There’s no shortage of themes to enjoy on a European road trip. From exploring rivers such as the Rhine or Loire, walking or driving over the mountains and passes of the Alps and Pyrenees, sampling regional food specialities or weaving a magic carpet of your own with several themes. The only limits are your imagination, time and budget– and stamina.
It would take a lifetime of trips around France to explore fully the range and depth of history, culture and the regional food and wine let alone the superb scenery and the whole way of life. Regional identities are strong in France and can form the form the basis of countless rewarding holidays.
Why not explore the volcanic landscape of the Auvergne, extending from the oak trees of the Forest of Troncais to the rolling plateaux of the Cantal department? Explore the hidden byways of the Pyrenees, the Cevennes, and the Jura or enjoy the dizzy heights of the Route des Alpes on its way from the shores of the Mediterranean to the lofty mountain peaks.
With such a marvellous backdrop, it’s no surprise that the cheeses, wines and regional specialities have developed their own unique characters, best enjoyed on their native turf. Landscapes, food and drink are complemented throughout France by the rich evidence of its history.
From the legacy of the Romans to the modern engineering feat of the Millau bridge via the extravagant architecture of Versailles, there’s something to see and enjoy at almost every turn. And then there’s the wonderful island of Corsica with its exciting coastal roads and mountainous interior.
From the Baltic to Lake Constance and west to east, Germany offers a wide range of touring experiences. How about the well-established ‘Castle Road’? It’s fully signposted and runs for around 1000km from Mannheim to Prague, offering a feast of history and marvellous scenery, seasoned with castles and palaces around the towns and villages along the route.
In contrast, the ‘German Alpine Road’ is an exciting route, twisting and turning as it covers around 450 kilometres between Lindau on Lake Constance and Berchtesgaden on Lake Königssee, close to Austria. Variety is the keynote of this marvellous route – Alpine meadows, rolling hills, rocky mountain summits, thick woods, valleys and lakes – with traditional farming villages and old towns set against the backdrop of the Bavarian Alps.
Whilst climbing, skiing and walking are as linked to Switzerland as cuckoo clocks, spare a thought for its other traditions. Many of these are rooted in its farming background so don’t overlook the cheese and other dairy products. Enjoy the mountains not only for the stunning peaks but also the flower-filled meadows and the almost impossibly pretty Alpine villages reached by roads that are always a joy and sometimes a challenge to negotiate.
Combine a tour of the lakes with tackling Alpine pass routes to give yourself a real taste of what Switzerland has to offer. Fortunately, you don’t have to be an experienced mountaineer to enjoy the views. The snowfields of winter give way rock and grass in the summer and the ski lifts become an easy access route to spectacular walks, viewpoints and picnic sites.
Austria’s Alpine ranges sweep across the country flanking valleys that range from steep and craggy to broad fertile plains. The diversity of landscape is reflected in the variety of wildlife in Austria’s nature parks – deer, rabbit, pheasant, fox, badger, marten, partridge and, in the alpine regions, chamois, groundhog, eagle and mountain jackdaw.
It’s not all about natural beauty though. Austria’s vibrant history has resulted in the development of a variety of architectural styles and many wonderful buildings ranging from churches and monasteries to royal castles and palaces as well as museums and art galleries. As in so much of Europe, there’s a packed calendar of festivals, museums, galleries, sights and activities that are free to all and richly rewarding.
In the Czech Republic, the Bohemian Forest offers an experience far removed from the mountains and more suited to fairy tales of woodcutters and wolves. And, of course, there’s the huge draw of Prague.
Situated at the south west corner of Europe, Portugal’s long mainland profile (218 km wide and 561 km long) gives it over 800kms of Atlantic coast; that’s a lot of history, scenery and culture to explore. The climate in Portugal varies a lot from one region to another and is influenced by altitude, latitude and distance from the coast.
The summers are hot and dry, especially in the inland areas (Tras-os-Montes in north-eastern Portugal and Alentejo); temperatures are slightly lower in the coastal areas, because of the influence of the sea. Visit slate villages in the centre of Portugal; explore the huge landscapes of the Alentejo; enjoy wonderful castles dotted along the border with Spain and discover World Heritage sites such as the Alto Douro wine region, home of port wine.
Think Spain and beaches and bullfights spring to mind – along with great food, wine and sunshine – but Spain is a big country with layers of history at every turn. From the mountain roads of the Pyrenees to the ‘Wild West’ of the Estremadura, Spain’s natural beauty is overlaid by the footprints of the Romans and the Moors seen in the towns, cities and across the landscape.
The stunning architecture of Granada, Seville and Ronda is easily accessible from the beaches of the Costas running down the Mediterranean coastline from Barcelona to Malaga. Hardly a stone’s throw inland, the chain of Sierras offers a different world, often referred to as the real Spain, with a wide range of outdoor activities.
‘Green Spain’ extends from Galicia to the Bay of Biscay, through Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country, including the stunning Picos de Europa mountains, rugged cliffs, verdant forests and superb cuisine.
Touring is the ideal way to discover the wide variety of regional cuisine and character. Try one of many routes that take you to the heart of Spain. You could drive the Ruta Via de la Plata from south to north through the mountains, valleys and plains of western Spain. The route begins in the ancient city of Seville heading due north across Spain through the basin of the Guadalquivir river and Castile to end at Oviedo.
For centuries, the former network of tracks was used for moving cattle to better grazing. Over time, it has developed a unique historical and artistic character – cities, castles, aqueducts, bridges – and rich culture.