Category : Switzerland
The largest city in Switzerland with 380,500 residents, Zürich is also one of the oldest, with 7,000 years of a settlement under its belt. Just one look at the city’s beautiful surroundings on the northwestern tip of Lake Zürich and you’ll see why. The city is also a Mecca for shoppers, lovers of culture and those who appreciate fine cuisine. Zürich is a skier’s paradise in the winter with the slopes being easily accessible directly from the train station. According to several surveys Zürich is the wealthiest city in Europe and the city boasting the best quality of life in the whole world. Which I think might have something to do with the chocolate. Here’s a list of five of the most popular destinations in this beautiful and historical lakeside city.
The most imposing figures on Zürich’s skyline are the twin towers of the Grossmünster, a church whose construction began back in the year 1100. A lot has been done to this Romanesque-style treasure during the centuries that followed, but one thing remains the same: Climbing to the top of the tower still gives you the best view of the city in the city. Just be warned that the stairs are quite small and quite steep. The legend goes that the original church on this site was founded by none other than Charlemagne, whose horse fell to its knees over the tombs of Zürich’s patron saints Felix and Regula. Before that it was a burial ground for the Romans. Whatever the true origins of the church, it now offers an amazing look at the past, from its great carved portal featuring medieval columns and grotesques to its Romanesque crypt dating back to the 11th. Richard Wagner famously compared the church’s appearance to two pepper dispensers. The three-star Altstadt Hotel is right down the river bank from the Grossmünster.
Directly on the other side of the Limmat River is the Grossmünster’s perpetual competitor, the Fraumünster. Though smaller than its neighbor, the Fraumünster is also older, dating all the way back to the year 853 CE. Like the Grossmünster, the Fraumünster once boasted a convent, granted by King Henry III in 1045, so as you can imagine, the rivalry hit its stride throughout Medieval times. The monastery buildings were destroyed in 1898 to make room for the new Stadthaus, and Münsterhof, the town square in front of church, is named after the abbey that once stood there. the Fraumünster’s most famous feature dates back only to the year 1970 when Marc Chagall created five stunning stained glass windows for the church, comprised of, 1. Prophets, depicting Elijah’s ascent to heaven, 2. Jacob, displaying his combat, and dreams of heaven, 3. Christ, illustrating various scenes of Christ’s life, 4. Zion, showing an angel trumpeting the end of the world and 5. Law, with Moses looking down upon the suffering of his people. If you want to stay in a classic hotel right across the street from the Fraumünster, there’s the four-star Hotel Savoy Baur en Ville.
Set in a vintage 1898 French Renaissance Zürich building, the Swiss National Museum (Landesmuseum) is one of the most important art museums of cultural history in Europe and the rest of the world as well. Set right next to the Hauptbahnhof, the museum features exhibits showing the complete history of the city, from prehistory through ancient times and the Middle Ages to the 20th century. You’ll be amazed at all the Gothic art, the comprehensive collection of panel paintings and carved altars and the porcelain and faience collection. In fact, the Landesmuseum boasts a dizzying collection of over 820,000 objects, making the largest collection of Swiss cultural history and handicraft. Don’t miss the Swiss Furniture and Interiors exhibition or the eleven paneled period rooms dating from 1898. The Hotel Arlette Beim Hauptbahnhof provides three-star luxury right across the river from the museum.
Zürich’s contribution to the great art museums of the world is one of the best places in the world to see the work of modern Swiss sculptor Giacometti and the surrealist 18th century Swiss painter Fuseli. And that’s only the beginning. The Kunsthaus Zürich houses one of the most important art museums on the continent, with vast holdings including over 4,000 paintings and sculptures running from the Middle Ages to contemporary art. Here you’ll find work by Edvard Munch and Jacques Lipchitz, along with work by Swiss artists such as Johann Heinrich Füssli and Ferdinand Hodler. Dutch Old Masters like Rembrandt, Ruisdael, van de Cappelle and Kalf can be found on the museum walls, as well as Impressionists and Post-Impressionists like Géricault, Manet, Cézanne and van Gogh. More recent artists like Pipilotti Rist and Peter Fischli are also well-represented. One block away from the Kunsthaus is the 1835 manor housing the four-star Claridge Swiss Quality Hotel Zürich.
