Small But Beautiful: Surveying the Alps
Seven countries claim a share of the Alps. Think of the Alps, and Switzerland inevitably springs to mind. Closely followed by Austria, France and Italy. But three other countries are blessed with a slice of Europe’s most celebrated mountain range.
Liechtenstein, Germany and Slovenia have the smallest portions. The many ranges of the Alps boast over three dozen peaks in excess of 4,000 meters, yet Slovenia, Germany and Liechtenstein cannot between them even muster a single mountain that reaches 3,000 meters.
These three “also-rans” in the Alpine league may break no records, but each boasts some superb Alpine scenery.
The Triglav factor
The status of mountains is not measured merely by their size. Slovenia’s loftiest peak at Triglav is inscribed on the national consciousness, and there is hardly a Slovene alive who has not dreamed of climbing Triglav. And well over half the population have indeed made the ascent. The mountain features on the national flag, on one of Slovenia’s euro coins and in dozens of Slovenian paintings.
And just as Slovenes scale Triglav, there is hardly a self-respecting citizen of Liechtenstein who has not, at one time or another, planned a hike to the top of the Grauspitz. Whether they actually made it is another matter, as it is quite a challenging climb and not an expedition for those with no head for heights.
To the top of Germany
While Slovenes feature their highest peak in dramatic watercolors, and folk in Liechtenstein wax lyrical in poems about their national high point, Germany takes a more prosaic approach to these matters. Remember, Germany is a country much taken with technology, so no surprise that both a railway and cable car transport travelers with ease to the summit.
It makes the Zugspitze by far the easiest to reach of the seven Alpine national high points. The journey by train on the Zugspitzbahn from Garmisch-Partenkirchen to the top of Germany is a classic Bavarian day out that demands no mountaineering skills whatsoever. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Seven Alps to remember
High points are cherished the world over, and not just in the Alps — though in truth we are perhaps unusual among travelers in having often made long journeys merely to reach the lowest point in various countries and states: one of us even admits to having once stood at the lowest point in Wyoming.
For dedicated peak baggers, here are the high points of the seven countries that share the Alps. Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco in Italian) is the highest point in the Alps. It marks the frontier between France and Italy and thus features twice on the list below. Both France and Italy have other major peaks above 4,000 meters that lie wholly within their respective territories.
- Italy: Monte Bianco (4,810 m)
- France: Mont Blanc (4,810 m)
- Switzerland: Monte Rosa (4,634 m)
- Austria: Großglockner (3,798 m)
- Germany: Zugspitze (2,962 m)
- Slovenia: Triglav (2,864 m)
- Liechtenstein: Grauspitz (2,599 m)
Antidotes to the Alps
So feted are the Alps by guidebook writers and artists that it is easy to forget that Europe has other mountains that are far higher than the Alps. If you are looking to bag Europe’s loftiest peak, head for Mount Elbrus in the south-west corner of the Russian Federation. Ascending the 5,642-meter volcano is more than just a tame afternoon walk.
Mount Elbrus touches the heavens. But if you are not up for scaling mighty peaks, we can suggest a less challenging option. Make for Vatican City, the theocratic microstate by Rome, and mount an assault on the colle Vaticano. It tops out at 75 meters above sea level and is the lowest high point of any country on the European mainland.
Now there’s a concept to ponder: the lowest national high points.