Not Just For Skiers: Why You Should Plan A Visit To The Alps For Summer 2024

By Tessa Dunthorne

6 months ago

Journey up – not down – the mountains


What’s a holiday in the alps over summer like? Tessa Dunthorne finds out. 

I find myself among a clamorous herd of cows crowding the road. Their bells clang and clatter and one approaches me – face on – with its twisting, turning tongue getting closer and closer. I have my camera lens lined up to take a picture of the bovine beast, and I’m playing a game of chicken in my attempt to get a good shot. I dodge out just before its extraordinarily long tongue can reach me and swerve through the livestock until I reach the safety of grass and my bike. 

Cow in Lech Valley

I’m on the Tiroler Lech nature park cycle path. I’ve been cycling among a group for about an hour or two to reach this dipping valley with the cows. I have lost most of the rest of my group – they’ve gone ahead but I was caught up in the image capture – and I am standing in total isolation. It’s a striking image: the herd, their bells, a little wooden shack for the farmer in the distance, and the narrow pebbled road sheltered by sweeping hills on either side. 

What’s almost as striking, though, is the smell of cow manure that seems to be coming from… Me. My trousers – and wheels of the e-bike that has made the cycle infinitely more achievable for me –  are splattered with brown flecks and I can feel that my face has not been spared completely, either.

I hop back on my bike and spend the rest of the journey dipping around muck on the path. And I shower very, very vigorously upon my return. 

The Arula Chalets from afar

Lech in the snow

Lech Am Arlberg, the dignified little town where I am staying for a few days, is more frequently imaged in a layer of snow. The bare-roofs on timber lodges feel almost naked compared to the postcard picture of the resort-town better known for its neat access to brilliant ski access. It’s popularity with the ski-set is no surprise: the west Austrian resort is ultra glamorous and famous among the glitterati and international elite, and its position in the elbow of two valleys places it at a respectable 1,444m above sea level. Plus, it’s a neat stone’s throw distance from the Valluga mountain, down which hundreds of adrenaline-junkies throw themselves in an annual competition called the ‘White Thrill’. 

I’m one of the tourists, though, who couldn’t care less about slopping some sticks to my feet in the name of a dizzying sport. I’m among a growing number of travellers interested in experiencing the alps in their low-season – and I’m hoping I can convince you, too. 

Since 2020, more and more alpine resorts are reporting a curious growth in the number of visitors they are receiving in the summer. In 2022, the French national association of mayors had reported that they had seen an 8 percent increase in occupancy rates in July over the course of one year. This year, Swiss university EHL Hospitality School reports that hotel stays in June had increased by 8.6 percent against last year, and July also up by 4.5 percent – mostly driven by foreign tourism. And this year, the popular Les Deux Alpes resort reported 280,000 visitors during the ski season – and a not too shabby 70,000 over the summer.

So it’s apparent that we’re beginning to see the merits of mountain air outside of winter months. It’s possible that the appeal of these holidays are to do with their easy access via trains. Speaking to the Telegraph, Simon Wrench of tour operators Inntravel suggests that Bavaria and Austria’s mountains are in particular buzzy destinations for this reason: ‘combining Eurostar services and the efficient NightJet sleeper to Innsbruck and Vienna is a popular choice’. 

It’s also possible that prices are driving this interest – prices are two-thirds lower in the summer than in the winter, and an uber-luxe chalet could be anywhere near five times less expensive (Arula Chalets, for example, where I am staying in Lech, is a paltry €9,500 a night in the summer – versus €40,000 during peak-season). 

Arula, summer

However, the biggest draw is undeniable – the beauty of the scenery – although perhaps a bit less easy to evidence. Whether it’s the cows – or the challenge of a radical upwards adventure

The best part of visiting over the summer? You can still enjoy a raclette (or a massive plate of fries or mountainfare). You’ll just be wearing less layers for it. And maybe a touch muckier with cow poo. 

Tessa stayed as a guest of Arula Chalets in summer 2023 – read her review here – with all activities coordinated by the chalet team there. (Available to book from €9,500/night on chalet-board basis, thearulachalets.com). Cycle hire, €65, via Strolz, strolz.at/en/shops/sport-rentals/bikecenter.