Fear and Loathing in Western Europe
March 3, 2007 10:55 AM   Subscribe

I'm planning a summer tour around Western Europe and would love recommendations: which places are not-to-be-missed?

The trip will begin in Murcia in southern Spain and pass through Barcalona, Andorra, Nice, Geneva, Milan, Venice and Munich, finishing in Amsterdam. It will take place across three weeks this June. We will be travelling in a van and staying with friends and in hostels along the way.

I know there are hundreds of wonderful places along our route, and we don't want to miss them. It's a kind of anti-tourist's tour, and we want to get a feel for what the places we pass through and people we meet are genuinely like. Language shouldn't be a problem; several members of the group are multilingual and most Europeans speak English. Culture is a must.

Any and all suggestions are welcome: natural beauty, interesting towns, landmarks, good places to stay/stop, things to do. Budget is tight, as is time. Any places that are to be avoided might be worth a mention too. We have an avid appreciation of the surreal, plus we love to take photos, so anything that might appeal to us in that way would be perfect.

Related questions: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Thanks in advance!
posted by Acey to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
three of my favorites that may be on your route. Note that the Niaux caves require reservations and there is only 1 English tour per day. Enjoy!
burg eltz
posted by bluesky43 at 11:13 AM on March 3, 2007

For southern France, get away from the coast for a while. Toulouse and Carcassonne are very nice, but there are some spots less familiar to Americans such as Albi. It's Cathar country, so either embrace the heresy or take the Via Tolosana in reverse.

(This eGullet thread has some tips for France: the idea of getting a GPS seems a bit, um, un-French, but it's probably a worthwhile investment to go off the main roads.)

But three weeks? That's a three-month trip. You will end up stuck on motorways to make up time and having the full Little Miss Sunshine experience.
posted by holgate at 11:27 AM on March 3, 2007

If you're going to Munich, it's very easy (and cheap) to rent a car and visit Neuschwanstein and the surrounding villages. Dachau is on the way, as well. Just be sure to stay out of the left lane on the autobahn. When I say cheap, by the way, I mean in the realm of $40. Definitely worth it.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:30 AM on March 3, 2007

And I see you're based in the UK, so forgive my presumption: but that's what I assume from such a packed itinerary. (FWIW, Munich to A'dam is 500 miles: you could head north to Nuremberg and Frankfurt, or west to Strasbourg and then north.)
posted by holgate at 11:33 AM on March 3, 2007

There are some beautiful sandy beaches along the coast east of Barcelona and a string of toursity resort towns. However, if you go far enough the sand disappears and it all turns to rocks, and one of the furthest towns over, Cadaques, is lovely. It's a traditional fishing village, and it's just beautiful. The coast here is rugged and windswept. There is not much sand but the swimming is nice and the water is crystal clear. Salvador Dali lived here for a while and you will recognize this landscape in his paintings.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:40 AM on March 3, 2007

If you're travelling from Murcia to Barcelona then make sure you stop off in Valencia.
posted by fire&wings at 11:45 AM on March 3, 2007

If you're in germany: skip Munich and come to Berlin, and i'll treat you to a beer.
posted by kolophon at 12:15 PM on March 3, 2007

In Germany, the picturesque village of Goslar
is a not to be missed World Heritage Site, if you happen to be anywhere close to it. Also nearby is the town of Hamlin of the Pied Piper fame. That, in contrast should be on your "must miss" list. Tacky tourist trap.
posted by Neiltupper at 12:24 PM on March 3, 2007

We all seem to be experts on Germany here; however, I'd go against everyone else's advice and tell you to skip everything else to see Bavaria. You'll want to visit Neuschwanstein Castle, Ludwigsburg Palace, and the old walled city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Alas, if you were going to be in Germany in December, I'd tell you to check out the Christmas marts (especially in Stuttgart), but the holiday stores there are open all year around and are quite remarkable.

Oh, and don't forget to go on a Volksmarch -- the forests have beautiful broad paths unlike anything in the U.S.
posted by brina at 1:19 PM on March 3, 2007

most Europeans speak English

Not in my experience, especially older people.

posted by TrashyRambo at 1:26 PM on March 3, 2007

Wasserburg - about 30 miles south of Munich - in fact most of medium sized towns in Bavaria are pretty and have rich history.

