The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday
Put your best foot forward on an alpine escape
From steady climbs in the shadow of Mont Blanc to family-friendly ambles in Austria, there’s a hike for all ages and abilities, say Paul Bloomfield
There are as many walking adventures to enjoy in the Alps as there are hiking trails – which is to say, almost countless. Switzerland alone is spidered with over 40,000 miles of paths; extrapolate that across Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia and little Liechtenstein, and the array of on-foot adventures is dizzying. And just as no two trails are the same, so views, wildlife, cuisines, cultures and experiences vary hugely throughout the region.
Partly, that is down to the diverse geography of the alpine regions, from the granite and gneiss of the Mont Blanc massif to the gleaming limestone of the Dolomites, with scenic shifts to match: pinewoods and wildflower-strewn meadows, gorges fed by ribbon cataracts and lake-studded glacial valleys, fanged ridges and gleaming pinnacles.
Those towering crags historically divided peoples not only politically but also culturally and linguistically. Eavesdrop on a conversation in a Swiss village and you might hear French, German, Italian or even Romansh. And in Italy you could encounter murmurs of ancient Occitan in western Piedmont, or Ladin – a throwback to the ancient Roman tongue – in the Alta Badia region of the Dolomites. Restaurants variously serve saucisson or strudel, rye bread or baguettes, polenta or pork speck dumplings, and you’ll find a different cheese to sample in every valley – accompanied by a nip of génépi in France, fruity schnapps in Slovenia.
It’s unsurprising, then, that Alpine walking holidays are similarly diverse, having proliferated exponentially in the two and a half centuries since Swiss geologist Horace-Bénédict de Saussure hired porters from Chamonix for the first circuit of Mont Blanc. Today you can strike out on easy ambles from a comfortable hotel, or trek across breath-snatching cols between remote mountain refuges. Trusting your own navigation skills isn’t so tricky in Switzerland, with its 50,000 unmissable yellow signposts, or on the region’s many waymarked long-distance trails. But you could arrange to be accompanied by a local trekking guide, a specialist expert – in Alpine flora and wildlife, perhaps – a donkey or even an alpaca. Carry your own backpack or arrange luggage transfers. Tackle two miles a day or 20, over a fortnight or a long weekend. Go with a group of like-minded strangers, with your partner and children, even on a womenonly tour led by a female guide.
In short, whatever your interests, experience and energy levels, you will find an Alpine walking break that is right for you. Here is our selection of the most tempting trips for this summer.