New York has its Fifth Avenue, Berlin has its Kurfürstendamm, and Zürich has its Bahnhofstrasse. One of the world’s most expensive and exclusive shopping avenues and some say the third most expensive street for retail property in Europe, the 1.4 kilometre Bahnhofstrasse runs from the railway station at the Bahnhofplatz, past Rennweg, Augustinergasse and Paradeplatz and on to the Bürkliplatz on Lake Zürich. Along the way, you can get anything from diamond rings to fur coats. Globus and Jelmoli are two fiercely competitive department stores, Swatch is there, along with many more traditional watch stores and the two biggest Swiss banks, UBS and the Credit Suisse Group, have their headquarters there. You can also do some shopping at the Apple Store, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Giorgio Armani, Cartier, Bvlgari, Prada, Hermès and so many other premium stores. But the street’s sweetest location must be on the Paradeplatz where you’ll find the crème de la crème of chocolate shops, Confiserie Sprüngli. For a classic Zürich hotel experience right across the street from the train station, there’s the four-star Hotel Schweizerhof Zürich.
Although the spectacular Alps are most famous for their ski slopes, the mountains are easier to navigate during the warmer months. To best experience the finest cuisine and culture of the region, rent a car and set out on this fantastic three-day road trip:
After flying into Zurich’s Kloten Airport, drive 90 minutes east to reach the charming city of St. Gallen. The compact hub of architecture and history is one of eastern Switzerland’s most prized destinations. Nestled between picturesque Lake Constance and Appenzellerland, the traffic-free old town takes you back in time. Tour the fascinating Abbey precinct, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and be sure to set aside some time to sample the local cuisine: The Confiserie Roggwiller is famous for its pastries, and the National Zum Goldenen Leuen tavern is housed within a 400-year-old building.
Once you’ve taken in the sites of St. Gallen, hop back into your car and find Route 13. This will take you to Bregenz, a lakeside town home to the impressive contemporary art museum Kunsthaus Bregenz. The Alpine retreat (44 miles from St. Gallen) and its surrounding Bregenz Forest offer ample opportunities for outdoor recreation year-round. The idyllic landscape is truly unforgettable. Meanwhile, the architecture is just as attractive. Local restaurants like Engel serve hearty Austrian fare, unique shops sell everything from handmade wooden clogs to local cheeses, and various hotels and bed and breakfasts are waiting to accommodate you.
Choose Feldkirch as your next destination, and you can hit Lingenau and Schwarzenberg along the way. The latter centers around a lovely main village square; its shops and restaurants are perfect for a pit stop. Travel 32 miles south on the A14 to eventually reach Feldkirch, the capital of Vorarlberg (Austria’s westernmost province.) Wedged into the Ill Valley, surrounded by soaring cliffs, the town epitomizes Austrian Alpine charm. Lively festivals celebrate the local culture year-round and on Saturdays, a colorful market complete with live music dominates the picturesque pedestrian district. Landmarks range from the historic to the modern; do not miss the medieval Schattenburg Castle or the Katzenturm, one of several towers within the ancient city walls that are still standing today.
After exploring Feldkirch, head back to Route 28 to pass through Liechtenstein and back into Switzerland, toward Maienfeld. The Alpine town is where the fictional character Heidi grew up. Heidi-Dorf (Heidi’s Village) is definitely kitschy, but it is also a unique tourist attraction—and a great one for those visiting the region with children. Looking for a more adult experience? Hit up one of the more than 130 vineyards in the area; the specialty is Pinot Noir. Next, follow the scenic Grosswiesstrasse Hintergasse To St. Margrethenberg, or simply follow the A13 south toward Flims. While it is definitely more popular during the winter, this town is equally breathtaking in the spring. Lake Cauma Park boasts spectacular hiking trails, and nearby Vals (7 miles away) is home to a world-famous spa: Therme Vals, within the modernist hotel. What better way to reward yourself after a jam-packed three-day tour of the Alps than with a pampering massage or spa treatment?
What road trips are to the USA, railroad trips are to Europe. Let the Americans keep their Route 66. I’ll hop aboard the Orient Express anytime. Yes, the Orient Express is still running, and so are dozens of other European train routes. So allow yourself to sit back and leave the driving to someone else as you enjoy awesome natural panoramas and the fruits of thousands of years of civilization going by outside your window.
