The Alps are a range of mountains in Europe caused by uplift in the European Plate as it is impacted by the African Plate moving north; they stretch from Italy through France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, Austria, and into Slovenia.
The highest peaks in Europe (outside of the Caucasus mountains) are located in the Alps. Mont Blanc (4810 meters), Dufourspitze (4634 meters) and the world famous Matterhorn (4478 meters) are official and well known alpine four-thousanders.
Many areas of the Alps are covered by eternal snow and ice. The largest glaciers are located in the Valais and Bernese Alps of Switzerland. The Aletsch Glacier with its 23 kilometers length and 900 meters depth is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia and Liechtenstein are often referred to as the alpine countries because much their territories are geographically and culturally dominated by the alps. The regional provinces of Bavaria (Germany) and South Tyrol (Italy) also offer a distinctly Alpine flair.
The alps are home to some of the largest and most well known ski areas in the world, much like the mountains themselves they can be found across multiple countries in some cases making it possible to ski into another nation.
Major Ski areas:
Tourism (and the economy in general) is very much geared towards Skiing, snowboarding, and other Winter sports throughout most of the Alps. In ski resorts, despite a new focus on summer time activities such as hiking or golf, some of the hotels and other facilities may close. This increase in summer time sports such as mountain biking, golf, parapenting, or whitewater kayaking is now fueling the growth of the alps as a year round tourist destination. The Alps have always been popular as a mountaineering and hiking destination, but clearly this is nowhere near as lucrative for the locals as the tourist invasion during the winter season is.
The alps skirt, straddle, or wholly encompass seven european nations: Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, and Switzerland. Each of these has their own national language(s) and a myriad of local dialects. However in most major towns or tourist destinations some English will be spoken. In general languages thus follow national borders but this is not always the case. German is the official language in Germany, Austria and Liechtenstein and large portion of central, northern and eastern Switzerland. It is also spoken in Italy's South Tyrol. South Tyrol is also home to a Latin speaking minority closely related to Roman still spoken in Grisons Canton in eastern Switzerland. French is spoken in southern and western Switzerland, France and along the French border in Italy in the Aosta Valley as well. Slovenian, in addition to Slovenia, is spoken by minorities in southeastern Austria and northeastern Italy around Trieste and the Italian-Slovenian border. Lastly, a tiny portion of France speaks Italian, or at least used to, across the border near the city of Nice.
For many destinations in the western Alps Geneva and Zurich are the closest international airports and from there you can get a minibus transfer to your resort in France and Switzerland. For destinations in Germany or Austria (and the eastern Alps in general) the international airports of Munich, Salzburg or Innsbruck will suite the travellers' needs.
Beautiful alpine scenery.
The best things to do in the Alps will vary from region to region, but in general mountain sports would be the thing to do!
In general, the hiking and skiing seasons don't overlap by much,. In April-September, you can hike all but the highest places, but there won't be snow anywhere but Zermatt. In December-February, skiing can be found everywhere but winter trails will need to be specially cleared by the resorts. The shoulder seasons are the worst time to go-- most of the resorts close, and there's not enough snow for winter sports, but too much for safe walking.
Fondues of many types.
Due to the fact the alps hold relatively few major metropolitan areas violent crime is extremely low in this expansive region. In the larger towns and cities normal levels of crime will exist but these are nothing that can not be accounted for with a little common sense. Most commonly crime is relegated to the level of petty theft, pick-pockets etc.