Alpine lakes and mountains

By Eloise Barker

Title photography by Agustavop / Getty Images

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Picture yourself in an Alpine meadow with your feet in glacial meltwater and your face in the sun. The hills aren’t alive with the sound of music. You’ll more likely hear chattering hikers or the soft burr of a freewheeling bicycle. Holiday in the Alps in summer: they’re sublime.

Pretty Fuschlsee

Fly into Salzburg, Austria, and drive just half an hour out of the city to be within reach of three beautiful lakes in the Salzkammergut region. Many visit Wolfgangsee; it’s one of the area’s clearest lakes. Hire a motorboat to carve up the water. A cable car from lakeside village St Gilgen takes you to the top of Zwolferhorn – a green, pleasant hiking peak from which the surrounding lakes look like little puddles. For a quieter stay, the pretty Fuschlsee next door has a ban on motorboats and a reputation for hosting the rich and famous. It's the site of choice for many fancy summer homes and is also home to the Red Bull HQ.

Stay at:

Arabella Jagdhof Resort am Fuschlsee is right on the doorstep of the crystal-blue waters of Lake Fuschl. With its own golf course and a restaurant serving lavish regional breakfasts and sumptuous four-course dinners, plus tours and ticket assistance and an inviting bar and lounge, this hotel is perfectly placed to explore this charming region.

  • Table at ©Rosi’s Sonnbergstuben.

    Don’t be fooled

    It looks like you’ve got a quiet spot in the sun. But Rosi loves serenading her customers on this packed-out terrace with incredible views.

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  • View from Schafberg to the Himmelpforten hut, Mondsee, Salzkammergut, Salzburg Land, Austria. ©Marco Wong

    A spot in the sun

    Millions flock to Europe’s lakes and mountains every year. Luckily the alps, which are spread over eight countries, are big enough to absorb most of the crowds. The Salzkammergut region is a mosaic of lakes and mountains, including beautiful Mondsee.

    Holidays in Salzburg
  • Man Climbing Brigata Tridentina Via Ferrata, Sella Massif, Dolomites, Italy ©Mike Randolph.

    Make an ascent

    You can see the Pisciadu waterfall on this dramatic Dolomite climb. Or you can reach the waterfall over the meadows in an easy walk from the Boe gondola lift.

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Majestic Zell am See

With so many lakes to choose from around Salzburg, it’s nice to be picky. Drive a little further out to the town of Zell am See – overlooking Lake Zell. Just 4km long, an unusual, horseshoe-shaped mountain gives Zell a majestic frame. The northern end sees brave swimmers testing the water. In the winter, it freezes over completely. Stay here for peace and beauty – only the hum of electric motors are allowed.

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Hotel Seevilla Freiberg, which is right on the lake. Every single room has a view of the water – except in winter, when every single room has a view over the ice.

Keeping it Kitzbuhel

Between Innsbruck and Salzburg, on the Austrian corridor of Tyrol, lies the upscale medieval town of Kitzbuhel. It’s a fancy place for chic sportsmen. Speed demons flock to take on the Hahnenkamm ski race in winter. The steep slopes conjure images of James Bond fleeing down the mountainside in black salopettes — Ian Fleming was educated here after being ‘removed’ from both Eton and Sandhurst. Misbehave on the biking trails after breakfast in the local coffee shops. For dinner, famous Rosi’s Sonnbergstuben is a restaurant with tableside yodelling courtesy of local celebrity Rosi.

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The Kempinski Hotel Das Tirol is great year-round for tackling the area’s 120km of mountain bike paths and 500km of hiking trails. Or at least a small portion of them.

Ravishing Riva del Garda

Swoon over Lake Garda, just an hour’s drive out of Verona. The largest lake in Italy is so big you can’t see the other side. The immediate scenery is framed with man’s hand – a balustrade here, a manicured lawn there – but Riva del Garda, the large historic town at the narrow northern end of the lake is backed by the dramatic Dolomite mountains. Take an authentic paddle steamer or jet off in your own hired motorboat, and look out for olive-infused beer from the local micro-brewery.

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Lido Palace. Once the holiday home of the Habsburg royal family, this hotel has put its past to bed in favour of a stylish and inimitably Italian renovation, which hasn’t failed to include massive windows. The palace is just outside Riva del Garda, where you can get a history fix with a short climb to the old, crumbling Bastione at the foot of Mount Conchetta.

