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Trekking in the Alps

by Alan Castle, Justi Carey, Paddy Dillon, Allan Hartley, Gillian Price, Kev Reynolds, Hilary Sharp, Roy Clark
Published by Cicerone Press

An inspirational guidebook to 20 classic treks in the Alps. As well as introducing new hiking areas in the Alps, classics such as the Tour of Mont Blanc, and Chamonix to Zermatt are included. Trekking in the Alps is immensely satisfying, and this book celebrates the rich and scenic diversity for which this great mountain range is renowned.

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Description

Trekking in the Alps is immensely satisfying. The physical challenge is part of it, but so too is the sense of achievement as you get to the top of a lofty pass that may have taken several hours to reach. Then there are the views, the ever-changing panoramas and the distant horizon adorned with peaks and ridges that lures you on day after day.

Edited by Alpine specialist Kev Reynolds, and written by a team of eight experienced authors, writers and guides bringing these classic treks to life. This compilation of the best walking in the Alps looks at each trek in turn, discovering what makes them special, and how to choose your next trekking holiday.

Classic treks

Tour of Mont Blanc
Tour of the Matterhorn
Tour of Monte Rosa
Chamonix to Zermatt - Walker’s Haute Route
Tour of the Jungfrau Region
Tour of the Vanoise
Alta Via 1 & 2, Italian Dolomites

Longer trans-Alpine treks

GR5 Trail: Through the French Alps  (Lake Geneva to Nice)
E5 Across the Eastern Alps
Grande Traversata delle Alpi: GTA, Italian Alps
Traverse of the Julian Alps, Slovenia

For the Alpine adventurer

The Alpine Pass Route, Switzerland
Tour of the Oisans
Tour of the Queyras
Tour of Mont Ruan
The Stubai High-level Route, Austria
The Zillertal High-level Route, Austria
Gran Paradiso Alta Via 2
Tour of the Ratikon, Swiss and Austrian Alps
 

  • Seasons
    summer-only - from late June until the end of September
  • Centres
    Chamonix, Zermatt, Grindelwald, Sargans, Brand, Briançon, Modane, Bourg d’Oisans, Neustift, Mayrhofen, Ormea, Bressanone, Lago di Braies, Kranjska Gora, La Thuile, Emosson
  • Difficulty
    a wide range of difficulty and/or commitment, from mildly demanding to strenuous; on some treks glaciers are crossed which require the use of ice axe and rope
  • Must See
    All the great Alpine regions and their peaks: Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, Monte Rosa, the Jungfrau, the Oisans, the Vanoise, the Queyras, Mont Ruan, the Stubai, the Zillertal, the Eastern Alps, Gran Paradiso, the Italian Alps, the Dolomites, the Rätikon and the Slovenian Alps

Contents

Contents
Introduction
About this book
Hut conventions
Advice for trekkers
When to go
Safety in the mountains
Words of greeting
The Treks
Trek 1 Grande Traversata delle Alpi: GTA – Gillian Price
Trek 2 Tour of the Queyras – Alan Castle
Trek 3 Tour of the Oisans – Kev Reynolds
Trek 4 Tour of the Vanoise – Kev Reynolds
Trek 5 Gran Paradiso Alta Via 2 – Gillian Price
Trek 6 Tour of Mont Blanc – Kev Reynolds
Trek 7 GR5: Through the French Alps – Paddy Dillon
Trek 8 Tour of Mont Ruan – Hilary Sharp
Trek 9 The Walker's Haute Route – Kev Reynolds
Trek 10 Alpine Pass Route – Kev Reynolds
Trek 11 Tour of the Jungfrau Region – Kev Reynolds
Trek 12 Tour of the Matterhorn – Hilary Sharp
Trek 13 Tour of Monte Rosa – Hilary Sharp
Trek 14 Tour of the Rätikon – Kev Reynolds
Trek 15 Across the Eastern Alps: E5 – Gillian Price
Trek 16 Stubai High-Level Route – Allan Hartley
Trek 17 Zillertal High-Level Route – Allan Hartley
Trek 18 Dolomites Alta Via 1 – Gillian Price
Trek 19 Dolomites Alta Via 2 – Gillian Price
Trek 20 Julian Alps Traverse – Roy Clark & Justi Carey
 
