3 week European roadtrip for mountains and wine

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
9
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
9
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
8
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
8
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
9
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
7
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
85 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
Europe
country
Andorra / France / Germany / Italy / Liechtenstein / Luxembourg / Monaco / Switzerland
Length of time
2-4 weeks
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 3,000
Time of year visited
July
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
15th/334 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 5% SUMMARY RATING: Unmissable

Summary

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

highlights

#1 The Champagne region, France - 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

#2 Lake Como's Villas, Italy - feeling like being on a movie set as you wander through the uber-refined lakeside residences like the Villa del Balbianello

#3 The Jungfrau Region, Switzerland - the simple but spectacular walk along the top of Mannlichen from the cable car to see Switzerland's "Big Three" - the Eiger (Ogre), Monch (Monk) and Jungfrau (Virgin)

#4 The hilltop villages of Provence, France - wandering the gorgeous alleyways and surrounding walking routes of Gourdes, Beau de Provence and Roussillion

#5 Saint Emilion, France - enjoy the surrounding UNESCO World Heritage listed vineyards as you learn how the best wine in the world is made and spend your evening enjoying superb food in this magical little village

#6 The Cote d'Azur, France – it has to be done. Driving the route from St Tropez to Monaco feels about as sophisticated, fancy, luxurious, posh, decadent as it gets anywhere in the world. Be sure to drive it and to stay for a day in Monaco itself to enjoy its nearby beaches, super yachts and, of course, the famous casino

#7 The Black Forest, Germany - forest-cloaked hills, glacial lakes, pretty valleys, timbered villages, cuckoo clocks and Black Forrest Gateau cake - the Black Forrest is a peaceful getaway nestled in Germany's border with Switzerland

#8 The Alsace Wine Route, France - driving through rolling lush green fields, misty mountains and castles perched on top of outcrops throughout this 170km / 105mile route dotted with cellars every mile and with the unique cultural combination of French and German

#9 Lake Como's views, Italy, - with picture-perfect Italian villages punctuating luscious forests as they meet the crystal clear waters, and all against the stunning dramatic backdrop of the Alps, this might be the most beautiful place in the world and best viewed from the Sassa San Martino hike

#10 The clean mountain air and water - walking along some of the Alps and Pyrenes glacial rivers that gush out from the surrounding glaciers in the summer heat

#11 The French village way of life - the wonderful peaceful villages where you can enjoy the relaxed way of life. There is something just so wonderful about walking the daily pilgrimage down the tree lined streets to the boulangerie and finding yourself sitting in the nearby cafe eating delicacies while watching the oh-so-perfectly-set village life go by

#12 Switzerland's valleys around Interlaken - sensational valleys and lakes, with the immense backdrop of the snow capped Swiss Alps

#13 Roman ruins – the Pont du Gard, the tallest aqueduct in the Roman Empire, and the Arle amphitheater, one of the best preserved, are must visits even if you’re not a Roman history fan. Their perfect condition brings them far more to life compared to some other crumbling Roman ruins you may see

#14 Hikes and adventure sports - head off for some of the best hikes in the world from some of the world's premier extreme sports centres

#15 Carcassonne, France – enjoy dusk as most of the day tourists have left and you have the charming alleyways and walls of this incredible medieval castle with its witch-hat turrets all to yourself

#16 Cirques de Gavarnie, France - the first view of the natural mountain amphitheater as you walk through Gavarnie village in the Pyrenes

SMALL COUNTRY OPTIONAL EXTRA - Monaco for the pinnacle of sophistication, to waltz into the famous casino and to enjoy the beaches on the doorstep

SMALL COUNTRY OPTIONAL EXTRA - Liechtenstein for its beautiful surrounding scenery

SMALL COUNTRY OPTIONAL EXTRA - Andorra for its pretty capital of Andorra la Vella

SMALL COUNTRY OPTIONAL EXTRA - Luxembourg for its lovely city centre with castle and spires

Rough itinerary

  • Day 1-2 Saint Emilion – The Bordeaux region is arguably the most famous and respected wine region in the world, and St Emilion represents the crème de la crème within in it.  Stay for the night to enjoy this medieval  village sitting just above the UNESCO World Heritage listed vineyards and for the opportunity to learn directly about how the best wines in the world are made
  • Day 3-4 Cirques de Gavarnie – the most spectacular views of the Pyrenees as you hike to waterfalls at the end of this mountain amphitheater with UNESCO World Heritage listed Mount Perdu in the distance.  Find yourself one of the many laidback surrounding villages to spend a couple of days relaxing in the mountains

