If you’re a regular reader here, you’ll know that in spring I bought a van with the goal to go travelling around Europe with my fiancée and our pet dog, Alfie. Fast-forward eight months later, and we’ve just arrived back home after an epic 2-month road-trip! It’s been a crazy adventure and there’s so much to write about.
Here’s our trip in a nutshell: 6,150 kilometres, 920,692~ steps between the 2 of us, 9 countries, 15 cities, 10 towns, 24 areas of natural beauty, 17 lakes, 3 summits, over 48,000ft altitude gain (4,265ft of which was a toboggan run!), 19 bucket list items, 2 roadside assistance breakdowns, 1 gas leak that resulted in the van catching fire. Still with me!?
Our route is slightly different from what we planned… the idea was to chase the sunshine, starting in France and working our way through Portugal and Spain. The goal was to end up in Milan, Italy by the end of November because I’m talking at a conference for work. We had some pins on a map of where we wanted to go but not much of a route. We wanted to find places along the way and make it up as we went along because that’s the beauty of having a van.
Almost immediately after we arrived in France, we decided to dip into Belgium to grab some chocolate waffles next thing we knew, we completely ended up changing our route. We never made it to Spain but instead we toured the Alps, and it was the best decision we could have made. We had a suitcase full of vest tops and shorts, and no hiking gear which was frustrating, but we got by (and I never go anywhere without my Sorel snow boots and Berghaus GORE-TEX® shell anyway, so I was slightly prepared!). It was so fun waking up each day and having no idea where we’d be going next, and just exploring wherever we wanted.
I’m currently in the process of writing posts about the trip but there’s so much to write and never enough hours on the day! Keep an eye out of the upcoming posts though:
- Must-Have #Vanlife Apps To Download Now
- Why We Came Home from Our Roadtrip Early
- FAQ: Traveling Europe for 2 Months in a Van with a Dog
- Things Nobody Tells You About #vanlife
This post details the places that we visited during our road-trip and over the coming months I’ll continue to update it and link to new posts about specific areas we went to. I’ve broken it down to particular places on our bucket list (castles, lakes etc) or listed it by town/city if we explored more than just that specific spot. I’m still writing about some of the locations but I’m 50% of the way there!
1. London, England
2. Canterbury, England
3. Dunkirk, France
We got the ferry over from Dover to Calais then drove directly to Dunkirk. This trip was the first time I’d driven on the right-hand side of the road, and I knew I was going to have to get used to it soon because we would be covering thousands of miles. We made sure the van adhere to EU regulations (stickers on our headlights, first aid kit at the ready etc), but there wasn’t anything to prepare me for driving on the correct side of the road or going the right way around the roundabout. Surprisingly, we settled into it almost immediately with no major disasters. Once we arrived and parked up, we spent the afternoon strolling up and down Dunkirk beach, reading the info signs about the evacuation of Allied soldiers during World War II, which was really interesting. It’s definitely worth the short drive from the ferry port 👌
4. Ghent, Belgium
As I mentioned above, almost immediately after we arrived in France we decided to dip into Belgium to grab some chocolate waffles next thing we knew, we completely ended up changing our route. Ghent is a little city in North-west Belgium, famous for medieval architecture such as the 12th-century Gravensteen castle. It’s a popular city that’s been on our bucket list for a while because we’ve heard a lot of good things, and it’s clear to see why! This place is gorgeous, as is the rest of the places we visited in Belgium. My fiancée Sam even said it was perhaps his favourite place on our entire trip, which is quite a statement (the waffles were phenomenal, too!). I would 100% recommend Ghent for a couple of days to soak up the atmosphere in the city centre, enjoy some chocolate and the architecture.
5. Brussels, Belgium
Brussels hasn’t ever really appealed to me, although I was excited to see the Atomium. As soon as we drove into Brussels (we didn’t know about Low Emission Zones at this point…), my perception of Brussels changed – this place is buzzing. There’s something going on in every corner of the city and the architecture will make your jaw drop to the ground. If we do get a LEZ fine for driving through the city, it’ll be worth every penny. Oops!