Appendix A Useful contacts
Appendix B Glossary for trekkers

Introduction

The breathtaking sight of Mont Blanc on the final stage of the Gran Paradiso Alta Via (photo: Gillian Price)

Trekking in the Alps is immensely satisfying. The physical challenge is part of it, but so too is the sense of achievement on gaining a lofty pass that may have taken several hours to reach. Then there are the views, the ever-changing panoramas, the distant horizon of peaks and ridges that lure you on day after day. Not just mountains, but all the essential features that build a mountain landscape – individual rocks, boulders and screes, the glaciers and snowfields and torrents of snowmelt. There are lakes and waterfalls, meadows full of flowers; marmots that fill the silences with their shrill calls, chamois roaming the high places, ibex too, and the noisy choughs that haunt passes and summits alike.

They may be the world's best-known, most comprehensively mapped, catalogued and photographed mountains of all, but the Alps still have the power to excite and surprise with every visit.

Although trekking may seem a fairly modern concept, in truth it's centuries old, for in 1767 the Genevese scientist Horace Bénédict de Saussure made the first of three circular tours of Mont Blanc; in 1837 James David Forbes from Edinburgh wandered across the Dolomites, and two years later made a complete circuit of Monte Viso and followed in Saussure's footsteps around Mont Blanc. Both were men of science, but a good part of the inspiration for their travels was not just scientific enquiry, but a love of mountains and the joy of wandering among them. ‘The scenery is stupendous,’ wrote Forbes in his account of the mountains of Dauphiné.

When our Victorian forefathers were laying the foundations of mountaineering, they were divided into two types: ‘centrists’, who based themselves in Chamonix, Zermatt or Grindelwald, for example, and set out to climb neighbouring peaks, returning after each ascent to the comfort of their valley hotel; and ‘ex-centrists’ – men like Edward Whymper (who made the first ascent of the Matterhorn), AW Moore, John Ball and Francis Fox Tuckett – who strode across the Alps from region to region, crossing peaks, passes and glaciers with astonishing vigour. Whymper's restless energy is seldom mentioned, but his classic Scrambles Amongst the Alps is far more than an account of winning summits, for it describes the travails and triumphs of finding a way from one district to the next, from which we discover that in order to get from Briançon to Grenoble in 1860 it was necessary to ‘set out at 2pm … for a seventy-five mile walk’, which he achieved in a day and a half. As for Tuckett, between 1856 and 1874 he crossed no less than 376 passes and climbed 165 peaks. And all this before a chain of mountain huts provided accommodation, and the few hotels or inns that did exist outside the main centres offered little comfort.

Sometimes these Alpine pioneers sought refuge in the home of a local priest, but the accommodation on offer was not always what they might have hoped for, as Alfred Wills discovered when he arrived in Valtournanche in the summer of 1852. ‘In each of the side rooms,’ he explained, ‘were a bed, a chair, a table made of an unshaped block of wood on three legs, and a pie dish. The floors were so thick with dirt, that your boots left foot-marks as you walked across the room; and everything you touched soiled your hands. We could get scarcely anything to eat – a serious evil after eleven hours' walk … and we went to bed hungry and tired.’

Simple alp chalets provided an alternative. Used by dairymen during the summer months, an overnight could sometimes be found in remote locations. On their way to attempt a crossing of the Moming Pass in 1864, Whymper and Moore took advantage of a cheesemaker's hut in the magnificent Ar Pitetta cirque above Zinal. ‘It was a hovel,’ wrote Whymper in Scrambles, ‘growing, as it were, out of the hillside; roofed with rough slabs of slaty stone; without a door or window; surrounded by quagmires of ordure, and dirt of every description.’

The Nürnberger Hut – a substantial building (Stubai High-Level Route) (photo: Allan Hartley)

It is no surprise then, that early Baedeker guides warned against sleeping in chalets unless absolutely necessary: ‘Whatever poetry there may be theoretically in a “fragrant bed of hay”, the cold night air piercing abundant apertures, the ringing of the cow bells, the grunting of the pigs, and the undiscarded garments, hardly conduce to refreshing slumber.’

