From the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains stretches the continent of Europe. The most striking geographic feature within this densely-populated area is the Alps Mountain Range, commonly called the Alps. The Alps covers most of Austria and Switzerland as well as significant areas of Germany, France, and Italy. The picture-perfect land and lifestyle of the Alps contain many treasures for all the peoples of the world. Who hasn't dreamed of visiting the Alps for a vacation? If you are lucky enough to vacation in the Alps, what delights await you?
The ladies can look forward to dirndls and Alpine flowers. A dirndl is a special Alpine dress worn particularly by the German-speaking populations of the Alps (in most of the Swiss and all of the German and Austrian areas). This long, often colorful and simple-patterned dress includes a full skirt, gathered waist, and tightfitting bodice. Most women fall in love with a dirndl the moment they see one. Save up to buy one, though. Most dirndls are hand-made and rather pricey. Compared to the cost of the intercontinental voyage to the Alps, though, a dirndl is well worth the expense. The wearer will have a cool weather treasure to wear for many years.
If dirndls are really too expensive, though, the hundreds of species of Alpine flowers will also delight not only women, but all nature lovers, for free. Of course, to see these botanical wonders, one must visit the Alps during its relatively brief spring through fall, that is, between June and September for most blossoms. The hills are alive with tiny, multi-colored petals in sometimes bizarre shapes. Don't touch! Most plant species are protected by laws carrying stiff fines, even for unsuspecting tourists. Instead, these natural treasures are available on the many postcards or in the coffee table books available at the ubiquitous souvenir shops and bookstores throughout the region. Taking one's own pictures or movies is an even better idea. With luck, it is still possible to find the rare edelweiss growing on a mountain slope. Its yellow center with white star-like petals has become an Alpine symbol, present in many folk art handicrafts.
Speaking of handicrafts, in addition to the dirndl, there are other assorted wares which can be taken home as a fond remembrance of one's all-too-brief stay in this mountainous playground. Alpine women take pride in their embroidery. Scarves, shirts, blouses, wall hangings, and table coverings can still be bought in the smaller, more remote hamlets in tiny mountain valleys. Many modern imitations are also available, however, so be sure of any item's authenticity before buying. In the off-season from farming, some Alpine men enjoy woodcarving. Items from as large as grandfather (also called "cuckoo") clocks to palm-sized miniature animals, farm utensils or equipment, or creations from the imagination can be had at roadside stands or local markets.
It's a pity that so much local food does not carry well; otherwise, Alpine dairy products, sausages, and breads are well worth taking home. On the other hand, bottled wild honey with its extra-thick consistency and exotic wildflower tastes and scents is relatively easy to transport with care in one's carry-on baggage. Mountain wine and liquor may also be carefully taken home. In the meantime, enjoy the calorie-laden but delicious Alpine cuisine where it was meant to be eaten.
Some Alpine treasures cannot be taken home. World-class skiing, mountain climbing, mountain hiking, and white-water rafting are among them. The views of the permanent glaciers of Mount Blanc, the Alps's highest peak at just over 4,700 meters will last a lifetime. Jolly Alpine music and dancing quicken the heart and set the feet tapping. With so much to see and appreciate, perhaps the next priority vacation spot on the discriminating traveler's list should be the Alps.