The Alps Mountain Range, Europe
The Magnificent Alps of Europe
The Alps are the mountains that stretch across the center of Europe. Principally concentrated in Switzlerand and Austria, the mountain range also extends into France, Liechtenstein, Germany, Italy and Slovenia. The tallest of the Alps is Mont Blanc, which is 15,774 feet high (4,808 m) and is located in France (close to the Italian border).
There are many more facts about the Alpine range out there, but if it's quiz answers you want I'll leave that to sites such as Wikipedia. I created this page to reach beyond these numbers and dry classifications, and to explore what makes this mountain range so unique and wonderful.
The Alps and Me
The Alps mountains are one of Europe's greatest natural wonders. My own fascination with them began at an early age, through books. As a teenager, I visited the Austrian Tirol (Tyrol), and have been pulled back to the alpine regions of Europe again and again since then.
I was lucky enough to live and work for a while in the Swiss Alps. I've also visited at various times the French Alps, Bavaria in Germany and the Dolomites (a region of the Italian Alps), and return as often as I can to the Tyrol. I am yet to visit Liechtenstein and Slovenia but would love to do so.
I invite you to share here the things I most love about the nature, places and culture of this unique, mountainous area of central Europe.
The Alps in Europe - A mountain range located at the heart of Europe
What region of the Alps of Europe do YOU love most?
Which part of the Alps do you prefer to visit (or would want to, if you have never been)?
A Scenic Region
Beautiful Alpine Scenery
The Alps mountain scenery is breathtaking
Where it is awe-inspiring peaks that watch like silent gods, or an alpine meadow sprinkled with flowers, or the turquoise mirror of a glacier lake, the scenery of the Alps is a feast for the eyes.
This dramatic scenery changes both through the seasons and as you move from country to country and climb to higher altitudes. From the lavender fields around the foothills of the French Alps, to the snow-capped peaks in Switzerland or the jagged pink towers of the Italian Dolomites, there is always a new wonder to see.
The most magical moments are sunrise and sunset. When I lived in Switzerland, I would look for the 'Alpenglow' -- the moment when the setting sun would turn the snow on the high mountains a beautiful rose colour.
Take a Scenic Flight and Enjoy the View!
The Best of the Alps: Swiss Alps Images - Stunning photography that brings the mountains to you
Cicerone Press writer and photographer Kev Reynolds, who is featured further below for his numerous alpine walking guides, shares here 100 photographs of the Alps selected from four decades of alpine exploration. It is a region he knows very well indeed as a member of the Alpine Club who spends several months each year exploring his beloved mountains.
His full-page images are each complemented with informative descriptions, and reveal the passion he has for the Alps.
Amazon buyers recommend this book for its gorgeous and inspiring photographs -- 100 of them! Each image is accompanied by evocative descriptions of the scene and its location. The book also includes some top tips on taking your own stunning mountain photography. The author has a true love of the Alps that shines through in his writing.
Painted Houses and Flower-filled Balconies
The pretty mountain villages and towns
Where I come from, towns are not generally places of beauty. Even the historic buildings are often made of drab grey stone, usually beneath a drab grey sky. In the Alps, by contrast, many of the towns are as lovely as their setting. Balconies overflow with geraniums in scarlet or pink, and the historic buildings are often brightly painted, giving the streets the appearance of cheerful stage sets. Tourists can often take a trip around the old streets in a horse-drawn carriage.
Of course, each country lends its own style to its alpine regions too, such as the onion domes of Austrian alpine churches. It is hard to speak of 'The Alps' as a single geographical region as each area has its own culture, language or dialect, and way of living. There is also a little truth in the stereotypes. Even in the high mountains of North Italy, you'll find a taste of 'la dolce vita' as you enjoy the sunshine of the southern slopes. Getting to the resorts of the Swiss Alps gives you a chance to experience the legendary Swiss efficiency. The Austrian Tyrol and Bavaria in Germany each cherish their own alpine traditions and you may see local people in traditional dress (you'll almost certainly hear a brass band or two!). In France, a descent to the foothills will take you towards the lavender fields and sunflowers of Provence.
Travel Guides to the Alps in Europe - Making the most out of your visit
A good travel guide is an excellent investment when going somewhere new, but even on a return trip you can find out much that you didn't know. My own favourites are the Eyewitness Travel Guides. Packed full of information, they also have a wealth of photos integrated with the text to make an attractive and easy-to-read guide.