The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, London, UK to Venice, Italy
Two days, one night, one way
Okay, why not start with the Orient Express? Although the official name of this world-famous odyssey is the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. You’ll be stepping aboard the train in London’s lovely Victoria Station and feeling the calendar turn back to the 1920s, the golden age of rail on European rail travel. Sixteen million dollars was spent restoring 35 sleeping cars to their original art deco sophistication, and the elegant on-board dinner dress code also hearkens back to those more sophisticated days. A suit and tie for men and the equivalent for women, though black tie and gowns encouraged. Outside you’ll see the snowcapped Alps passing by as inside you learn the story behind each of the restored carriages.
The Chocolate Train, Montreux, Switzerland to Broc, Switzerland
Nine hours, 45 minutes, round-trip
No, the train is not made of chocolate. But the Chocolate Train offers the next best thing by providing two of Switzerland’s most famous exports at the beginning, middle and end of the ride; chocolate and cheese. Running in the summer and fall, this charming train climbs from Montreux, providing spectacular views of Lake Geneva and arriving at the tiny medieval town of Gruyères, home to the cheese of the same name. Here you’ll disembark to tour the cheese factory and the local castle, have lunch, then re-board the train and continue on to Broc, where you’ll be bussed to the Cailler-Nestlé chocolate factory, tucked between Lake Gruyères and the mountain peaks, for free samples, before heading back to Montreux.
The Bernina Express, Chur, Switzerland, to Tirano, Italy
Four hours, 14 minutes, one way
After experiencing the 55 tunnels and 196 bridges of the unbelievably beautiful Bernina Express, you will truly feel like you’ve experienced the Alps. The 360-degree spiral and the seven-percent inclines are sure to produce a giddy feeling as you climb to a peak height of 7,391 feet and then drop 5,905 feet on your descent to Tirano. This narrow-gauge railway provides an experience that you will never forget that is not quite a train ride and not quite a roller coaster ride. If you think that the Alpine vistas you see passing by outside your window are especially beautiful, you’re not alone. Part of the route is actually a UNESCO World Heritage site. And it’s not just about the journey. Chur, your starting point is Switzerland’s oldest city, and the charming town of Tirano boasts just under 10,000 people.
The Transylvanian Odyssey, Budapest, Hungary to Istanbul, Turkey
To really get an idea of what train travel was like at its peak, one must experience the Danube Express, and taking the Transylvanian Odyssey is a great way to do it. A private train swimming in classical elegance, the Danube Express offers fine dining and modern conveniences. Starting in the magnificent city of Budapest, the train takes you through the heart of the Carpathian Mountains, though the fabled land of Transylvania. Here you’ll pause for a walking tour of the medieval town that was the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler before re-boarding and continuing your journey to that crossroads of cultures, Istanbul. You’ll know you’re getting close when you see the Bosporus out your window, and the beautiful Topkapi Palace marking the skyline.
Trans-Siberian Railway, Moscow, Russia to Vladivostok, Russia
Nineteen days, one-way
One of the greatest engineering feats and the most iconic European train ride, the Trans-Siberian Railway is also the longest trip at 19 days. A Russian icon dating back to the days of the Czar, the Trans-Siberian Railway crosses eight time zones and many cultures to connect the Russian capital with the Pacific port of Vladivostok, whose closest major city is Pyongyang, North Korea. On board, poor mingle with rich, young with old, foreigners with locals. Social barriers disappear as passengers share a unique rail experience. And the shots of $3-a-liter vodka don’t hurt either. For added comfort, you can book a private car via a tour operator, and while you’re there you can schedule many side excursions from trekking and scuba diving to city tours. After all, when is the next time you’ll be in Siberia?
Posted in Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The UK on 15. Feb, 2011
Perhaps you are looking to commune with nature, or distance yourself from the crowds. Or perhaps you are just on a very strict budget. Either way, camping is a wonderful alternative to staying in traditional hostels or hotels in Europe—providing you know where, how and when to do it!