Being eminently ‘clubbable’ men, the Victorians got together to found the Alpine Club in 1857. Following their lead, the Austrian Alpine Club was formed in 1862, and a year later the Swiss, whose members built their first mountain hut on the Tödi in order to shorten the time needed to make an ascent of the peak. In 1868 another was erected on the Matterhorn, partly financed by Alexander Seiler of Zermatt. In its first 25 years the Swiss Alpine Club built almost 40 such huts, and by 1890 the French Alpine Club had 33 of their own. Meanwhile, the Austrian, German and Italian clubs were also busy providing overnight shelters for the growing number of visitors to their mountains.

The majority of these huts were small and spartan and, in some instances consisted of little more than a cave with a door. Others could be described as wooden sheds whose roofs were held in place with rocks, although some were soundly constructed of timber and stone and contained a stove, an axe and a supply of firewood. A few blankets or sheepskins might be provided, plus a saucepan or two, but little more.

But in the century or so since then, there has been a marked improvement in standards of accommodation throughout the Alpine chain. In Austria and the Italian Dolomites many of these huts are now inn-like buildings capable of sleeping a hundred visitors each night. Most have large communal dormitories, although it's not unusual to find smaller two- or four-bedded rooms available. The majority are staffed in summer, meals and drinks are available, hot showers and drying rooms are not uncommon, and fresh provisions are often helicoptered in several times during the season.

Large-flowered leopardsbane grows among rocks and meadows (photo: Kev Reynolds)

Young ibex shedding its coat (photo: Hilary Sharp)

Houseleeks spread their rosettes among the rocks (photo: Hilary Sharp)

The willow gentian is a showy flower, often found in great clumps (photo: Kev Reynolds)

In summer the marmot is seen in almost every district of the Alps (photo: Hilary Sharp)

While huts have been built in just about every Alpine district, there are also gîtes d'étape, gasthofs and rustic mountain inns scattered among the valleys and hillsides, often in the most idyllic of locations. Austria, for one, has numerous charming gasthofs in its valleys, but boasts more than 1000 actual hütten, about half of which have been built by members of the Austrian or German Alpine Clubs; the rest are privately owned but open to all. The Swiss have in excess of 300, while the French, Italian and Slovenian Alpine Clubs have plenty more. Given sufficient time, energy and money, it would be possible to trek virtually from one end of the Alps to the other staying in a different mountain hut each night, unencumbered by a heavy pack and carrying just the basic essentials.

But since few of us are able to commit ourselves to such an epic dream journey, numerous hut-to-hut tours of varying length have been developed that are immensely satisfying to contemplate and complete. Enticing the trekker along trails and crossing passes they reveal the Alps' rich diversity, providing challenge and reward in equal measure, and as the huts themselves are invariably built in spectacular locations, nighttimes can be as memorable as the days.

So whether you have a week to spare, a two-week holiday to fill, or a whole summer free to wander, this book describes some of the very best treks in Europe's premier mountain range. But newcomers beware: trekking is addictive.

Sample Route

TREK 1
Grande Traversata delle Alpi: GTA by Gillian Price
StartViozene near Ormea
FinishMolini di Calasca in Val Anzasca near Monte Rosa
Distance633km
GradeStrenuous
Time47 days
TerrainWestern Alps, Piemonte, Italy
Max Altitude2804m
GuidebooksThrough the Italian Alps: GTA by Gillian Price (Cicerone Press, 2005)
AccommodationWalkers' hostels, village guesthouses and mountain huts

For many who go trekking in the mountains, the Italian Alps mean the Gran Paradiso, the Pennines crowned by Monte Rosa, or perhaps the exotic Dolomites. But there's so much more than these justifiably popular districts, and on the GTA the Ligurian, Maritime and Cottian Alps will surprise and reward with scenes as unforgettable as those further north. This epic trek climbs and descends around 44,000 metres on its way from the Mediterranean to Monte Rosa, which gives a clue to the nature of the journey. Day after day arduous passes have to be crossed that reveal horizons of rugged rock and gleaming snowscapes and, in the opening stages, more than a hint of the sea. Marguareis, Monte Gelàs, Argentera, Monviso, Rocciamelone – each one becomes a milestone on the way north. Then there's the Gran Paradiso at last, and Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa to underscore the route's pedigree.

