I have always enjoyed being a little adventurous whilst traveling, and staying off the beaten track appeals to me more than your packaged 2 week poolside/shopping holiday. Me and my now ex-partner decided to ditch the flight and take off across Europe in the car for just over 3 weeks.
We spent some time researching routes we fancied and decided on stopping off for a night or two to get us at least into Switzerland. We decided to book the Euro Tunnel as the journey is only 35 minutes from Folkestone to Calais. The journey was seamless, in fact, we arrived at the port a little earlier than our booked slot but they allowed us to go on regardless.
France, Luxembourg & Germany
Once in Calais, we hit to the road driving for the next 6 or 7 hours with stops along the way. The thing with driving abroad is they encourage you to rest and there are plenty of roadside stop-overs with all the facilities you need without being charged for parking. Before we left the uk, we did some research on driving abroad; make sure you do this as you will need specific equipment such as first aid, breath testers, a warning triangle, hi-vis vests etc. when entering certain countries. You can also avoid most toll roads and this does not add too much more time to your journey and it’s a much more scenic route. We used the Via Michelin web app to plan our routes.
Our first stop took us to France, and as we like to avoid Paris we decided to head to Luxembourg (it’s worth while checking the cost of fuel as it was so much cheaper in Luxembourg so we filled up.) Our plan was to head to Switzerland for a few days, however, a friend of ours had sent us a message about a place in Germany that did huge burgers, as big as dinner plates! It was something we decided we wanted to see (and taste) so our route instantly changed direction. That’s the beauty of driving as you’re not restricted and can freely come and go as you please. We headed to a place in Hofheim am Taunus, to a Restaurant called Waldgeist. They sold the biggest burgers I have ever seen!
I wouldn’t say that they are the nicest I have ever tasted, but we enjoyed the trip and managed to visit Frankfurt the morning after. We managed to book a Best Western Hotel for the night online for around €70. This included a continental breakfast, which was plenty to keep us going to our next destination, Switzerland.
Switzerland & Italy
Driving through Switzerland was amazing, it’s such a beautiful country and extremely clean. As we hadn’t booked anything we decided to camp for the night. We decided to put a small amount of camping equipment in the boot of our car, just in case we couldn’t find a hotel at short notice. The weather was amazing and we found a good camping site that was perched on the banks of the river Rhine. The place was so peaceful, and after setting up camp, we decided to go for a swim in the river. There were facilities on site such as showers and somewhere to get food. The cost was around €20 a night for a small 2-birth tent and wifi was an additional €8.
The next morning we decided to stay another night so that we could visit Rhine falls and rest a little before heading off to our next destination, Italy. Rhine Falls is the largest plain waterfall in Europe and definitely worth a visit. Boat trips can be taken up the Rhine to the falls and the Rheinfallfelsen. There are also viewing platforms with a spectacular view of the falls built on both sides of the Rhine. These are reached via steep and narrow stairs.
The next morning we packed up our tent and headed off to Lake Garda. Driving across Switzerland into Italy has got to be one of the most scenic drives I have ever encountered. Just be aware that you will need to purchase a vignette (a bit like a temporary road tax) which can be purchased at service stations along the route. The cost will depend how long you are visiting the country for. We also decided to save time by driving through the Mont Blanc tunnel at a cost of about €70. If you are not in a rush I would say drive over the mountain to get a taste of the real Switzerland and take in the breathtaking views on route.
When we reached Lake Garda, we found a little hotel right across the road from the lake. This was a typical Italian hotel, with a basic room, but clean and the decor was rustic and oozed charm. We stopped at Bardolino, which is one of the best-known of the Lake Garda resorts, mainly due to the wine made from the grapes grown in the surrounding hillsides. The beauty of being in our car meant that we could bring home lots of wine from our travels and this wine did not disappoint! The resort is one of the more popular destinations on the southern end of the lake and is located just south of Lake Garda.
The restaurants around the edge of the lake did tend to be more expensive so it’s worth having a look around to see what’s on offer. The food in Italy seems be very small in portion size, so be aware of this when ordering, however the wine is low in cost and there is plenty of it!