The mighty Dolomites

Framing Lake Garda are the steep slopes of the Dolomite mountains: here you need to hike to reach the best spots, though a short cable car is all you need to reach the oft-visited summit of Sass Pordoi. Drive here from Lake Garda and find a steep, alien landscape – figures crawl, ant-like along the Alta Via Dolomiti – a dramatic path linking the highest peaks. The famous via ferrata allows you to scale the mountainsides by way of wire and iron stapled to the rock. Get a guide to lead your expedition. The food gets weightier as the hills get steeper. Enjoy casunzei – hearty filled pasta and dry smoked speck (ham).

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Lefay Resort & SPA Lago Di GardaThis luxury resort covers 11 hectares of natural park, surrounded by rolling hills and olive groves, with dazzling views of Lake Garda. Indulge your senses at the Lefay SPA, a vast space dedicated to wellness with an infinity pool blending into the horizon.


  • Aiguille du Midi ©Carlina Teteris.

    A close encounter

    Take a cable car straight from Chamonix to this sun-piercing summit for views of Mont Blanc.

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  • Man standing on top of Sass Pordoi, South Tyrol, Italy. ©Maya Karkalicheva.

    Take a peak

    When you take in the stunning Dolomite views, look out for cuddly marmots on the mountainside. These plump squirrels lend their name to ski schools and restaurants across the Alps.

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  • Waterfront tables at Lake Como overlooking the Alps at sunset ©Xantana.

    A perfect perch

    The waterfront provides an idyllic setting, and a great meal. Perch are fished from Lake Como for local risotto and pasta dishes.

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Look classy on Lake Como

Lake Como, George Clooney’s home away from home, asks for a little more refinery from its visitors. Travel there via Milan, and spend your days deciding which grand villa you will pretend to own next, while wandering around their botanical gardens and ridiculous interiors. Stay north of the town of Bellagio, where the views keep getting better. Visit the gardens of nearby Villa Serbelloni or Villa Melzi and take a ferry to reach chic Como and colourful Varenna. A hired motorboat will zip you close to Villa Balbianello, where Casino Royale played out.

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The Grand Hotel Tremezzo is tremendously grand indeed. Run for three generations by the same family, they've recently given the decor a lift, though plush velvets and chandeliers still reign supreme. There’s a floating pool in Lake Como itself, and a man-made beach reached by way of the Champagne bar. Nearby is the stunning Villa Sola Cabiati, where the hotel can arrange special events. The soothing grace of Villa Carlotta’s botanical gardens are also close at hand.

New tricks in Chamonix

Glamorous Chamonix is big, and stuffed full of activities. It is here, in the shadow of Mont Blanc, that Dr Frankenstein re-encountered his monster. You can have your own sublime adventures: hike to the White Lake and visit the foot of the retreating Mer de Glace (‘sea of ice’) glacier, where you can explore the ice cave. Take the cable car 3,777 metres up the Aiguille du Midi and ‘Step into the Void’ – a glass box hanging over the valley claiming to be the highest tourist attraction in Europe. Great for that killer Instagram shot.

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Hotel Mercure Chamonix Centre, enjoying a great mid-town location, is good for all the activities, the bars and the kids’ clubs. Enjoy Savoy region recipes in the hotel restaurant – cook meat over a hot stone (‘pierrade’) or dip everything in melted cheese (‘boite chaud’).

  • Mont Blanc reflected in Lake Blanc, Mont Blanc Massif, Alps, France ©Nattrass.

    What goes up

    The fastest ascent and descent of Mont Blanc was in just under five hours. In 1960 the first plane landed on the summit – with just 30 metres of runway.

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A turn on Lake Lucerne

What would an Alpine lakes and mountains guide be without Switzerland? Sprawling Lake Lucerne, a tangled blue heart in the middle of the country, is beautiful. Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata was named after it: a critic compared the piano piece to moonlight shining on the lake’s surface. Today, the historic city of Lucerne hosts a great classical music festival in August and you can visit Wagner’s villa. The views of the snow-covered mountains are hard to avoid, unless you walk hidden under the city’s charming long, covered wooden bridge, the Kapellbrucke. Enjoy the town’s fascinating stories – from statues of dying lions to the dragons rumoured to live on Mount Pilatus.

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The Grand National LucerneFrom the Grand Hotel National Lucerne you can see the famous Rigi, Stanserhorn and Pilatus mountains, as well as the highest peaks of Central Switzerland. Should you ever tire of such splendid views you can simply luxuriate in the hotel’s lavish rooms, some of which sport Italian marble floors and walls covered with silk wallpaper.

Des Balances Lucerne Hotel. The photo-ready Des Balances was built in the 13th century and is right on the waterfront. The rooms are stylish with elegant, romantic touches. Enjoy a complimentary welcome cocktail and take things from there.