Room and Board

In most other parts of the world, this section would be about tents, cooking stoves, and dehydrated rations. But this is the Alps, and one of the main reasons for hiking through the Alps is because you can not only enjoy the days (when you are hiking) but also the evenings and nights (when you are not). In fact, in the Alps it can often be difficult to find a place to camp legally. So, other than a bivvy sack (see Safety), I strongly recommend that you leave all portable shelter and cooking equipment at home.

Like all things, this approach nevertheless has its disadvantages in addition to its advantages. On the plus side, you'll be carrying much less weight and you can look forward each day to hot showers, hot food, and a warm bed. On the minus side, it is going to cost more than a wilderness hike, and you run the risk of not being able to find a bed because a hut is full or everywhere in the village is booked solid. However, there are some strategies that you can follow to minimize these disadvantages and I'll discuss them below.

Room Cost

As a general rule, you get what you pay for, and if you are willing to pay then you can spend many nights along the H2H in luxury. However, by no means all rooms in the Alps are expensive. Consider the various types of accommodation you are likely to find:

  • Hotels: start around E35 / person / night and go up almost without limit.
  • Pensions / Chambres d'hotes: start at around E25 / person / night and go up to around E50 / person / night.
  • Berghuetten / Refuges (mountain huts), Jugendherberge / Auberges de Jeunesse (youth hostels), Massenlager / Dormitoires (bunk rooms... found sometimes in pensions and hotels): start around E12 / person / night for a bed in a room for several people, and go up to around E25 / person / night for a bed in a double room. Discounts of up to 50% often possible with an Alpine Club card.

Clearly, if you are on a budget, look for the cheaper types.

Reservation Strategy

As regards the problem of not being able to find a bed because everything is full up (a significant risk on weekends in June and July, and all the time in August), here's my recommended reservation strategy:

  • Don't plan to hike in a big group. Or if you do, then accept that you will have to reserve long in advance and will have little or no flexibility if the weather turns bad. Frankly, it is almost always possible to find beds for a couple of people. But finding places for ten on short notice will often be very difficult, and moreover, because the task is much more difficult, fewer people in tourist offices or town halls will be willing to help a large group than a small one.
  • Make a list of the telephone numbers of places to stay along the H2H before you start hiking. In addition, you should also note the number of the local tourist office or, in smaller villages, the number of the town hall, since they will usually know of places to stay that are not listed anywhere on the Net. To help you do this, in the "Room and Board Options" section for each stage I have included links to websites that list accommodations for the stage goal, as well as the number of the local tourist office / Town Hall. However, since some of these will change over time follow the links and do your own research rather than relying blindly on my information.
  • Reserve further ahead on weekends and in high season. In my experience, if you want to be sure of a bed then you should make reservations at least 3 days in advance for weekdays in June and September, and any time in October. You should reserve 5-7 days in advance for weekends in June and September, and weekdays in July and August. And you should reserve weekends in July and August 8-10 days ahead of time (and even then you may find that you have to call a few places before finding somewhere that is free). You can of course, particularly if there are only two of you, take your chances and make no reservations, but there is nothing quite as dispiriting as arriving tired out at the end of a long day's hike and then having to walk up and down looking for a place to stay. Huts are different... both for better and for worse. If the weather is bad, or if they are Alpine Club huts and you are a member, then they have to take you in... but you may end up sleeping on the floor.
  • Figure on hiking in the rain. With this approach, as long as the weather isn't too bad (i.e., not a raging storm, or freezing rain, or a blizzard), then most of the time, given the hassles involved in short-term changes of plan, you are probably going to choose to hike. At least that was the case for us.
  • Be flexible #1. When talking with a tourist office or town hall, make clear that you are flexible about where you are willing to stay -- if nothing is available in the village you are hiking to, maybe there is something in the next village down the valley and you can take a bus there and back (and sometimes your host will be willing to come to pick you up and drop you off).
  • Be flexible #2. In the case of mountain huts, perhaps there is a cable-car nearby that can take you down to the next village... and then bring you back up again the following morning.
  • Be flexible #3. Perhaps you can stay somewhere else by shortening (or lengthening) one day's hike and then hiking further (or less) the next day. There is almost always somewhere to stay that you can reach... but you may have to be persistent and flexible to find it.
  • Don't panic. If despite calling ahead you are unable to find a place to stay, don't despair. Often there are last-minute cancellations. Leave your name and cellphone number at the tourist office / town hall and ask them to give you a call if they find anything. Then call them the next day even if they don't call you back. And in Alpine Club mountain huts, even if they are full, if you are a member, they have to take you in.
  • Be a Good Citizen. Don't reserve unless you are fairly certain that you will be there to take the room(s). If despite this something unforeseen should occur to hinder you, then call as soon as possible to let your planned hosts know that you will not be coming. This is for three reasons:
    • It is the right thing to do, and allows them to give your room(s) to someone else who needs them.
    • It makes it more likely that accommodation providers in the Alps will continue to accept telephone reservations from hikers.
    • That way your planned hosts won't send out the Mountain Rescue teams to try to find you (see Safety).

By the way, my initial reservation strategy differed somewhat from what I now recommend. Originally I hoped to avoid hiking when the weather was bad, and thus planned to make reservations only as many days in advance as the forecast seemed reliable (typically 2-3 days except during prolonged stretches of good weather). However, I soon found out that this approach was unrealistic in busy periods and switched to the reservation approach described above. Changing reservations when the weather turned particularly unpleasant was, as noted above, difficult, so in general we didn't bother, except for a couple of occasions when the weather was bad enough to be dangerous and so we changed our route to decrease risk.


As for food, well, when you are hungry, as you will be... often!... on the H2H, a thick slice of Emmental cheese, a hunk of bread, a bite of Wurst or saucisson, and a tomato, all washed down with cold water, are as good as a gourmet meal. On the other hand, if you can afford to eat in the better restaurants... well, you can eat VERY well in the Alps. In this case you might want to make a list of interesting dining possibilities beforehand (and then reserve tables in advance as with accommodation). A good resource for this is the online Michelin Guide.

Between these two extremes are many, many restaurants and mountain huts and cafes and bars, usually serving hearty and bountiful food, that you will find both on the trails and in the villages and towns at the end of the day. In addition, most places you stay will be willing to make you a packed lunch if it looks like you won't find a restaurant at an appropriate place during your upcoming day's hike (so you hardly ever have to buy food in stores or supermarkets if you would prefer not to do so).

Note that if you do plan to buy food in a store or a supermarket, bear in mind that they are usually closed on Sundays (except in France, where there is almost always something open in the morning).

All in all, food will hardly ever be a problem on the H2H.

Public Holidays

The last thing to consider is public holidays, for two reasons: accommodation is more likely to be booked solid on (and around) these days, and stores tend to be closed (although once again, not in France).

Here's a useful website that lists -- in exhaustive detail -- all the public holidays in Europe.