There are many benefits to choosing a tent over a hotel bed. For one, you are able to enjoy more peace and privacy than is available in shared hostel accommodations—without sacrificing location or convenience! Despite what you may think, it is actually easy to find a campsite near the tourist attractions of most major European cities. Overall, camping in Europe is much easier than camping in North America. In Europe, campsites are not relegated to National Parks and remote areas. Instead, they lie within the city limits of many popular destinations: Prague, Vienna, Amsterdam, Venice, etc.
Pricing can be a bit confusing for first-time campers, and prices can vary by city or campsite. However, most campgrounds charge a set price for each tent, each person and each vehicle that enters the site—so be sure to do the math before handing over your credit card! Also be sure to ask about the particular campground’s tent policy, as not all sites allow them (some in Europe are RV-only.)
Of course, a campground will be much more rustic and minimalist in terms of amenities (compared to a hotel.) However, you may be surprised by what European campsites do have to offer. For one, most campgrounds in Europe feature a restaurant somewhere on the premises; this is a great perk for those traveling lightly, relying on local foods instead of cooking for themselves. If you are planning to cook, please keep in mind that most campsites in Europe do not offer picnic tables.
Another perk that you might not expect is Internet access—readily available on many European campgrounds! This may come in the form of an onsite Internet café, or Wi-Fi for campers with laptops. Be sure to bring the appropriate plugs to charge your laptop; European RV’s require a specific plug. However, you will generally find free plugs in the public restrooms as well.
Of course, if you tire of weathering the “great outdoors” and are in need of something a bit more comfortable, you may always find great hotels in Europe at EuroBookings.com!
Starting in Germany in 1930, Steigenberger has spent the last few decades expanding into neighboring Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands and Italy and more recently Egypt. Offering mostly five-star accommodations, with several four-star hotels slipped in as well, Steigenberger enjoys a reputation as the most luxurious hotel chain in Europe. Though most Steigenberger hotels are set in magnificent historical buildings, some are more modern. They also boast gargantuan chalet-style hotels in their mountain locations. Though most are located in major metropolitan areas, some are set in more rural surroundings, like the Steigenberger Inselhotel Konstanz, which is located on a private island in an old Dominican Cloister. Here’s a sampling:
Steigenberger Hotel Herrenhof, Vienna, Austria
The Steigenberger Hotel Herrenhof’s historical Viennese building fits right in with its vintage neighbours in the heart of the city, which has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From here you can walk to the Hofburg, the Gothic St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the famous Kohlmarkt. The hotel features 186 rooms, and its two suites come with private rooftop terraces from which you can survey your surroundings. For relaxation, the hotel offers the 250-square-meter SpaWorld, where you can exercise in a fitness centre and relax in a sauna or steam bath. The 500-square-meter conference area is quite popular with those staging events, and the hotel’s Café Herrenhof specializes in Austrian pastries and homemade gateaux, all under a glorious glass cupola in the hotel’s centre. At night the café becomes a piano bar, and authentic Viennese cuisine is also served in the Restaurant Herrenhof.
Steigenberger Hotel Berlin, Berlin, Germany
The Steigenberger Hotel Berlin is a most modern hotel for a most modern neighborhood. Set within walking distance from the city’s famous Kurfürstendamm Boulevard, the hotel puts you close to Berlin’s most exclusive shops, department stores, cafés and restaurants, not to mention lots of nightlife. The Steigenberger Hotel Berlin has 386 rooms and 11 suites, and they are also proud of the executive floor with its lounge, swimming pool, sauna and relaxing massage service. If you have business to conduct, there is a business centre and 15 conference rooms that can accommodate up to 300 guests. Feel like an after-dinner stogie? Just stop into the hotel cigar lounge. In the Berliner Stube you can sample fresh draft beer and fine wine. As with its Vienna counterpart, the Steigenberger Hotel Berlin also offers a piano bar.
Steigenberger Kurhaus Hotel, Scheveningen, The Netherlands
This palace by the sea is one of the most iconic images in all the Netherlands. Dating from 1885 and designed by German architects Johann Friedrich Henkenhaf and Friedrich Ebert , the Steigenberger Kurhaus Hotel towers over the vibrant Palace Promenade of the traditional Dutch beach resort of Scheveningen. All the museums and palaces of Den Haag are minutes in one direction, and the lonely sand dunes and crowded beaches of the North Sea are in the other. In the hotel you can dine at the classic Kurzaal Restaurant, where you can start your dinner with fresh oysters and Champagne and end it with live jazz. Or dine at Kandinsky Restaurant, which serves French and Italian cuisine, along with sea views from its terrace. There’s also a bar, a fitness room and 19 conference rooms that can accommodate up to 600 guests. Re-opened in 1979 after a lengthy closure, the hotel also boasts its own casino.