Find out the best sights to see, the best places to eat and sleep, and all the travel and local information you could need. 3-dimensional maps are perfect for getting you bearings, and the background information on history and culture is a great way to get to know something about your destination before you travel.
Eyewitness Travel Guides have earned their recommendation for informative destination guides that are a visual feast. Amazon reviewers found the Switzerland guide wonderfully complete in its coverage of the different aspects of this fascinating country -- though note you will have to figure out how to get from a to b yourself. Includes maps, accommodation and restaurant recommendations, guide to Swiss cuisine, and more.
Mountain Sports and Activities
A Mountain Playground All Year Round!
Play hard in the Alps
No matter what your activity level, you'll find something to tempt you outdoors in the Alps! Adrenaline junkies are well-catered for, and keen hikers will be in paradise, but even a gentle stroll around a village and into the wood and meadows can be a delight. The transport systems are generally excellent and will whisk you up to the heights without any effort on your part at all.
One thing just about everyone loves to do in summer is to get a sturdy pair of walking boots on and wander the multitude of paths. Nordic walking has become a popular activity in the Alps. Hikers can head out early for a full day up in the mountains and can even plan a trip with overnight stays in mountain huts and high altitude hotels. Climbers can take advantage of long hours of daylight and milder weather by setting off for one of the peaks (there are some legendary climbs for the most experienced to tackle, and guides for hire if required).
Mountain biking is another sport where you will be spoiled for choice, and can choose the route that best suits the level of challenge you are looking for. There are plenty of places for gentle or family bike rides too.
Paragliding in the Alps is an awe-inspiring experience and one I recommend, although if you are not already into the sport you will need to take a tandem flight or book in for a course of lessons before you get anywhere near the edge of a mountain!
In Winter, it hardly needs saying that this is a playground for skiers and snowboarders of all abilities. The Internet is full of resort guides that will help you to choose the right destination for your sport and skill level.
Even if you don't ski or ride, you can still join in the winter fun. Hiring a toboggan to take up to the heights by cable car, then hurtling down a toboggan run can be a thrilling experience! And it is a winter wonderland for walkers too.
Mountain Biking in the Alps
Tour of the Jungfrau Region - A walking guide to the Alps
If you are a serious walker or hiker, this books will be your invaluable guide in planning your routes. Kev Reynolds has a passion for walking in the European Alps, an activity he is able to indulge in for several months each year while researching his series of authoritative guides for Cicerone. This one covers the beautiful Jungfrau region of the Alps at the heart of Switzerland, a region where I spent several months myself and can highly recommend for the stunning scenery and wealth of options for walkers.
If you choose to explore a different part of the Alps, look out for Kev's other guides. These include:
The Tour of Mont Blanc, 100 Hut Walks in the Alps, The Bernese Alps: A Walking Guide, Chamonix to Zermatt: The Walker's Haute Route, and Walking in Austria: 100 Mountain Walks in Austria.
Amazon.com reviewers found this book by Kev Reynolds to be the ideal guide for their adventures in the Jungfrau region of the Alps. Packed with information, it allows you to tailor the 2-week hike to your own schedule and preferences, and even gives you ideas for days when the weather does not cooperate. The images are also enticing and give you a preview of the magnificent beauty that awaits.
Alpine Flora and Fauna
Nature and Wildlife of the Alps
Enjoy the alpine flora and fauna
One of the most wonderful things about the Alps is how easily you can surround yourself with the beauty of nature. Nowhere else but can you so quickly move from one type of natural habitat to another as in mountainous areas. A half-day's walk can take you from the villages and grain fields, up through deciduous (leaf-shedding) woodland and meadows, and on through coniferous (evergreen) forests, onto the foothills of the Alps with grasses, eventually reaching rocky ground with only lichen and moss beneath foot.
Here too you can find species of flower that you won't find anywhere else. The Alpine flowers are often brightly coloured and make for a very pretty sight, but many are protected and some are poisonous, so resist the urge to pick them.
Alpine animals are often shy, and enjoy living in these remote places. However, like me, you might meet an alpine marmot as it forages on the path in front of you, or catch a glimpse of deer in a meadow. Goats such as the Alpine Ibex and the Chamois are at home on the high rocks. Many owls and other birds of prey also call the Alps their home. I have never seen a snake in the Alps but there are 3 varieties that live there, and 2 of these are poisonous, so should be left well alone.