Some of the highlights from our trip to Brussels:
⭐️ The iconic steel atom sculpture, the Atomium
⭐️ The Grand Place in the market square
⭐️ The Church of Our Lady of Laeken neo-Gothic church.
6. Brugge*, Belgium
We drove straight past Brugge, waving as we went by. The week before we left for our road trip we went on a mini-cruise with my family to celebrate my dad’s 60th birthday, and Brugge was one of the stops! Honestly, I’d never thought of coming to Belgium (as I mentioned before about Brussels!) but soon fell in love with the quaint shops, beautiful architecture and tasty chocolate. We ate waffles, rode a canal boat and explored the markets. 100% worth a visit if you’re planning a route similar to this. The funny thing is, if we didn’t go on a cruise with my family just before leaving for our road-trip, we wouldn’t have thought about detouring for some chocolate, which means our route would have been so different 🦋
7. Diest, Belgium
If you travel around Europe in a 20 year old van, you’ve got to expect some problems. Next thing we know we’re on the side of the motorway waiting for roadside assistance with no breakdown cover (nobody offers it for a van as old as ours!). We spent 5 days in a Hyundai garage in Belgium whilst they tried to fix it. This gave us plenty of time to explore the area and enjoy the gorgeous parks and lakes nearby. It was a beautiful town to breakdown in… We were told at one point he wouldn’t be back on the road and we’d need to tow him to the UK, then we accidentally set him on fire because of a gas leak. It’s a story for another time, but they found the problem and re-built the engine. Once we cleared the fire extinguisher powder from the van, we were back on the road feeling a little defeated an €2,000 lighter.
8. Maastricht, Netherlands 🇳🇱
9. Eltz Castle, Germany
10. Eifel National Park
11. Nürburgring, Germany
Visiting the Nürbergring had always been one of S’s dreams, after years of racing around it on Gran Turismo (a PlayStation game apparently!) So he was really excited that our German detour allowed us to take a look at the beautiful but loud 12 mile long racetrack through the German woodland. As a bit of a speed-freak myself I was secretly excited to see some Porsches and Ferraris flying around the ring! The Nordschleife circuit is so large that we could only sit at a couple of corners and watch the sponsored supercars zoom past us, but it was a moment to remember, and pretty cool considering you can watch for free! We were mildly disappointed we could take Boris around the ring but it was so fun and interesting watching all the different race cars speeding around the track.
12. Hängeseilbrücke, Germany
13. Lingenfeld, Germany
14. The Rhine, Germany
15. Hohenzollern Castle
Perched on the top of a hill, you can see it for miles off as you drive towards it, which was striking – with battlements and towers, this castle looks straight out of a storybook. You might even recognise it from the horror movie A Cure for Wellness (2016). If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a hardworking Wall Street stockbroker who attempts to find refuge in a remote mountain spa but instead gets trapped in something far more sinister. The coolest thing about going to this castle, is we had no idea it was where A Cure for Wellness was filmed, until we passed the draw bridge. From then, we ran around excitingly trying to remember shots from the movie. There’s plenty of explore here, by far one of the most interesting castles we visited on our trip, and mostly likely my favourite out of all of them.
16. Lichtenstein Castle, Germany
Less than an hours drive from Hohenzollern Castle is Lichtenstein Castle. Not to be confused with the tiny European nation of Liechtenstein, Lichtenstein Castle is located in the southwest state of Baden Wurttemberg, in Germany. Might I add, the scenery is absolutely epic, especially when the castle and blooming flowers frame the view overlooking the village of Honau. This castle is completely different to Hohenzollern – it’s far smaller and has a different presence, it’s also built right on the edge of a cliff, which is like something out of a fairytale. There are a few walks in the area that are perfect for exploring and taking the dog for a run. Lichtenstein Castle was probably one of the quietest castles we visited and it didn’t seem overly touristy, just a few magnets here and there, and a small coffee shop nearby.
