Feel on top of the world

There's nothing quite like strapping on a pair of sturdy boots and setting to hike along well-worn or relatively undiscovered trails.

A visit to the French and Swiss Alps can offer a spectacular change of scenery, as you fill your lungs with fresh mountain air and see some of the world's most spectacular mountain vistas.

Whether it's in the early morning with its crisp, cool breeze or late afternoon as shadows cast their shapes on the path ahead - a walking tour in this part of the world will reawaken your sense of discovery.

Here are some highlights not to miss in this part of the world:

Town of Chamonix
This is not just a popular place for mountaineers and hikers; it's also a base for some of the world's most extreme sports including ice climbing, rock climbing, extreme skiing, paragliding, rafting and canyoning.

For those who prefer a slower pace, Chamonix provides the chance to discover some delightful riches, thanks to its diverse architectural heritage. Wander past baroque churches and protestant chapels dating from several hundred years, hotels and palaces from the golden age, Art Deco facades, traditional farmhouses, colossal villas and chalets that contrast with its many modern constructions.

Chamonix is also somewhat of a star, having appeared as the backdrop to James Bond's famous ski chase in The World Is Not Enough (1999).

Sion, Switzerland
Sion is the capital of Valais, located on the banks of the Rhone River in southwestern Switzerland. It's a great place to enjoy some self-guided walks, where you can explore popular attractions including the fortress of Château de Tourbillon and Notre-Dame-de-Valère, an 11th Century church.

Both are built on a pair of steep hills that rise dramatically from the plain along the Rhone. The Valère church is still going strong after more than 800 years, and you can enjoy a lovely walk to get there. Just follow the Rue des Chateaux, passing the art museum in the Château de la Majorie and curve right toward the hill past the All Saints Chapel. From there, you can't miss it, sitting 120 metres above the town on a steep hill.

Sion also has what is claimed to be the world's oldest functioning organ, along with a cantonal museum that houses prehistoric objects, Roman artworks, furniture from the days when Sion's bishops lived and ruled like princes and examples of local crafts. It's is also known for its outstanding wines, so after a day of exploring you can kick back and sample a local drop.

The Matterhorn
As the last of the great Alpine peaks to be climbed, the Matterhorn holds a special place in the hearts of climbers and mountaineers alike. Sitting at 4478 metres, it is one of the highest peaks in the Alps and has a distinct pyramid appearance. Its four steep faces each point in the direction of the four compass points - north, east, south and west.

The usual climbing route is up the Hörnli ridge on the northeast, which is the central ridge seen from the town of Zermatt. The route is graded 5.4, involves 4,000 feet of climbing and takes a 10-hour round trip. Some of the climbing is very exposed so you'll need to be skilled at climbing with crampons on your boots. Fixed ropes are attached to difficult sections and the descent, when most accidents occur, takes as long as the ascent. It's a good idea to start your ascent early in the morning to avoid summer thunderstorms and lightning.

Views of Mont Blanc
While climbing Mont Blanc is an exciting and rewarding challenge, sometimes it's nice to just step back and soak up the views. As Europe's highest peak, Mont Blanc rises 4,810 metres above sea level and towers over towns including Courmayeur in Italy and Chamonix in France.

You can get spectacular views from just about anywhere, and some say the best on offer are from the top of the Brevent cable car. You can access this from Chamonix Valley, and it also means less time walking and more time for witnessing the jaw-dropping beauty of this magnificent peak.

The Aiguillettes des Possettes rises 2180 metres and has a steady, well-graded trail that rises out of the valley under the shade of Alpine forests. As you get higher and higher, the forest things out and the views down the valley towards Mont Blanc unfold. 

What are your favourite highlights of the area? Let us know in the comments section below. Then head to Twitter and Facebook to post your images for the rest of the Peregrine community to enjoy.

Learn more about Walking in the French and Swiss Alps, our wonderful new 8-day walking tour. Or simply browse through all of our walking tours to find one that inspires you.

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SALE: See Europe your way, with 10% off group and self-guided tours, departing up until 30 September 2012! But hurry, you must book by 30 November 2011 to take advantage. Find out more about this exciting sale.

 

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