Grande traversata delle alpi: GTA

The Argentera is the highest peak in the Maritime Alps

This route had been hovering at the back of my mind for a long time. It just wouldn't go away. I'd read in an Italian Alpine Club magazine about a long-distance trail in Piemonte stretching over the arc of valleys and mountains that lay beyond the grand regional capital of Torino. But it was a hint from my publisher, Cicerone Press, that prompted me to set out. I found the idea of travelling across the Alps on foot hugely attractive, and spent hours poring over large-scale maps tracing the route and dreaming of the panoramas that my eyes would be treated to. The Grande Traversata delle Alpi – what an inspiring title! The distance was not to be underrated: a mere 200km as the crow flies but a huge 633km on the ground, in terms of paths and actual walking, accounting for a mind-boggling third (yes, a third!) of the immense Alpine curve.

It was a terribly exciting prospect that would take me across the Western Alps on the very far side of Italy from my home in Venice. It also meant navigating across five of Italy's Alpine regions – the Ligurian, Maritime, Cottian, Graian and Pennine Alps – past a procession of legendary stone giants from the Argentera, Monviso (Monte Viso) and Gran Paradiso, before the final crowning queen Monte Rosa. Brand new Alpine landscapes were to be revealed, along with captivating tales of the life of men and animals on the mountain slopes.

The first year I managed to slip in a quick trip late September when the huts were beginning to shutter up as the season drew to an end. Contacts in the regional capital Cuneo suggested that I'd find comforting similarities with my beloved Dolomites in the limestone landscapes of the Ligurian Alps. This definitely proved true, but they omitted to warn me of the marvels of the adjoining Maritimes that took my breath away. That winter I found myself counting the months until I could go back, and the following summer ranks as one of the most memorable in the whole of my Alpine life as I wandered on for 36 blissful days, only a single short interruption due to inclement weather – zero visibility caused by dense fog and blinding rain.

All I needed was on my back in my rucksack, and by my side in the shape of my companions, whose importance I never underrated. A motley crew of friends swept up by my enthusiasm joined me on holiday windows of opportunity, meeting up at strategic railway stations and bus stops along the way. I dubbed them my ‘shift walkers’.

Lovely Piano di Valasco in the Maritime Alps

The GTA became something of a cheese trail for me. Piemonte is a prime producer for Italy, much credit going to the tiny mountain communities that cling on, specialising in unique flavours. The fact is that each valley has different conditions, exposure of pasture slopes, variety of fodder, and individual time-tested techniques for concocting cheeses from cow, sheep and goat milk. For storage, rudimentary sheds half-excavated, half-built into the mountainside are lined with shelves of rounds laid down for ageing. In the Gran Paradiso area I even discovered dwarf fridges – tiny stone cabinets set over running streams which keep the temperature at a constant low. Who needs electricity! When farms close up at the end of summer and herds and herders return to the valley, the treasure is packed in straw and loaded onto horseback, but not before gourmet walkers have appreciated the likes of Brüs and Maccagno.

The Ligurian Alps: from Viozene to Limonetto

Low profile yet splendid, the Ligurian Alps host the opening section of the trek. Modest limestone reliefs that launch the eastward sweep of the mighty Alpine arc, they lie a mere 40km from the Mediterranean; not surprising then that hints of the sea can be perceived, first and foremost in the vegetation with aromatic herbs and even lavender and broom that drench the air with their perfume.

From the tiny hamlet of Viozene, which comes to life in summer, an easy path transits at the foot of splendid Mongioie. By way of Passo delle Saline, a reminder of the long-gone salt trade, it touches on friendly Rifugio Mondovì, where the risk of being waylaid by a mouth-watering lunch is elevated. But it is crucial to push on to see 2651m Marguareis, the highest mountain in the Ligurian Alps. Here beautiful sweeps of limestone landscape include tell-tale signs of karstification – sink holes, dolina basins and extensive underground caves. An old paved military track winds unhurriedly upwards to the exhilarating grassy ridge separating France and Italy, where a remarkable string of six monumental forts from the late 1800s still stand guard. Showcase Fort Central overlooks Colle di Tenda, where views now embrace the Maritime Alps, pale and very promising.