17. Hopfen am See, Germany
Driving towards the Alps as the sun went down was magical. The sky gradients from pink to purple and the light bounced off the mountains in the distance. We pulled up next to a lake and cozied up for the night. In the morning we popped our backdoor snd was greeted with the best breakfast-view of the trip. We sat in bed with a cuppa tea and swooned over the epic scenery. Once the sun rose, luckily so did the temperature. We decided to hire a paddle boat and explored the lake. The day continued to get hotter, big regret wearing snow boots on this day! Other than going for walks, playing on the lake and enjoying the views, we didn’t do much here. It was nice after a busy and cold week to just enjoy the weather and relax. We stayed for a couple of nights o marvel at the sunsets before moving onto our next stop.
18. Neuschwanstein, Germany
Neuschwanstein Castle is the most visited castles in Germany and one of the most popular tourist destination in Europe. What’s the big deal? Well, this is the real-life palace that Disney based their castle on. We’d dreamed of visiting this castle for ages and it’s always been on our list of places to see. We naively wasn’t prepared for it to be so touristy; signs in Chinese and English, souvenir shops everywhere and €5 bottles of water. We hiked for 40 minutes to the top of a steep hill to be greeted by crowded-scaffold covered castle. The pictures we saw online didn’t even slightly resemble from the hideous building we saw. Needless to say, we quickly left Neuschwanstein Castle after leaving a 1-star review on Google, warning other travellers not to waste their time walking up the hill.
19. Plansee, Austria 🇦🇹
I’d never been to Austria, but always swooned over their gorgeous mountains and log cabins on Instagram. Over and over again, I’d see Plansee come up on my feed. When I discovered our route was taking us near Austria I was so excited. The lake was so relaxing, and it remains one of my favourite spots on the trip. I’ve never seen water as clear as the lakes in the Alps. The water quality of Level I, which apparently means you can see 15 metres ahead of you, enabling divers to perfectly explore the world under the water surface. We actually came back here 2 days in a row because we enjoyed it so much, and we wanted to see the lake at different times on day. In the day, it’s beautiful and turquoise, but at night there’s a moody atmosphere which is magical. You can camp overnight at Plansee, but you can pull up and have dinner like we did, with a beautiful view!
20. Biberwier, Austria 🇦🇹
Located between the Fernpass mountain pass, connecting Austria and Germany, and the Zugpsitze, Germany’s highest mountain, the small village of Biberwier lies on a steep mountain slope near the Wetterstein Mountains. In the morning we caught a cable car to middle station Marienbergbahn to do Tyrol’s longest summer toboggan run. The track is 1,300 metres long, has an altitude difference of 2,300 ft (700 m) from the top to the bottom, with 40 curves and 1 tunnel passage. It was so much fun, we wanted to do it over and over again, and it only cost €7,80!! 100% recommend coming here and doing the toboggan run, alternatively, you can hire mountain bikes and scooters to come down the mountain on. It’s was so quiet, we only saw a couple of other people, which is good considering I screamed all the way.
21. Blindsee Lake, Austria 🇦🇹
22. Innsbruck, Austria 🇦🇹
23. Pettnau, Austria 🇦🇹
24. Maria am See, Austria 🇦🇹
25. Pragser Wildsee, Italy
The Pragser Wildsee, or Lake Prags, Lake Braies is a lake in the Prags Dolomites in South Tyrol, Italy. This was right at the top of places I wanted to go, so I was so happy when I found out our route passed here. Before we arrived I was aware that I was hyping up this lake more than I should, and I’d probably be let down by having high expectations. I wasn’t disappointed though, instead I was left picking my jaw up from the ground with every step we took. Never in my life have I seen water as blue as the lake at Pragser Wildsee. Everything about this place is beautiful, from the towering trees to the floating pontoons, I could spend all day here. The only downside is the fact it was slightly touristy but the views made up for it. This was undoubtably the best lake, and one of my favourite stops on the entire trip.
