23/12/11: Nine people evacuated as Rifugio Guglielmina burns down

High winds fanned the flames on the morning of 22 December

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.

The dining room, where a convivial supper sometimes turned into a party

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.

The hut's distinctive warm tones on the exterior were mirrored inside by the welcome

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.

Twin rooms - in a class far above the usual hut dorms

“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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Filed under Food and drink, Italy, Off-piste, Ski touring, Transport

8 responses to “23/12/11: Nine people evacuated as Rifugio Guglielmina burns down

  1. What a loss. Visited Guglielmina in january and planned to go there again since it was such a lovely place.

  2. jeff brown

    This is tough to hear. Had managed to spend a little time there several years ago and was planning on returning in a couple of weeks. Oh well! It will be missed. Our condolences to the owner as he is a great guy.

  3. Michael

    This was really sad news. We stayed there last winter and totally fell in love with the Place and the people. We had booked another visit this winter and we were looking forward to meet alberto and fransesco again and now this. My thoughts goes to alberto and his family. All the work they put in to renovate the Place and now its all gone. With tears in My eyes. /Michael

  4. Vanessa

    Super sad. a very special place and I hope Alberto will have the strength to get it back to its former glory, once more. I’m sure they’ll be hundreds of willing supporters, me included.

  5. I loved spending time at Guglielmina, there was something very special about the feel and taste of the old place. Alberto and Francesco always excellent hosts. I made it an annual pilgrimage for the last 7 years. Even took my wife there once and when later someone asked her where it was, she said ‘I’m not sure but it was above the clouds’. A fitting description I felt. Thanks for the great memories ‘Gug’.

  6. Raggo from Sweden

    This sad news really leaves a thorn in my heart. I cry with you Alberto and if you can find some comfort in my thoughts you have loads of it.

  7. Kim from Denmark

    Scary! Scary! Slept in the room as seen in the picture – just 11 days before burning – now it´s gone.
    Great place. Had plans to visit the hut again next year. We had 3 great skidays just before chrismas. Friendly, frendly staff – very hospitable – good food and especially the wine. Hope that Alberto and his family will rebuild the place. Then we will come back. Sad Sad/ Kim

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