3 week European roadtrip for mountains and wine

If you look through a typical European highlights itinerary it will invariably be dominated by the cities.  For instance, the Lonely Planet’s top itinerary for Europe is 12 cities and nothing else, and of its 24 overall European highlights, only 6 are not cities (the Norwegian Fjords, the Matterhorn, Greece’s Santorini, Montenegro’s Bay of Kotor, Transylvania, North Macedonia’s Lake Ohrid . . .  if you’re interested).  It’s understandable – Europe is a centre for culture and stunning capital cities, but it also has some world class experiences to be found outside of the cities and this itinerary gives you a flavour of those with a focus on its mountain and wine regions

 

With this itinerary you will enjoy:

  • Mountains – the most spectacular views of Europe’s premier mountain regions with Switzerland’s “big three” of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau from Interlaken, and the Pyrenes’ Cirques de Gavarnie
  • Wine regions – 4 of the best wine regions France has to offer with Bordeaux, Provence, Alsace and Champagne
  • Lakes – 2 of the world’s truly stunning lakes with the simply magnificent Lake Como and the Swiss Lakes surrounding Interlaken
  • Coastline – the epitome of luxury and style with the most famous stretch of coastline in Europe with the Cote d’Azur, its trio of corniches and Monaco
  • Hilltop villages and rural regions – the prettiest in Europe with the hilltop villages and elegant treelined streets of Provence and the timbered fairytale villages of the Black Forrest
  • Roman Ruins – some of the best preserved Roman Ruins with the Pont du Garde and the Arles Amphitheatre
  • Driving – and of course, some of the best driving scenery in all of Europe as you pass from one mountain range to another and along some of the prettiest countryside on the continent

Driving the Alsace Wine Route

There may be more famous wine routes in the world, but The Route des Vins d’Alsace might just be the best overall package when you consider a few factors that makes this such a great experience.  Firstly, the countryside for the route is an appealing combination of rolling lush green fields, misty mountains and castles perched on top of outcrops throughout the 170km / 105mile route, which, as it sounds, is just awful.  Secondly, and continuing the awful theme, the villages dotted along the route with their small alleyways and central squares look like something straight from a fairytale

Now, for those first two factors, I realise that there are other wine routes in the world that offer such equally dreamy surroundings, but consider the third factor – the Alsace region’s history of swinging between France and Germany provides a intriguing mix of culture that is basically unique – think French attitudes, but speaking German.  And, finally, the Alsace region does not have the reputation of the likes of Bordeaux, Tuscany, Napa Valley and the Garden Route, so with that comes reduced visitor numbers and, to be honest, a much more down to earth and less douchey vibe.  You can enjoy in a bit more quiet as you spend a couple of days stopping in the quiet fairytale towns and deciding which of the wine cellars spread every mile or so you want to visit

 

A highlight of France

 

I haven’t written a detailed review as I only spent a few days in the region, but for a good route guide, I’d suggest this site – https://blog.ruedesvignerons.com/en/travel-guide/alsace-wine-route/ – which gives a good overview of the places to stop

Sampling wines in Saint Emilion

The Bordeaux region is arguably the most famous and respected wine region in the world.  Whilst staying in Bordeaux the city is indeed lovely with its UNESCO World Heritage listed old town and architecture and wide variety of wineries and restaurants, if you are visiting the region I would suggest staying overnight in one of the villages that sit within the world-famous vineyards themselves.  And St Emilion represents the crème de la crème of the villages.  A medieval village sitting just above the vineyards for views all across the valleys (also UNESCO World Heritage listed), the opportunity to learn directly about how the wines are produced in the vineyards themselves and, critically, those wonderful summer early evenings when the temperature is dropping, the day tourists have left and you are there to enjoy a world-class meal in a village in a small part of paradise . . . the French, I must say, do this all very well

 

No particular tips as its hard to get wrong.  Sign up to a wine tour with one of the vineyards, and book one of the lovely spots for your evening meal.  Enjoy!

Sampling wines in the Champagne region

Driving through the rolling countryside or wandering through the Champagne-mad streets of Reims and Epernay, stopping at cellars ranging from small family run wineries to some of the largest and famous in the world, all whilst sampling and learning about how the crème de la crème of drinks is made.  Spending a few days in the Champagne region is a world-class experience and one that should be right at the top of the priority list when visiting France

The natural mountain amphitheater of Cirques de Gavarnie

For those beautiful Pyrenees views, its hard to beat the area just to the south of the town of Lourdes and, in particular, the easily accessible Cirques de Gavarnie with its sensational mountain amphitheater and laid back surrounding villages that provide a host of accommodation options.  The mountain behind, Mount Perdu, is actually now a UNESCO World-Heritage site both for its outstanding natural beauty and human settlement going all the way back to the Upper Paleolithic period (40,000 – 10,000 B.C.).  It’s only 1.5 hours walk from Gavarnie village to the the best views of the amphitheater and to see some of the waterfalls that are super impressive just after it has rained

 

Just one tip – the ease of accessibility of Cirques de Gavarnie means it is also the busiest of the three natural amphitheaters nearby.  Be sure to also consider Cirque de Troumouse and the most remote – Cirque d’Estaube, if you are keen to avoid the busy spots

A week in the South of France

The South of France in summer is the quintessential advert for all things great about the French way of living.  Hilltop villages straight from a fairytale; a tradition of superb wines grown locally; dry Mediterranean climate that fits so well with the elegantly treelined streets of the towns and wandering routes of the countryside; some of the best preserved ancient Roman ruins; and, of course, the wonderful French cuisine with local produce proudly sitting at the heart of all that goes on here

 

A week is just about the right amount of time to see some of the traditional sites such as the hilltop villages of Gordes, the Corniches of the French Riviera, the Pont du Gare and a slight detour for Carcassonne.  But also the right amount of time to settle into that wonderful southern French way of life.  It really seems to grab you and it is unusual to leave without some half-hatched plan in your head for returning one day for retirement

 

Frustratingly I lost many of my photos of the trip, but I’ve listed below my key highlights and tips

Classic highlights of Paris

One of the world’s most famous cities and with some of the most recognisable landmarks anywhere, Paris is quite simply one of world’s must-visit destinations.  However, it is unfortunately quite common for people to leave Paris a little disappointed.  In fact, Paris Syndrome (“a sense of disappointment exhibited by individuals when visiting Paris”) is a thing.  This is less down to the lack of allure from the big ticket highlights, and more people’s disappointment that Paris doesn’t meet their romantic dream-like expectations of the peaceful walk along the tree lined streets all to themselves as they drift to find a hidden restaurant with that perfect table sat out the front under the stars with perfect views of the Eiffel Tower . . . ahhhhh how wonderful . . . oh and with the subtle music playing in the background and that perfect (reasonably priced) meal . . . ahhhhh, yes, how dreamy.  Of course, the reality is that Paris is a big expensive modern city with millions of fellow tourists wanting a piece of the action and the ever-present risk of the moody grey Northern French weather

 

So, whilst I think many people do get that perfect visit, many don’t as they either don’t know the secrets or don’t have a local to show them round.  I’ve visited Paris several times, but haven’t really had that local knowledge, so I’m going to score the visit based on that which, in summary, is still “one of the world’s must-visit destinations” based on its big ticket attractions, but don’t build up your expectations to the point that you leave with Paris Syndrome