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By Michael Hepworth

For the finest in winter skiing and other related activities, no place can probably touch the Alps, a region that actually encompasses five countries ; Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and of course France. That is a very extensive geographical area, and the twelve resorts that we will feature here stretch from Megeve in Northern France to Kitzbuhel in Austria . They all have their own distinctive characteristics including the best known resort of all, St.Moritz in Switzerland . All of the dozen resorts are open all year round, and they are all known for their excellence in quality and service. Also, the dozen places vary from glitzy trendsetting resorts to quiet out of the way low key places, so depending on what you want; one of these places will be perfect for your trip to the Alps this winter, or even for next summer.

Starting in France with Megeve, this village is easy to get to, being only 70 kilometers from Geneva airport. The first thing that grabs you about this place is the architecture of the chalets, and the view of the surrounding countryside and mountains that are neither too steep or high reaching up to 2,525 meters. I you are a novice skier or snowboarder then this would be a good place to start, and with the background of Mont Blanc , it is also an ideal place for rest and relaxation.


Chamonix Mont Blanc is a relative short drive east from Megeve, and is dominated by the mountain, which at 4807 meters is the highest in the Alps with its magnificent glaciers and granite peaks. The place is a paradise for climbers and mountaineers, mountain bikers and paragliders, hikers and nature lovers, as well as skiers and snowboarders. If you are into the swinging European scene then this is the place for you.  The place is very sporty and international, and boasts some of the best cuisine in the Alps .


Next we move to Switzerland and the village of Zermatt , and home of another great mountain, the Matterhorn . The village is a car-free health resort and mountain village with international flair, offering plenty of action, day and night. There are plenty of mountains to explore in the daytime: the Klein Matterhorn, Rothorn and Gornergrat offer amazing high altitude landscape views, and Zermatt is just as popular in the summer as the winter with the international jet set.


Quite a way north of Zermatt in Switzerland lies the village of Grindelwald , a picture perfect mountain village that lies in the Berner Oberland. The ice-capped peaks of the Wetterhorn, Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau serve as a backdrop for the winter tourists who come for the endless pistes and runs for skiers, snowboarders and sledgers. Summer tourists come for the endless hiking trails and many other leisure activities. One of the must sees in Grindelwald is the trip to Jungfraujoch, the ‘Top of Europe’, at 3,454 meters, Europe ’s highest railway station.


Staying in Switzerland , if you want to be ‘chic’ and want a bit of elegance and exclusiveness, then St.Moritz is for you. St.Moritz lies in the heart of Oberengadin’s Lake District where the sun shines about 10 ½ months each year. Summer activities include cultural activities, sports and relaxation, and winter includes ski marathons, horse racing, polo, cricket, skiing and snowboarding. Lying about 6,000 feet high with pristine lakes and pine forests, 2006 is a big year for the village. The first hotel was opened in 1856 (today’s Kulm Hotel), and the very first Cresta Run took place here in 1885. Also if you are into tobogganing and the bobsled run St. Moritz has all that, and all in all they will be organizing 150 official events for its 143rd winter season. This is in addition to events organized by the larger hotels, the neighboring villages and the region, plus the eleven museums, seven libraries, numerous exhibitions and galleries open to the public, and two cinemas.


Just a short drive north of St.Moritz lays Davos, the highest town in the Alpine region. Davos is strong on urban conveniences as well as tennis courts, an 18- hole golf course and plenty of hiking trails. In winter the village comes alive with the largest natural ice rink in Europe , as well as plenty of slopes and downhill runs, and the Spengler Cup Ice Hockey tournament. Davos is also known as the conference center of the Alps , hosting the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.


Next we move on to Austria , and the charming little village of Lech Zurs Am Arlberg .  Only 1,500 people live here year round, and the village is only 1,450 meters above sea level. What makes this place special is the extensive choice of skiing available on the Albert, the glorious Austrian countryside and the friendliness of the villagers. It is only located two hours from Zurich and three from Munich , and by all accounts once you visit this place and fall in love with the pastures and mountains you want to keep coming back.


Staying in the region we now go to St.Anton Am Arlberg, also in Austria . This was the location of the 2001 Alpine world skiing championships, and is located at the foot of the Alberg Pass 1,300 meters above sea level. The Tyrolean village is a clever mix of tradition and progress. From December 1 through April 30 ski enthusiasts and snowboarders come from all over the world to experience 260 km of downhill runs, and 180 km of powder snow pistes. They also have 80 mountain cableways and lifts to truly experience the Arlberg region. In summer the place really changes and comes alive yet again, with many sporting events and tours set up to explore the Ferwall and Lechtal Alps.


Many regulars to the Alps claim that Seefeld in Austria is their favorite place. Lying 1,200 feet above sea level on a high plateau, it is surrounded by mountain ranges of a pristine nature. Here they have 250 km of cross-country trails that are immaculately kept up, as well as 35 km of Alpine ski slopes for beginners and professionals. For non-skiers there are 80 km of winter hiking trails through the snow. In summer the place comes alive with discos, pubs, bars and a casino and is quite a swinging place for trendy Austrians and other Europeans.


Germany has its own world class Alpine resort at Garmisch-Partenkirchen , a place where you can go skiing and surfboarding on the Zugspitze and in the classic skiing areas, or enjoy cross-country skiing or ice-skating. In summer, there’s mountaineering and hiking, mountain biking and Nordic walking, golf and tennis. Variety is the name of the game here, and it also comes with the traditional German efficiency in making sure that everything runs smoothly and on time.


Now we move on to Italy , and the home of the 1956 Winter Olympics, Cortina D’Ampezzo. Also known as the “Queen of the Dolomites,” this is a dream destination for mountain climbers, with the steep rock faces and jagged edges of the Dolomites. Many movies have been shot here both in winter and summer, with the Mediterranean sun making this place not quite as cold in winter as some of the aforementioned venues. I summer there are great hikes and walks to be enjoyed in the meadows and mountain pastures. When it comes to tourists, this place has probably more experience than most, and of course, they have the top of the line Italian food as a plus.


Finally we come to the end of our tour and back in Austria at Kitzbuhel. If you are looking for fun then this is the place for you. It is only 762 m above sea level, and features lavish hospitality and top food and drink, a kind of Alpine Las Vegas. There is a casino as well as four golf courses, and for skiers the ‘Streif’ downhill course is complemented by a further 160 kilometers of pistes. Plenty of walks in summer as well either down in the valley or a more strenuous version up the mountainside.


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