The Alps

The Alps are the youngest and highest mountain system in Europe. They stretch across the western and southern part of the continent in a broad arc. The mountain range starts near the Mediterranean Seaon the border between France and Italy. Then it curves north- and eastward through northern Italy, Switzerland Liechtenstein, southern Germany, Austria and Slovenia.

Lake Weissensee in Austrian Alps

About 1,000 km long, the broadest section of the Alps is over 260 km wide. The highest peak, Mont Blanc, situated on the border between France, Italy and Switzerland, rises 4807 meters above sea level . Other famous peaks are the Monte Rosa, the Matterhorn, the Großglockner and the Zugspitze.

The Alps span some 200 kilometres (125 miles), at an average altitude of 1700 m (5576 ft), The snow line begins at 2,500-2,800 meters (8,200-9186 feet). There are 48 mountains which are 4,000 meters (13,120 feet) or higher and about 1,800 glaciers. The valleys of several major rivers – the Rhone, Upper Rhine, Reuss and Ticino – divide the mountain ranges.

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Glaciers cover an area of 1230 km ² (3% of the Swiss territory), representing 44% of the total glaciated area in the Alps (2800 km ²). The largest glacier in the Alps is the Aletsch Glacier (German: Aletschgletscher) with length of about 23 km and covering more than 120 square kilometers (more than 45 square miles). It’s located in the Bernese Alps in the canton of Valais. The largest of these glaciers is the Aletsch in Switzerland which reaches a length of about 25 km. The longest glacier of the eastern Alps is the 8 km long Pasterze, at the foot of the Großglockner.

The Karwendel is the largest range of the Northern Limestone Alps.

The whole mountain range is divided into three sections:  The western Alps lie west of the Great St. Bernard Pass and include the highest mountains. The central Alps lie between the Great St. Bernard and Lake Constance. The eastern Alps stretch east of Lake Constance into Austria, northern Italy, southern Germany and Slovenia. They are the lowest section of the mountain range.

The Alps in Switzerland

Forming a massive arc from Nice to Vienna, the Alps are also one of the largest and highest mountain ranges in the world. Dynamic natural processes continuously reshape the landscape and are the driving force for biological diversity. Many kinds of plants grow in the various areas of the Alps. The valleys have rich, green pastures with beech and oak trees growing in the lower regions. These trees are deciduous, which means they lose their leaves each year.

A house in the Alps.

In 1786 two Frenchmen became the first to reach the top of Mt. Blanc, Europe’s highest peak. The Alps are divided by rivers and other topographic features into more than 40 subunits for which local names are commonly used. Well-known groups in the W Alps (from the Riviera to the Great St. Bernard Pass) include the Maritime, Ligurian, Cottian, and Graian alps, the Mont Blanc group, and Valle d’Aosta. The highest western peaks are Mont Blanc, Mont Pelvoux, Monte Viso, and the Gran Paradiso; the chief routes across this section are via the Mont Cénis Tunnel and the Great and Little St. Bernard passes. The Central Alps (between the Great St. Bernard and Brenner passes) include, in the south, the Pennine, Lepontine, Phaetian, and Ötztal alps; and, in the north, the Bernina, Glarus, Allgäu, and Bavarian alps.

Colma di Mombarone in the Italian part of the Alps.

The principal peaks of the Central Alps are Monte Rosa, the Matterhorn, the Finsteraarhorn, the Jungfrau, and the Wildspitze; the chief routes are the Simplon Tunnel and the St. Gotthard, Grimsel, Furka, Splügen, Bernina, and Brenner passes. The E Alps comprise, in the south, the Dolomites, the Carnic Alps, and the Julian Alps; and, in the north, the Hohe Tauern and Niedere Tauern; the principal eastern peak is Grossglockner. Most major routes across the E Alps follow the Brenner and Semmering passes.