Questions / Answers



Here are the replies to some questions often asked by the walkers… Do also check
our country specific pages and for more information feel free to contact our National Secretariats!


1.    What is the difficulty level of the Via Alpina trails?
2.    When can I walk on the Via Alpina trails? What is the weather like?
3.    Which equipment do I need?
4.    Do you organise any tours? Is there any luggage transport service?
5.    Which guidebooks are available?
6.    Do I need to take maps with me? Where can I get them?
7.    Do I have to book each accommodation in advance? Are there any discounts for Via Alpinists?
8.    Can I eat my own food in the huts?
9.    Is it possible to bivouac rather than stay in the recommended huts and inns?
10.    Will I find drinking water along the way?
11.    Can I take my dog along?
12.    Is the Via Alpina accessible by mountain bike?
13.    Do I need a car / how to reach the Via Alpina by public transportation?
14.    What about administrative requirements (visa, health insurance...)?
15.    Are there any dangerous animals in the Alps?
16.    And what else should I know about walking in the Alps?


1.    
What is the difficulty level of the Via Alpina trails?
The five colours of the Via Alpina trails (Red, Purple, Yellow, Green and Blue) are simply names and not a difficulty code! When they are free of snow, the trails do not require any mountaineering or climbing experience nor rope, crampons or ice axe. They follow tracks ranging from broad trails to narrow mountain paths (no glacier crossing).

However, the Via Alpina is a mountain route. Some stretches are exposed (vertiginous) and being sure of foot is essential, especially in wet weather or if snowfields are still present (refer to the 3-level difficulty rating on our stage descriptions in the
Trails section of the website). In places, some scrambling over boulders, or walking through dense vegetation in the less used low-elevation paths may be involved. Despite all the efforts of the local marking teams, orientation may also sometimes be a problem (especially if fog breaks in), and it is important to take topographic maps and a compass with you. Finally, you should of course plan your trip according to the level of fitness of the weakest person in your party, minding the distances and even more the elevation differences.

For more details on specific stages, please contact the tourist offices, the mountain hut keepers, the local mountain leaders and guides, and the local Alpine clubs or local hiking associations. The contacts of the competent tourist office and hut keepers are given on our stage pages for each stopping point. Contacts of the local Alpine clubs and hiking associations can be found on the websites of the following federations:

Slovenian Alpine Club:
www.pzs.si
Italian Alpine Club:
www.cai.it
South Tyrolean Alpine Club:
www.alpenverein.it
Austrian Alpine Club:
www.alpenverein.at
German Alpine Club:
www.alpenverein.de
Liechtenstein’s Alpine Club:
www.alpenverein.li
Swiss Hiking Federation:
www.wandern.ch  
Swiss Alpine Club:
www.sac-cas.ch
French Hiking Federation:
www.ffrandonnee.fr
French Alpine Club:
www.ffcam.fr
Monegasque Alpine Club:
www.club-alpin.asso.mc
 
2.    
When can I walk on the Via Alpina trails? What is the weather like?
The hiking season in the Alps typically ranges from June till October, with some areas (southernmost parts of the Yellow, Red and Blue Trails, and some small stretches set up for winter walking) accessible all year round. Above 2000m, and in some years even lower, snowfields can remain well into the summer (until early July, especially on north-facing slopes and in rocky corners) and there may be permanent snow again from late September, which makes crossings quite more challenging. It is therefore important to inquire locally about the practicality of the stages if you plan to hike in the early or late season (contact the tourist offices, the mountain hut keepers, the local mountain leaders and guides, the local Alpine clubs or local hiking associations –
see above). Also check the exact opening dates of the huts and inns: the months indicated in our stage descriptions are only a general guidance. Outside of their opening times, many mountain huts belonging to Alpine associations also have a “winter room” available to sleep in – but not all of them, and you may need to pick up a key in advance!

The weather changes quickly at high altitudes. Be prepared for heat as well as snow showers even in the midst of the summer, and thunderstorms especially in late afternoons (avoid exposed ridges then!).

3.    
Which equipment do I need?
Walking shoes with a good gripping sole and ankle support, various layers of clothes to adapt to changing temperatures, rain cover (also for your rucksack), walking poles if you wish. Sun cream, first-aid kit – don’t rely on mobile phones to call for immediate help, the networks’ covering is very patchy outside of inhabited areas (and you may not be able to recharge the batteries frequently). Maps and compass (
see below). And of course, food if there is none on the way, and always enough snacks and water (depending on the availability of springs), also for emergencies.