Steigenberger Grandhotel Belvedere, Davos Platz, Switzerland
Whether you’re in Switzerland for the winter skiing or the summer hiking, the 1895 Steigenberger Grandhotel Belvedere makes a wonderful place to which to return at night. Nearby are such Alpine attractions as Vereina Tunnel, the Glacier Express, Klosters, and the Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Museum. One hundred twenty-seven large guest rooms are complimented by a spa centre featuring a sauna, a Jacuzzi, an indoor swimming pool and a massage service. You can also wander among the hotel’s lush gardens and experience wonderful cuisine in the grand restaurant. A modern business centre awaits business guests, and there’s also a beauty shop. If you’re in a hurry to get out the door, the hotel staff will even pack you a lunch before sending you on your way.
Steigenberger Inselhotel Konstanz, Konstanz, Germany
Life is good when experienced from a private beach on the shores of a private island. That’s the philosophy anyway of the Steigenberger Inselhotel Konstanz, a former monastery which boasts its own private beach and island. Privacy seemed to be on the monks’ minds, as there’s just a small romantic bridge separating you from Konstanz’s romantic old town. This is where you’ll find the train station. You can find it even faster by renting a bicycle from the hotel. Or maybe you’d prefer to stay in and melt away in the sauna and steam room or gaze at the 13th century wall paintings. If you’re hungry and crossing that bridge seems like too much work, you can choose between the formal See-Restaurant and the less formal bar, café and lakeside terrace.
So you think you have what it takes to climb into a helicopter, get dropped off at the top of some of the remotest, highest peaks in Europe and then find your way down through slopes that have never been touched by human feet? You may be ready for heli-skiing. If you’re on the fence, keep in mind that heli-skiing isn’t for everyone. A sport that requires you to carry an avalanche transceiver is a sport that is not for the faint of heart. But if you’re an expert skier or snowboarder, and you’re in good health, and you know your way around a mountain, and if you have plenty of money, there are plenty of places for you to move on to the next – and final – level of downhill skiing.
I’m starting with a company called Air Zermatt, because they are not only a heli-skiing company, but a helicopter rescue service. So you know that they’re going to be safety oriented. Air Zermatt requires a minimum of three people to be in your party and that you’re accompanied by a guide. Then it’s time for you to enter a winter wonderland of mountains, hills and valleys. One of the attractions of heli-skiing is that the runs go on for ever. Case in point: Air Zermatt flies you to a starting point of 4,200 metres above sea level. From there, the 16,000 metre run takes you back down 2,600 metres, so you end up back at 1,600 metres. Definitely worth the price of admission. Once you come down from your exhilaration, it’s time to sink into the sauna or Jacuzzi of your Zermatt hotel.
Chamonix offers several heli-skiing companies. There’s Chamonix Adventure, which also provides you with guides and offers the opportunity to ski or snowboard down glaciers. Their vertical drops vary from 1,500 metres to 2,000 metres, and their starting points are the 3,300 metre high Trient Glacier and the 3,670 metre high Petit Combin, with off-piste skiing and boarding in the Orny and Saleina Valleys. There’s also Chamonix Heliski, which is a one-man operation run by long-time mountain guide Eric Chetrowski. Lodging in and around Chamonix can be a special experience in itself, with traditional Swiss chalets set on a hills, like the Auberge du Bois Prin Hotel.
Heading to Italy, we find a company located in the beautiful Alpine Valle d’Aosta. The first is located 118 kilometres from Turin Caselle Airport in the remote mountain town of Breuil-Cervina. Heliski Cervinia offers a variety of packages. There’s the Helibaptism, where an experienced Alpine Guide will take you on a vertical drop of 1,300 to 1,500 metres. Then there’s the mother of all heli-skiing packages, the Monte Rosa. The highest heli-skiing in Europe starts you 4,550 metres above sea level and takes you on a descent down one of the longest and most spectacular glaciers of Mount Rosa. After an adventure like that, it’s time to relax in one of several cozy Breuil-Cervinia hotels.
