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What are the Alps?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Alps are a system of mountains which wrap around the top of Italy and down into the Baltic Peninsula. These mountains are famous in the West, lending their name to a number of English terms including “alpine.” Visitors to the Alps enjoy skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and other winter sports on these famous slopes, and the Alps have been used as a backdrop in countless films, photographs, and paintings, placing them among the most famous mountain ranges in the world.

These mountains stretch in a chain around 500 miles (805 kilometers) long by 100 miles (161 kilometers) wide. The highest peak in the Alps is found near the French-Italian border at the summit of Mont Blanc, which stands 15,771 feet (4,810 meters) tall. Some Alpine peaks are tall enough to be capped with snow and glaciers year round, although global warming in the late 20th century led to significant shrinkage of the Alpine glaciers.

Moving from West to East, the Alps start in France, moving through Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and into the Baltic Peninsula. Many people divide the Alps into the Eastern and Western Alps, and each region is further subdivided into small groupings of mountains. Many spots along the Alps are popular for vacationing, with an assortment of ski lodges, chalets, hotels, and other facilities for visitors to use.

The history of the Alps dates to the Oligocene and Miocene eras, in which these mountains were formed through a series of violent cataclysms which essentially folded the European continent, creating the wrinkle which is the Alps. Humans have been observing the Alps and struggling with their presence for centuries, with these mountains contributing quite notably to European history. As Hannibal learned, crossing the Alps was no small feat historically, and these mountains often formed a natural barrier to prevent invasions and colonizations in Europe's early history. The Alps proved to be a formidable military challenge as recently as the Second World War.

Numerous unique plant and animal species can be found in the Alps. In the summer, the Alps are routinely used to graze livestock, with some of the most famous cheeses of Europe coming from cows, goats, and sheep which graze in the Alps. Hikers and walkers also enjoy the Alps during the summer months, and have been doing so for thousands of years, if the occasional well-preserved remains of early humans found in Alpine glaciers are any indication.

CulturalWorld.org is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a CulturalWorld.org researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By ysmina — On Feb 24, 2011

I have seen the James Bond series so many times that I can tell you exactly the films that had scenes in the French Alps. In the "Golden Eye", there was a scene filmed in the Southern French Alps which was about a helicopter being stolen at the France-Monaco border. Some scenes in "The World is Not Enough" were also shot at the French Alps. I still remember the scene where Bond was being chased in a ski sequence which was supposed to appear as though it was in Azerbaijan. Anyone who has seen the French Alps in movies knew that it was not though. That scene was so memorable because they used something called a "paraski" which is something between a parachute and an aircraft. This 007 scene in the French Alps was one of the best in the whole series.

By bear78 — On Feb 23, 2011

My company organized a vacation, a trekking trip to the Alps last year. We spent a week and a half trekking through the Swiss Alps and staying at villages along the way. It was not the traditional trekking adventure since we stayed in warm village resorts at nights and enjoyed amazing cuisine but it was a great combination of nature and comfort that I needed. The Swiss Alps have pathways from village to village so its very much possible to spend the day trekking and then check in to a village hotel for an evening of rest and delicious local cooking.

For the last few days of our trip, we reached the Pennine Alps (the western part of the Alps) and skied on its peaks. It was great! I highly recommend the Swiss and Italian Alps for trekking, skiing and vacationing.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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