The European Alps: Not just for snow bunnies

The European Alps

The Alps mountain range is one of the most well-known and popular tourist destinations in the world, with photos of its awe inspiring snow-capped peaks featuring in many international tourist brochures and websites. The region stretches from France, through Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Liechtenstein and Austria into Slovenia.

The best-known and highest peaks in the Alps include Mont Blanc, Dufourspitze and the Matterhorn. They all fall into the alpine ‘four-thousander’ (higher than 4,000 metres) category and attract outdoor thrill seekers from around the world.

More than 120-million tourists flock to this 1,200km-wide stretch of mountains each year, mostly for snow-based activities. However, summer visitors also descend in their droves to enjoy spectacular views and less icy alpine pursuits.

If you are a skier, snowboarder, paraglider or similar white-knuckle junkie, you will more than find your fill in the Alps. The range is home to some of the best-known ski destinations in the world, including Klosters, St. Moritz and Davos (Switzerland), Innsbruck (Austria), Chamonix and Megève (France) and Cervinia (Italy).

However, Over 50s shouldn’t be put off by the adrenalinesaturated aura that surrounds the Alps. If you prefer a more leisurely pace, there are plenty of other activities that will get your blood up while still giving you plenty of time to enjoy the scenery, culture and unique local cuisine on offer in each country scattered across the range.

While you may be tempted by the sparkle and glamour of the winter ski fields, there are definite benefits to visiting the Alps during summer. Prices are usually significantly cheaper, and the melting snow reveals vistas of picturesque towns, beautiful meadows and rocky pinnacles. If you feel your trip to the Alps wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the snow, you can still find plenty of the white stuff at higher altitude alpine towns, even in summer.

Each country encompassed by the Alps offers its own unique experiences for visitors to enjoy. These range from the slightly cliché Austrian men in lederhosen, to the turquoise lakes of Slovenia, the verticalwalled Dolomites of Italy and the fairy-tale castles of Bavaria, Germany. The Alps also boast gardens, spas and yodeling, alpine cowbells and Schuhplattler folk dancing.

Europe’s highest peak is Mont Blanc, straddling the border between Italy and France. An unmissable way to encounter the breathtaking views here is to catch a ride on the recently opened Skyway Monte Bianco. The 360-degree rotating cable cars travel between the Italian town of Courmayeur and Punta Helbronner on the French southern slopes of the Mont Blanc massif.

A hugely popular summer alpine activity is walking. You need only basic fitness to enjoy the best of theAlps scenery on offer, as many ski lifts remain open during the warmer months. The walks range from short day hikes through to multi-day treks – mostly on well signposted and maintained networks of paths. They are designed to cater for walkers of all ages and fitness levels. Most Alpine resorts are also well geared up for mountain biking and many boast world-class golf courses.

Other attractions include the Skocjan Caves in Slovenia – one of the world’s largest underground river canyons and a UNESCO world heritage site. Italy’s aptly named South Tyrolean Wine Road boasts pretty cellar-filled towns and Wattens, near Innsbruck, hosts the beautiful Swarovski Crystal Worlds. Thermal mineral baths can be found in Aix-les-Bains in France and Leukerbad, Switzerland.

Whether you visit the Alps in the winter snows or summer sunshine, you will never be left short of a tasty meal or grand view, irrespective of where you travel. Some staples include cultured alpine cheeses, crisp Swiss rosti, and the culturally historic dishes of fondue and Raclette. Alpine beverages include a shot of schnapps or a mug of glühwein. Both are guaranteed to bring a rosy glow to your cheeks.

As an international travel destination, the Alps are hard to beat as a melting pot of distinct mountain cultures and diverse attractions. It is an extraordinary place to visit, even when you’re not wearing skis.

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