'Rambling' in the Alps
Senior Instructor Martin Chester runs you through what attracted him to walk in the alps and why you should think about joining us, trekking in the Alps this year.
Mention the Alps and it conjures up a chocolate box image of dramatic peaks, jumbled glaciers and rocky towers. But the Alps are not just for mountaineers with summit aspirations. If you want all the views, from the security of well worn trails, then some of our Alpine walking holidays could be for you.
Since the Victorians became obsessed with exploring the Alps, there have been countless tales of daring do from the heights. In fact, the majority of Victorians enjoyed the Alps for the restorative properties of the fresh air, in times of smog and pleurisy at home. Many of the most famous resorts were established as centres for rest and recuperation - with fresh air, and natural thermal waters.
Of course, communities have thrived amongst the Alps for centuries, farming the land. The meadows are riddled with an historical network of trails and paths, from one valley to another, crossing high alpine passes. Many of these paths would have been herders or drovers tracks from times gone by - historical trade routes from one valley to the next.
Travelling from one hut to another, these routes lead from meadow to pass with an ever changing vista. The walkers version of the Chamonix to Zermatt high level route follows one of the most famous mountain journeys. Travelling below the snowline on good trails, you get all the views of Switzerland's most majestic peaks, yet unencumbered by the chattels of mountaineering.
There is a common misconception. An "Alp" is not necessarily the pointy bit at all, rather a high pasture. Above the villages, where the glaciers have long since receded, they have left sleepy hollows of fertile land, where farmers tend their herds amongst meadows of wild flowers. This is the real beauty of the Alps - the culture, the history and tradition, and the bio-diversity. Mountaineers may rush through - in such a hurry to get absorbed by the climbing - and to access the huts at the base of climbs. But what if you were to stay in these huts, to savour the views from these meadows? Passing calmly from one hut to the next, peaks tower above, the jagged rocks and snowy passes contrast with the rolling greenery. Yet here, you can soak up the warmth of the sun, pause for a drink at a crystal clear fountain, relax in the company of birds and bouquetins.
These Alpine huts have their own history and tradition as well. Many were originally set up to provide shelter for travellers on their journey across a high Alpine pass. Some, like the lofty Vignettes hut, were monasteries. Others would have started life as a high summer dwelling for drovers and shepherds. By staying up in the huts, you can savour this experience day after day, without the need to return to the valley (and without the need to burden yourself with a heavy sack).
These cosy retreats in the mountains are often the pride of their guardians, and many have been in the same families for years. Here they make a living from the passing travellers. The modern huts are a far cry from their humble beginnings, but they are still fairly basic: Amazing food is provided from a tiny kitchen; comfortable mattresses in shared dormitories; some even have duvets! Everything you need to spend a comfortable night, in an otherwise inhospitable place.
So if you'd like to immerse yourself in the rich history, culture and wildlife of these wonderful mountains - follow in the footsteps of shepherds and travellers - then think about hut to hut walking in the Alps this summer. See our "Snowy Peaks and Passes " course in the new brochure, or click on the link below for more details.