17 DAY EUROPEAN ROAD TRIP
8 countries in 17 days, catching the ferry, experiencing Liechtenstein and the worst roads for tolls
Ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam
The road trip began by boarding an overnight DFDS ferry from Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK to Amsterdam. The ferry left at 5pm meaning we could leave work a little earlier and avoid having to take any annual leave.
The boarding process was straight forward and all we had to show was our booking confirmation and passports. You are guided onto the ferry and once parked up can take your belongings and make your way to your cabin. You can also board on foot if that is preferable.
On the ferry the facilities include an a-la-carte and buffet restaurant, cafe, cinema, bars with live music, duty free shop, games area and children's entertainment. There is something for all ages and more than enough to keep you entertained between boarding and bedtime.
For a taste of luxury book a commodore cabin which includes a comfortable double bed, en-suite bathroom, flat screen TV, complimentary breakfast in a specific location for Commodore passengers only and a free mini bar.
The North Sea Bistro offers high quality dishes made from seasonal ingredients with exquisite wine pairings. The dishes are beautifully presented and it is quite unbelievable to eat dinner of such high quality whilst sailing across the border. Highlights include steaks, scallops and seabass. A 2-course dinner starts from £32.95 per person.
Best things to do in Luxembourg:
Vianden chairlift and castle
Mullerthal hiking trails
Chemin de la Corniche viewpoint
After a good nights sleep and a delicious filling breakfast in the Explorers Kitchen, the ferry arrived in the port closest to Amsterdam, IJmuiden at 9:45am CET. Before making our way to our first stop of the road trip, we drove off the ferry and passed through passport control.
It was a 4 hour drive to Vianden in Luxembourg. To take advantage of as many attractions as possible and maximum our time in Luxembourg, we got a Luxembourg card which start from 13 euros per person. The card enables you to access more than 90 attractions across Luxembourg including museums & art galleries, castles & palaces and sports & leisure facilities.
We used the card to hop on the Vianden chairlift and took at ride to the top where we had lunch at the cafe. We then walked down from the top of the chairlift to Vianden castle. The castle dates back to the 11th and 14th centuries and is one of the largest and most beautiful feudal residences of the romanesque and gothic periods in Europe. In 1977 the Grand Duke of Luxembourg transferred it to state ownership and restored the castle.
Vianden is full of luscious greenery and stunning scenery. If you have time you can explore more of the Luxembourg countryside by visiting the Schiessentumpel Waterfall, 30 minutes drive from Vianden. The waterfall is situated 500m from the parking. You can then continue onto the Mullerthal trail. The trail is 112km in total but there are shorter routes available such as route C2 which is 4km.
In the centre of Luxembourg the main attractions include Chemin de la Corniche viewpoint, Place D'Armes main square, Palais Grand-Ducal which is the royal residence that can be viewed from outside and the Bock and City Casements. The Casements are a UNESCO heritage site and are underground tunnels which were once defensive passages.
Linder Hotel and Spa Binshof, Speyer
From Luxembourg the first night was spent at the Lindner Hotel and Spa Binshof, Speyer, Germany. You can have dinner at one of the restaurants at the hotel which include mediterranean and german cuisine. The hotel boasts 132 rooms and suites.
The spa is 5,200 square metres and the facilities include 2 outdoor pools and 1 indoor pool, 6 saunas, 1 steambath, wellness and beauty treatments, salt water floating, a solarium and rhassoul and hammam treatments.
The hotel is the perfect spa retreat and will leave you feeling totally relaxed and recharged. We stayed in a maisonette suite which felt as though we had our own luxury apartment for the night.
The following morning was spent enjoying a delicious breakfast at the hotel which included the Austrian classic, Kaiserschmarrn with brown sugar and apple sauce - scrumptious. Next we enjoyed the spa facilities and had a Hammam treatment.
The Hammam started with a steambath and then you are washed, massaged and exfoliated with soaps and salts and it was honestly one of the best treatments I have ever had in my life. It left my skin feeling baby soft for days afterwards and I've never felt more clean in my life.
The next stop was Baden-Baden and exploring the black forest. Baden-Baden is a quaint picturesque town in the black forest and the main attractions include:
Lichtentaller Allee - a relaxing park and garden
The old town
Casino - "the most beautiful casino in the world"
Panorama trail - 45.5km in total separated into 4 stages. From Kurhaus to Merkur funicular station will take 3 hours one way and the most picturesque part of the trail
Drive the B500 route from Baden-Baden to Freudenstadt
Other options for the surrounding area if you have time include:
Treetop walk in Bad Wildbad - 1250 metre long and 20 metres high with beautiful views across the black forest. Admission starts from €11.50 per person
Mummelsee - lake and lunch stop
Hirschgrund zipline - 7 zipline course, prices starting from €56 per person
After a day in the black forest we arrived at Die Kohlerei am See. In the heart of the black forest lies the rustic brewery/industrial style hotel of Die Kohlerei am See. Part of the same family as the Hotel Schlehdorn, this hotel has the simplicity and charm of everything you would desire from a hiking holiday in the summer and ski holiday in the winter.