The Maritime Alps: from Limonetto to Pontebernardo

A morning's walk from Limonetto, Passo Ciotto Mieu acts as the gateway to the wonderful Maritimes. A short detour is rewarded with a brilliant lookout over the vast Po plain to the unmistakable pyramid of Monviso, succeeded by glittering if distant glaciated Monte Rosa, where the GTA will come to its grandiose finale many weeks on.

Tiny lakes at Colle di Fenestrelle

Down Vallone degli Alberghi with its pretty tarns, the steep path passes through beautiful beech wood, glorious colours highlighted by filtered sunlight. The day comes to a satisfying if tiring end at the peaceful hamlet of Palanfré, home to an excellent dairy and walker's hostel.

Grassy slopes precede broad-ridged Costa di Planard. It's hard to know which way to look here. In late summer the best direction is up for the airborne procession of birds of prey migrating south – golden eagles, black kites and sparrow-hawks. Volunteers spend days on end monitoring their progress and keeping a tally of numbers and species. The birds' flight takes them over the wild heart of the Maritimes, a multitude of sharp, toothy grey-green points. What a sight!

Over in wooded Valle Gesso a steep track emerges at the foot of neck-cricking 3142m Monte Gelàs, dubbed the ‘Mont Blanc of the Maritimes’. Here Rifugio Soria-Ellena at 1840m is a good place to overnight and fraternise with the French randonneurs who come via Col di Fenestre, a pass that has seen centuries of pilgrims, traders and even hapless refugees in 1943 fleeing occupied France.

A crazily zigzagging path concludes at 2463m Colle di Fenestrelle and an unworldly corridor where ibex hang out on vertical perches, keeping a watchful eye on the two-legged intruders. Just a few steps on comes the breathtaking vision of the Argentera, the queen of the Maritimes, and what a beauty! A huge clump of interlinked mountains rather than a single peak, reminiscent of an awesome impenetrable fortress. A roller-coaster route across rock-strewn slopes in the company of chamois and vast spreads of wild flowers leads along its northern flanks and Canale di Lourousa, a vertiginous ice-bound gully. A tiny red bivouac hut can be spotted up there, essential shelter for climbers.

The contrast with the day's destination couldn't be more striking; nestled in beechwood hundreds of metres below in Vallone Gesso della Valletta is the old-style spa resort of Terme di Valdieri (1368m), all the rage in the 1800s thanks to scorching hot mineral springs used for therapeutic purposes. The ageing Grand Hotel and Swiss-style chalets offer a hint of erstwhile charm and elegance. At the time this beautiful valley was at the heart of a game reserve owned by Italy's royal family, and paved tracks designed for horse-ridden parties still venture high onto Piano di Valasco, popular these days with picnicking Italian families taking a day out from the summer heat on the plains. Streams cascade through the pasture basin carpeted with a riot of wild flowers and crowned by a majestic line-up of soaring grey jagged ridges. Past a hunting pavilion converted into a refuge, the path gains height beneath Testa di Claus. A highly recommended detour branches off to Rifugio Questa, a spartan hut with an outdoor loo that doubles as a superb belvedere.

An intact section of hunting track leads via pretty tarns on a section to be savoured slowly for its beauty. Further ahead comes Vallone di Riofreddo, a clearly recognisable U-shape created by an ancient glacier. Soaring at its head is superb Testa di Malinvern, which can be admired at length thanks to the modern refuge on the valley floor.

The following stage visits the historic sanctuary of Sant'Anna di Vinadio, the highest of its kind in the whole of the Alps. It has provided a roof and victuals to pilgrims and travellers since the Middle Ages, and modern-day visitors can enjoy comfortable lodgings. The tiny porticoed church is a masterpiece of popular art, its walls plastered with ex voto plaques to thank the Virgin Mary's mother for her mercy. Further down, Vinadio and its hot baths are touched on as the GTA transits via the traffic artery of Valle Stura.

