The Alps are a range of mountains in Europe caused by uplift in the European Plate as it is impacted by the African Plate moving north; they stretch from Italy through France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, Austria, and into Slovenia.
The highest peaks in Europe (outside of the Caucasus mts.) are located in the Alps. Mont Blanc (4810 meters), Dufourspitze (4634 meters) and the world famous Matterhorn (4478 meters) are official and well known alpine four-thousanders.
Many areas of the Alps are covered by eternal snow and ice. The largest glaciers are located in the Valais and Bernese Alps of Switzerland. The Aletsch Glacier with its 23 kilometers length and 900 meters depth is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia and Liechtenstein are often referred to as the alpine countries because much of their territories are geographically and culturally dominated by the alps. The regional provinces of Bavaria, (Germany) and South Tyrol (Italy) also offer a distinctly Alpine flair.
The alps are home to some of the largest and most well known ski areas in the world, much like the mountains themselves they can be found across multiple countries in some cases making it possible to ski into another nation.
Major ski areas are:
Tourism (and the economy in general) is nowadays very much geared towards skiing, snowboarding, and other winter sports throughout most of the Alps. In ski resorts despite a new focus on summer time activities such as hiking or golf some of the hotels and other facilities may close. This increase in summer time sports such as mountain biking, golf, parapenting, or whitewater kayaking is now fuelling the growth of the Alps as a year round tourist destination. The Alps have always been popular as a mountaineering and hiking destination, but clearly this is nowhere near as lucrative for the locals, as the tourist invasion during the winter season.
While agriculture historically played a huge role in the daily lives of people in the Alps, it has now been reduced to folklore and subsidized remnants. While cheese and other products are still produced in similar ways to bygone eras, the sturdy cow - herder on his "alm" or "alp" watching the animals during the summer is only an afterthought and not the centerpiece of life up there as it once was
The Alps skirt, straddle, or wholly encompass 7 European nations: France, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, and Slovenia. Each of these has their own national language and a myriad of local dialects - often differing drastically from valley to valley. However in most major towns or tourist destinations some English will be spoken. In general language borders follow national borders but this is not always the case! German is the official language in Germany, Austria and Liechtenstein and large portion of central, northern and eastern Switzerland. It is also spoken in Italy's South Tyrol. French is spoken in southern and western Switzerland, France and along the French border in Italy as well. Slovenian, in addition to Slovenia is spoken by a minority in northeastern Italy around Trieste and the Italian-Slovenian frontier. Lastly, some people in France near the city of Nice are Italian speakers. Romansh, the fourth official language of Switzerland is now spoken only in small parts of Switzerland and you will get by just as well with German in those areas.
While the Alps are rather centrally located within Europe, they have been a barrier to all types of travel for millennia. The nineteenth century brought with it a number of still impressive technological feats "taming" the Alps. While there are currently efforts to replace some tunnels and bridges with newer, shorter and faster routes, some passes are still used by trains today. The adjacent railways all offer various international tickets into and out of the Alps, most notably Deutsche Bahn, SNCF and ÖBB (Österreichische Bundesbahnen). While the Swiss national railwys enjoy a very good reputation, they are rather new to the international business, though there are cooperations with SNCF and DB.
Long distance buses are still mostly a new concept west of the former "iron curtain" and thus getting into the Alps from outside the area can be difficult and expensive. There are of course Intercity buses in Germany serving hubs like Vienna, Zürich or Salzburg and during the ski - season chartered buses clog the streets with ski-groups, but other than that options can be sparse.
Driving is often a practical way for getting around, especially on the countryside. The roads often get very congested in July and August when people from further north head to the beaches of the Mediterranean. The same goes for the ski resorts in winter (though minus the travel trailers). In the winter many mountain roads are closed to traffic and copious amounts of snowfall may mess up the traffic.
Like elsewhere in Europe, train may be the best kind of public transport. If you like rail travel through scenic landscapes, the Alpine countries are certainly worth considering.
However in some cases train travel may take longer than you expect as the tracks due to the terrain has to take long detours. For instance, considering the straight-line distance from Geneva to Turin a train ride between those cities takes ridiculously long.
Switzerland in particular has an excellent rail network with very good on time performance and one of the densest networks in the world. However, there are surprisingly few high-speed lines and prices can be expensive as one in four Swiss people has a half fare travelcard, reducing prices 50% and fares are calculated accordingly. Add the general wealth of Switzerland to the equation and you will have to shell out quite some money for good service.
Smaller places, especially in Switzerland, is often connected by (post) buses to larger towns.
Flying may be an option if you want to get between the largest cities and time is important. Unlike Norway with a similar terrain, airports in the Alps are more of points for getting into the region rather than getting around.
- Beautiful alpine scenery.
- The Jungfraujoch and the highest railway in Europe, Jungfraubahn, leading up to it. There's almost 3 km of altitude difference between Interlaken and the summit station. View on the largest glacier in the Alps.
The best things to do in the Alps will vary from region to region, but in general mountain sports would be the thing to do!
- Climb mountains or go hiking.
- Go mountain biking. In many places you can take bikes up the ski lifts during the summer.
- Go whitewater kayaking or rafting.
- Go paragliding
- Play snow golf
The cuisine in this region developed to rely on dairy and imported dry ingredients when fresh food was scarce during the winters. Melted cheese fondues of many types are available, as well as Muesli and chocolates.
Due to the fact the Alps hold relatively few major metropolitan areas violent crime is relatively low in this expansive region. In the larger towns and cities normal levels of crime will exist but these are nothing that can not be accounted for with a little common sense. Most commonly crime is relegated to the level of petty theft, pick-pockets etc.