SMALL COUNTRY OPTIONAL EXTRA – Andorra is worth a drive through for its pretty capital of Andorra la Vella

  • Day 5 – 9 – the South of France.  Make your way to Provence for 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 elegant 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.  Continue through to the French Riviera for the great views over the trio of Corniches and its stunning beaches

SMALL COUNTRY OPTIONAL EXTRA – Monaco for the pinnacle of sophistication and to waltz into the famous casino

  • Day 10 – 12 Lake Como.  Picture perfect Italian villages punctuating luscious forests as they meet the crystal clear waters, and all against the stunning dramatic backdrop of the Alps. It’s hard not to just stop and gorp at it over … and … over again.  Might be straight up the most beautiful place in the world
  • Day 13-14 – Interlaken.  Interlaken is the gateway to the legendary Jungfrau region with its 3 immortal peaks of Switzerland’s “big three” – the Eiger (Ogre), Monch (Monk) and Jungfrau (Virgin) – and has, quite simply, some of the most stunning mountain views to be found anywhere in the world.  Take Europe’s longest cable car up to Mannlichen for the best views and sensational hiking options

SMALL COUNTRY OPTIONAL EXTRA – Liechtenstein for its peaceful capital and beautiful surrounding scenery

  • Day 15-16 – the Alsace Wine Route.  Pleasant countryside with rolling lush green fields, misty mountains and castles perched on top of outcrops; and the Alsace region’s history of swinging between France and Germany providing a intriguing mix of culture that is basically unique – think French attitudes, but speaking German; and a far quieter option than some of the other more famous routes
  • Day 17-18 – The Black Forrest and Baden Baden.  A wonderful patchwork of forest-cloaked hills, glacial lakes, pretty valleys and timbered villages, the Black Forrest is a peaceful getaway nestled across 170km / 105miles by the German border with Switzerland.  When you throw in the Black Forrest Cherry gateau, the cuckoo clocks and the baths of nearby Baden Baden, its a great experience

SMALL COUNTRY OPTIONAL EXTRA– Luxembourg for its lovely city centre with castle and spires

  • Day 19-21 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

Travel tips

  • Driving – whilst you could do this through public transport I think its unrealistic in 3 weeks and will reduce your chances of stopping off in some of the places en route
  • Crossing borders – all countries listed are in the Schengen zone, so no need for border checks traveling through them.  There is an entry toll for cars in Switzerland, but no further charges
  • Road tolls – Europe loves them and some are largely unavoidable, but there are some routes where you can pass through some great countryside without having to zip through on the quicker route
  • Cost – this itinerary is super safe and very straightforward for finding your way.  The only downside is the cost, which can be high for some of the premier spots but, and the beauty of the itinerary with a car, you can manage this by easily finding cheaper accommodation options out in the big countryside around the stops on the itinerary, or even between them in cheap rural Europe
  • When to visit – you’re realistically looking at the summer months for the best time to visit as you can enjoy the clear sky weather, but also consider autumn when the grape harvests will be kicking in and some of the colours from the changing leaves will be stunning
  • If you’ve only got a week – I’d prioritise Interlaken, Lake Como and the Champagne region.  Its a shame to give any of them up, but with these three you’re seeing some of the premier mountains, lakes and wine regions in the world with a total driving time of 8 hours and being able to drive anyway through the Alsace region or Black Forest if you want to
  • Individual travel entries – I’ve written individual travel entries for all of the destinations, each with their own detailed tips and more photos:
  • The smaller countries – you’ll see in the itinerary I’ve called out some options to pop into some of Europe’s quirkier small countries that are wedged between the giants – Andorra, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and Monaco (a principality).  They’re not highlights by any stretch, but its a buzz drifting into these unusual quirks of the continent
  • The route on google maps – see  this google maps link google maps mountains and win itinerary
  • I wish I’d . . .  – as with all itineraries and travel experiences, there are some pieces I would love to include for next time, so have listed them out here for you to better my experience if you give it a go!:
    • An opera in one of the old Roman amphitheaters in either the south of France or northern Italy.  I’ve heard it is magical and would surely be a highlight of this trip
    • The more adrenaline fuelled outdoor activities around Interlaken.  In particular, Europe’s longest toboggan and the glacier bungee jumping
    • Taken the train up to the Junfraujoch station at 3454m in Switzerland, which looks sensational
    • A light aircraft flight over either Lake Como or the lakes of Interlaken

Experiences nearby

The below map shows experiences nearby with a colour that reflect the Overall Score of those experiences

Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone