There is a unique feature about hiking in Europe. If you really, really like to enjoy nature from up close, don’t bother to stay at hotels but just get a key for unstaffed huts in the Alps.
Even residents do that when they want to escape the hustle of daily life. You just need to sign up as a member of the German or Austrian Alpenverein (DAV or ÖAV, and it probably works also with the Italien or Swiss version of the Alpenverein) and get this „golden“ key, which looks a bit old-fashioned big, long and simple. It’s just a key but it opens hundreds of doors. Here is an example: the Breitenkopfhütte. It’s a cabin at 2000 meters elevation (6000 feet roughly), above the trees and shrubs in a beautiful valley branching off a bigger valley south of the Zugspitze, the highest mountain of the German Alps. It accomodates 4 people comfortably and is very small. But boy, you will be surprised, how well it is equipped. It has an extremely good wood oven which functions as a perfect heating system and for cooking.
There is everything: pots and pans, wood, tools, even some food, in case you didn’t bring anything, and a guitar. The night costs you about $7, voluntary payment. We, meaning my husband, one of our sons and I stayed there a few days ago. It was a wonderful experience. The best part is the incredible view and location. It’s a maximally romantic setting I would claim. The hut was even surprisingly clean (well, my husband says „hahaha“! So let’s say: relatively clean!).
Of course don’t expect running water and such. Otherwise it wouldn’t be any more a rough gem in nature. There is a spring 50 meters beneath the hut, an outhouse a few meters off to the side and that’s it.
Is there any draw back? Yes, only one: you cannot know in advance if you will be alone or if others will be there. Therefore best time is not during summer because that’s when most people come.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of such huts. You simply go there, cook, sleep and on the next morning you write into the book where you are from and where you head next. Then you pay your small fee and make sure that you leave the hut as clean as it was before, or cleaner. In the case of the Breitenkopfhütte you also bring some fire wood from farther down where it is stored next to the path. It’s a simple and well-working system.
In case you have more questions please feel free to contact me: Cornelia Küffner, firstname.lastname@example.org
Did I mention that the same system also exists in other countries like e.g. Norway? We loved it because it’s just like a dream: you turn the key and a wonderful shelter is all yours. Often there is even a small library, games, fishing equipment and a storage room with excellent, simple food where you can buy whatever you need. No one controls you because no one would have the idea that one cannot trust you. You are in paradise and who could cheat in the face of majestic mountains, lakes, absolutely beautiful nature?