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GREAT RV TOURS>ROAD TRIP PLANNER - THE WINE AND GOURMET TRAIL
 

Europe Road Trip Planner: The Wine & Gourmet Trail

 
Click here for our road trip planner -wine & gourmet trail route map

 

The European Wine & Gourmet Trail*

*Click on the blue country and city links below for more details and reviews of your destination

This road trip planner will help you and your family enjoy the essence of Germany, France and Switzerland. The route combines ravishing Alpine peaks with Mediterranean landscapes, breathtaking natural landscapes and quaint Alpine villages and medieval towns.

But First - put your taste buds on alert! If you follow the suggestions in this road trip planner you will pass through the best vineyard and wine producing country in Europe, if not the world.

- Pick up a few bottles and enjoy them en-route.
- Visit the village markets for great local cheeses and other fresh produce and sample the local cuisine with friends and family back at your campground.

Driving around this area of Europe in a motorhome can arguably be categorized as the ultimate family vacation getaway. If this is your first trip to this part of the world, you will likely be astounded by the splendor of these quaint, pastoral rural areas reminiscent of medieval times. Be aware - you will very likely put on weight on this trip, so don't say we didn't warn you!

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This road trip planner can be used as is, or used as a base to formulate your own itinerary, using your own road trip planners, or in conjunction with others in this web site. Whatever you decide, I'm sure you and your family will have a vacation to remember for many years to come.

Day 1: Arrival in Frankfurt

We flew into Frankfurt on an evening flight, and stayed at a hotel for our first night in Germany.

The next morning we went over to the motorhome rental agency where we picked up our motorhome and got comprehensive operating instructions from a staff member. At about 2 p.m. we set out along the Rhine in the direction of Koblenz, picking up provisions on the way.

We chose to camp near Koblenz for the first 3 days, using the camp as our base to head and explore the area, as opposed to staying in Frankfurt the first night and heading slowly up the Rhine. Either way works well.


Day 2 - 4: The Rhine Valley

If scenic views and medieval castles are what you're after - this is the place to start. There is so much to see and do here, that 3 days hardly seems enough to begin covering it.
The kids loved the boat ride we took on the Rhine, my wife was enthralled with the gingerbread castles on <just about> every hilltop, and I especially enjoyed strolling through the quaint villages. Something for everybody, fun for all. A boat is one of the best ways to tour the castles of the Rhine. Cruises can last hours or days - if you have time for just a short cruise, try the Koblenz to Bingen stretch to get the most castle-sighting bang for your buck.

The narrow gorge connecting Bingen and Koblenz, which has a length of only thirty-five miles, has more castles than in any other river valley in the world. Many of the castles are in ruin, while others have been restored and are now hotels or open for tours. Imagine them as sentinels on the cliffs above river side villages and you'll get the picture. Amazing site!

The mid-Rhine is also known for its German legends. One of the best known is the story of the Lorelei. As the story goes, a nymph lived in the Lorelei rock high above the Rhine. She is said to have lured fishermen to their destruction with her singing until she was overcome with love and plunged to her own death. A bronze statue of the nymph overlooks the river.

Another famous landmark is the "Drachenfels" castle where Siegfried is reputed to have slain a dragon. The former masters of the castle, the Counts of Drachenfels, had a winged, fire-spitting dragon in there coat of arms. The view from the castle tower is considered one of the most famous on the Rhine.

Other places you should definitely plan to visit are:

Marksburg Castle (Braubach) - The Marksburg Castle, built in 1100 and additionally fortified over the centuries, is a fully-preserved medieval fortress. Although the stronghold was threatened, it was never directly attacked. Soaring high above the Rhine River, Marksburg is a beautifully restored medieval castle.

In the inner fortress you can get a glimpse of a medieval kitchen, living area, knight's hall (plenty of armor and weapons) and ladies apartments. If you feel like a little exercise - climb up the hill to the castle, there are great views from the top.

Bacharach - Bacharach is a 900 year old village, one of the most scenic towns in the Rhineland, filled with half-timbered buildings with impossibly steep rooflines. Plan on spending an afternoon walking or biking around the village.

Oberwessel is a great place to pause for a meal: head up to the 1,000 year old castle now run as a restaurant and hotel. Check ahead if you want to experience a "Knight's Meal": Maidens in medieval costumes serve local specialties and wines on pewter dishes while you listen to baroque music!

A Word About Rhineland Wine

Most of Germany's vineyards owe their existence to the Rhine river. The Pfalz, on the east facing slopes on the Haardt Mountains is the most southerly of these Rhine wine regions. Next comes the Rheinhessen with it's finest vineyard sites around the Neirstein on the so-called Rheinfront or Rheinterrasse.
North of Mainz, the Rhine meets the mass of the Taunus Mountains and is forced west along a short stretch between Weisbaden and Assmannshausen. This area is called the Rheingau.

