2014 was a great year at @DriveEurope with three big trips covering more than 12,500 miles, from northern Sweden to Gibraltar and Austria to north west Spain. All in our ace new car.
We’re drawn to the Carpathians in 2015. And Jersey.
At least that meant lots of left over holiday to take this year.
The best part of ‘Race Around The Baltic’ in April – through every country except Russia – was that we didn’t plan it, or even know if it was possible within a week.
A particularly good bit was it being the first trip in our freshly delivered Range Rover Evoque. What a car it turned out to be, a worthy stablemate to its continent-crushing elder brother.
The sad part was catching the fantastic DFDS boat back to Harwich from Esbjerg in western Denmark. Shortly afterwards it was withdrawn, and with it the last ferry link between the UK and Scandinavia.
One big gap in our European road trip repertoire had been the Alps. We had driven a few mountain passes but on an ad hoc basis. June’s ‘Tall Order’ was intended to put this right once and for all in a two week orgy of classic Alpine roads.
It was a fortnight of sickening fear and permanent anxiety. Heights are not a strong point.
Having said that we did pretty much cover Austria, north east Italy and south central and east Switzerland, culminating in the incredible Loop – the six super-high passes centering on Gotthard.
However, we hardy touched the French Alps save for a whizz up N205 Route Napoleon from Grasse to Grenoble.
Another shameful gap in our Euro driving experience had been southern Spain and Portugal.
Combining this with a four day stay in an isolated cottage in northern Holland in mid-October was madness. The average distance travelled per day on ‘Iberia Circumnavigation’ was 510 miles (actually 75 miles less the Baltic trip).
Apart from wondrous, ancient Granada (and groovy Lisbon) the highlights – surprisingly – were Gibraltar – i.e. the palm-fronded Rock Hotel where John Lennon and Yoko Ono got married, as immortalised in The Ballad of John and Yoko – and the quiet, undeveloped north Spain coast.
On the subject of great hotels, special mention must be made of the Seehotel Waldstatterhof in Brunnen, Switzerland – looking out over Lake Lucern (Vierwaldstattersee), perfect for The Loop – and the Seehotel Am Kaiserstrand at Lochau near Bregenz, Austria, because swimming in Lake Constance, off their super-luxe bath house, was just the best way to start each day.
An honourable mention should go to the Park Inn in Kaunas. Not because it’s particularly flashy but because the best room cost €60 – at 22:30 after an exhausting drive across Poland – and it had views of the city’s two spectacular churches. The welcome – and the beer – were the best we had all year.
Kaunas, in south central Lithuania, was definitely the biggest find because of all the 1930’s modernist architecture. In second place was classical Szczecin (aka Stettin) – designed mostly by Paris builder Haussmann y’know – covered in a thick layer of Commie grot. Third was Esch-sur-Sure because it looks like something out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Now we’re looking forward to a couple of days in Brussels, mainly to drop Christmas dollars in the antique crystal shops and check out Hotel Amigo. Hopefully we’ll have time to cruise through western Belgium on the way back.
So what about 2015? It’s unlikely we’ll get as much time on the road as we did this year. The (now few) remaining places on our list will have to be especially well targeted.
Norway is the obvious choice – because it’s the only major European country we haven’t been to yet – but we’ll leave that until the ferry service starts again.
More France would be good, for another crack at the Alps, Vosges, Massif Central and Pyrenees, maybe in combination with a chill out in the Channel Islands (especially since Condor has a swish new ship).
The strongest pull however is to the Carpathians. Southern Poland, (Belarus!), western Ukraine, Black Sea, northern Romania (maybe Moldova), north east Hungary then straight through Slovakia and Czech Republic to the interesting bit of east Germany around Chemnitz, Dresden (and the Silberstrasse).
That sounds great doesn’t it?!
Happy New Year.