For the night, it is advisable to take a light (silk or cotton) sleeping bag for your comfort and hygiene in the huts (it is actually compulsory in the huts of the Austrian and German Alpine Clubs) and a headlamp/torch. Do not burden yourself with excessive amounts of toiletries (especially so as many mountain huts, due to limited water and energy supply and waste water treatment difficulties, do not have any showers) – and prefer biodegradable products.

4.    
Do you organise any tours? Is there any luggage transport service?
The Via Alpina network doesn’t itself organise any tours, but we are establishing more and more partnerships with tour operators and agencies who offer guided or self-guided trips on and around the Via Alpina. See the current offers on the
Tours section of the website, as well as local tourist activities presented on the page of each stage point.

Many of these tours include a luggage transportation service (using vans or pack animals). Also, some local providers or mountain huts organise on-demand rucksack transportation: see links on the stage points’ pages.

5.    
Which guidebooks are available?
All the printed guidebooks and documents on the Via Alpina currently available, whether published by our network or by others, are listed in the
Documentation section of the website. Due to the specificity of the market, it hasn’t yet been possible to find publishers for guidebooks of all the Via Alpina sections in all required languages. This is also one reason why we will soon offer you the possibility to create your own guidebook online and print it.  


6.    
Do I need to take maps with me? Where can I get them?
The Google® maps displayed on our website are only meant to help you in planning your walk. The stage descriptions have been put together by a large number of local partners in each of the Alpine regions and are updated at varying intervals depending on the region. We are aware that there are still some inaccuracies and differences in quality in these descriptions, and in marking on the trails as well. On the way, we strongly recommend that you take either a GPS device or proper topographic maps in scales 1:50.000 or 1:25.000 with you, and a compass. If you are on a long-distance walk, you can use poste restante services to receive and send batches along the way.

On our stage descriptions we indicate the usual maps available for each area, many of which now also display the Via Alpina routes. They can be ordered from any good travel bookshop and also from the following websites (often with discounted prices for the associations’ members):
www.dav-shop.de (Eastern and Central Alps, some for the Western Alps too), www.alpenverein.at/shop (Eastern and Central Alps), www.pzs.si/index.php?stran=Trgovina&kat=6 (Slovenia), www.shop.wandern.ch (Switzerland), www.ffrandonnee.fr/boutique/catalogue-topos-guides.aspx (France), and the own websites of each publisher.

7.    
Do I have to book each accommodation in advance? Are there any discounts for Via Alpinists?
Yes and no. Due to the isolated locations, mountain hut keepers have to manage their supplies very closely so they appreciate knowing in advance how many people wish to stay and especially to eat. Also, some huts may be full in the high season and on weekends. It is always best for you and for the hosts if you give them a quick call (you can often do this the evening before from your previous staying place). Some huts are linked to on-line reservation systems (see links on our accommodation information) but there is currently none covering the whole of the Via Alpina. This being said, if there is only one or two of you, you will usually find a space.

As regards accommodation in villages, situation varies strongly. To avoid wandering from one inn to the next after a hard day’s walk, you should also book directly or via the tourist offices a day or so in advance.

There is currently no overall agreement with accommodation structures along the way regarding discounts to Via Alpina hikers. However, most major European mountain clubs or associations are part of the so-called “UIAA reciprocity agreement” and membership in one of them gives access to significant discounts in all huts owned by any of those associations (up to 50% discount on night prices and sometimes also food): this is certainly a good investment if you are doing a long-distance walk. Note that the English-speaking Britannia section of the Austrian Alpine Club welcomes members from all over the world (www.aacuk.org.uk).

8.    
Can I eat my own food in the huts?
Nowadays, in mountain huts in the Alps most people tend to buy their supper and breakfast on the spot. This reduces greatly the weight to carry, gives opportunities to sample regional specialities and provides an important source of income for the mountain hut managers (who often only retain a minimal portion of the overnight fee and/or pay a rent to the organisation owning the hut).

Still, the huts belonging to Alpine associations accept self-catering guests, as a public service, especially with people on a low budget in mind. But only few of them have a dedicated corner for cooking (almost only in France and Switzerland) or allow cooking on the tabletops: you may have to cook outside. Even less huts still provide cooking stoves.

Privately-owned huts often do not allow self-catering.

9.    
Is it possible to bivouac rather than stay in the recommended huts and inns?
Sleeping in the open, with or without a tent, is a great way to experience nature – and of course, cheap. However there is a possible negative impact on the environment. Also, many areas in the Alps are used for forestry or as pastures. Land can be public or privately owned. Therefore, legislation as regards bivouacking varies greatly from country to country but also from place to place. It is forbidden in most National Parks and areas under strict protection (check via the links on our stage information), most forests, and also all over the Tyrol, Salzburg and Carinthia provinces in Austria and some municipalities all over the Alps. There may be controls by wardens and you could be fined if you infringe the legislation.