The isolated mountain village of Valgrisenche, set in a small, unspoiled valley connecting the Valle d’Aosta with a magnificent chain of mountains, is so beautiful you may forget why you’ve come here. But Heliski Valgrisenche will remind you. Nestled between Mont Blanc and Gran Paradiso summits, the Valgrisenche Valley offers more than 350 kilometres of terrain and over 20 possible landing sites. The lowest is Cussuna at 2,800 metres, and the highest is Ruitor at 3,485 metres. After your adventure, you can find tranquility at the Hotel Ristoro Vagneur in nearby Vens or at the Hotel Saint Nicolas in nearby Saint Nicolas.
ARLBERG MOUNTAINS, AUSTRIA
Departing from the village of Lech, Wucher Heliskiing Austria flies you from either Flexenpass Zürs or Kriegerhorn Lech to the majestic slopes of 2,652 metre high Mehlsack or 2,450 metre high Schneetäli. From there, your guided one-hour descent lands you in the romantic Zug Valley, back in the area of Lech. From there you can find many Lech hotels.
Most famous for being home to the magnificent Swiss Alps, the small country of Switzerland draws avid hikers and skiers. Along with incredible ski runs and panoramic walking trails, however, this picturesque destination has so much more to offer. Its heritage is rich in folklore (complete with fire-breathing dragons!) and there are more than 100 art galleries in Zürich alone. Here are a few great cultural sites that will give your sore muscles a rest:
The Lindt & Sprüngli chocolate factory
Chocolate is one of Switzerland’s most beloved exports, and the Lindt brand is known all across the globe. Located just a few kilometers south of the city, the headquarters of Lindt & Spüngli is easy to reach from most hotels in Zürich by car or public transportation. Once there, you may take a tour of the chocolate factory and visit the adjacent chocolate museum. Round the day off with a screening of the factory’s film, and don’t forget to pick up your (chocolate-filled) gift bag before leaving! Also be sure to call ahead, as the place keeps limited hours.
The Maison du Gruyère
Along with chocolate, Switzerland produces mass quantities of cheese. If you love the dairy product as much as the locals do, you should definitely pay a visit to the Maison du Gruyère on the Moleson “Cheese Trail” near Gruyère. Originally opened back in 1969, the farm is now the only show dairy left in the country. Visitors can watch farmers deliver the milk and craftsmen process it into cheese loaves. The interactive exhibition is sure to stimulate your senses. Be sure to purchase some of the hard, mild cheese before leaving the property.
Marc Chagall’s Windows at Münsterhof
Münsterhof is a town square in the Lindenhof quarter of Zürich. It can be found right between Bahnhofstrasse and the River Limmat, and it is best known for one pretty amazing attraction—the slender-spired Fraumünster church. While the landmark’s architecture is eye-catching, what really make the church stand out are its windows. They were brilliantly crafted by Marc Chagall in 1967, when the legendary artist was already 80 years old. Their beautiful colors and impressive size (they are 10 metres tall) make the 5 choir windows among the most stunning attractions in Zürich.
Chagall's windows from inside the Fraumünster
Commonly thought to be the most “Italian” part of Switzerland, the medieval town of Bellinzona is also a fascinating destination. It is located on the skyline of a panoramic mountain pass, surrounded by spectacular views of the Swiss Alps. Bellinzona’s patrician houses, ancient churches and neo-Classical, Italian-style theatre mingle with more modern buildings like boutiques and cafes. However, its most intriguing attractions are its fortifications. They were built around 3 imposing castles: the Castlegrande, Castello di Montebello and Castello di Sasso Corbaro. Together, the castles form a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Want to stay the night? There are also great hotels in Bellinzona!