Laghi della Valletta en route to Passo di Orgials

The Cottian Alps: from Pontebernardo to Susa

The incontestable star and a highlight of the Cottian Alps is the Monviso. The GTA's approach to the stone giant takes place over a full four stages, with an excited build-up of anticipation. In the meantime there are stunning locations to be enjoyed. A 1300m uphill slog on old military tracks leads into the beautiful high-altitude plateau, Piano della Gardetta, and a lively refuge. Here the focus is the elegant soaring form of Rocca La Meja, its unusual pale aspect due to the dolomite rock that is its main constituent.

More treats are in store with the crossing of upper Val Maira in the company of twin quartzite needles Rocca Provenzale and Castello, the antics of acrobatic climbers providing a good excuse for a rest stop. Splendid waterfalls form the backdrop for concentrations of divine blue mountain cornflowers that stain the grass, while the scent from pinks is all-pervading. All the while the path ascends unremittingly to the isolated 2804m pass of Colle di Bellino.

Below is Valle Varaita di Bellino, a wonderland of slate-roofed houses with overhanging eaves sustained by graceful round stone columns. It would be a great shame to rush through here and miss a stroll through the quiet atmospheric villages; time seems to have passed them by, and the traditional farming lifestyle persists. Artistic sundials grace the walls as do wise sayings, many in the curious medieval language of the Occitan population, which has strong links to faraway Provence. Passers-by are reminded that Lou soulei nais per tuchi, ‘the sun rises for everyone’.

The village of Chiappera with Rocca Provenzale

On the neighbouring ridge is 2248m Colletto della Battagliola, a breathtaking lookout to the Monviso, which entirely fills your field of vision with its massive pyramidal bulk. An inspiring sight. Now two very special full days can be looked forward to, with an exhilarating climb to rugged heights where desolation reigns amidst clutters of tarns and snow patches. It's quite a haul to where the vertiginous southeastern face of the Monviso rises a jaw-dropping 1200m from its base to peak at 3841m. And what better place to drink in this magnificence than at Rifugio Quintino Sella, a landmark Italian mountain hut named in honour of one of the founders of the Italian Alpine Club in 1863.

Several valleys on, as the path emerges from the cover of wood, walkers are treated to the extraordinary sight of the 18th-century fortress of Fenestrelle crawling up the flanks of Val Chisone opposite, with a 3km wall that rises an incredible 600m in height. A full day is needed to explore this spectacular place, but the cosy hostel at Usseaux makes a lovely base. Then it's a mere wander via Rifugio Arlaud nestling in the Salbertrand wood to reach the Valle di Susa, where the Cottians come to an end.

The Graian Alps: from Susa to Quincinetto

The township of Susa is quickly left behind for high-altitude pasture slopes that make up the billowing skirt of 3538m Rocciamelone that holds sway here, marking the French border with a cascading spill of snow and ice. An amble is enjoyed across Valle di Viù, then the GTA embarks on a tough crossing that sets the tone for many days to come. Desolate cirques, tiny tarns reflecting magnificent little-known mountains, and birds of prey or chamois as companions in lieu of humans. Accommodation is on the valley floors so this means mornings are spent tramping uphill to cols around the 2400–2500m range, before the inevitable plummet through successive bands of vegetation, bushes and conifers giving way to deciduous trees.

At the lovely village of Balme in Valle di Ala, it's well worth taking time out to explore upper Pian della Mussa, which boasts inspiring glacial scenery, comfortable huts and herds of docile ibex – all dominated by the stately Uia di Bessanese.

The main route presses on over arduous passes to be rewarded by the exciting sight of the Gran Paradiso peak soaring over the Valle dell'Orco, where the following days are spent. Close to Ceresole Reale, another former royal resort village, walkers stay at Fonti Minerali, the source of therapeutic hot water with a distinct iron flavour.

