Spend 3-5 days hiking in the Alps along the sustainability-minded, high-altitude trail: the wonderful Via Alpina!
The Via Alpina is a hiking network of epic proportions. Five interwoven trails totaling more than 5000km in length criss-cross all eight countries of the Alps: Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Slovenia, and Switzerland. The routes take you through everything from the ancient Walser villages of Piedmont, to the glistening Altaussee salt mines in Austria, connecting lush meadows on valley floors to craggy peaks in the sky. The trail has been designed to take hikers through all the major massifs, regions, geologies, and historical sights, and also to lesser-known attractions that deserve a place on the map.
Since 2014, the Via Alpina has been under the responsibility of the International Commission of the Protection of the Alps. An NGO committed to preserving Europe’s most magnificent mountain range, the Alps are under immense ecological pressure, in part from the 120 million visitors they see each year. The director of the project, Claire Simon, would like to “diversify the unlimited ski-tourism industry with respectful, low-impact alternatives.” And so the Via Alpina was created in 2002.
Its sustainability-minded design criteria meant that no new paths were built for its inception. Existing ones could be refurbished, and the use of tarmac was avoided where possible. As many of the paths have existed for centuries, you will find yourself walking through the passages of time, from ancient trade routes to pilgrim ways, and also the grazing paths of shepherds and their sheep in the Bronze Age.
The route scarcely passes through cities, taking hikers on a journey away from modern civilization, transporting them to the high-altitude world of meandering alpine trails and mountain huts. Hiking the entire Alpina would take years, so luckily, the route has been divided into 342 day-long chunks, each ending with a mountain hut where you can eat, sleep, and meet fellow wanderers!
As the Via Alpina is a very, very long-distance hiking trail, and unfortunately not everyone has half a lifetime or even half a summer to spend hiking in the Alps, this guidebook highlights three hiking itineraries which are all between 3-5 days in length. The majority of each route uses the Via Alpina, but there are some additional parts included, taking you to points of historical and cultural interest along the way.