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A guide to planning a hike in the European Alps

It’s that time of year again – I’m planning a hike in the European Alps, that incredible theme park for lovers of alpine trekking.

After tackling the Tour du Mont Blanc in recent summers I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t be able to find another Europe hike to match or top that wonderful experience.

To aid me in my decision I have been poring over Trekking in the Alps, an excellent book from Cicerone, and edited by Tour du Mont Blanc guide editor Kev Reynolds.

Col du Balme - hiking the Tour du Mt Blanc
This covers 20 classic routes in the European Alps and there is a huge range to choose from. This hiking book includes hikes in France, Italy, Switzerland, Slovenia and Austria.

Julian Alps, Slovenia

It also covers some incredible treks that take hikers, as with the Tour du Mont Blanc, across the borders of multiple European countries.

The most epic is the Grande Traversata delle Alpi (or GTA if you’re short on time) and I might have to leave this one until I’m retired because it takes a full 47 days!

This trek skirts the big mountains of the Alps, staying mainly in the foothills. An alternative that is more alpine in nature, crossing big passes is the GR5 through the French Alps from Lac Leman at Geneva to the Mediterranean Sea.

Ultra long distance hikes like these can, of course, be broken up into more achievable chunks. This guide book offers suggestions for shorter routes and variations available to walkers.

Bellachat to Le Brevent, Tour du Mt Blanc

Trekking in the Alps is an excellent resource for researching and initial planning of a European hike. It covers the most famous treks in the Alps – the ones I’d really love to achieve. It truly is a compilation of the best walking in the Alps.

Editor Kev Raynolds and eight other authors provide comprehensive summaries of each route, including photos, a map and an elevation diagram. There’s enough information in this glossy book to allow hikers to make an educated choice of walking holiday.

This book includes treks with a range of difficulty from only mildly demanding to properly strenuous. There are a few where you will need skills and equipment to cross glaciers.


One particular lifegoal of mine is the Walkers’ Haute Route. This follows the Pennine Alps and offers views of some of the most stunning panoramas in Europe. This sounds like a tough and adventurous route and one of the most beautiful in Europe.

So what’s it going to be for the Wandering Kiwi this summer in the Alps? I am limited to one week of hiking and want to do something fairy strenuous. Everyone’s hiking holiday will be different and there are options for everyone.

After much enjoyable reading of this book I and browsing some other Cicerone guides I came up with a couple of different options. I could hike in the Hohe Tauern National Park of Austria, giving me the excuse at last to drive the Gross-Glockner High Alpine Road.

Or I will head for the Dolomite mountains of Italy. There are a series of long-distance walks in the Dolomites dubbed Alta Via 1 through 6. I did some day walks on a trip to Italy’s Dolomite Mountains back in 2007 and ever since I have been itching to return.

Hiking and climbing in the Dolomites

I was impressed by the warm welcome of the mountain huts and loved the sections of Via Ferrata (Iron Way) we completed. This area has loads of opportunities for rewarding hiking and I’m reading Cicerone’s Trekking in the Dolomites.

Thanks Cicerone for not only helping choose my trekking holiday this year, but for inspiring me for many years to come!

By Natasha von Geldern

Where would you like to hike in the European Alps?

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  1. So many beautiful mountains in Europe! To be honest, I thought they were mostly confined to more Northern places before this trip, but Spain has some beautiful ones too. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed exploring too!

  2. Another area you may want to explore in the future Natasha are the Balkans – there’s a “Peak of the Balkans” route through Kosovo,Albania and Montenegro that is getting more popular. Some incredible geography. And because of the warmer weather in the region you might be able to do earlier (and later) in the season when places like the Alps and Dolomites still snowed in.

    Your hiking plans through the Dolomites sound awesome though 🙂

    Frank (bbqboy)

    • Wow that looks amazing Frank! A 10-day hike it seems and I’m not sure I’d be comfortable doing it solo. But I am definitely going to keep this one in mind for the year after next (it’s Mr Wandering Kiwi’s turn in 2018). Thanks for flagging this one up for me!!!

  3. I’ve always wanted to sneak up to the base of the Matterhorn Massive, grab a foto and vacate swiftly – before the “guides” catch me 😉

    Another place is the Basque Mountains, they are like a mini-Alps. Very steep, and bordering on rain forest (you’ll need a machete or parang to get through some areas). Not too far from Pamplona is a miniature Matterhorn (looks exactly like it, just a lot smaller), minus the top.

    • You can do a circuit of the Matterhorn that I’d love to do one day – it involves crossing some glaciers though so I’d need to do it with experienced people and equipment. Such a gorgeous part of the Alps. I’ve heard good things about the Basque country and I’ve got as far as Bilbao. I’m going to have a look at the hiking opportunities now. Thanks for a great suggestion!

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