At Bingen, the Nahe River flows in and along it's banks where some of the best south-facing vineyards are located. North of Bonn is the tiny river Ahr, which is a tourist spot with it's own vineyards. All of these German regions produce different styles of wine, but in general, Rhine wine is fuller and richer then Mosel wines. As in the Mosel, the primary grape is the Reisling, but there are other varieties of grapes too. There are a a few Weissburgunder (pinot blanc) and some Chardonnay. The German wine research center at Geisenheim has created many new vine hybrids, such as Ehrenfelser, Scheurebe, and Kerner. They are not as popular as the native Rheingau.

The Alsace region of France that borders the Rhine is a long strip of land centered south of Strasbourg and around the town of Colmar. The prosperous plain backs up to the Vosges Mountains where they are protected from strong westerly winds. Unlike other French wines, those from the Alsace tell which grape variety they are pressed from. The Alsace region is primarily white wine country. The Sylvaner is the most widely grown grape and produces a light and sparkling wine. Pinot Blanc, also known as Klevner accounts for about 10 percent of the area vines. Only about 1 percent grows Pinot Noir, which is the only rose' of the area. Other varieties include Muscat, which is drier in this region; Chasselas Blanc, a pale greenish wine grown in the Haut-Rhin; and Tokay, imported in the 16th century from Hungary. This area is sometimes known as the Route du Vin.

Day 5 - 6: Mosel valley

For this road trip, we actually planned a one day tour of the Mosel Valley, or the 'Mosel Wine Road' as it is more aptly named. This is a 125 mile (200 kms) route which starts at Koblenz and ends at the ancient city of Trier. We chucked plan 'A' out the window pretty soon after the start of day 5, and went directly to hitherto uncharted territory of plan 'B' due to our encounters with rustic wine bars which showed up every few miles and wine tasting cellar tours on offer for the evening-not to mention enchanting medieval towns and craggy castles around every bend of the river. Our original schedule forgotten, we headed back in the evening to pur previous nights camper park near Koblenz.

The area's almost complete lack of industrialization and development means that the scenery remains magnificent and the villages are peaceful and charming. The great Mosel River snakes in huge curves through the valley. It is today as important a trade route as it was centuries ago, as barges laden with produce ply the river in both directions.

Actually it is the Mosel's wines, mainly excellent dry white Rieslings, which attract most of the visitors and are the real stars of the area. Vineyards cover nearly every sunny slope of the steep-sided valley. Rough stone terraces, some large enough only to support a few dozen vines, rise steeply above the river and vineyards cling to the hillsides at crazy angles. Driving slowly past, looking at the miles and miles of virtually identical low green leafy vines is quite a mesmerizing experience.

One of the most pleasant picnic dinners we had on our trip was at our unplanned stopover in the Koblenz camper park. We bought some local cheese, sausage and bread from one of the villages, eating it accompanied with some of the delicious Riesling we got at a vineyard and cooled in our onboard refrigerator - delicious doesn't come close to describing the meal.

Small wine-producing villages are strung along both banks of the river, often only a few miles apart. Each has an assortment of cafes and 'Wein Stube' (wine bars selling locally produced wines). The gabled, half timbered gingerbread houses lining the quaint, cobbled lanes help many of the villages retain a delightful medieval atmosphere. Two of the villages definitely worth a visit are Beilstein and Zell, both of which are particularly charming and picturesque. If you're up to it. there's usually at least one place in each village offering wine tasting sessions. (Look for signs saying 'Weinprobe').

Travel a little further on to lovely Burg Elz. This not-to-be-missed real medieval castle is tucked away in dense forest. As it is not easily seen from the river, it is easily missed and rather off the regular tourist track. The effort to get there is well rewarded, however. Probably Germany's finest medieval castle, it is a real fairytale fortress with impenetrable walls, turrets and towers.
Originally built over a 1000 years ago, it largely remains as it once was. Interestingly, it is still inhabited by the descendants of the original owners.The castle houses museum quality art and furnishings and is renowned for its fabulous Gobelin tapestries.

Awed by all we had seen and consumed, we crossed over into the Principality of Luxembourg near Trier and set up camp for night 6.

Day 7: Luxemburg to Reims

Rising bright and early to the chirping of the birds as usual, we set out after a hearty country breakfast, crossing the border into France at about 9:30 a.m.

Heading for Reims, capital of Champagne, we find ourselves driving past WWI battlefields. Amazing what those guys went through - and not so long ago, either.

As we drive past, I recall Winston Churchill's famous quote from 1918:
" Remember gentlemen, it's not just France we are fighting for, it's Champagne!" The thoughts of the great statesman get me thinking of other things, equally important and relevant. Keeping in mind that we are in the only part of the world that produces genuine Champagne, it's not very hard to figure what we're going to do next - a screech of the brakes, a twist of the steering wheel, and our RV is on the D23 headed in the direction of Eperney. Long day of wine tasting ahead - but hey, somebody has to do it, right?

Epernay rivals Reims for the title 'Champagne production capital of the world'. The town has around 200 miles of cellars and tunnels cut into the chalk rock beneath it. Several world renowned champagne producers have their headquarters there' but after visiting the Mercier cellars, we decided to try some lesser known champagne producers.