26. Brunico, Italy
27. Vahrn, Italy
28. Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy
Cortina d’Ampezzo is a ski resort in northern Italy surrounded by the Dolomites in the southern part of the Alps. Driving into this town we got our first glimpse of the famous peaks, which was so exciting. If you’re not familiar with the area, the Dolomites are widely regarded as being among the most attractive mountain landscapes in the world (… and it’s easy to see why!). It’s a clean town with lots of boutiques and coffee shops, just like your usual ski resort town. Even during low-season there was still a buzz with plenty of shops and restaurants were still open, making it the perfect base for our week in the Dolomites. It’s slightly expensive, we paid €25~ for 2 hot drinks and 2 pastries but that’s pretty normal in a ski town, and you can’t argue when you’ve got the amazing mountains views all around you.
29. Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Italy
No trip to the Dolomites would be complete without completing the 6 miles long and mostly flat loop circumnavigating the three colossal pinnacles. The Tre Cime di Lavaredo hike is 10.3km, has about 400m of ascent and descent, and is easy. The paths are well signposted and clearly shown on Google Maps. The hike begins nearby a car park (€25 fee for a minimum of 24 hours to be paid at the bottom of the road before heading up) at Rifugio Auronzo 7,677ft above the sea level. The drive is about a 40 minutes from Cortina d’Ampezzo and it’s the highest we ever took our van! He’s old, so he did struggle with the hairpin turns and the steep ascent but we made it up there mostly in 1st and 2nd gear. Coming back down we had to break with our engine and pull over so our brakes wouldn’t burnout!
30. Zwölferkopf, Austria 🇦🇹
During our trip we’d planned lots of hikes and typically spent at least 12 hours a day walking, so when we found opportunities to cheat and get cable cars, we did. We caught the Karwendel Bergbahn cable car that takes you from Pertisau to the small Zwölferkopf skiing area high above Lake Achensee. We visited in the summer, so of course, there was no snow here. We ate the best turkey burgers 5,394 feet above sea level, overlooking the incredible views and had a little wander in the area. Considering the views and the quality of the food, it was pretty affordable here, too (surprisingly!). There’s a ton of summer hikes here and you can continue up higher to reach more summits such as or you can just enjoy the views of Lake Achensee from where the cable car takes you, like we did.
31. Achen Lake, Austria 🇦🇹
32. Bad Reichenhall
33. Berchtesgaden, Germany
34. Königssee, Germany
35. Hallstatt, Austria 🇦🇹
36. Lake Bled, Slovenia 🇸🇮
Lake Bled is Slovenia’s most popular tourist attraction and although it’s getting more and more famous, it’s still relatively unknown comparing to other European landmarks. Lake Bled sits in a picturesque environment, surrounded by mountains and forests. Medieval Bled Castle stands above the lake on the north shore. The area was significantly larger than I imagined it would be with far more going on. It’s a whopping 2,120 m (6,960 ft) long and 1,380 m (4,530 ft) wide, with a maximum depth of 29.5 m (97 ft)! We walked our dog Alfie around the entire lake, watching people stand-up paddle-boarding, sunbathing and row boating. There’s a few different areas around the lakes that have diving boards and areas to swim but none were in use when we were here. We got this snap of us all together at the Heart of Bled ❤️👉
37. Lake Bohinj, Slovenia 🇸🇮
Lake Bohinj, covering 318 hectares, is the largest permanent lake in Slovenia. It is located within the Bohinj Valley of the Julian Alps, in the northwestern Upper Carniola region, and part of Triglav National Park. This was more exciting to me than visiting the commercial Lake Bled, Lake Bohinj is less crowded, and in my opinion, more beautiful. The entire trip I’d be going on about hiring a row boat, and this was the perfect spot. The lighting was just perfect for the time that we were out on the water. It was one of the most peaceful and awe-inspiring moments of our trip. The pictures on my iPhone which are completely unedited, really don’t do this gorgeous lake justice. If you’re going anywhere in Slovenia, make sure you stop here.
