lodge decorated with cowbells and old iron cookware. The Turners, from the United States, were the only trekkers there besides the jovial members of a French hiking club. All enjoyed a hearty, family-style dinner of beef bourguignon, tomato salad, and homemade bread. After the meal, the lodge’s owner pulled out an accordion, and the club burst into song. “Everyone was swaying back and forth, locked arm and arm,” says Tim. “These were classic French anthems—tunes that every Frenchman knew.” 

For more than 200 years, hikers from Europe and farther abroad have explored the ancient hunting and trading routes that make up the 112-mile Mont Blanc trail. Named after the highest peak in the Alps, the trek winds through France, Italy, and Switzerland, looping around the Mont Blanc Massif range, past conifer forests, glacial waterfalls, and alpine meadows covered in bright blue gentians and golden buttercups.

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The co-owner of tour company Distant Journeys, Andrea Ellison Mulla, led the Turners on the 12-day trip. “Andrea often knew three generations of locals at spots along the route—the grandmas, mothers, and daughters,” says Kathy. “We’d stop by a hotel or shop whether we needed to or not, just to say hello or have a coffee.” At night, the travelers stayed in comfortable mountain village lodges, some with wooden balconies draped in red and pink geraniums, or at rustic, family-owned refuges. Tim recalls, “Cultural barriers break down very quickly at the refuges. Everybody comes together to wash the day’s hiking clothes in tubs and string them up on clotheslines. Then you sit down at big, communal tables for a meal of risotto or polenta, plus plenty of beer and wine.” As the Turners experienced, sometimes a spirited round of singing follows.

What the couple will remember the most, though, is the way the Europeans approached the trail. “They know how to hike. They just slow down and enjoy it all,” says Tim. “In the States, we’re too damn fast. You don’t need to get there as quickly as possible. Talk to people along the trail. Stop, take off your backpack, have a snack. You’re on vacation.”

Distant Journeys, (888) 845-5781, from $3,175 for a 12-day trip, including lodging and most meals. Photo by Max Timchenko.

More hut-to-hut hikes

Rouge River Canyon

Oregon’s Rogue River Canyon

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In the late 1800s, a band of gold miners cleared a trail deep into southwest Oregon’s Rogue River Canyon, along the charging river and through old-growth Douglas fir forest. This is the route you’ll hike during Rogue Wilderness Adventure’s four-day, 40-mile journey. Guides, all certified naturalists, ferry your luggage by raft from one remote lodge to the next. Every morning begins with a briefing on the day’s route. After a peaceful solo hike through the woods, your guides meet you along the trail for a picnic lunch. Each evening you share a home-cooked dinner at one of the lodges. (Don’t miss Black Bar’s sourdough biscuits and jam.) Later, the guides will regale you with tales of Bigfoot sightings.

Rogue Wilderness Adventures, (800) 336-1647. From $989 for the four-day Raft-Supported Wilderness Lodge Trip, including meals and lodging.

Kumaoni Foothills of the Himalayas

An overnight train from Delhi delivers travelers to the tranquil Kumaoni foothills of the Himalayas. With local guides, hikers explore rural Indian villages, terraced rice paddies, and Hindu temples. At night, travelers settle into authentic village houses outfitted with cozy beds and woven mat floors. For a post-hike retreat, tack on three nights at 360o Leti, a lodge at 8,000 feet, surrounded by rhododendron bushes and wild cherry trees. Here Shakti operates four teak-and-slate cottages, each with two walls of windows that frame the Himalayas’ snowy summits. While there, learn to make a traditional dish, such as Parsi curry chicken with apricots, with chef Yeshi.

Shakti, (866) 401-3705. From $3,070, for an eight-day trip, including meals, lodging, and three nights at the 360o Leti.

Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu

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Trek through the Andes to the 15th-century Incan ruins of Machu Picchu on the lesser-traveled Salkantay Trail. Four luxurious lodges—three with outdoor hot tubs at the foot of craggy peaks, the last in a lush avocado orchard—will serve as your accommodations. At the first, Salkantay Lodge, men from the Quero area give offerings to Pachamama (Mother Earth) to ensure your safe passage. Along the 39-mile guided hike, you pass icefalls and glacial lakes, climb up mountain passes circled by Andean condors, and walk through coffee plantations and orchid-filled forests. Then, from the Incan archaeological site of Llactapata, you’ll spot mystical Machu Picchu in the distance.

Mountain Lodges of Peru, (877) 491-5261. From $2,560 for a seven-day trip, including meals and lodging.

>> Next: The World’s Most Luxurious “Hut-to-Hut” Hikes

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