A pleasant take-it-easy stage follows on, with a memorable meander down Vallon del Roc dotted with tiny mountainside hamlets, their stone-roofed houses in varying states of abandon. Farming communities lived here until the 1950s with their own school and church, not to mention folk art in the form of decorated images of saints. These days only a shepherd or two are left, reserved folk to a T.

The Gran Paradiso makes its appearance above the clouds

The GTA follows Valchiusella with its lovely stone bridges

After Noasca, a string of strenuous traverses reaches Val Soana, the eastern border of the Gran Paradiso National Park. Stopovers are enjoyed in the villages of Ronco Canavese and tiny Piamprato near the valley head beneath the striated bulk of Rosa dei Banchi. Here walkers are put up in a ‘doll's house’, the old school erected by the magnanimous king for his subjects, only a handful of whom still call this home.

Neighbouring Valchiusella is a showcase for seven elegant stone footbridges, leftovers from the 1700s. Another point in its favour are the dairy farms dotted along its flanks. Local families at Alpe Chiaromonte, for instance, turn out delicious goat and sheep cheeses. The proximity of the key traffic artery Valle d'Aosta is soon felt; this is a bilingual French–Italian language region, the heritage of the Savoy dynasty. The GTA touches on Quincinetto, a handy place for joining or leaving the trek.

The Pennine Alps: from Quincinetto to Molini Calasca

Parallel to the road is the mighty Dora Baltea river, its waters milky grey from the melted snow and ice that flow from Mont Blanc upstream. It irrigates the traditional vineyards, supported on pergolas and stone columns, which produce niche wines. A paved way through chestnut wood winds up to Maletto and its welcoming village inn. Next comes a long ridge, where views are dominated by the adjoining Colma di Mombarone, an austere triangle of grey rock. A tad of scrambling is encountered, aided stretches dictated by the degree of exposure. This day's conclusion is Rifugio Coda at 2280m, with a breathtaking outlook over the spread of the Western Alps with Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa.

Around a couple of rocky corners is an 800m drop to the ‘St Peter's of the Alps’, the mammoth sanctuary of Oropa. This sports a huge domed church and cavernous premises catering for the thousands of pilgrims attracted by its reputation for miracles, but is rather too busy a place for walkers to linger at length.

The peaceful Valle Cervo which follows has Alpine attraction in the shape of pretty villages. It was put on the map by an ambitious well-intentioned senator in the mid-1800s, who gave his name to Rosazza, a model village with ornate turreted palaces, mock villas and fountains, once a popular mountain resort for the well-off.

An aided stretch after leaving Rifugio Coda in the Pennine Alps

At the head of this charming valley and lively Piedicavallo, a stiff climb of 1050m leads relentlessly to Rifugio Rivetti (2150m), an eyrie back up in the clouds again. Meals are provided by an energetic team who race each other up the access path (the one you've just slaved up!) bearing loaded rucksacks. Just above is Punta Tre Vescovi, where a lot more was at stake during the culinary competitions held by the ‘three bishops’ who would spread out their feasts of cheese and wine on the rock slabs on the top! The outlook's not bad either, though a short way along, at 2495m Passo del Maccagno, things open up superbly to the awe-inspiring icy sprawl of Monte Rosa.

However, not only is the vicinity of the landmark massif exciting, but the GTA is also about to enter Valsesia, homeland of the ancient Walsers who migrated to here from the North with their distinctive language and culture. Their picture-postcard timber houses have survived the ravages of time, with a little restoration, their shaded terraces and window boxes draped with bright red geraniums.

Alagna Valsesia is a perfect place for forays onto the immense southeastern flanks of Monte Rosa dotted with all manner of mechanised lifts and refuges. As a destination 3153m Punta Indren is hard to beat, set amidst green-tinged tarns and glaciers and a jumping-off point for Capanna Margherita, the highest manned hut in the whole of Europe. At 4554m, it stands on renowned Punta Gnifetti, named in honour of the parish priest who first ‘conquered’ it in 1842 in order to dispel the long-standing myths depicting it as the abode of wandering spirits.