38. Verona, Italy
Best known for its Shakespeare associations attracting a multinational gaggle of tourists to its pretty piazzas and knot of lanes. Verona is a bustling centre, its heart dominated by a mammoth, remarkably well-preserved 1st-century amphitheatre, the venue for the city’s annual summer opera festival (which I’m now desperate to attend!). Verona is completely underrated, which I found much more inviting and romantic than Venice.
Highlights of our time in Verona include:
⭐️ Seeing Juliet’s balcony and statue
⭐️ Viewing the city from Piazzale Castel San Pietro
⭐️ Walking around the Arena di Verona.
39. Venice, Italy
Highlight of our time in Venice:
⭐️ Exploring the the basilica-dominated square, Piazza San Marco
⭐️ Private gondola tour of the city from the Grande Canal.
40. Milan*, Italy
Milan was always on our road trip itinerary, even before we changed our route. This is because at the end of November I’m delivering a presentation at a digital marketing conference.
We ended up passing Milan earlier than anticipated because of our route change, so we’ve decided to miss this stop as we’re going to fly out a couple weeks after we get back.
If you’re planning a road trip like this, it would be silly not to drop by! We’ve got a couple of things planned when we visit, such as:
⭐️ Get a snap in front of Milan Cathedral
⭐️ Explore Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
41. Sirmione, Lake Garda, Italy
⭐️ Exploring the grounds of the gorgeous Scaligero Castle.
42. Jamaica Beach, Italy
Naturally, living in Cornwall, I’ve become a little bit of a ‘beach snob’. We’re so lucky where we live, we’re surrounded with gorgeous coastline, so a beach has to be pretty outstanding for me to rate it above some of the places we have right on our doorstep at home. Jamaica Beach is nothing like what we have in England though. Of course, this is Lake Garda, it isn’t the ocean crashing onto a beach like you’d expect. Instead, Jamaica Beach is still lake like a sheet of glass across smooth rocks. The vibe at Jamaica Beach is what makes it really special though. Everyone is quiet, it’s not busy, and there’s a sense of calm. Quite a few people were just doing yoga or meditating by the edge of the water, others were taking a dip in the lake. Ridiculously beautiful and a zen vibe, this is my jam.
43. Varenna, Lake Como, Italy
We’ve been spoilt with incredible lake views on this trip but one of the lakes we thought was going to impress us the most, did the very opposite. We arrived at Lake Como after driving from Lake Garda – these two lakes are relatively close to each other. We had a great couple of days in Garda, so we anticipated a different, but equally great time in Como. When we arrived we could barely see the other side of the lake due to thick smog, after a bit of research we learnt this was normal and we would be considered lucky, should the smog lift. The lake was filled with litter, and we learnt that the lake was 68% above the safe limit to bath in the water; very different to the crystal clear water at Garda. Perhaps on a clearer day we could have appreciated this more but we didn’t stick around – I guess we’ll never know.
44. Laguno, Switzerland
45. Swiss mountain pass
46. Täsch, Switzerland
We spent a couple days parked up in Alphubel campsite in Tasch whilst we explored the car-free mountain town, Zermatt (see below!). The plot is located about a 3-minute walk from Matterhorn Terminal Täsch railway station that takes you directly to Zermatt. The train comes every 12 minutes from 7am until 10pm, so there’s never any hanging around. We could hear the train when we were in our van each time it passed, but we’ve been so tired traveling that as soon as our heads hit the pillow, we were out like a light anyway! The campsite had hot showers, toilets and an area to empty your chemical toilet, as well as top up your water. It was a little pricey at 33CHF pp but given the average price of a hotel in this area, it’s not too bad.
