The first Italian phrase I mastered remains the one used most often today, handy in almost any situation: “Un gelato limone, per favore.” I was 13 when I learned it, a sulky teen enduring a family holiday in the Alps.
We were billeted in a backwoods hamlet in Switzerland’s Italophone Ticino canton. Summits and forests and meadows of indescribable loveliness ranged all around – yet, perversely, the highlight of each day was that frozen treat from the village shop. My rambling-obsessed father occasionally cajoled us into exploring the pine-decked peaks – which, I now appreciate, were beyond eye-popping. Mostly, though, I moped (and ate ice cream). A fortnight was spent stubbornly clinging to boredom, as only an adolescent can in the face of exquisite natural beauty.
Fast-forward 30-something years to last June, and those five magic words were being wheeled out again. Now, though, that chilled indulgence was merely the ice (cream) on the cake as I revelled in the dazzling glory of the mountains. Cable cars and ski lifts, pressed into service for summer visitors to Italy’s Alta Badia region, whisked me from pretty Ladin villages up to high trails. I pedalled, ran and hiked to mountain huts that dished up Dolomites panoramas alongside morsels from Michelin-starred chefs. I clambered along vertiginous via ferrata and high-altitude tracks once trudged by First World War soldiers. I sipped citrusy Hugo prosecco cocktails as the sunset enrosadira (alpenglow) set lofty limestone crags aflame. I slurped gelato. A lot of it.
Certainly, I’ve changed over the past three decades – but holidays in the Alps have changed more. Over that time, we Brits have cottoned on to an important fact: there’s a lot more fun to be had among the peaks of Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, Germany and Slovenia than on a beach (well, that’s certainly my view). And Alpine resorts, keen to fill beds vacant outside the ski season, have pulled out all the stops to make themselves as enticing in summer as they are under three feet of snow.
Today these mountains encompass an al fresco department store of adventures. Unsurprisingly, hiking tops the bill; Switzerland alone is laced with more than 40,390 miles (65,000km) of waymarked trails – astonishing in a country just 220-ish miles long. But the roster of activities available in the Alps continues to grow apace. There are mountain bikes, carbon-fibre bikes, e-bikes and bike hotels. Festivals welcome stars of opera, jazz, reggae and film. Families can try caving, canyoning and canoeing, paragliding and pony-trekking. Accommodation ranges from Heidi-esque farmstays to hip design hotels to belle époque grand dames. Here, we’ve curated a selection of 30 Alpine holidays to show just a fraction of this variety.
Next week I head back to Switzerland, certain – despite all those changes – of three eternal, immutable truths. The mountains will still mesmerise. The trains will still run on time. And there will still be lemon ice cream. Ciao bella!
1. On the Tour in France
Unique as a fingerprint, the 21 bends of the Alpe d’Huez stage are instantly recognisable to Tour de France aficionados. This fierce ascent is the climax of Saddle Skedaddle’s eight-day Classic Alps Passes tour. Starting in Samoëns, expert guides coax mountain novices up a succession of the Tour’s most notorious climbs.
From £1,445, including accommodation, breakfasts and most lunches, guides and support vehicle, but excluding flights and bike hire. Departs August 19. Saddle Skedaddle (0191 265 1110; skedaddle.co.uk).
2. Amble beneath the Jungfrau
The trio of muscular peaks ranged south of Wengen – Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau – belie some of the gentle trails beneath. Adagio’s eight-day Lazy Alps tour explores these using the network of trains and cable cars – notably the venerable cog railway from Wilderswil to Schynige Platte, where a modest meander rewards with arguably the Alps’ most breathtaking 360-degree panorama.
From £1,335pp, including flights and half-board accommodation. Departs July 22, August 19 and 26, September 2. Adagio Holidays (01707 386700; adagio.co.uk).
3. Go gourmet in the Dolomites
The Alta Badia valley in Italy’s South Tirol boasts a constellation of Michelin stars – and ample opportunities for justifying gastronomic excess. Powder Byrne’s Air & Space programme, based at chic Rosa Alpina in San Cassiano, packs horseriding, mountain biking, via ferrata, guided walks (and a smidgen of wine-tasting) into an otherwise self-indulgent week.
From £2,750pp, including seven nights’ accommodation, breakfasts and activities, but excluding flights. Departures in July and August. Powder Byrne (020 8246 5300; powderbyrne.com).
4. Wet and wild in the Julian Alps
Slovenia’s Julian Alps provide bountiful opportunities for adrenalin-filled adventures. Activities Abroad’s eight-day tour Slovenia – Europe’s Secret Adventure Playground challenges families to raft the whitewaters of the Soca River, try tubing on Most na Soči Lake, and leap and slide down Susec Canyon. Trekking, climbing and abseiling round off the menu.