Back on the trail, spreads of raspberries and bilberries make a tasty distraction from the fatigue of continual ups and downs en route to the peaceful traditional villages of Rima, Carcoforo, Rimella then Campello Monti, where walkers are put up in the spotless old school house, where bunks have replaced the desks. On these five final days, the GTA edges its way around the easternmost fringes of Monte Rosa to its conclusion in Valle Anzasca. Here a bus can be caught to the Alpine village of Macugnaga for close-ups of dramatic icy landscapes beneath the southeastern face of majestic Monte Rosa.

Near the trek's conclusion, this view from Bocchetta dell'Usciolo overlooks the Ossola valley through to Switzerland

Maps

Grande Traversata delle Alpi GTA: Laghi della Valletta en route to Passo di Orgials (photo: Gillian Price) Tour of the Queyras: Trekkers on GR58 about an hour out of Abriès (photo: Alan Castle) The breathtaking sight of the Mont Blanc massif accompanies the final stage of the Gran Paradiso Alta Via 2 (photo: Gillian Price) Tour of Mont Blanc: The steep slab section of trail below Le Brévent with Mont Blanc across the valley (photo: Kev Reynolds) Tour of Mont Ruan: Checking the map above the Giffre valley (photo: Hilary Sharp) Julian Alps Traverse: Looking west from the summit of Triglav (photo: Justi Carey and Roy Clark)
Chamonix to Zermatt Chamonix to Zermatt Vallee d'Estaube, Pyrenees Vallee d'Estaube, Pyrenees Hikers on the Riffelberg View from Rifugio Elisabetta, Val Veni, Tour de Mont Blanc (photo by Barbara Segal) Mittellegi ridge on the Eiger from Berghaus First, Grindelwald  (photo by Dafydd paul) Supplies being delivered to a TMB Ultratrail checkpoint at Mont Favre, between Elisabette and Courmayeur (photo by Catriona Kellock) Chamonix - Mont Blanc Guide, Walk 14 View from Lac Blanc (photo by Robin Shaw) Autumn at the Lac Miroir & Pointe de la Saume (photo by David Monteith) cabane du mont fort (photo by Christine Lloyd) Lac des Autonnes (photo by Christine Lloyd) glacier du trient in all Matterhorn view from the sky (photo by Arlene Johnston) Moonlight Matterhorn (photo by Arlene Johnston) Tour of the Oisans: The GR54 Tour of the Oisans: The GR54 Tour of the Oisans: The GR54 Tour of the Oisans: The GR54 Tour of the Oisans: The GR54

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Reviews

Yes, I know it's a cliché to say that this book inspired me to book my next holiday, but it did – well, almost. It certainly made me determine to do one or more of the treks described within at some point in the near future, which will involve booking a holiday eventually...

Some might say that a mere 20 treks for a range as well trodden as the Alps is rather parsimonious, but what contributing editor Kev Reynolds has done is select the crème de la crème of trekking options, invited a coterie of top outdoor writers to describe them (along with his esteemed self), dropped in a fine selection of images and gathered it all together in a highly attractive package that will surely inspire anyone who calls themselves a real walker.

Read the full review...

UKClimbing.com

Extremely readable route guides with a jovial story telling tone are coupled with quality photographs of each region that will inspire you to tackle your next classic route. A great starter pack to the Alps when deciding which trail to head to next and for how long.

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www.wideworldmag.com

The eight writers contributing to this selection have written many other guidebooks and are experienced and enthusiastic about their chosen treks.

170 stunning colour photographs

Trekking in the Alps celebrates the rich scenic diversity for which this area is renowned.  Whether you have a week to spare…or a whole summer free to wander, this book describes some of the very best treks in Europe’s premier mountain range. It certainly fulfils its aim ‘to be an introduction to some of the most exciting and rewarding of multi-day treks’.

Strider, August 2011

‘This book should have the sub-heading ‘the book of dreams’: I could plan about 15 of my next holidays from it, and then a gap year.

The book dedicates at least 10 pages to each route, including photos, maps, graphs showing the altitudes you’ll be at on the trek, and details of each day or stage of the trek. Everyone should have it on their coffee table or by the bed for planning or dreaming about their next adventure.’

Adventure Travel Magazine, September/October 2011

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