I would however probably skip the palaces (very long queues and expensive) in favour of churches...second the suggestion to try and get to Berlin somehow or visit on another trip if you can't fit into this. But as I am from Munich I would recommend going to both cities - they are very different!

As you say you are on a budget I'll point out that in most Bavarian Biergärten you are allowed to bring and consume your own food on the premises as long as you buy the drinks there...
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:57 PM on March 3, 2007

most Europeans speak English
Not in my experience, especially older people.

In my experience (not extensive, two trips, 25 days, east and west europe), I met very few people who didn't.
posted by zhivota at 1:57 PM on March 3, 2007

most Europeans speak English
Not in my experience, especially older people.

In my experience (not extensive, two trips, 25 days, east and west europe), I met very few people who didn't.

Well if the first person you approach doesn't speak English chances are the next will - people may not always be fluent in their replies but you'll get by!
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:02 PM on March 3, 2007

In Germany and the Netherlands, I found older people were less likely to speak English. But most under 30, when asked, will say "I speak a little English" and then be able to speak English better than most Americans.

In France, I found many people who could speak English, they just didn't want to.

I was in Paris last summer just before the masses of people left for holiday. The guys I was visiting for work said one of the reasons the traffic was so bad on the motorways around Paris was so many people were coming from the east to holiday in the south of France and Spain. Since you're going south to north, you shouldn't see as bad a problem.

And GPS can be your friend. I couldn't imagine driving in countries where I couldn't read the roads signs. The better ones will route you around road construction and traffic.
posted by birdherder at 2:25 PM on March 3, 2007

Amsterdam is wonderful, but at the end of the day, its just another city (I'm there every other week so perhaps I'd jaded); I'd recommend you try one of the smaller cities - a colleague just introduced me to Enkhuizen, a town of about 17K people located on The Netherlands north coast.

About one hours train ride out of Amsterdam, the town is perhaps 650 years old and incredibly photogenic and memorable. It would make a great day trip at the end of your tour.

most Europeans speak English
Not in my experience, especially older people.

I agree with TrashyRambo; most Europeans DO NOT speak English, they quite happily speak whatever language they learned from birth and it almost always is NOT English. As noted up thread, older folks are far less likely to speak English that their kids.

I've run into people that can't or won't speak English all across the continent, from Lisoba in the West to Warsaw in the East and many points in between. That's not to say you won't be able to find someone who speaks English, just that many folks don't. And be aware that lack of English is far more common in smaller towns. I've spent entire weeks in the Polish countryside without being able to communicate using anything more advanced than hand gestures.
posted by Mutant at 2:43 PM on March 3, 2007

If you're going to Nice, and have time for a detour, consider taking a ferry to Corsica for a couple of days (ferries run several times per day, about 20 euro / person I think). It's very beautiful and relatively remote. Plus, many of the cities you mention are very touristy, especially in June, and you might find Corsica to be refreshingly empty. If that's an option, and you want suggestions on things to see, email me.
posted by molybdenum at 3:28 PM on March 3, 2007

Stop the derail on Europeans speaking English. Dude is going through Spain, France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands. His crew is multlingual, and if they're from the UK, I would think that means French and Spanish at least; you can get by in Italian with those two, German road signs and maps are very good and clear (and they’ll be going through the West, where English has been on the school syllabus for sixty years now), and the command of English of an average Dutch 25-year-old would put most people here to shame. They’ll be fine on that count.

I concur, as Frank Abagnale Jr. put it—three weeks is far too little time to travel that far in and to enjoy it. Double it, at least, if at all you can.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 4:25 PM on March 3, 2007

On my tour around Western Europe a few years ago I was most impressed by Munich. Take a bike tour, the tour guides are young and cool and are just as likely to have a beer with you afterwards.

Speaking of beer - visit the Hofbrauhaus! The largest beerhall - great atmosphere, friendly (!) german customers and one of the most amazing beers ever brewed - Hofbrau
posted by TheOtherGuy at 10:16 PM on March 3, 2007

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