A Summer Guide to the Alps: The Best Destinations and Activities

Five of our favourite mountain destinations – from Switzerland to Slovenia via France – as well as tips on how to make the most of the Alps in summer and the hotels we recommend staying in while you’re there.

If you're one of those people for whom the Alps are little more than a powdery playground meant for snow boots and après ski, you're missing half the fun. Come high summer, these crags become psychedelic with wildflowers and delightfully thin on tourists.

There's a reason why nobility have been scaling these peaks for centuries past; when it comes to wellness, there's nothing better than a spot of fresh mountain air. No number of Korean sheet masks can compare to the health-boosting effects of an unpolluted countryside hike or dips in crystal-clear lakes. Plus, if you're looking for top-grade CO2, The Alps have you covered.

Keen to visit but unsure where to start? Allow us to step in. Here are five of our favourite mountain destinations, staggered with general tips on how to make the most of the Alps in summer and where we recommend staying while you're there.

From Slovenia to Switzerland: our tried-and-tested guide on how to experience the Alps in summer



This Swiss mountain town - beautifully sandwiched by Lake Thun and Lake Brienz - really came into its own back in the 19th century, when city-weary business types would visit for a breather. Today, the charming Victorian-era spa hotels that were built in their interests remain standing proudly on the lakeside, glamour still intact. The biggest pulls are the lakes (both are magnets for paddleboarders) and the inimitable Jungfrau mountains whose epic peaks reportedly inspired J. R. R. Tolkien's Mordor. Catch the Harderbahn funicular up to Harder Kulm or trek to the postcard-perfect village of Wengen to judge for yourself. Bread? Cheese? Juicy, ripe vegetables? Switzerland provides quality sustenance for a packed lunch, so we're making like a local during the day, before indulging in an evening dinner at La Terrasse, Interlaken's almost-but-not-quite-Michelin-starred fine-dining restaurant.

Stay: Maison Bergdorf



Here's a destination for those urbanites who can't quite commit to a full-on nature binge. Despite being the largest city in South Tyrol, Bolzano is cradled by towering Alpine mountains which are scored with only the faintest traces of hikers and bikers. This is Italy, but not as you know it: in place of fancy baroque frontispieces, you can expect to see wooden gables; you'll find as many pizzas as you will schnitzel; and, while a lot of local people speak German, there's a slight twang in the local Italian dialect that those with a sharp Milanese tongue might not recognise. One thing that's unmistakably Italian? The wine. Bolzano is nestled in a tight web of grapevines which, coupled with sugar-capped peaks in the background, makes for a far more picturesque wine-tasting set-up than the dusty hills of Tuscany or Puglia. When you're not "familiarising yourself with the terroir" (wink wink, nudge nudge), expect to feast on veal sausages known as weisswurst, cheesy canederli dumplings and baked doughnuts known as krapfen - they're tastier than they sound, promise.

Stay: ADLER Lodge, Ritten



Let's keep this one under wraps. While interrailers often visit Lake Bled or Ljubljana - usually while chugging onwards to more lively destinations - people don't often think of Slovenia as an Alpine getaway, which makes it all the more appealing. Bovec is perched up in the Julian Alps, with the Triglav National Park to its east and the Soča River (a genuinely turquoise-coloured river, energised by frantic rapids) running through and around it. This isn't the spot for pampered luxury lovers who like their mountains served with modish home comforts and a string of designer boutiques, but for adventurous travellers with a rough-and-ready mentality. Upstream, the river rapids make it a prime place to go rafting and canyoning, while the quieter pools downstream are made for kayaking, wild swimming and, if you have the patience, fishing. There are almost too many hiking trails to choose from, though we'd suggest making tracks for the rickety, old Brjeka footbridge - it's like something out of an Indiana Jones film and you're likely to spot paragliders in the nearby airfield swooping overhead as you walk.

Stay: Hotel Dobra Villa Bovec

Zell am Ziller


This village in the Austrian Alps is that one - the one you've seen countless times crinkled on chocolate wrappers, with sloped-roof lodges, a pointy church spire and rolling fields marshalled by bell-laden, patchwork cows. If you're into cycling, this village is a sure-fire win. A seemingly endless list of looping bicycle routes start and end here, meaning there's something to suit all abilities, though there are plenty of less rip-roaring hiking routes if you'd rather take in the mountains on foot. As you ascend into the mountains, you'll struggle not to chance upon a chapel or two, poking out from coppices of feathery spruce and age-old pines. After you've gorged on all the mountains have to offer, pull up a chair at HeLeni which is slap bang in the town centre and serves a tasting menu of small but perfectly formed dishes using farm-fresh ingredients.

Stay: DasPosthotel



The Venice of the Alps? Don't mind if we do. In fact, while we agree that the town's wisened canals and romantic bridges are rather typically Venetian, we think Annecy has a little more going for it. For instance, does Venice have sandy beaches, a rolling background of tree-carpeted mountains riven with trekking routes and clifftop castles that would give Disney princesses a run for their money? We think not. A couple of things Annecy definitely doesn't have: a hefty tourist tax and routine flooding. Result! It's France, so you're guaranteed lighter-than-air pastry and mind-spinning coffee wherever you choose to breakfast. We're grabbing ours from Cafe Bunna, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it neighbourhood favourite tucked under a medieval stone arch. If you can peel yourself off the powdery lakeside beaches, then there's the Chateau d'Annecy to explore, Mont Veyrier to hike and a legendary food market in the old town to scout out. There are tables booked under our name at Le Denti, a small, experimental joint run by a pair of seasoned chefs, and L'Esquisse, one of Annecy's most discerning restaurants that wears its Michelin star on its sleeve.

Stay: Chalet Christine

Discover More
Six Affordable European Summer Breaks