The hotel has a traditional German feel but at the same time feels as though you are staying with a family member. The hospitality and food is exceptional, so much so that we ate at the hotel both nights we stayed here. This was some of the best food we had during the whole of our European road trip.
Our second day in the black forest started with a hearty breakfast at the hotel before heading out to tackle the Feldbergsteig hike, the highest hike in the black forest. We drove to the starting point of the hike and parked at Parkhaus Feldberg. The hike took 4 hours to complete and was thoroughly enjoyable, manageable and beautiful.
There are a number of hiking options from Die Kohlerei am See but the popular hikes include The Bildstein at Schluchsee and The Zweiseenblick.
After this hike we continued onto the Ravenna Gorge, a 20 minute drive from Feldbergsteig. The hike is 6.6km long and takes approximately 2 hours to complete. The hike is pleasant but not the most picturesque.
Our next stop of the day was the Rothhaus brewery. The brewery is a 10 minute drive from Die Kohlerei am See. The complex includes a museum, brewery, restaurant, outdoor dining vans and seating. Make sure you take cash if you want to eat and drink outside and book in advance if you'd like a table in the restaurant. Unfortunately we didn't have cash and there is no cash point on site or close by so we had to miss out.
Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein castle
From the black forest we drove to the urban district of Hohenschwangau in Southern Germany which was my favourite stop of the road trip. This former village is what you would find on the front of a chocolate box and it feels as though you have stepped into a real-life fairytale.
We stayed at the Villa Ludwig which is a modern 4-star hotel a short 5 minute walk from the centre of Hohenschwangau. This boutique hotel has 18 individually furnished suites and we stayed in the Romantic Suite Lohengrin which has a canopy bed which makes you feel as though you are sleeping under the stars, a free standing bath and the most incredible view of Neuschwanstein castle from the balcony. The hotel was thoroughly luxurious and the most perfect stay for a romantic getaway.
We had less than 24 hours in Hohenschwangau so got straight out to explore and first visited to Hohenschwangau castle. This was the home of King Ludwig II where he watched and waited for his dream castle to be built, Neuschwanstein. You can take a tour and learn all about King Ludwig II and the symbolic meaning behind each room in his castle residence. Prices start from Є21 per person.
After visiting the Hohenschwangau castle we carried on walking to Alpsee, a stunning lake with mountain views, the perfect place for walking and hiking and sunbathing. The water is so clear and blue and there's a real tranquil feel at Alpsee away from the hustle and bustle of the centre of Hohenschwangau.
We had a quick walk by the lake before making our way up to the Neuschwanstein castle. This took us 30 minutes from the lake shore and it uphill the whole way. There are kiosks on the way where you can stop and buy a well-needed drink or ice cream.
You will reach Neuschwanstein and can enter and join a guided tour around the castle. Tickets start from Є15. This is said to be the most famous historical building in the world and the castle is what inspired Walt Disney to design the Sleeping Beauty castle found in Walt Disney World.
The best part of the castle are the views from the outside. Once you reach the castle carry on past and make your way further uphill to the Marienbrüke bridge. This is where you will get the best views of the Neuschwanstein castle. You can walk over the bridge and continue up the woodland path for views above the castle and see this stunning building from different angles.
The main attractions of Hohenschwangau are the two castles and Alpsee but this area of Southern Germany is also a wonderful location for hiking. There is a gorge hike called Pöllatschlucht or you can take the Tegel Berg cable car and hike from the top. You will also get alternative views of the castles from this high viewpoints.
After capturing as many photos as we could of Neuschwanstein, we made our way down back to the town of Hohenschwangau and by this time the majority of tour buses has left so it felt as though we had this charming little village all to ourselves. We headed to Schloss Bräustüberl for a traditional German dinner and stein in a beer hall. The perfect way to end the evening.
The following morning we enjoyed a scrumptious breakfast at Villa Ludwig which included an array of fresh pastries, individual yogurt and compote jars and views of the Neuschwanstein castle. We then set off for a 5-6 hour drive to Lake Bled.
We spent 6 nights in Lake Bled where we had the best holiday imaginable with all of our friends and family before having our dream wedding on Bled Island.