A Marmot in the Swiss Alps - Very cute creatures of the Alps
Marmots or 'Murmeltiere' are rodents that live wild in the Alps. They are related to squirrels, and have a thick furry coat. Although encouraging them to eat from your hand probably shouldn't be encouraged, the marmot in this video is enjoying an unexpected snack!
Central European Food
The Alps are Home to Wonderful Cheeses - A Market Stall in the French Alps
The Alpine Food
Enjoying good living in the Alps
The people of the Alps live a healthy and active life with year-round outdoors activities. But when it comes to food, they are known for hearty appetites.
In the Swiss and French Alps, you might try traditional cheese-based recipes such as Fondue or Raclette. Italian classics such as pasta and pizza are as popular in the alpine regions of Italy and its near neighbours as they are elsewhere. The German influence on cuisine can be seen in many of the filling meat dishes and Bavaria has many delicacies of its own.
You will be in dessert heaven here, with wonderful Austrian classics such as apple strudel, sachertorte, and an almost endless choice of chocolate made with the delicious alpine milk. For ice cream, Movenpick of Switzerland is a taste of paradise!
How to Make a Swiss Cheese Fondue
Music of the Alps
The Music of the Mountains
Alpine dwellers have a passion for music
If you stay in an alpine village, you can expect to be woken at least once at dawn by a brass band playing. And a pleasant awakening it is too!
The villagers of the Alps seem to have a real sense of pride in their traditions, and this is one that is often expressed through music. Going to listen up close to the local brass band concert is one time when you are guaranteed to see the region's traditional dress too. Even when it's a show for the tourists, it's clear that the community cherish these sociable occasions, and the evening concerts seem to always finish with the band members gathering at a local cafe for a beer.
Folk music is deeply embedded in the culture of these once remote places. The violin and double bass have long been popular with the local musicians but, according to the Wikipedia entry on Swiss folk music, the accordion only became an important instrument in the region's folk music at the beginning of the last century.
A traditional instrument that has its origins in the Alps is the Alphorn (or Alpine Horn) which was used to communicate across the mountains. The horn is made from the wood of a pine tree and can be seen in this picture which has been shared by Wikimedia Commons.
The Alpenhorn in the Swiss Alps - A beautiful sound
If you've only ever heard someone play the Alpenhorn like a foghorn, or not at all, listen to this group of Alphorn players in Switzerland.
The Alps on Screen
Movies set in the Alps Mountain Range
From The Sound of Music... to 007!
The Sound of Music is loved by people from all over the world. This enchanting movie that tells the story of the Von Trapp Family Singers and stars Julie Andrews as the former nun turned governess, and Christopher Plummer as Captain Von Trapp. The stunning scenery that has caused so many of us to fall in love with the Alps represents a number of different locations used for filming. However, the Salzburg region of Austria is agreed to be true Sound of Music country, and Salzburg was the location of the convent of the real Maria Von Trapp.
I know people tend to either love or hate The Sound of Music. You won't be surprised to hear that I love it! If you do too, I highly recommend the 2 disc 40th Anniversary special edition of the DVD.
Other films that feature the Alps include the Bond film 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service'. You can visit the beautiful village of Murren (Switzerland) that appears in the film and also dine in the revolving restaurant at Schilthorn Piz Gloria that was the location of Blofeld's headquarters.
The Sound of Music - 2 Disc 40th Anniversary Special Edition
What more needs to be said? If you already know and love it, this is the version of The Sound of Music that I recommend. Extras include a documentary looking back at the success of the film and a tour of the movie's locations with Charmian Carr (Liesl). You can also switch on the subtitles to sing along with all the classic tunes from My Favorite Things to Sixteen Going on Seventeen!
This is a perfect movie for family viewing, which will keep everyone from small children to grandmothers entertained!
549 '5 star' reviews on Amazon.com (and climbing!).
I personally find this an enchanting movie from the first aerial shot of the Alps to the very last scene. Clearly I'm not alone!
Watch it for the uplifting and gently funny story of how Maria changed the lives of the von Trapp family, watch it for the songs we all know and love, or watch it for stunning scenery and a brief insight into the political situation of Austria in the Second World War. Whatever your reasons, this film will make you fall in love with Austria all over again.
Read Amazon customer reviews for The Sound of Music
Taking 'The Sound of Music' Locations Tour
© 2010 Indigo Janson