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The Alps

The Alps are pure magic. They are what defines Switzerland and with a good reason. Looking up to the mountains as dawn breaks, the higher peaks are like a painted backdrop against a pale, cloudless sky, and as the temperature rises and the valleys get the sun, the villages and towns start their bustle, with their sounds carry through the clear Alpine air.

The geography of Switzerland is what gives the country its sporting backbone and makes its people so outrageously outdoor-oriented. It’s also how little Switzerland put itself on the map as a big tourist destination. In the 19th century, during the golden age of Alpinism, it was the Swiss Alpine peaks that proved particularly alluring to British climbers. Alfred Wills made the first ascent of the Wetterhorn (12112ft) above Grindelwald in 1854, which was followed by a rash of ascent up other Swiss peaks, including Edward Whymper’s famous Matterhorn expedition in 1865. This flurry of pioneering activity in the Swiss Alps prompted the world’s mountaineering club, the Alpine Club, to be founded in London in 1857, followed by the Swiss Alpine Club in 1863.

With the construction of the first mountain hut on Tödi (11,856 feet) the same year and the emergence of St Moritz and its intoxicating "champagne climate" as the place to spend winter among British aristocracy. A year later, winter Alpine tourism was born. Hotels, railways and cable cars followed and, by the time St Moritz hosted the second Winter Olympic in 1928, Switzerland was the winter-wonderland-action buzzword on everyone’s lips.

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