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The Alps is a mountain range in Central Europe stretching from France in the west until Slovenia and Austria in the east. The highest peak in the Alps is the Mont Blanc (4,809 metres/15,774 feet) on the border between France and Italy.
The Alps are a result of the African tectonic plate crushing into the European tectonic plate, which caused the land to rise, and thus forming this 1,200 kilometre long string of mountains, dividing Italy from the rest of Europe. The Alps are divided in the Western Alps, with the highest peaks and the Eastern Alps, with slightly lower peaks. The dividing line is usually placed from Lake Konstanz (in German: Bodensee) in the north, and Lake Como in the south. There are also a lot of regional subdivisions, clustering groups of mountains.
A lot of Europe's big rivers originate in the Alps, The Rhine, The Rhone and the Po all have their origins in the Alps. The Danube, which doesn't originate in the Alps, is fed by a lot of smaller rivers originating on the north side of the Eastern Alps, like the Inn and the Salzach.
The Alps have been the scenery of many of the Winter Olympic Games. Chamonix was the first host in 1924, other towns that hosted the games were St. Moritz (2x), Innsbruck (2x), Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Cortina d'Ampezzo, Grenoble, Albertville and Turin.
Skiing, snowboarding and hiking are obviously the activities done the most in the Alps, but there are also a lot of possibilities for some more extreme sports, like mountaineering, hang gliding, rafting, canyoning and bungee-jumping or just enjoying the scenery of some of the world's most Famous Mountains. There are a lot of big and smaller places in the Alps that are interesting for travelers. In summer Interlaken in Switzerland and Innsbruck in Austria are beloved destinations because of the scenery and the easy way to get there. In winter it is possible to ski or snowboard in almost every town.
Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in the Alps, but it can be climbed. If you are in good shape, and have experience in mountaineering you can climb under the supervision of a guide to the top of the mountain. From Chamonix it's a two day tour that starts are the highest point the cable car can reach, the Aiguille du Midi. For most people a visit to the panorama point at the highest station of the cable car does just fine. The view from here is simply awesome.
The ascent route from here descends to the Cosmiques Hut before traversing Mont Blanc du Tacul and Mont Maudit to gain Mont Blanc itself. The route is graded Alpine PD+ and climbs some steep ice sections. A slightly easier route from the French side ascends from Nid d'Aigle (the end of the Tramway du Mont Blanc from St Gervais) via the Tete Rousse and Gouter Huts. This way is the most popular but can be prone to danger from stonefall. Chamonix also has countless opportunities for the walker and the best known is the Tour du Mont Blanc or TMB which is the full circuit of the mountain taking around 2 weeks and passing through France, Italy and Switzerland.
The longest glacier in the Alps (an UNESCO World Heritage Site), Aletsch Glacier lies in Switzerland not far from Brig. The glacier is 25 kilometres long, and there are cable cars going up the mountains from three of places in the Rhone valley: Mörel, Betten and Fiesch. Once on the top you have a great view over the glacier and the surrounding mountains.
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The Castle Neuschwanstein is the biggest legacy of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. The built of the castle started in 1868, and was completed in 1892 several years after the King died. The castle is that of a fairytale prince, and has become the inspiration for Walt Disney's Castle of the Sleeping Beauty, and it has been copied in some of the Disney parks. The castle itself was inspired on Opera's by Richard Wagner, especially the Opera Tannhauser, in which the Swan knight Lohengrin is the central figure. Seven weeks after the King died in 1886 the castle was opened for the public. It has become one of the European topattractions which is visited by around 1.3 million people every year. The castle is situated in the Alps of southern Germany (Allgäu), near the town of Füssen. Visits can be done pretty easy from Munich aswell. There are several tour operators offering daytrips, but you can also go by train and bus. Near to the castle also lies the castle of Hohenschwangau.
The Jungfrau is located in central Switzerland, in the Berner Oberland and is one of the best known mountains in the country, along with the Matterhorn. At 4,158 metres it is the highest mountain of the massif which has the same name, the other moutains in the vicinity are the Eiger and Mönch. The Jungfrau Railway is the highest in Europe and brings you to a height of 3,454 metres above sea level within the Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn World Heritage Site. It is not cheap but it makes for one of the highlights of a trip to the Swiss Alps.
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Although it is not the highest mountain in the Alps, the Matterhorn is considered to be one of the landmarks in this mountain range. It's distinct piramide-like summit is it's claim to fame. It's part of the Pennine Alps and it overlooks the towns of Zermatt (in Switzerland) and Cervinia (in Italy), but it's from the northside that we all know the well-known image of this mountain.
It is one of the hardest mountains to climb in the Alps, because of it's steep ascent, and also because of the weather conditions. In the last 150 years, over 500 climbers have lost their lives on the flanks of this mountain. For tourists it's probably better to enjoy the view from the top of the Gornergrat Railway, that leads up to a height of 3,089 metres, or from the top of the Klein Matterhorn cable car lift at 3,820 metres (the heighest cable car in Europe.)
Along the Swiss Italian frontier between Zermatt and Alagna Valsesia lies a group of ice clad peaks containing the highest mountain in Switzerland and Europe's highest mountain hut. In fact the next 4 highest peaks in the Alps - after Mont Blanc - are situated here. The massif is known collectively as Monte Rosa though on some maps that name is given to the central peak of Signalkuppe - the 3rd highest of the group at 4,554 metres. The highest point is Dufourspitze at 4,634 metres which lies just to the north and is the highest point in Switzerland. The main features of Monte Rosa are the vast Gorner Glacier which sweeps down from the northern ice fields towards Zermatt and the 2,000 metres high East Face - the so called Mirror Wall - which towers above the Italian Macugnaga valley and is the highest mountain face in the Alps.
Ascents of the Monte Rosa peaks can be made from both the Swiss and Italian sides with the easiest routes being uncomplicated for a mountain of this size, though all involve glacier crossings so should be done with a guide.The route to Signalkuppe topped by the Margherita Hut - Europe's highest - is long and without dfficulty while Dufourspitze is slightly more technical on account of rock sections to climb in the latter stages.
Germany's highest mountain, Zugspitze lies on the border with Austria. It can be accessed by a cable car, and has a restaurant and observatory on the top.
Austria's highest mountain, Grossglockner can be seen from the much travelled Glocknerhochalpestrasse, a pass from the north to the south side of the main ridge. The road is a toll road that runs from Zell am See until Heiligenblut.
Opened only in the summer months (from early May until October), the ice caves of Eisriesenwelt are one of nature's most attractive features in the Alps. As the name already says, inside the caves are ice formations in all kinds of beautiful shapes. The caves, which is the largest accessible ice cave in the world can be found in the mountains above Werfen (40 kilometres south of Salzburg.) The caves are only open for public in summer and early autumn. Their location near to Salzburg, make them a very good daytrip for people staying in the city.
There are a couple of cities in the Alps that are reachable by plane. The only airport that lies in the middle of the Alps is
There are other airports that are situated not far from the mountains, like: Salzburg Airport, Klagenfurt Airport, Orio al Serio International Airport in Bergamo, Friedrichshafen, Geneva Cointrin International Airport, Grenoble and Turin Airport.
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