Cortina - The Dolomites
After finally pulling ourselves away from Lake Bled it was time to set off on our honeymoon road trip back to the UK. On the way to Slovenia we had managed to avoid all toll roads except there is a vignette which is Є17 for one week. However, as we left Slovenia to toll roads became more frequent particularly through Austria and Italy. Another vignette is required for Austria which can be purchased at toll booths or online as an e-vignette from Є9.60 per vehicle.
We drove 3 hours in the direction of Cortina and stopped at Hotel Passo Tre Croci to park up and set off on the hike to reach Lago di Sorapis. From the hotel car park you can back in the direction you came in the car for around 5 minutes where you will reach a gate on the right hand side. Pass through the gate and follow the path which is the start of the trail. After around 2-2.5 hours you will reach Rifugio Al Sorapis for a refreshing drink and then you can continue for another 5 minutes and you will reach the breathtaking crystal clear blue waters of Lago di Sorapis. Spend some time here taking some photos and walk around the lake the capture different angles.
The hike to and from the lake will take around 4 hours but the terrain is fairly steady and level. Follow 215 for a more manageable path and 216 to avoid the crowds but encounter steep inclines and scrambling slopes.
Back at Hotel Passo Tre Croci we left to drive and check into our hotel for the next 2 nights, Hotel Serena in the centre of Cortina. We explored Cortina, unfortunately in the rain and then bunkered down for dinner at Fvsion, an Italian and Japanese fusion restaurant.
The following day we set off to visit Lago di Braies which was a 55 minute drive from Hotel Serena. Lago di Braies, also known as Pragser Wildsee, is a lake in South Tyrol, Italy which is hugely popular with tourists, photographers and Instagrammers alike. The bright blue colour of the water surrounded by snow peaked mountains makes for a picture perfect setting and the ultimate day out.
We had originally planned to visit Lago di Braies the day before but got stopped by the traffic regulations. In the summer months Lago di Braies operate on a ticket-only parking basis which must be purchased in advance. The tickets are Є20 or Є30 which includes a Є20 voucher to spend on food and drink at three restaurants/cafes around the lake. Make sure to check the Pragser Wildsee website for updates so you don't get caught out.
A top tip is to make sure you continue walking around the lake to get your photos. You will want to take out your camera as soon as you set your sights on the lake but as you make your way around the lake the views get better and better. The colour of the water changes and becomes more vibrant and eye-catching. The walk around the lake will take approximately 1 hour. You can then stop at one of the restaurants/cafes for a refreshment and a bite to eat. There are also hiking trails you can follow starting in the opposite direction of the lake if you want to explore more of the Prags Valley.
After a coffee and a slice of cake we headed off for our second hike of the day, Cinque Torri. It took one hour to arrive at the starting point for the hike, Baita Bai de Dones. The hike starts just behind the restaurant and the trail is marked all the way until you reach Cinque Torri. You start from a low point so there is a considerable incline to reach the five towers. The hike will take in total 2 hours total and around 45 minutes-1 hour to reach the top of the Cinque Torri cable car and Rifugio Scoiattoli. If you're not keen on the steep inclines you can take the 5 Torri chair lift with prices starting from Є15 per person.
The most popular hike from Cortina is the Tre Cime de Lavaredo. There are varying starting points for this hike including Rifugio Fondovalle and Rifugio Locatelli but the most common option is Rifugio Auronzo. Parking at Rifugio Auronzo is Є30 for the day which is steep. The other options are either free or around Є5 so a considerable difference. The hike will take between 2.5-3.5 hours depending on your starting point and the views are said to be spectacular. Unfortunately the weather was not in our favour so we didn't tackle the hike in the fear we may get caught in the rain but definitely make time for the Tre Cime hike on your trip to Cortina.
It was time to tick off a new country from the list and make the 4.5 hour journey to Liechtenstein. We checked in to the most beautiful hotel in the country, the Relais & Chateux Park Hotel Sonnenhof. The hotel offers ultimate luxury from the moment you arrive with a warm flannel offered to freshen up.
We were led to our hotel room and presented with a honeymoon gift of a delightful towel swan arrangement on the bed and a box of complimentary macaroons. Our room included a Nespresso machine, bathrobe and slippers and a balcony with impressive views of the Rhine Valley and the Swiss Alps.
It was time to explore Liechtenstein and we made our way from the Park Hotel Sonnenhof into the centre of Vaduz and on the way stopped at the Aussichtsplattform Walderlebnispfad platform for a beautiful view over Liechtenstein and then past the Vaduz castle which is the resident of the Prince of Liechtenstein.