Outside of these areas of exclusion, it is often theoretically necessary to obtain permission from the landowner – which is of course rarely practicable in remote areas. There, bivouacking above the tree limit is usually tolerated for a single night and a small number of people if all necessary precautions are take (see below). Professional organisers who intend to use one area regularly must absolutely obtain permission from the owner or the authorities.

Different to, for instance, North American wilderness areas, there are only few specially designated bivouac areas in the Alps. However, outside of their opening times, many mountain huts belonging to Alpine associations also have an open “winter room” available to sleep in. When the huts are open, you could ask the managers for permission to bivouac close by and possibly use the bathrooms against a small fee. We also signal in our stage information various unmanned shelters available.

If you do bivouac, be responsible:
-    Avoid sensitive areas favoured by wild fauna, such as: transition areas between forest and meadows, copses, areas with lots of animal tracks, bushy areas, wetlands, river beds and islands;
-    Set up your camp at least 100m from any stream to avoid contamination;
-    Use cooking stoves safely, only light open fires where permitted and in areas cleared of flammable materials, never leave a fire unattended until fully extinguished;
-    Do not make noise, especially at dusk and dawn where wild animals are most active;
-    Set up a natural toilet at least 50m from any stream; bury or cover excrements and biodegradable toilet paper, take any other materials (sanitary pads, tampons etc.) with you;
-    Wash and wash-up at least 30m from any stream, using only biodegradable products;
-    Keep your dog on a leash at dusk and during the night;
-    Do not leave any food (or plates and pots with food remains) outside at night;
-    Obviously, leave the place as it was before, take all rubbish with you (even compostable material, which may take years to decompose at high altitude) and dispose of it in appropriate containers in the valley (or, even better, at home).

10.    
Will I find drinking water along the way?
There are of course many springs and streams along Alpine paths, and fountains in many mountain villages. However, the drinking quality of the water can rarely be guaranteed. It is not advisable to drink in or below areas pastured by animals (livestock or wildlife) and you may consider using purification systems commercially available.

In limestone areas, especially at the beginning and end of the summer, springs can be very rare – enquire at your starting point, you may have to carry your water for the whole day.

In mountain huts, you may have to pay for drinking water if, as is sometimes the case especially at the beginning and end of the season or in limestone areas, there is no spring serving the hut.

11.    
Can I take my dog along?
In most places, yes, but in some protected areas (such as most National Parks) dogs are prohibited due to the possible hazard to wildlife. You will find information about the protected status of the area, and usually a web link, on each of our stage descriptions: check the regulations in place!

It is also often required that you keep your dog on a leash when crossing areas grazed by cattle or sheep. Please respect the work of the shepherds. Dogs are usually not allowed to sleep in the mountain huts.

You should also check immunisation requirements for entering each country.

12.    
Is the Via Alpina accessible by mountain bike?
The Via Alpina has been designed for the enjoyment of the walker. Therefore, many parts are not adapted to MTB and on some bikes are even prohibited. When
Pietro Marescotti completed his tour of the 5 Via Alpina trails with his MTB, he had been able to cycle for about one third of the way, had to push his bike for another third and carry it for the remainder. He enjoyed his trip immensely but this is not something we can recommend as a designated MTB route.

However, there are plenty of tracks along and around the Via Alpina for the enjoyment of the mountain bikers. Enquire with tourist offices and specialist associations, who will be able to make recommendations, and please always be considerate for other users of the trails.

Maybe one day there will be a Via Alpina for wheels, but that won’t be ready in the immediate future...

13.    
Do I need a car / how to reach the Via Alpina by public transportation?
Please try and leave your car at home! Mountain huts make huge efforts to reduce their energy consumption so try to do your bit for the environment on your way there! The Via Alpina comes near many train stations and on average every 2 or 3 days there is a passing point with a bus connection (refer to the pictograms on our stage information and the web links listed for each stage point). Try and choose such entry and exit points for your walk!

It may take a bit longer, but on the other hand you don’t have to worry about getting back to your car after a long-distance hike, and taking public transportation is often an opportunity for very nice encounters. The more these services are used, the more incentive there is to keep them up and running!

Upon request, when you are staying in a village your host may even be able to pick you up from the bus stop or trailhead and drive you to the trailhead the next day.

Most train connections within Europe and a number of bus routes can be found on the multilingual websites
www.bahn.de and www.sbb.ch.

14.    
What about administrative requirements (visa, health insurance...)?
All eight Alpine countries are part of the “Schengen area”*, which means that nationals from European Union member countries and more than 30 other countries, and those with a residency permit in any of the Schengen countries (except Switzerland and Liechtenstein), can travel freely along the Via Alpina as long as they carry a valid identity document with them.