Château de Chillon
The most visited historic building in all of Switzerland, this “Water Castle” attracts over 300,000 guests each year—and for good reason. Since belonging to the Counts of Savoy from the 12th to 16th centuries, the Château de Chillon has been meticulously preserved. Some of the compound’s most attractive features are its wall paintings from the 14th century, its subterranean vaults and the grand bedroom that dates back to the days of Bernese rule. Comprised of 25 buildings and three courtyards, the waterfront castle is as large as it is beautiful.
the Château de Chillon
So when the subject of hiking comes up, everyone thinks about Patagonia, the Himalayas and the American West, never Europe. But Europe isn’t all cathedrals, museums and restaurants. The continent is also filled with some of the world’s best hiking. In fact, I’m reminded of a time when I bet my French girlfriend that the continental US’s tallest peak (Mt. Whitney) was taller than France’s (Mt. Blanc). Guess who paid for dinner that night.
On the way to the peak of Mont Blanc
So why not start at the top? At 4,810 metres, Mont Blanc, or Monte Bianco to the Italians who share the mountain, is the highest mountain in the Alps. Make no mistake, reaching the peak is for mountaineers only, with the most popular routes being the Voie des Cristalliers starting from Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, and La Voie des Trois Monts Route, starting from Chamonix. The climb is well worth it, providing clear-day views of the Jura, the Vosges and even the Black Forest. But the good news is that the base of Mont Blanc can be hiked on the 12-day Tour de Mont Blanc, allowing you to experience alpine meadows, barren passes, small hamlets, and gigantic glaciers, as you hike from hut to hut. If you’re looking for hotels to use as Mont Blanc homebases, there are Aosta Valley hotels on the Italian side and Chamonix hotels on the French side.
More than just a ride at Disneyland
An even more challenging climb for you mountaineers is the Matterhorn, which was not even ascended until 1865. Today mountain guides take thousands to the top every summer via the Hörnli route, but it’s a difficult climb. Lucky for you that like Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn can be experienced by hikers as well. The Tour of the Matterhorn takes about 10 days and is considered to be among the most beautiful in Europe. Ancient trails that have linked stunning Swiss and Italian valleys for centuries take you up peaks, into valleys and through the unique sights, sounds and flavors of the German speaking high Valais, the French speaking central Valais and the Italian speaking Val d’Aosta. Zermatt, Switzerland makes a great starting point, and most Zermatt hotels offer wonderful Matterhorn views.
If you’d like to visit the home of Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Athena and the rest of the Greek gods, there’s only one place to do it, and that’s Mount Olympus. With 52 different peaks, the highest being the 2,919 metre-high Mýtikas, there’s plenty to see. The climb is non-technical until the last 30 minutes, so you don’t have to be a mountain climber to enjoy the unique flora covering the mountain. The closest major city is Thessaloniki, and Thessaloniki hotels put you just 107 kilometres from the peak.
If you’d like to hike in a UNESCO Natural Heritage Site, then there are the Dolomites in north-eastern Italy. Home to a national park and many smaller regional parks, the uniquely colored mountains have been pleasing hikers for centuries. The name comes from French mineralogist Deodat Gratet de Dolomieu who was the first to describe the dolomite rock that gives the region its light color. With winter skiing and summer hiking, the Dolomites attract visitors year-round. Adventure travelers have made it a popular place for base jumping, paragliding and hang gliding. Located mostly in the provinces of Belluno, Bolzano-Bozen and Trento, the best homebases for visiting are in Trento hotels and Belluno hotels.
EL CAMINO DE SANTIAGO
If you’d like a little history and culture with your hiking, then consider the trek across Spain known as the Way of St. James. Christians have been making this pilgrimage since the Middle Ages, and tens of thousands of pilgrims and backpackers still enjoy the natural beauty and charming villages found along the way. The end-point of the walk is the stunning Cathedral of Santiago de Compestela in northwestern Spain, where the bones of the Apostle Saint James (Santiago) are supposedly buried. You can start at any point on the way, traveling by foot, bicycle, horseback or even by donkey. But if you walk a minimum of 100 kilometres you’ll receive a certificate of accomplishment at the end. Though accommodation is provided in dormitories and monasteries along the way, after all that walking it might be nice to reacclimatize to civilization with a night in a Santiago de Compostela hotel.
Known for its distinct charm and unique folklore, the German state of Bavaria is a special place. It comprises soaring mountain peaks, lush forests, cozy medieval towns and major industrial centres. Begin your tour of the region by booking great accommodations. There are plenty of excellent hotels in Munich, quaint Nuremberg hotels, and other Bavarian accommodations that let you explore the landscape.
