How to stay active on a summer ‘coolcation’ in the Alps

Even when (most) ski slopes are shut for the summer, the Alps have plenty to keep visitors busy, finds Alice Barnes-Brown

Summer in the Alps means fresh air, restorative walks through rolling green meadows and breathtaking river valleys, or buzzing between historic towns and villages on an excellent transport network – all with the added bonus of temperatures pleasant enough to explore in.

With increasing interest in ‘coolcations’ (the European Travel Commission found 17% of European holidaymakers ranked moderate weather as their top priority) and a lack of reliable snow in winter due to climate change, many regions best known for winter sports are focusing on attracting more summer guests.

So, this summer, an exciting array of new attractions and old favourites are making these mountains more enticing than ever – and clients won’t need more than five nights to experience them.

Urban charm in Austria

In 2024, the Alps gained its very first European Capital of Culture: Bad Ischl in Austria’s astonishing Salzkammergut lake district. The pretty market and spa town is perfect for soaking up Alpine mineral waters, riding cable cars, cycling to ancient churches and eating Sachertorte. It’s also renowned for its Austro-Hungarian architecture: Emperor Franz Joseph I and his wife Sisi built their summer home, the Kaiservilla, here.

Historic coffeehouses and hotels are turning into exhibition spaces as part of the Capital of Culture celebrations. A scenic salt refinery in the region will feature contemporary art that explores the history of the Salzkammergut salt mining industry, while in July and August, a floating dome filled with saltwater will let clients experience a zero-gravity effect on Bad Ischl’s lakeside.

Book it: Inntravel sells the four‑night A Dip into Salzburg’s Lake District, with one night in Bad Ischl, from £1,320. It’s based on an August departure and includes flights, transfers, cycle hire, breakfast and one dinner.

Or try: Looking for something flight-free? Byway offers a five‑night rail trip to Salzburg, spending two nights in Mozart’s glorious birthplace before traversing the Arlberg Railway through the northern Alps on one of Europe’s highest-altitude railway lines. The itinerary is priced from £1,220 and includes all accommodation and travel, based on an August 19 departure.


Mountain magic in Zermatt

Beautiful Zermatt – a chalet-packed town in the shadow of the spiky Matterhorn – sits at an altitude of around 5,250 feet. Car-free and home to hanging‑basket‑draped souvenir shops and restaurants, Zermatt has long been a popular base for hikers.

Summer skiers can even access powder slopes, thanks to the resort’s high altitude. Around 21km of pristine snowy slopes await near the summits, including a new beginners’ park for amateur skiers and snowboarders – the perfect place for clients to pick up a new skill.

Last year, the Matterhorn Alpine Crossing (the highest cross-country cable car ride in the world) was completed, connecting Zermatt with Cervinia in Italy without visitors having to step into skis. The 90-minute journey takes passengers to a dizzying 13,000 feet, flying high above dramatic ravines and glaciers.

Book it: Tui sells a four-night B&B holiday at the Beausite Zermatt – located a 15-minute walk from the cable car station – from £1,201 per person, based on two sharing a double room. Includes flights from Heathrow on August 22, transfers and luggage.

Or try: Explore Slovenia’s Julian Alps with Regent Holidays’ Bohinj Short Break – the four-night bike holiday is priced from £1,145 per person, based on two sharing and a September 15 departure. Includes flights, transfers, bike hire, breakfast, three dinners, two lunches and a pass to some attractions.


Wellness by the water in Lake Garda

Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake, provides an ideal spot for an active family break. With the Alps fringing the northern shore, there’s plenty of mountain hiking and biking fun to be had, as well as swimming and speedboat trips on the cerulean waters.

Clients can base themselves in Riva del Garda to get the best of both worlds: Alpine activity and a Mediterranean lifestyle. Suggest a trip on the funicular to Bastione di Riva, a 16th-century Venetian tower that comes with a panoramic cafe-bar for Italian aperitivo (with mocktails also available). Or, if they want to stretch their legs, a day hike to waterfalls, caves and mountain peaks is the best medicine.

Close to Riva del Garda is the Gardea SoulFamily Resort, which opened in 2023 and offers families an easy way to explore: kids can join guided mountain bike rides, climb one of the 60 routes in the Massi delle Traole area, or even make Alpine butters and cheeses.

Book it: Kuoni sells a five-night stay from £3,856, based on two adults and two children under 12 staying on a half-board basis. Includes flights departing September 16 and private transfers.

Or try: On Garda’s southern end is the Hotel Caesius Thermae & Spa Resort, an ideal setting for a short family holiday. There are five outdoor swimming pools (including one with a whirlpool and two for children), a 3,000sq m spa with an Ayurveda centre and thermal baths, plus four-course Italian menus in the restaurant. Citalia offers a five‑night, half-board stay from £1,469 per person, based on two adults and two children travelling together. Includes flights departing August 26 and private transfers.

Ask the experts


Victoria Ellison walking product executive, Inghams
“The Alps are a summer playground for friends, families, couples, solo travellers – you name it! With plenty of space to run, jump and play, plus less crowding than your average summer holiday destination, it’s one of the best places to go if you’re looking for a complete change of scenery. Dipping your toes in the crisp Alpine lakes is better than going to the spa. You can find lakes tucked away in all corners of the Alps, ideal for cooling off on a hike – take a picnic and bask in the summer sunshine.”


Emilie Morard head of markets in Europe, Valais Matterhorn Region
“The Alps in Valais are fascinating because of the diversity of activities they offer: hiking tours, mountain bike networks, viewing points, overnights in cosy mountain huts, tasting local specialities, or walking along dramatic irrigation channel paths called ‘bisses’. The area is easy to reach thanks to various mountain railways and exceptional transport options.”

Fast fact

Alpine airports with direct summer connections to the UK are located in Salzburg, Innsbruck, Zurich, Geneva, Lyon, Turin, Milan, Verona, Venice and Ljubljana. Most flights are no longer than two and a half hours.

Pictures: Shutterstock/Ben 5d; Buzztrips; Shutterstock/YurlyBrykaylo; Sedrik Nemeth

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