From £855/£805 for adults/under-14s, including flights, seven nights’ accommodation, most meals, car hire, activities, equipment and tuition. Departures to August 26. Activities Abroad (01670 789991; activitiesabroad.com).
5. Forage in Carinthia
Explore wild food and natural remedies at the renowned Kräuterdorf (Herb Village) in Irschen, western Carinthia, Austria, where workshops cover themes including edible flowers, remedies and baking. Nearby Landhof Irschen offers a Wanderwochen (hiking week) package including guided walks, and can bolt on sessions at the Kräuterdorf.
From €675pp (£595), with seven nights’ half-board accommodation and three themed guided hikes. Landhof Irschen (0043 4710 200 480; landhof-irschen.at).
6. Mountains to Med in Provence
Arrive by train from Nice then hike from the gorgeous medieval town of La Brigue, crammed beneath the crags of the south-westernmost arc of the Alps, to the Côte d’Azur at Menton. On Foot Holidays’ eight-day self-guided Alpes Maritimes tour is a medium-hard route tracing little-trodden trails between charming villages perchés.
From £835pp including seven nights’ accommodation, breakfasts and six other meals, luggage transfers and route information, but excluding flights. Departures until October. On Foot Holidays (01722 322652; onfootholidays.co.uk).
7. A stopover in Switzerland’s prettiest village
In October, the picturesque medieval hamlet of Morcote in Ticino was voted Switzerland’s prettiest village – and little wonder. Perched at the tip of a promontory jutting into Lake Lugano, its arcades, alleys, churches, piazzas and palazzi are simply enchanting. Pick a base at Como – our choices are the four-star Hotel Villa Flori or former summer palace Villa d’Este – from which to explore the handsome lakeside settlements of Lugano and nearby lakes Como and Maggiore.
For the full list of Telegraph-recommended hotels on Lake Como, see telegraph.co.uk/tt-bestlakecomohotels
8. Summit Italy in a weekend
The tallest peak entirely in Italy is Gran Paradiso, at a breath-snatching 12,323ft. Challenging, certainly – but achievable even for Alpinist beginners on KE Adventure’s five-day Gran Paradiso Weekend. With skills training, expert guides and two cracks at the summit, it offers an excellent chance to climb Italy’s roof on a short break.
From £795pp, including four nights’ half-board accommodation, guide and equipment, excluding flights. Departures August 24 and September 7. KE Adventure (01768 773966; keadventure.com).
9. Get into hot water in Switzerland
Wind down post-Wimbledon like Roger Federer at Grand Resort Bad Ragaz. The complex offers activities galore, including horseriding, hiking, cycling and golf, but it’s the thermal waters and treatments at the 36.5C Wellbeing and Thermal Spa that attract the stars and anchor the Summer Breeze and Mountain Air programme.
Package from £244pppn, including accommodation, breakfasts, four-course lunch or dinner, and spa programme. Valid to August 31. Grand Resort Bad Ragaz (0041 81 3033 030; resortragaz.ch).
10. Flora and finery on Lake Constance
The shores of Lake Constance, shared between Germany, Switzerland and Austria, have long hosted aristocrats including the young Napoleon III. Inghams’ seven-day Castles and Gardens of Lake Constance tour features guided visits to palaces, castles, stately gardens and the renowned “flower island” of Mainau.
From £1,439pp, including flights, six nights’ half-board accommodation and guided tours. Departs August 2 and 23, and September 13. Inghams (01483 791116; inghams.co.uk).
11. Amble the alternative Camino
Centuries before Grand Tourists roamed the Alps for education and edification, British pilgrims traversed the range on the Via Francigena between Canterbury and Rome. Francigena Way’s 10-day Via Francigena in the Alps self-guided hike links Lausanne and Aosta via Lake Geneva, the Unesco World Heritage-listed terraced vineyards of Lavaux and the St Bernard Pass.
From €1,440pp, including nine nights’ accommodation, breakfasts, route notes and luggage transfers, but not flights. Suitable until end September. Francigena Ways (0203 468 1516; francigenaways.com).
12. Test your metal in Arlberg
Austria’s west Tirol region is carving a niche as a hotspot for daredevils. Climbers tackle testing multi-pitch routes, but mere mortals – with a steady nerve – can sample the experience on the Arlberg Via Ferrata, nearly two miles (3km) of vertiginous clambering. For more adrenalin surges, mountain-bike the 2,485-plus miles (4,000km) of trails at the Zugspitz Arena on the German border, or raft the Ötztal.
13. Trek the classic Tour du Mont Blanc
On the 250th anniversary of the first circuit around the Alps’ highest peak (Swiss aristocrat Horace Benedict de Saussure completed a loop in 1767), the 105-mile (170km) Tour de Mont Blanc remains one of Europe’s finest treks. Explore’s self-guided tour includes luggage transfer and stays in family-run mountain huts and hotels.
