View of and from the Alps Landscape
View of and from the Alps Landscape© DAAD/Daniel Reuber

The Call of the Alps

It was aboard a serendipitous wrong train that Romanian student Ioana-Catalina first discovered her passion for the Alps. During her studies abroad in the town of Konstanz, that passion blossomed into a deep and abiding love.

Love at first sight

Ioana-Catalina would have to be patient. She had only just arrived in Konstanz, and now, thanks to the pandemic and the first lockdown, she had to turn around and go back home. This meant she had lost her scholarship, and the trip of a lifetime was ruined. But she knew she would be back, because on the way there she had fallen in love with a place she had encountered by sheer chance.

‘The journey to Konstanz was my first trip abroad. I had to change trains several times, and let’s just say my navigation skills weren’t the best,’ she recalls. ‘So, I ended up on the wrong train and took a detour through Switzerland, passing close by the Alps. It’s hard to put it into words, but a strange and very profound feeling came over me.’ The connection Ioana-Catalina felt with the mountains was so immediate and so strong, she recalls she would gladly have got off the train at the very next station and stayed right there.

Europe’s Alpine region spans eight countries: France, Monaco, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Slovenia and, of course, Germany. For many people in other parts of the world, this region is what comes to mind when they think of Germany – in much the same way that people tend to equate Bavarian beer gardens and lederhosen with German culture – and Ioana-Catalina was no exception. She yearned for the time when she could return to Germany and her beloved Alps. ‘The image of the mountains etched in my memory kept me going until I could return. In Romania, I began to make plans. I researched hiking routes and read everything about the Alps that I could lay my hands on,’ Ioana-Catalina says. ‘I had already planned a few short trips, and my parents gave me a pair of proper hiking boots.’

Mountain landscape with a house by the lake
Mountain landscape with a house by the lake© DAAD/Daniel Reuber

From loneliness to solitude

On her return, Ioana-Catalina found that life in Konstanz was very different to how she had imagined it. Because of the pandemic, lectures and classes were online – which made it difficult to meet other people. But difficult is not impossible, and she soon had a group of friends, with whom she travelled to the Alps for a few days. ‘We stayed in a climbing hut in the mountains. The trek up there was cold and physically demanding, but I was on cloud nine.’ The trip was a welcome respite from the chaos of the pandemic, and her initial awakening to the Alps on the train journey had now become true love.

Ioana-Catalina spent three Erasmus exchange semesters at the University of Konstanz as part of her studies in clinical psychology and psychotherapy. The city of Konstanz is located in Baden-Württemberg, on the shores of Lake Constance, not far from the Black Forest and the Alps, so it’s the perfect spot if you’re keen on the great outdoors. What’s more, the university’s sports service has an alpine sports offering that includes training courses, organised excursions and equipment for mountain adventurers. ‘The alpine sports service is a wonderful opportunity – I can’t recommend it enough,’ says Ioana-Catalina.

Ioana-Catalina was a complete novice, having done no hiking at all prior to her time in Germany. ‘But now, for me, hiking is like meditation – I feel at one with myself and nature,’ she says. ‘The mountains remind me of home. Whenever I feel homesick, I go hiking. The mountains are part of who I am. The climb can sometimes be hard, but getting to the peak is always very satisfying – it gives me a real sense of pride in myself.’ For Ioana-Catalina, all those nagging doubts and feelings of uncertainty just seem to melt away in the Alpine air. Perhaps that’s because she associates each of her hiking routes with various memories, emotions and smells. ‘When I’m in the mountains, I think about my childhood at my grandparents’ house up in the Carpathians. I think about the food we had there, and the love we shared. There were bears in the forests there, so I was never allowed to go exploring on my own. But I can remember imagining, even then, what it would be like to stand on the peak of the mountain.’

A woman goes hiking in the mountains
A woman goes hiking in the mountains© DAAD/Daniel Reuber

Be realistic about your level of skill and experience

While praising the beauty of the Alps, Ioana-Catalina is quick to add a word of caution. Students should never just head out on a whim: ‘Know your limitations. Never go out alone, and always go with someone who is more experienced than you are. Start with easy trails and build up from there. Always check the weather before you go, and listen to the advice of people there on the ground. There are apps that can help you plan your route and get your bearings. You don’t have to be afraid, just prepared.’ She is speaking from experience, having once nearly come unstuck because of a reckless decision. ‘There was a large group of us out hiking, and it was a guided trip, so I hadn’t bothered to check the weather forecast.’ The guides split the group in two. Ioana-Catalina’s friends opted to take the more challenging of the two routes on offer – and she went along with them, against her better judgement. ‘Big mistake! The track was slippery and steep, and there was a moment when we were in real danger. It all worked out okay in the end, obviously, but the experience taught me the importance of listening to my instincts and choosing routes that are appropriate for my skill level.’

A woman walks carefully over a narrow slope
A woman walks carefully over a narrow slope© DAAD/Daniel Reuber

Happy trails

Asked what her favourite hiking trail in Germany is, Ioana-Catalina is quick to point out the many options for exploring the Alps in Germany. ‘I’ve been hiking in Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, and my favourite spot in Germany is the Allgäu,’ she says. ‘It’s a lovely region, and I heartily recommend it, especially in summer. It’s easy to get to by public transport, and there are trails to suit people of all skill levels.’ There are also plenty of opportunities to take in the local Alpine culture along the way. ‘You can try the local cheeses, drink crystal-clear water from natural springs, and admire the cows with their cow bells. Trust me, you’ll be impressed by the natural beauty of the landscape.’

The kind of gear you need on a hike depends very much on how difficult the trail is, as Ioana-Catalina explains: ‘Generally speaking, you need decent footwear, appropriate clothing, enough water, and snacks.’ And if you want to tackle more challenging trails or do some climbing, Ioana-Catalina recommends that you do a climbing course: ‘Not even the best equipment will help you if you don’t have the necessary skills and experience.’


How do I know which trails are best suited for my level of ability and experience?

Whether you’re heading into the Alps or any other mountain or forest areas of Germany, the is a key source of information about hiking and climbing.

If you’re studying at a German university near the Alps, it’s a good idea to check with the sports service at your university (Hochschulsport) to see if there are any hiking clubs, training courses or guided walks on offer.

Bookshops in Germany’s Alpine region also offer a wealth of up-to-date hiking and trail guides in both English and German. The booksellers really know their stuff and may even be able to offer a few personal pointers.

Hiking on a shoestring budget

Hiking itself is free of charge, and you can often borrow the equipment – just ask around at your university. In many cases, you can also hire rucksacks, pannier bags and climbing gear from local outdoor shops.

Hut in the Alps
Hut in the AlpsIoana-Cătălina/DAAD

Camping & Hostels

Camping on public land is illegal in Germany, but there are camping grounds where you can book tent sites. Camping grounds have toilet and shower facilities, and in many cases they have communal kitchens as well.

The offers a range of low-cost accommodation options all around Germany, including near the Alps. To stay at a DJH hostel you have to be a member of the DJH or of any other national Youth Hostel Association, for instance the one in your home country.

If you want to stay in a classic Alpine climbing hut, you’ll need to pay a bit more, especially during holidays and on weekends.

Wherever you choose to stay, be sure to book in advance, as the Alps are a popular destination.

Check out the Alps and have a great holiday season!