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French Alps

The deep valleys and soaring snow-covered peaks of the Alps border France, Switzerland and Italy in dramatic splendour, delighting walkers and climbers in summer and offering a challenge to skiers and snowboarders in the winter months.

Downhill skiing was established here towards the end of the 19th century by the English, and since then an increasing number of French and international skiers (and more recently snowboarders) have been attracted to the first-rate resorts. French resorts may not be as quite as picturesque as those in Switzerland and Austria but they are some of the most extensive and best; by European standards they are high, mostly between 6,562 and 9,843 feet (2,000m and 3,000m), and have reliable snow. The ski season runs from late November to April and is busiest during the Christmas and Easter holidays.

Or if climbing and hiking is more your thing, head for the Alps between July and September, when the weather is more predictable and the snow above 6,562 feet (2,000m) has melted. There are a number of national parks with round-the-park trails requiring one or two weeks walking, there are also longer trans-alpine routes, which should only be attempted by experienced walkers. Local tourist offices supply detailed maps of their area. The towns of Grenoble, Annecy and Chambéry are good bases for hiking. Climbers tend to head to the Chamonix-Mont Blanc area.