Although the Alps stretch across eight European countries, the highest peaks are in the west, in the French section. There are 128 mountains in the Alps that reach an altitude of 4000m or more. On the border of France and Italy is Mount Blanc, which measures 4808m, including 32m of thick ice at the top, making it the highest peak in Europe.
At the foot of the mountain in Chamonix is a statue of Michel Paccard and Jaques Balmat, the first two men to reach the summit on the 8th August 1786. Climbing mountains like this may not be for everyone but more leisurely mountain walks have porved to be very popular. The healthy mountain air attracts many people to the high rambling routes.
An increasing number of mountain passes are also being discovered by amateur cyclists who want to follow their 'Tour de France' heroes. In the area to the south west of Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) there are plenty of water sports available on the lakes usch as Annecy, Bourget and Aiguebelette. One of the larger cities in the French Alps is Grenoble, home to 50,000 students taking a natural sciene degree.
Facts about the Alps
For cycle race lovers there is only one Alp, the l'Alpe d'Huez. This mountain climb from Le Bourg d'Oisans to Alp d'Huez has 21 hairpins and an average incline of 8%, with some areas as steep as 12%. The route only measures 13 kilometres but raises 1141m in height, making it a huge challenge for amatuer cyclists. For those who want more, La Marmotte is host to an annual amateur event. The circuit measures a distance of 175km and takes the riders through huge mountain passes including Glandon, Télégraphe, Galibier and, to finish, the Alpe d'Huez.
The Alps in short
Size: Haute-Savoie: 6300km2; Isère: 7430km2
Population: Haute-Savoie: 375,000; Isère: 1,100,000
Capital: Haute-Savioe: Annecy; Isére: Grenoble
Currency and language: Euro, French
July August Average temperature 25 25 Hours of sun 9 8
Distances: Lyon - Grenoble: 112km Chambéry airport - Annecy: 50km Geneva - Chamonix: 82km
Recommended (low cost) airports: Lyon, Chambèry, Geneva
The narrow railway in Chamonix will take you to the Mer de Glace, a huge glacier of around 40km2. Not far from here is another glacier, near L'Argentière, where you can visit an old silver mine. For a scenic drive take the Route Napoleon to Grenoble. Annecy, the town at the north end of the lake, has a 'lover's bridge' (Pont des Amours' and the beautiful Palais de l'Ile
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