A few million years ago, there was a collision between African and Eurasian plates which caused an area beneath the sea to fold and climb with the pressure, creating some of the Alps’ highest peaks. Holding the titles of being the “highest” and “most extensive” mountain range in Europe, the Alps stretch an estimated 1,200km across eight Alpine countries. So, it comes as no surprise that over the centuries, the Alps have captured the imagination of emerging artists such as Turner and Sargent, and intrepid mountaineers like Edward Whymper and Lord Francis Douglas who were among the first to summit the towering Matterhorn (4,478 metres). And today, post-pandemic, basking in the beauty of the Alps during a walking or cycling holiday is seeing a revival on travellers’ summer bucket lists. Understandably, the idea of fresh Alpine air, expansive open space and a change of pace is a plus for many, so we’ve highlighted five countries and trips you shouldn’t miss if you’re planning a holiday in the Alps.
Largely landlocked and mountainous, you could say the Austrian Alps form the physical backbone of the country. Subdivided into a northern and southern limestone range, there’s plenty of epic Alpine landscape to admire on a walking or cycling holiday. It may be known for its famous ski resorts and hosting the Winter Olympics, but don’t discount the Austrian Alps for a perfect summer escape.
On our Alpine Walks in the Stubai Valley trip, you’ll explore the heart of the Alps. En route, you’ll summit Zindegg, which boasts beautiful scenes of the Elfer massif, enjoy a gentle walk through farmland in Kartnall and tackle the Stubai Glacier Trail – where you’ll have the opportunity to visit the incredible ice grotto in the summer months. Or if you want to take in the breath-taking picture postcard scenery Cycling the Lakes and Rivers of the Salzkammergut, you’ll discover the lakeside paths of Lake Traunsee, Lake Gosausee and Lake Wolfgangsee, where your route will take you towards frescoed houses and 15th-century churches. On this trip, you’ll also get to visit Salzwelten Hallstatt, the oldest salt mine in the world, and the fascinating Dachstein Ice Caves.
Colossal peaks, shimmering sapphire lakes and white glaciers characterise the sheer beauty of the French Alps, making it one of the most popular regions in the Alps to visit. Encompassing over 210,000km, the French Alps cover a larger surface area than Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales individually, which means there’s a host of wonderful walking and trekking routes to choose from.
The main star of the show is arguably Mont Blanc. Standing at an impressive 4,807 metres above sea level, Mont Blanc is Europe’s highest peak west of the Caucasus. On our Mont Blanc Highlights, you’ll trek along one of the finest walking routes in the Alps in 8 days. On your journey, you’ll summit the Aiguillette des Houches (2,285 m) and climb along the Bonatti refuge to bask in the beauty of Mont Blanc and the glaciers on the northern flank of Val Ferret. If you’re looking for a more challenging climb, why not try our Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn trip? In 15 days, you’ll trek alongside the Haute Route, one of Europe’s most well-known long-distance ski-touring routes. Covering 160km in that time, you’ll pass beneath 10 out of the 12 highest mountains in the Alps, making for an incredibly scenic journey.
Extending west from Germany’s secluded southeastern corner to the Allgäu region near Lake Constance, the Bavarian Alps (Bayerische Alpen) form a spectacular natural divide that runs along the Austrian border. Speckled with chocolate box villages, striking fairy-tale castles and Mountain Spruce forests, this part of the Alps is a delight to explore – especially on two wheels.
On our Lakes and Mountains of Bavaria Cycling trip, you’ll begin your journey from the Fugger city of Augsburg, where you’ll ride past quaint Bavarian villages and lush meadows before reaching Lake Worthsee. From here, you can pause at your leisure to cool off in Lake Ammersee, Staffelsee of Riegsee, before heading to the artistic town of Murnau. Afterwards, your route veers into the spectacular Bavarian Alps, where you can visit the Unesco-listed Pilgrimage Church of Wies. The following day, you can explore King Ludwig’s impressive fairy-tale castle, Neuschwanstein, which legend has it, inspired Walt Disney’s iconic Sleeping Beauty Castle.
Tucked into Slovenia’s northwestern corner, lies three separate mountain ranges, the Julian Alps, the Karavanks (Karavanke), and the Kamnik-Savinja Alps. One of the most popular regions, known for its sweeping gorges, gushing waterfalls and rapids of blue-green rivers is the Julian Alps. A host of natural wonders abound, and with Alpine temperatures in the north at least 5-10 degrees lower than in the main cities in the summer, it offers the perfect conditions for walking and cycling.
On our 11-day Julian Alps to the Adriatic Cycling trip, you’ll start by enjoying a circular cycle around Lake Bled, passing sleepy Slovenian hamlets, the 12th century Kamen Castle, and the peaceful Zavrsnica Reservoir. After this, your route steers you towards Mojstrana the gateway to Triglav National Park in the Julian Alps. En route, keep an eye out for prolific birdlife in the area such as eagles and hawks before you reach the twin glacial lakes of Fusine – a place so beautiful it’s known as ‘the jewel in the crown of the Julian Alps’. If you’d prefer to trek in Slovenia, our guided Lakes & Mountains of Slovenia trip takes you on five varied walks that take you through the Karavanke Mountains, on forest trails into Martuljek Gorge in search of waterfalls and scenic hikes around the shimmering shores of Lake Bohinj. You also have a free day in the middle of the trip for optional activities like riding horses, white-water rafting, canoeing or taking visits to Lake Bled or the Baroque city of Ljubljana.
With an impressive 65,000km of marked hiking trails that traverse wildflower meadows, towering peaks and hushed forest paths towards glacial lakes and sleepy hamlets, the Swiss Alps is a region that’s beautiful all year round, but particularly in the summer months. And with the Alps covering 65% of Switzerland’s surface area (41,285 km ²), it’s hard to miss these spectacular snow-capped peaks when you’re visiting the country.
On our 8-day Walking and E-biking in the Swiss Alps trip, you’ll be able to explore the picturesque Oeschinensee mountain lake on foot, enjoy a brilliant bike ride through the Gasterntal Valley and take on the more challenging climb to Gemmi Pass for panoramic views of the Mischabel massif with its 11 peaks. Or explore the country’s finest well-marked trails on our Classic Swiss Alps Walk that takes you from Kandersteg up to Allenalp by cable car, where you’ll walk through rolling farmland and descend into the Alpbach Gorge. You’ll also spend time walking through the Waldhaus Nature Reserve. In summer, the meadows come to life with fire lilies, lady slippers and more than 25 orchid varieties. Towards the end of your trip, you’ll also get to explore Hohtenn, where you can walk high above the River Rhone through hidden side valleys, past chalets and towards the Lotschberger-Sudrampe railway trail – a superb feat of railway engineering in the Alps.
If these trips have inspired you to discover the beauty of the Alps then browse our collection of adventures here.