The Alps are an iconic mountain range spanning across seven countries (from west to east): France, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Austria, Germany, and Slovenia. This popular mountain range has inspired and motivated travelers from around the world to embrace the impressive landscapes and challenge themselves in these wondrous formations.
Two of the region’s most famous peaks reside in the French Alps and Swiss Alps. Notably, Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn, have enamored eager mountaineers since the late-1700s. Although often visited in the winter for skiing, summertime and autumn are perfect for a refreshing mountain experience, plus offer a diverse range of activities — hiking, trekking, biking, climbing, sightseeing, shopping in the charming towns, and thrill-seeking adventure sports. Here are locations to consider, while planning ahead for next summer!
CHAMONIX & MONT BLANC
Since Chamonix hosted the first Winter Olympics in 1924, it has become an international destination for access to skiing in the Alps. Nestled next to Chamonix, is the tallest peak in the European Alps named Mont Blanc (15,557), which has drawn outdoor enthusiasts from around the world to summit this highest point. In 1789, two Frenchmen, Michael Gabriel Paccard and Jacques Balmat, made history with the first ascent. Soon after, Chamonix would become recognized as the birthplace of alpinism.
Now, Chamonix is an ideal launch point for any type of mountain adventure, including paragliding, day hiking, multi-day trekking, and mountain or road biking. Additionally, a network of gondolas is easily accessible for viewing picturesque landscapes. This French mountain town sees high foot traffic over the summer with a number of festivals, trendy shops, spas, as well as French and Swiss cuisine. Foodies should indulge in the raclette, a melted cheese dish served with bread and charcuterie, which is the signature regional dish. Also, it’s worth taking a side trip to France’s largest glacier, Mer de Glace and wandering through the phenomenal ice caves.
ZERMATT & THE MATTERHORN
Zermatt is a romantic resort village located in the Swiss Alps, a destination known for world-class skiing, climbing, and the Matterhorn. It is also one of the only places in Europe that is car-free, making it a pedestrian-friendly place to stroll through the quaint neighborhoods and marvel at enchanting cottages built 500 years ago.
Visit Zermatt in the summer and autumn to explore the hundreds of hiking trails, hop on the Klein Matterhorn Aerial Tramway (the highest cable car station in Europe), and enjoy the luxurious spas around town. For the hardcore adventurers, hire an alpine guide to summit some of the peaks surrounding Zermatt such as the Breithorn traverse, or even, the Matterhorn.
TREKKING IN THE ALPS
Trekking along the famous hut-to-hut system in the Alps makes for an immersive way to experience this mountainous region. When deciding on which trek to choose, the top two choices that often come up are the Tour du Mont Blanc and the Haute Route.
The Tour du Mont Blanc is a classic circumambulation of the Alps’ highest peak, Mont Blanc, which starts in Chamonix. This popular 95-mile trail route crosses through France, Italy, and Switzerland. Over the recommended 11-day trip, trekkers will climb 32,808 vertical feet. You’ll make pit stops at charming towns and mountain huts along the way that serve cozy European cuisine and offer dorm-style rooms. The huts (called rifugios) are a great opportunity to play card games, catch up on novels, and trade adventure stories with other trekkers from around the world. The Tour du Mont Blanc is a well-marked trail with no serious technical sections, making it a challenging, yet feasible trek for self-guided tours.
The Haute Route is also one of the most scenic treks in the world spanning from Chamonix to Zermatt with views of Europe’s most iconic peaks including Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn. There are multiple trip lengths, but the longest route goes 112 miles with 39,360 vertical feet gained. Additionally, the Haute Route has two options: the “Walker’s Route” and the “Glacier/Mountaineer’s Route.” The Walker’s Route is similar in difficulty to the Tour du Mont Blanc with marked trails, while the Glacier Route mostly travels across glaciers and alpine passes. This route requires more technical expertise, and mountaineering gear to navigate through dangerous terrain. Both routes have a cohesive rifugio system, including a few impressive huts hanging off of cliffs that require ladder access.
TIPS TO PREPARE FOR AN ALPINE TREK
Hut to hut summer trekking in the Alps is one of the most memorable trips to go on, but to fully enjoy the experience, there are a number of ways to prepare. Here are a few suggestions.
- Put yourself on a training program. With averaging 10+ miles a day including steep uphill/downhill terrain, it is highly recommended to get into good hiking shape. Consistent exercise will take your fitness to the next level, and will set you up for success. Also, simulating these long days at your nearest hiking spots with the gear you intend on bringing on the trip will help you prepare mentally and allow you to understand how your body recovers with long days on the trail.
- Take a practice trip in high altitudes before heading to the Alps.
- Plan ahead and book your rifugios early. Planning on going to the Alps for next summer? These treks are incredibly popular, so be first on the list to get your top rifugio choices before they fill up. Consider booking at least 6 months in advance.
- Make sure to have a backpack that is no larger than 40L. By choosing a backpack with a maximum of 40L of space, your back will be so grateful, as well as you will learn to pack efficiently for the trip.
- Get shoes that fit and perform well for multi-day trekking. Shoes that have been tested are the tried-and-true way of knowing your feet will hold up for multiple days on the trail, ensuring less foot pain and minimal blisters.
- Invest in lightweight trekking poles. Trekking poles will save your knees on the downhills and help with stability for uneven terrain.
- Bring a travel towel and small shower kit. For the huts with showers, you will need your own shower items to keep clean, which is the most refreshing way to go to bed.
- Pack quick dry clothes, layers, and rain gear. Mountain weather highly fluctuates, even in the summer months. A sunny day can quickly turn to storms by afternoon so layer up with rain gear, gloves, and quick dry clothes for a more comfortable journey while on your way to the next hut.
Bring plenty of cash (in the local currency). At the huts, you will often need to pay in cash to fulfill your reservation for room and board as well as purchasing drinks and snacks. For Switzerland, this means the Swiss francs, and for Italy/France, have Euros on hand.
Here are some recommended pieces of Royal Robbins clothes to bring along for this iconic trip:
Men’s travel clothes:
- Bug Barrier Expedition L/S or Expedition Long Sleeve
- Desert Pucker L/S
- Traveler Zip N’ Go Pant
- Long Distance Traveler L/S
- Everyday Traveler Pant
- Oakham Waterproof Jacket
Women’s travel clothes: