The Rifugio Guglielmina, a historic mountain hut high above the ski village of Alagna, in the Italian alps, was destroyed by fire in the early hours of yesterday.
Nine people sleeping there, including several staff, escaped unharmed, but high winds prevented help from reaching the hut, which is at 2,880m on the Col d’Olen. Its owner Alberto Calaba, a descendent of the family who first opened the hut in 1878, was down in the valley when the fire broke out.
Mike Crompton, who co-runs the Alagna specialist Zuba Ski (www.zubaski.com) and is a friend of Mr Calaba, said: “There were 100kph winds so helicopters couldn’t fly in the water needed to put out the fire, and they had to watch the refuge burn to the ground.
“Alberto had only opened for the winter about a week ago, and he’d just stocked up so he had 80,000 litres of fuel there.”
The hut, which slept 40, was a cut above most mountain refuges after recent renovation, with twin rooms, sheets and duvets, hot showers, Wi-fi, plenty of choice at the evening meal and a cellar of bottles from the best winemakers in Aosta and Piedmont.
Rustic yet comfortable, it was a favourite with ski tourers, off-piste enthusiasts and mountain guides as well as ordinary skiers, being an easy traverse from the piste, with wonderful views and acclaimed home-cooking.
“It was a full-on mountain hotel, with wonderful, welcoming staff – some of them from Nepal – and great guests,” adds Mike, who has been visiting for 15 years and sending guests there for eight.
“You always met great people there from all around the world. One night you could be there with 50 people, having a party, and the next with five, reading a book.
“You’d know you were coming to a friendly place – with a fantastic wine cellar. We’ve sent hundreds of people to stay there.”
Mike’s clients were in the Guglielmina last weekend, and a group was due to arrive next week for the Zuba’s annual five-day new year bash at the hut (http://www.zubaski.com/high-altitude-new-year.html). Alternative lodgings have been found in Alagna, but that is little consolation for regulars who loved the hut – and for its owners.
“It’s a tragedy for Alberto – when he renovated the place in the 1990s he carried stuff there on his back,” adds Mike.
“It has been in his family for six generations, and Queen Margherita used to go there when she went walking. You can’t rebuild more than 200 years of history.”
The cause of the fire is being investigated. There is a theory that it may have begun in the generator room.
To visit the hut’s website (in English and Italian), which contains a history of the hut and pictures, go to http://www.rifugioguglielmina.com/en/firsthome.
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