There is something about mountains that gives you a sense of freedom, a feeling of detachment from the affairs of the world – as if time has frozen still to match the frigid peaks. It is indeed a sight for sore eyes.
Scottish-American naturalist and environmental philosopher John Muir once said, “I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news.”
So, let’s just take his advice and check what’s on offer at the Alpine destinations in Europe that are high on our list of glorious mountain getaways.
The European Alps! Just the name itself evokes a sense of wonder and awe. The highest and longest mountain range in Europe, the Alps traverses eight countries, referred to as Alpine countries. Going west to east, they are France, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, and Slovenia.
Out of the hundred or so peaks in the Alps that are higher than 4,000 meters, Mount Blanc, straddling the French-Italian border, is the highest of them all at 4,810 meters above sea level.
Alpine climate – also referred to as highland or mountain climate – generally, refers to the average weather conditions in regions that are above the tree line.
However, the climate varies according to the altitude and area of the Alpine region concerned, and with it, varies the vegetation, wildlife, and weather.
For example, there is great variation in precipitation up in the mountains; certain plants flourish equally well in higher and lower altitudes; while some wildlife species inhabit the higher peaks in the range, thriving at elevations of up to 3,400 meters.
In our list of top Alpine getaways, we have picked one destination each from five of the eight countries that the 1200-km-long mountain range spans.
Located at the confluence of the Drac and Isère rivers at the foot of the French Alps, is the picture-postcard town of Grenoble.
Dubbed the “Capital of the Alps,” due to its area and proximity to the mountains, this 1968-Winter-Olympic city boasts some amazing museums, fantastic cuisine, a vibrant nightlife, top class universities and research centers, an efficient public transport system, great standard of living, and last but not by a long shot the least, a stunning backdrop, what with the mountains of the Parc Naturel Régional de Chartreuse and Parc Naturel Régional du Vercors looming large in the background.
Here are some of the must-see Grenoble attractions.
Bastille – The Bastille is a 19th-century fortress with a watchtower and dungeon, reached by spherical cable cars known as “Les Bulles,” meaning Bubbles, connects Grenoble to the La Bastille hilltop and, it goes without saying, the views between the two points and from atop the hill are simply out of this world.
Paul Mistral Park – Formerly an exhibition area, the 67-acre Paul Minstral Park is known for its sports facilities and the city hall. Also located in the Park is the Perret Tower, an observation tower offering panoramic views of the surrounding landscape and the looming
peaks of the Alps beyond.
Museum of Grenoble – The long-established Museum of Grenoble is home to an impressive collection of European masterpieces, including works by 13th-century masters.
Musée de l’Ancien Évêché – French for “Museum of the Old Bishopric,” the Musée de l’Ancien Évêché is a 1998 departmental museum dedicated to the Isere heritage through the history of its Bishop’s palace.
Musée de la Résistance et de la Déportation à Grenoble – In English, the “Museum of Resistance and Deportation in Grenoble” is a museum dedicated to WWII history with emphasis on the German occupation, the Resistance, deportations & liberation.
Grenoble Archaeological Museum – The Grenoble Archaeological Museum is located at the historic site of the Saint-Laurent church at the foot of the Bastille. It features archaeological discoveries with audio guides, including the famous 6th-century crypt.
Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle – The Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle or the Natural History Museum is home to some 1.5 million specimens of fossils, minerals, plants, and animals.
Le Magasin – Le Magsin, French for “The Shop,” is a contemporary art center, stylishly set in a sprawling, glass-roofed warehouse, with regular exhibitions.
Grenoble Cathedral – The Grenoble Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church located in the – a national monument and the seat of the Bishop of Grenoble.
Interlaken is a beautiful Alpine town in the Bernese Highlands, between Lake Brienz and the Thun Lake connected by the Aare River.
The town not only serves as an excellent launch pad for onward journeys to the majestic peaks and lakes of the region, including the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau mountains, but it is, itself, a fantastic scenic getaway with many attractions and lots exciting activities to indulge in.
Take a boat tour on Lake Brienz to the town’s east, or on Lake Thun on its western flank; hop on a funicular for a ride to the surrounding peaks; wherever you go, there are mind-blowing, to-be-etched forever-in-the-memory sceneries surrounding this great Alpine lakeside resort.
For the active outdoors person, there is no dearth of action, what with a magnificent golf course in Unterseen and sailing and windsurfing on the Lakes, in addition to parasailing, tennis, and horse-riding.
Harder Alpine Wildlife Park – Located across the Aare River at an altitude of 1,322 meters, the Harder Alpine Wildlife Park can be reached via a funicular. True to its name, the Panorama Restaurant at the top affords superlative views of Interlaken, the Jungfrau area, and the glassy-still lakes.
Schynige Platte – The Schynige Platte can be accessed via rack-rail which will take you up to this amazing vantage point offering some of the best panoramic views of the peaks of Jungfrau, Eiger, and Mönch, as well as the lakes below. Interlaken also boasts a hotel (Hotel Klum) and an immaculate alpine garden featuring around 600 species of flowers.
Lake Thun – A long, narrow lake surrounded by the French Alps can be best explored on a cruise boat or the historic paddle steamer, restored to its past glory.