While in Bardolino, we did a few days sightseeing and visited Sirmione, which is a small medieval walled commune accessed over a small bridge. We spent the afternoon walking through the winding pepped streets and stopping to take in views of the castle. We decided to have some lunch sat outside watching the world go by in the warm sun listening to the Italian folk go about their day!
There are 3 things you must try in Italy: There is such a thing as coffee etiquette, so read up before you go as the Italians are extremely sensitive when it comes to when you should and shouldn’t drink various coffees depending on the time of day! The gelato! Ice cream to die for, it leaves a taste of real flavour lingering forever on your tastebuds and of course without saying, the pizza! What more do you need when the sun is shining?
This was not the first time I had visited this region so I sort of knew what to expect. Again, I was not disappointed. We found a campsite that had different types of accommodation. We opted for a log cabin which was set back in the shade, god knows we needed it as the temperature was well into the 30’s… The site was on top of a hill overlooking the Italian city.
The view again was breathtaking. There was everything we needed on site including a much needed swimming pool. It’s worth noting that to enter a pool in Italy you are required to wear a swimming cap. These can be purchased from the pool provider at only a few euros.
Florence, the capital of Italy’s Tuscany region is home to many masterpieces of Renaissance art and architecture. One of its most iconic sights is the Duomo, a cathedral with a terracotta-tiled dome and a bell tower. When visiting the cathedral, women must be covered around the shoulders. They can provide paper shawls if you don’t have anything to hand. Once we spent sometime walking around the Duomo and tower, we sat outside in the main square and drank coffee whilst soaking up the atmosphere.
We decided to stay in Florence for the next 5 days as we found it a good base to visit neighbouring places such as Pisa, Luca and Bologna. These were all within an hour or so driving and well worth a visit. You can read about these destinations in one of my other blogs.
Monaco & back to France
We reluctantly had to leave Florence as time was ticking by, so we needed to start heading back to the UK. We decided that we would head back in the other direction from which we came. This led us to Genoa, which is on the coast and is about a 2-hour drive to Monaco, which is definitely worth a visit. Be aware that Monaco is very expensive even if you are just stopping for lunch.
Ok so back to Genoa, again having the freedom to roam gave us the opportunity to discover the area before booking anywhere, however we left it a little late and was struggling to find somewhere for the next few nights! This was just at the end of August so places were pretty much full. We found a campsite (Euro camp) and the guy on-site did his best to accommodate us, he even said we could stay in his tent for the night (the tents are ready built with beds, toilets and fridge-freezers in.)
We decided for privacy to pitch our own tent on the grounds (we actually didn’t pay for this) until the next day when an erected tent was available. The site had entertainment, showers and even a launderette! We stayed here for 2 days before we headed to Annecy in France.
We had already booked our accommodation in Annecy, sometimes called “Venice of the Alps”, which comes from its two canals and the Thiou river lying through the old city and whose initial role was to protect the city and to empower its handicrafts.
Annecy is very picturesque and if you get the weather then you are in for a right treat staying here.
We unfortunately didn’t get the weather so decided to pack up after 2 days and drive 8 hours to Amsterdam for the last leg of our journey.
Amsterdam & The Red Light District
I’m so pleased we decided to, as Amsterdam is a fantastic city, full of curiosity and culture. We arrived around 7pm and just ditched our stuff in the hotel and headed for the red light district! We needed to see the sights and did we see them! It’s certainly an eye opener. The place was buzzing with activity and the bars and restaurants were full to capacity. Whilst visiting, we did a boat trip tour and a visit to the main attractions. One thing that astounded me was the bike parks! I have never seen so many bicycles in one place in my life!
A summary of my European driving adventure
The cost of the whole journey including spends, accommodation, fuel and ferry, tolls etc was around £3500 for over 3 weeks for 2 people. The total mileage was roughly 2800 miles. We ate out 3 times per day and mainly stayed in basic accommodation. For me, this is one of the most enjoyable holidays I have ever had. I must have liked at as I then did it another 2 times after visiting Different counties.
Watch this space for part 2 and part 3! Also, if you’re looking to book hotels, try using the search box below to find some great deals!