47. Zermatt, Switzerland
Coined one of the most popular ski resorts in the world, Zermatt is a car-free mountain town in Switzerland. The streets are lined with boutique shops, cozy restaurants and luxury hotels. Switzerland generally tends to be quite expensive, but Zermatt is particularly pricey. I did a little bit of shopping in the North Face shop and picked myself up a new duffel bag, but I didn’t dare poke my head into the Rolex or Omega stores. Zermatt was great to explore for the day, and I’d love to come back in the height of ski-season to soak in the atmosphere, but to get the most out of your stay, I’d say you need to head there with a lot of disposable cash to really enjoy it. We paid €7~ for a takeaway coffee in Zermatt, which is significantly more than any other place we bought coffee for in Italy, France, Slovenia, Austria or Germany.
48. Matterhorn, Switzerland
Viewing of the iconic Toblerone peak, Matterhorn, has been at the top of my bucket list for years. I honestly never thought I’d be so lucky to see it in the flesh, and I certainly never expected to get so close. Standing at Riffelsee lake 9,045 feet underneath the world’s most beautiful mountain was one of the most humbling and breathtaking experiences of my life. We couldn’t have been luckier with the weather; there wasn’t a cloud in sight! We woke up at sunrise to ensure we’d get to the viewing point with plenty of time before the sun moved behind the mountain, and our efforts to pull ourselves out of bed when it was 0 degrees were rewarded 100%. We spent 3 – 4 hour at high-elevation and the afternoon views weren’t nearly as impressive as the morning, so I’m really glad we got to see it when we did.
49. Gornergrat, Switzerland
Once we finished swooning over Matterhorn, we continued up to the Gornergrat summit (10,285 feet) to marvel at the Monte Rosa massif. The Gornergrat is a rocky ridge of the Pennine Alps, overlooking the Gorner Glacier south-east of Zermatt in Switzerland. The pictures really don’t do the view justice but I can assure you, it was EPIC! Nothing beats the panoramic you’re rewarded with when you reach high-elevations; it’s no wonder that climbing mountains is addictive. A cool perk about this summit is the 360 AR viewfinders that show you the name of peaks and glaciers wherever you point it – pretty smart. We ate lunch in the sunshine, overlooking the snow capped peaks before making our descent to Zermatt via Riffelsee.
50. Lac d’Emosson, Switzerland
On our way to Chamonix we decided to stop at Lac d’Émosson, a reservoir in the canton of Valais. knowing it was a short-drive from where we were heading, it felt like the perfect detour to break up our drive. Little did we know that the drive to get there would take up to an elevation of 6,332 feet on mountain roads. Our 20 year old van struggled to pull us up the windy roads even more so than when we drove up the Dolomites, but eventually we get there and had our first view (on this trip!) of Mount Blanc. There’s some incredible hikes in the area that lead you to find the 150 million year old dinosaur tracks. We wanted to do this but we arrived later than we anticipated so we didn’t have a chance to squeeze it into our schedule. Something to put on the list for our next trip to the Alps!
51. Chamonix, France
We first visited Chamonix two years ago when for my birthday and I instantly fell in love with the mountain town. From the gorgeous log cabin we were staying in at the foot of Mount Blanc, to the chalet food, the buzzing atmosphere during ski-season, and the magical views. I could be bias though, because the summit of Aiguille du Midi is where S proposed (coincidently, we were here 6 months before our wedding day). We decided to book a luxury hotel room with a king-size bed, bath and balcony with mountain views. Having a bath and sleeping in a proper bed for the first time in 2 months was the BEST. The next day we re-visited our favourite places but sadly the Midi cable car wasn’t running due to maintenance. In the evening we met with one of our friends from Cornwall that now lives in her van in Chamonix.
52. Annecy, France
53. Lyon, France
⭐️ Exploring Musée Miniature et Cinéma in the city
⭐️ Swooning over plants at Jardin botanique de Lyon
54. Paris, France
55. Calais, France