From £1,475pp including 10 nights’ accommodation, breakfasts, eight other meals and luggage transfers, excluding flights. Departures to September 15. Explore (01252 883719; explore.co.uk).
14. Paddle power on Lake Brienz
This summer, turquoise-hued Lake Brienz, flanking Interlaken, has a new watersports trail. Kayaks and stand-up paddle-boards can be picked up at three locations along the nine-mile (15km) lake’s shore; an online map (paddletrail.ch/en/routes) details hire locations and itineraries passing fishing villages, ruined castles and delightful Giessbach falls. Brienz is accessible from lively Lucerne.
The Hotel, is our pick of the accommodation in Lucerne (telegraph.co.uk/tt-thehotellucerne).
15. Cycle your own Giro d’Italia
On the 100th anniversary of the renowned Italian bike race, emulate the Giro with Headwater’s 10-day self-guided Italian Alps to Lake Garda Cycling tour. This 131-mile (211km) odyssey descends from the Austrian border through South Tirol and Trentino – “the most beautiful wine garden in Europe,” wrote Goethe – to medieval Riva del Garda.
From £1,539pp including flights, rail transfers, nine nights’ accommodation, breakfasts, bike and luggage transfers. Departures until October 6. Headwater (01606 822675; headwater.com).
16. Royal rambles in Bavaria
The legacy of “Swan King” Ludwig II of Bavaria looms large over the German Alps – not least in the form of Neuschwanstein, his hallmark fairytale castle. Walks Worldwide’s eight-day Bavarian Alps in Style tour offers suitably regal hiking and superior accommodation, visiting Ludwig’s piles Linderhof, bijou hilltop Schachenschloss and, of course, Neuschwanstein.
From £1,187pp including seven nights accommodation, breakfasts, walking notes and luggage transfers, excluding flights. Departures to September 30. Walks Worldwide (01962 302085; walksworldwide.com).
17. Canoe and cave in Salzkammergut
The limestone crags and caverns of Austria’s lake district beg to be clambered over, paddled across and delved into by children. Cycle around and canoe across Lake Hallstatt, overnight atop Mount Kalmberg and wriggle through the Koppenbrüllerhöhle cave system on Families Worldwide’s eight-day Active Austria itinerary.
From £949/£899 per adult/child, including seven nights’ half-board and activities, excluding flights. Departs August 19. Families Worldwide (01962 302062; familiesworldwide.co.uk).
18. Sail from St Moritz
A pellucid string of pearls stretches along the upper Engadine Valley below the pistes of St Moritz. Sailors’ favourite is Lake Sils, across which the Majola wind gusts from the high peaks. Catch the breeze on a boat-focused package at grande dame hotel Suvretta House, in conjunction with St Moritz Sailing Club.
From CHF4,280pp (£3,430) for seven nights’ half-board accommodation and week-long sailing course, excluding flights. Suvretta House (0041 81 836 3636; suvrettahouse.ch).
19. Discover Piedmont’s hidden valley
In the remote Valle Maira high in Italy’s Cottian Alps, long-isolated people still speak an Occitan dialect and cling to vanishing ways. Inntravel offers eight days’ self-guided walking in Piedmont’s Magical Valley, tracing the ancient footpaths of the “Percorsi Occitani” across lavender-purpled hillsides and between cosy guesthouses, hotels and agriturismos.
From £995pp, including eight nights’ half-board accommodation, six picnics and luggage transfers, excluding flights. Departures to end September. Inntravel (01653 617001; inntravel.co.uk).
20. Play for less in Verbier
Switzerland is not short of exclusive, glamorous resorts – and in ski season, Verbier is among the priciest. Summer, though, is better value, particularly with the introduction of a new Verbier Infinite Playground Pass, gratis to guests in the resort. The pass covers cable cars (notably to 20,925ft Mont-Fort), transport, events, and discounts on via ferrata, golf and a host of other activities.
Treat yourself to a luxe stay at the Telegraph-lauded W Verbier (telegraph.co.uk/tt-wverbier).
21. Lakeside beauty in Slovenia
The spectacular glacial lakes, gorges and plateaux of the Julian Alps, eastern end of the range, provide tempting fare for walkers. Exodus’s eight-day guided Lakes and Mountains in Slovenia tour explores romantic lakes Bled and Bohinj, Martuljak waterfalls and the limestone crags of the Karavanke Mountains. The August 9 departure caters for solo hikers.
From £1,019pp, including flights, seven nights’ accommodation, breakfasts and three dinners. Departs July 22, August 9 (solo), September 2 and 16. Exodus (0203 131 6467; exodus.co.uk).
