The world's ten most dramatic mountain cities

NAGANO, JAPAN

Who says you can't hike or ski, and enjoy big-city amenities and culture, too? In some cities, the mountains are only a short ride away, and Nagano is a prime example. It hunkers at the base of the Japanese Alps at the centre of abundant ski fields such as Hakuba, served by more than 150 lifts, and yet has plenty of heritage, temples, hot-spring resorts and many excellent restaurants. See go-nagano.net

INNSBRUCK, AUSTRIA

The imperial city of Innsbruck is surrounded by nine ski regions that together offer nearly 300 kilometres of runs and 80 lifts. In fact, you can take a train and cable car from the city centre and, 20 minutes later, emerge on the 2256-metre Nordkette. The surrounding Alps are just as easily accessed in summer, allowing morning hikes followed by afternoon cultural life in this agreeable city. See innsbruck.info

DENVER, US

This rather cosmopolitan Colorado city is acquiring quite the boutique beer, arts and food scenes and has several great museums – the Denver Art Museum has a terrific Native American collection. Yet the Mile High City is also the gateway to the Rockies, where ski resorts such as Breckenridge and Copper Mountain are just a 90-minute drive, and national parks provide great summer hiking, biking and horse-riding. See denver.org

SANTIAGO, CHILE

Turn east from any vantage point in Santiago and you can see the Andes loom, making it just the city to combine culture, excellent restaurants and grand architecture with a spot of skiing. The country's two best resorts, Portillo and Valle Nevado, are nearby with Portillo notable for steep terrain, excellent off-piste skiing and a spectacular Andes setting. No complaints about the vineyards in the foothills, either. See chile.travel

KATHMANDU, NEPAL

Nepal's largest city sits in the Kathmandu Valley at 1400 metres above sea level, surrounded by four major mountains. For decades it has been a magnet for dropouts, backpackers and mountain climbers. You can see the snows rising in the north-west of the Kathmandu Valley, luring the adventurous with kayaking, white-water rafting, mountain biking and trekking. The city itself beckons with markets, temples and a vibrant cultural life. See welcomenepal.com

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND

You don't have to go far to see mountains in Geneva, with the snowy French Alps easily admired from flower-lined, lakeshore promenades. Take the cable car up Mont Saleve (actually in neighbouring France) and you get superlative views over the city and Jura Mountains in one direction, Mount Blanc in the other. Adrenalin junkies can paraglide here. Numerous ski resorts are just an hour's drive away. See geneve.com

MASHHAD, IRAN

Iran's second-largest city Mashhad's location between the Binalood and Hezar-Mesjed mountain ranges gives it an enviable year-round cool climate and spectacular autumns. This is also the holiest city in Iran, with  20 million pilgrims visiting annually, among them many Iranian honeymooners hoping for blessings on their marriage. The view over the city, huge shrine complex and mountains is best admired from rocky outcrop Kuh-e Sangi. See itto.org

QUEENSTOWN, NEW ZEALAND

From the moment your plane banks between mountains, you're surrounded by spectacular scenery in New Zealand's ski and adrenalin-sport capital. The Skyline Gondola will hoist you up to views and mountain-biking trails. Coronet Peak ski field is only 20 minutes away and has delightful, floodlit evening skiing. Although the city is famous for its great outdoors, it also has sophisticated dining and nearby vineyards. See queenstownnz.co.nz

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA

The last city in Africa might sit at sea level but is backed by a great barrier of cloud-wreathed peaks framing the city beneath. Beyond stretches Cape Peninsula where Chapman's Peak Drive is one of Africa's most dramatic roads. Table Mountain is, however, the most splendid sight. The summit can be reached by cable car or on strenuous hiking trails from the city. See capetown.travel

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VANCOUVER, CANADA

This is a city for outdoor lovers, whether you're strolling parks, kayaking the harbour or cycling the waterfront. From seaside promenades to mountain summits is a short hop – in fact the gondola at Grouse Mountain, 20 minutes from downtown, will take you aloft to winter snowshoeing or summer mountain biking. Winter Olympics venue Cypress Mountain is almost as close, and world-class Whistler is a scenic two-hour drive. See tourismvancouver.com

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