Our first stop in the centre of town was the tourist office to collect our Liechtenstein adventure pass. This pass gives you access to over 30 attractions in Liechtenstein including free wine tasting, a free passport stamp and a free ride on the Malbun chairlift. You can even enjoy some llama and alpaca trekking with your adventure pass. Prices start from Є25 per person and you can purchase a pass for between 1-3 days.
We took advantage of our adventure pass and tasted wines at one local shop and one nearby winery, got our passport stamp, a fridge magnet and got a free ride of the Malbun chairlift the following day. We explored the centre of Vaduz before heading back to the Park Hotel Sonnenhof to change for dinner.
We ate at the Maree restaurant in the hotel and you can dine in the Eagle's Nest which is one of the key features of the Park Hotel Sonnenhof and an ancient symbol of the sun and ruler of the world. The eagle stands for the connections with the Vaduz castle and the royal house of Liechtenstein.
The Maree restaurant boasts exquisite cuisine created the top chefs of ACASA Catering. Your dining experience will include appetisers, amuse-bouche and delicate sweets to round off your meal perfectly. The restaurant has an extensive wine list where you can taste some of the best wines in the world and find a glass to perfectly compliment your meal of choice.
The meal was flawless and is a perfect fit to this luxurious hotel.
We awoke to our best breakfast of the road trip with a vast array of breakfast options including freshly made smoothies, overnight oats, fresh berries, meats and cheeses and delicious pastries. We were served with coffee and hot options where the kitchen will cook eggs exactly to your liking with an accompaniment of your choosing. The staff cannot do enough for you and will do everything possible to ensure you have the perfect start to your day.
It was time to explore the Liechtenstein mountains and our first stop was a ride on the Malbun chairlift. This is a 20 minute drive from the Park Hotel Sonnenhof and you can take a free ride with the Liechtenstein Adventure Pass. At the top of the chairlift we walked down the steady path and saw a beautiful Falcon waddling along the path and then gliding around the area which was incredible. It took approximately 30 minutes from the top of the chairlift back to the car.
The next stop was to start the Drei Schwestern (three sisters) hike. We parked up at Parkplatz Gaflei which was free to park and headed off to start the hike, following the path the left at the fork. We took the route via Fürstensteig which was quite sketchy with sheer drops and narrow paths. There was a considerable amount of exposure on this route. Luckily we had good weather but I suspect if it was windy or rainy it would not feel safe. This route took us around 1 hour to reach the mid-point where the two routes meet to start the three sisters section of the hike. It was another 1-1.5 hours to reach the three sisters peak. On the way back we took the alternate route at the fork and avoided Fürstensteig. The hike will take 5-6 hours depending on your pace.
My advice would be to take the right path at the fork, away from Fürstensteig unless you are an experienced hiker or in the mood for a thrill. I hike a lot but this did not feel safe and I struggled to enjoy the parts that were narrow and exposed. On a brighter note, the views are incredible and the layers of the green landscape makes for some incredible photo opportunities.
It was time to leave Liechtenstein and we had a long journey to get back to the Netherlands to jump on the ferry to get home. We therefore broke the journey in half and stopped around 4-4.5 hours in Wiesbaden where we booked a Holiday Inn and got some well-needed rest.
We stayed in The Hague, the administrative and royal capital of the Netherlands. We checked into our hotel for the next two nights, Leonardo Royal Hotel Den Haag. This is part of the Leonardo Hotel family with more than 230 hotels worldwide. The hotel is located within walking distance of the North Sea coast as well as walking distance of the bustling centre where you can find many museums and monuments, the King’s office and Palace Noordeinde. The hotel offers luxurious facilities such as the Promenade Healthclub & Spa and LEO’S International Flavors restaurant.
We stayed in a superior room which was spacious, clean and included all facilities you could want for a hotel stay such as a mini fridge, iron and ironing board. We also had a balcony with a lovely view over the hotel grounds. We enjoyed a tasting menu with a matching drinks pairing of 8 dishes from around the world. We had dishes from Italy, Japan, Tunisia, Korea, the USA and more. The food was delicious and such a unique experience tasting completely different dishes from 8 different countries. The restaurant is sophisticatedly decorated and live music accompanied our meal. There is no need to head into the centre of The Hague to eat when you have this incredible restaurant in your hotel lobby.
The Hague can be used as a base to attend the Dutch Grand Prix which is based in Zandvoort. You can catch the train to Zandvoort from The Hague or if you have a car drive to Voorhout train station and catch the train from here with a change at Haarlem. This can be quicker than getting the train from The Hague.
Before we knew it, it was time to head home and we hopped back on the ferry with DFDS in IJmuiden and got the overnight ferry back to Newcastle.
The trip of a lifetime and one I would recommend to everyone.
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