If you are not entitled to this exemption, you can obtain a single so-called Schengen visa from the Embassy or Consulate of either your country of entry or the one in which you will stay longest, which will give you the right to visit the whole area for any 90 days within a 6-month period. You will need a passport valid for 6 months beyond the end of your visit and a valid travel insurance.

If you wish to stay longer than those 90 days, you will need to apply for a residency permit from one of the countries... which unfortunately can be difficult to obtain if you don’t plan to have a permanent address.

*Liechtenstein hasn't actually officially joined the Schengen area
yet, but entry requirements are already the same as for Switzerland.


As regards health insurance, if you are from a EU-country, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Iceland you are entitled to the same access to public sector health care as nationals in all Alpine countries except Monaco. In some countries, treatment is free, in some you pay part of the cost, in others you have to pay the full cost and then claim a refund. Having a European health insurance card will simplify the procedures (see
ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=559&langId=en).

If you are from a different country, or to cover extra rescue, travel, accommodation, and repatriation costs in case of illness or accident as well as civil liability, you should buy adequate travel and medical insurance. All major mountain or hiking associations provide specifically designed insurance contracts to their members.

There are no immunisation requirements to travel to the Alpine countries.

15.    
Are there any dangerous animals in the Alps?
The great predators seem to be returning to the European Alps after having been almost eradicated in the 18th and 19th centuries: bears to the Eastern Alps, wolves to the Western Alps and lynxes all over. However, all over the Alps there are less than 50 bears and wolves, and slightly more than 100 lynxes established, they are very shy and will almost always do all they can to avoid meeting you...

Don’t try anyway to come closer to wild animals (even ibexes, chamois, marmots...) than seems comfortable to them. Cows on the run can be impressive, also keep your distance.

The patous, white dogs raised within sheep herds in the French Alps to protect them from wolves’ and stray dogs’ attacks, can become aggressive if you come near the flock: make a wide berth to avoid them and the sheep, stay calm and don’t threaten the dog in any way.

Rabies is present (mostly in dogs, foxes and bats) but very rare. If bitten by a dog, seek medical help within a few days.

There are only two venomous snakes in the Alps: the aspic and peliad vipers (Vipera aspis and Vipera berus), recognizable by their vertical elliptical (cat-like) shaped pupils. Again, they will only attack if they are being surprised – make sure you stamp your feet before sitting down in a sunny grassy or rocky area. If bitten, seek medical help within a few hours, but there is usually no danger of death for adults.

Do mind one of the smallest Alpine animals: in the Eastern Alps (Slovenia, Austria, Germany), there are ticks around, some of which carry the Lyme disease (borreliosis). Inspect your body every evening after the hike and remove those you may find, and see a chemist or doctor if a bite gets inflamed.

16.    
And what else should I know about walking in the Alps?
The Alps are the largest natural area in Europe, but it is also a cultural space which has been inhabited since prehistoric times – nowadays home to about 14 million inhabitants (mostly in the cities) and welcoming 60 million visitors each year. The ecological and cultural balance is fragile. Please:
-    Do not leave marked paths: this leads rainwater to follow your tracks and causes subsequent erosion;
-    Do not disturb the wildlife, especially at sunset and sunrise, when many animals are feeding;
-    Do not take flowers nor minerals with you;
-    Be extremely careful if lighting a fire – check if this is allowed at all (see also
Is it possible to bivouac above);
-    Take all rubbish with you (even compostable material, which may take years to decompose at high altitude) and dispose of it in appropriate containers in the valley (or, even better, at home); avoid taking superfluous packaging with you from the start;
-    Close gates and fences behind you to prevent farm animals from escaping;
-    As regards satisfying nature’s needs, go away from the path and at least 50m from streams (never into caves or ruins!) and bury faeces and recyclable toilet paper – take any other rubbish (sanitary pads, tampons etc.) with you;
-    Check and follow the specific regulations in place in national parks, nature reserves and other protected areas (use the web links on our stage descriptions);
-    Try to come by public transport, and if coming by car, park in designated areas where you do not block any access.

As the saying goes: “take only pictures, leave only footprints”!


As regard your safety and the one of other walkers, plan your trip well and check the level of fitness of all participants before and during the hike (see also our entries on
difficulty, weather and equipment
above). Be very careful not to dislodge stones, which may hurt someone below (if you do, shout a warning!!). If an accident happens, stay calm. In many cases, it is possible to help yourselves. If this is not possible, try to call for help by means of mobile phone (the international emergency number is 112 - however many mountain areas have no coverage), shouting, light signalling or by waving large pieces of clothes. An injured person should normally left in the place of the accident and must never be left alone.