The Alps comprise approx. 80,000 square miles. By way of comparison, the state of Minnesota is 79,617 sq/miles and the state of Kansas is 81,823 sq/miles. In terms of layout, the Alps stretch approx. 660 miles in the shape of a big boomerang. They generally range in width from 120 to 160 miles.
Think of a big round-faced clock. The mountains start at about the 7:00 position near the Mediterranean Sea between France and Italy. They then swing up towards the center of the clock as they flow through Switzerland and Liechtenstein and then head east in the direction of 3:00 as they run through Austria, Southern Germany, Northern Italy and Slovenia.
Some of the highest mountains are in France including the highest one, Mont Blanc at 15,771 feet. Several of the other highest peaks cluster in this area on the border between Switzerland and Italy including Mont Rosa at 15,203 feet and the Matterhorn at 14,692. Generally, the mountains diminish in size as you follow the range from west to east. Many of the mountains in Switzerland and Austria are in the 12,000-foot range. As you go east towards the Dolomites and into Slovenia the high peaks are approx. 10,000 or slightly less.
What makes the area a joy to ride, besides the spectacular scenery, is the abundance and variety of roads. When compared to the Rockies at 300,000 sq/miles there seem to be a lot more roads in the Alps. This is the result of centuries of travel and commerce from north to south and east to west plus a multitude of natural passes through the mountains. Also, the various armed conflicts that have occurred in the region, and the requirement to move men and supplies or to take the high ground for strategic purposes, made it necessary to build roads which have remained in use long after the conflicts have ended.
I live in New England where many of the back roads are potholed, strewn with frost heaves and poorly tarred surfaces. Compared to the roads around here the alpine roads in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Italy are about as good as it gets. The roads in France are also pretty good but you’ve got to watch out for the piles of crushed stone from road repairs pushed up in the corners and switchbacks.
So, that’s a quick overview of the Alps. You can get on the Autobahn and blast the entire 660-mile length in about 8 hours. Or, you can really enjoy yourself for weeks at a time by riding up and down and all around and still only touch the surface. It’s beautiful, beautiful country.