Höheweg – The Höheweg is a superb avenue running the length of 14 hectares of land belonging to a consortium of hotel owners and private individuals, purchased with the farsighted purpose of leaving it as an open space. Along the avenue, is the Kursaal featuring a theatre, a café, beautiful gardens with a flower clock, in addition to several hotels, including the Victoria Jungfrau Hotel.
Aosta, the main city in the Aosta Valley region, is situated near the entrance of the Mont Blanc Tunnel on the Italian side, where the Buthier and the Dora Baltea rivers meet.
Once an important Roman settlement, Aosta is a bilingual town with both French and Italian being the official language of the place, while the locals speak a sing-song Valdostan dialect.
Some of the top attractions in Aosta are:
Roman Theater – The Roman Theatre is an ancient building built during the reign of Augustus, some decades after the foundation of the city, as is evident from the pre-existing structures in the area.
Pila – Pila is a picturesque ski resort with a terrain park and an area with sledding and other activities for all ages.
Arch of Augustus – The Arch of Augustus is a monument in the city of Aosta, northern Italy. It was erected in 25 BC on the occasion of the Roman victory over the Salassi and was the work of Aulus Terentius Varro.
Sant’Orso – Sant’Orso, or Saint-Ours, is a collegiate church in Aosta, northern Italy, dedicated to Saint Ursus of Aosta. The original church had a single hall, delimited by a semicircular apse.
Aosta Cathedral – The Aosta Cathedral is a well-known 11th-century church with a
neoclassical 19th-century facade featuring frescoes and a crypt.
Pont d’Aël – The Pont d’Aël is a Roman aqueduct, located in a village of the same name in the comune of Aymavilles in Aosta Valley, northern Italy. It was built in the year 3BC for irrigation purposes.
Sarriod de la Tour Castle – The Sarriod de la Tour Castle is a medieval stone castle featuring frescoes & wooden ceilings with grotesque heads carved into them.
Monte Emilius – Monte Emilius is located just above the town of Aosta, from where it is visible looking southwards behind the lower Becca di Nona.
Châtel-Argen – Châtel Argent in the Alpine town of Villeneuve, overlooking the Dora Baltea River was once a magnificent medieval castle, but today only the ruins remain as a sad but striking reminder of its glorious past.
The tiny Principality of Monaco lies in the Maritime Alps, bordered on three sides by France, while one side of the tiny city-country borders the Mediterranean coast.
Tiny it may be, but by no means does it lack any of the splendor and beauty of other Alpine destinations.
The principality boasts the world-famous Monte Carlo Casino, the Palace, the Salle Garnier Opera House in addition to various luxury hotels and leisure facilities, including the recently developed Larvotto Beach, the Monte Carlo Sporting Club, and the Boulingrins Gardens.
Fontvieille is the man-made waterfront area featuring a harbor, stadium, sports complex, heliport, and a pollution-free industrial zone, as well as shopping areas and the new Columbus Monaco hotel. It is the newest area in the Principality created on land reclaimed from the sea.
The Condamine, which means arable land at the foot of a castle or bordering a village, is the second oldest area in Monaco.
Moneghetti is home to the Révoires and the Exotic Gardens on the western border with Cap d`Ail.
One of the most picturesque resort towns in the Bavarian Alps, Berchtesgaden forms a wedge into Austria surrounded by the formidable peaks of the Hoher Göll, the Watzmann, the Hochkalter, and the Untersberg mountains.
Landmarks and attractions of Berchtesgaden
Kehlsteinhaus – Formerly a mountain-top retreat of Adolf Hitler, the Kehlsteinhaus now serves as a restaurant with drop-dead views of the Bavarian Alps.
Untersberg – The Untersberg is the northernmost massif of the Berchtesgaden Alps, a prominent spur straddling the border between Berchtesgaden and Salzburg in Austria.
Dokumentationszentrum Obersalzberg – French for “Documentation Center Obersalzberg,” the Dokumentationszentrum Obersalzberg is a center for study, remembrance & debates on National Socialism, with permanent & temporary exhibits.
Berghof – The Berghof was Adolf Hitler’s home in the Obersalzberg of the Bavarian Alps, where he spent most of his time during WWII other than, the Wolfsschanze, or the “Wolf’s Lair,” which was his East Prussia headquarter during the invasion of the Soviet Union.
Salzbergwerk – The Salzbergwerk is a 13th-century active salt mine, complete with miners’ slides, a salt lake, and an illuminated grotto.
Kehlstein – A sub-peak of the 2,522 meter-high Göll massif, Kehlstein lies at an altitude of 1,881 meters west of the Hoher Göll.
Schellenberg Ice Cave – The Schellenberg Ice cave is part of the Untersberg massif at 1570 meters above sea level. It is the only open ice cave in the Germany.
Berchtesgadener Hochthron – The highest peak of the Untersberg massif, the Berchtesgaden Hochthron offers some of the most awesome and unobstructed views of the region.
Lattengebirge – Also known as the Latten Mountains, The Lattengebirge is a mountain range reaching heights of up to 1,738 meters above sea level.