High up in the French Alps, it's enthralling to imagine the forces that shaped these colossal peaks. The African and Eurasian tectonic plates collided some 35 million years ago, forcing the land skyward into a 1000km chain of saw-edged mountains.
Rumbling across seven European countries, the Alps reach their maximum height in France, at Mont Blanc (4810m). Buckling northwest along the Swiss border are the less mighty Jura Mountains, where life unfolds along slower rhythms: winemaking, cross-country skiing and tinkling cow bells.
Routes into the Alps’ otherworldly realms are many: aboard cable cars that fly to knee-trembling heights, or in the company of mountain guides who set out into wintry oblivion. Europe's biggest, and arguably most prestigious, ski resorts are here, melting into meadow-draped hiking country each summer. Winter or summer, this forbidding terrain commands respect: the French Alps’ mirror lakes, ice-cold rivers and crevasse-scarred glaciers form one of Europe’s true epics.