A major highlight of the Bavarian region is its awe-inspiring Neuschwanstein Castle. Built amid the rugged hills above hotels in Hohenschwangau, the spectacular castle was commissioned by Ludwig II. When the reclusive and eccentric king died in 1886, the castle was opened to the public. Since then, over 60 million visitors have toured the impressive grounds. If the castle looks familiar to you, that is no coincidence. It was the inspiration behind the iconic Sleeping Beauty Castle that welcomes tourists to Disneyland!
Also bestowed upon the region by King Ludwig II was the beautiful palace of Herrenchiemsee. Sprawled across Herreninsel, an island in the Chiemsee, the palatial complex was built to honor King Louis XIV of France. The “Bavarian Versailles” wound up being even more opulent than the original. Key features include the majestic State Staircase, the State Bedroom and the amazing Great Hall of Mirrors.
At 2,962 metres above sea level, the Zugspitze is the highest mountain in all of Germany. It towers over the Austrian border and charming town of Grainau, and is easy to reach by public transportation. There are many lovely hotels in Garmisch-Partenkirchen (including the Wittelsbacher Hof Swiss Quality Hotel) that offer direct access to the beautiful snowcapped peak. Take one of two cable cars from the base of the mountain to the highest point. Brave the crowds of tourists, and you will be rewarded with unforgettable views.
The Romantic Road
More than a tourist attraction, the Romantic Road offers a unique way to experience Bavaria. The scenic roadway cuts through much of the beautiful state; it starts at the River Main and ends at the base of the Alps. Along the way, travelers are introduced to a wealth of villages and landmarks. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Würzburg, the Frankenhöhe nature park, and the two royal palaces of Nördlingen all lie directly on the Bavarian Romantic Road. As a strategic starting point, consider one of the many hotels in Rothenburg or Lucerne. The Express by Holiday Inn Luzern is a good choice.
Most famous for being the site of the annual Richard Wagner Festival, this inviting Bavarian city is beautiful all year-round. The former Margravial residence has slowly transformed into the largest city in Upper Franconia, and its unique blend of old and new elements is quite fascinating. Popular places of interest include the mysterious caves and gardens of the Eremitage, the Margravial Opera House (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and over 20 museums.
Posted in Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The UK on 11. Jun, 2010
When traveling around Europe or to any foreign country, one must take certain precautions. First-time travelers, especially, must be aware of certain dangers and situations to avoid. We want all of our clients to remain safe and happy while traveling, so we’ve provided you with a few important tips:
Pack Light – But Not Too Light
To avoid becoming a target while on holiday, be sure to pack as light as possible—and do not carry with you anything that may be seen as flashy or expensive. Keep valuables to a minimum, and store them in different places (ie. in various bags or pockets, or in a money belt) instead of all together.
Don’t forget the important stuff: extra glasses or contacts, travelers checks, credit cards (which are much safer to carry than cash) and any necessary medications (stored in their original, labeled containers.)
Be sure to label bags with your contact information and if possible, lock your luggage.
Remember that many hotels in Europe have safes for your convenience. Use them.
Before you travel, be sure to stay up-to-date on any current travel alerts or warnings. This information can be accessed 24 hours a day on the Internet, by phone or through your travel agent, local embassy, library or tourist bureau.
Be sure to thoroughly research the country that you are planning to visit. You definitely want to be aware of any laws or customs that are unlike those you are used to.
Make photocopies of your travel documents, credit card information and passport just in case something is lost or stolen later.
Keep In Touch
Let others know about your travel plans. Provide a family member or close friend with a copy of your itinerary and the contact information of all Europe hotels you plan to stay at.
Notify your credit card company and cell phone provider of your plans to leave the country in advance. This will help to avoid any hassles or dangers down the line.
Be Aware Of Your Surroundings
Avoid potentially shady “short cuts” like narrow alleys or dimly lit streets. Try not to travel alone at night, and steer clear of any public demonstrations or civil disturbances.
Keep your belongings close to your body, and be wary of strangers trying to get your attention or jostle you. They could be attempting to distract you while an accomplice steals your things.
To avoid being scammed, remember this one simple rule: If a deal seems to good to be true—it probably is.