22. The hills are alive in Austria
Active child? The Zillertal valley in the Austrian Tirol is awash with demanding trails. Reluctant rambler? Easy routes accessible by cable cars abound here, too. HF Holidays’ eight-day Family Walking Adventure at Mayrhofen offers a choice of walks each day, so you can stitch together a programme with the right balance for your brood.
From £1,089pp, including flights, seven nights’ half-board and guided walks. Departs August 5. HF Holidays (0345 470 8558; hfholidays.co.uk).
23. Balm for body and soul in Gstaad
Mountain air, centuries of wisdom assert, is marvellously medicinal – but for a belt-and-braces cure-all, augment Alpine breezes with an expansive luxury well-being programme. The Fusion Fitness package at the Alpina Gstaad hotel in Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland offsets indulgence with tailored cardio, strength, spa and wellness sessions including yoga and tai chi classes.
From £2,840pp including flights, seven nights’ accommodation, breakfasts and a selection of activities and treatments. Health and Fitness Travel (0203 397 8891; healthandfitnesstravel.com).
24. Paddles and pasta in the Italian Lakes
Savour a helping of mountain sandwiched between two lakes – Como and Garda – on a multi-activity adventure. Intrepid Travel’s eight-day Active Italian Lakes tour hikes, bikes and kayaks around and across the lakes, dipping into Switzerland to walk to the Morteratsch Glacier and board the Bernina Express back to Italy – with ample time to sample local pizzoccheri and chinotto.
From £1,750pp, including seven nights’ accommodation, breakfast and activities, excluding flights. Departures September 3 and 24. Intrepid (0808 274 5111; intrepidtravel.com).
25. Peak practice in the Swiss Alps
If you dream of bagging a technical peak – 15,780ft Mont Blanc, for example – you must master crampons and ice-axes. Mountain Kingdoms’ five-day Introduction to Alpine Mountaineering trains on Swiss summits around Saas Grund, tackling glaciers, via ferrata and a 13,000ft-plus peak to provide the necessary skills for an assault on the White Mountain (available as an add-on).
From £1,105pp, including flights, four nights’ half-board accommodation, equipment and expert guide. Departs August 24. Mountain Kingdoms (01453 844400; mountainkingdoms.com).
26. Teenage kicks in Chamonix
Teens can be demanding travellers, so a programme pitched at pre-adults is a boon. Scott Dunn’s Alpine Summer Adventure, a tailor-made week-long holiday at Hotel Mont Blanc in Chamonix, can include a custom-designed “Cham Teens” activity package; a five-day menu might feature canyoning, paragliding, rafting, rock climbing and mountain biking.
From £1,950pp, including flights, seven nights’ accommodation, breakfasts, activities, guides and equipment. Scott Dunn (020 8682 5030; scottdunn.com).
27. Flora and fauna in the Alps
Early summer sees meadows strewn with dazzling wildflowers, while forests and peaks bustle with young birds and animals. Now’s the time to book ahead for a visit in June, the Alps’ peak season for nature-lovers. Naturetrek’s eight-day Bavarian Alps itinerary explores Berchtesgaden National Park, spotting rare alpine orchids, butterflies and birds, and squeezing in a visit to Salzburg.
From £1,595pp, including flights, seven nights’ full-board accommodation and guide. Departs June 4 2018. Naturetrek (01962 733051; naturetrek.co.uk).
28. Nature photography in the Tirol
The vivid hues and diverse forms of Alpine flowers provide perfect subjects for landscape and macro photography. On The Travelling Naturalist’s eight-day small-group Close-up on Alpine Nature trip in Austria’s western Tirol, pro snappers Alex Hyde and Nick Garbutt dispense expert nature photography tips. Book now for next wildflower season.
From £1,895pp, including flights, seven nights’ full-board and tutors. Departs June 16 2018. The Travelling Naturalist (01305 267994; naturalist.co.uk).
29. Alpine flowers in the Bernese Oberland
If plants are your passion, join an Alpine flora expert on a Royal Horticultural Society-backed visit to the forests and meadows of the Bernese Oberland. Plant hunter Julia Corden guides Brightwater Holidays’ eight-day Alpine Flowers of Wengen tour, seeking lady’s slipper orchids and other rare species as well as visiting the famed Alpine Garden at Schynige Platte.
From £1,895pp, including flights, seven nights’ half-board accommodation and guide. Departs June 1 2018. Brightwater Holidays (01334 657155; brightwaterholidays.com).
30. Music and magical castles in Germany
The music of Wagner and the opulent architecture of Bavarian King Ludwig II are closely tied, historically and spiritually. Book now to experience two of the German composer’s most iconic works on Andante Travel’s five-day Wagner at the Munich Opera Festival itinerary, which also visits Ludwig’s fantasy masterpiece Neuschwanstein Castle.
From £2,395pp, including flights, four nights’ accommodation, concert tickets and excursions. Departs June 28 2018. Andante Travels (01722 713800; andantetravels.com).