Quick lesson: Three varieties of grapes are used in the production of champagne: pinot noir is the basis of most champagne, giving it its strength of taste and character. Pinot meunier is used in cheaper varieties and helps the wine mature faster. The white grape chardonnay makes a champagne variety called blanc de blancs.

After a couple of hours of hard sampling done, we had a wonderful lunch at Les Berceaux, a nice restaurant located, fittingly enough, on Rue des Bercaux in Eperney. The superb food was reasonably priced, and there is also a nice wine bar on the site. Needless to say, we didn't indulge. Off to Reims - still lots more to do. We were thinking of doing some more champagne tasting, but we were not really up to it as yet. Still, the night is still ahead - who knows what pleasures may be in store.

Reims not only rivals Epernay as the champagne capital of the world, it is home to Notre-Dame Cathedral, one of the most magnificent gothic cathedrals in the world. Built in the thirteenth century on the traditional coronation site of the kings of France, the cathedral has played an extremely important role in French history. In 1429 Joan of Arc arranged for the Dauphin to be crowned here as Charles VII, a highly significant event as at the time France was to all intents and purposes the weak man of Europe, and England and its allies were riding roughshod over them. The following 26 monarchs of France were also crowned in this cathedral.

The city suffered severe destruction during World War I when German forces captured and pillaged Reims for 10 days. The German army then occupied the heights overlooking the city for 4 years, and periodic bombing damaged or destroyed many of the buildings, including the cathedral. Destruction also took place during World War II. The Germans surrendered unconditionally to the Allies on May 7, 1945, in a hall of the Coll?ge Moderne in Reims, which had served as headquarters of the Allied command.

Whew! What a busy day. Time for one more quick champagne sampling and off for a good night's rest at our campground near Chalons en Champagne.

Day 8 - Reims to Beaune

Up bright and early today. Actually, we're always up bright and early, even at home. How else can you get to hear the birds chirping in the city?

Usual morniing routine - breakfast, break camp and by 8 a.m. we're off to visit delightful Chalons-Sur-Marne, once the administrative capital of the Champagne-Ardenne region. Don't miss the 13th Century St-Etienne Cathedral and the medieval Notre-Dame-en-Vaux cloisters. We spend some time at the magnificent sculptured gardens along the Marne River, and then head south to Burgundy. After passing through Dijon we arrive at our campground near Beaune.

Day 9 - Burgundy

The problem with this planner is that the duration is too short. It is definitely not a problem to stay at least two weeks in each area. This morning we had a great drive through the rolling hills, vineyards and chateaux of the Cote d' Or, one of France's top wine regions. We visited a few vineyards along the way to check out recent production and in really flipped out at Beaune's colorful open-air market. Following up on a great idea, we picked up a few bottles of wine and some sausage, bread and local cheese for later. After a great afternoon snack we set off into the sunset, back to our campsite of the previous night.


Day 10 - Beaune to Avignon

Setting off bright and early, we drive southward along the Rhone valley in the direction of Avignon in Provence.

Taking a detour off the main highway, we drive through the Ardeche gorge. While it is quicker to take the main road, the spectacular scenery in the gorge is well worth the extra time. As it was, we decided to make a day of it and had a truly memorable drive.
We arrived in the late evening at our campground near Avignon, intending to camp here for two days to tour the area.

Day 11 - Avignon

The key to understanding Avignon is definitely through its history. The three most interesting sites to us were the Papal Palace, the famous Avignon bridge (Ponte d'Avignon) and the Doms Rocks (Rocher des Doms).

The impressive 4.2 km long city walls are the first thing you see as you approach Avignon City. Built in the 14th century by Pope Inncocent VI as protection both against the flooding of the Rhone and military attacks, the wall has 7 gates and 39 towers.

After a very interesting morning at the palace and walking the tortuous, narrow streets of the old city, we find ourselves at Rocher des Doms. Today a public garden close to the Papal Palace, this is considered the birthplace, or cornerstone, if you will, of Avignon. The park has a fine view of the Rhone and the surrounding countryside.

From here, we take a short drive to the remarkable remnants of the Roman bridge known as Le Ponte d'Avignon. This is the oldest construction over the Rhone between Lyon and the Mediterranean, only the Roman arches are still standing.

After the Ponte we visit charming L'isle sur la Sorgue, and enjoy a delightful free stroll among the water canals, small shops and sidewalk caf?'s.
Feeling full from another great day, we return to our camp for the night.

Day 12 - Van Gogh Country


Provence is so beautiful. That nothing I can write will do it justice. You have to visit yourself to understand what all the buzz is about.
Artists and Provence go extremely well together. Van Gogh and Arles are virtually synonymous in our minds. So once we're in the area we feel it is imperative to drive through the impressive countryside, exploring these landscapes. After visiting the cliff top fortress of Baux-de-Provence and Pont du Gard, the ancient Roman aqueduct, we head back to Arles for a leisurely afternoon in this pastoral, sun-drenched town.

Day 13 - Avignon to Annecy

We're just about at the end of this wonderful trip. All that's left basically is to drive up north to return our RVs and head for home. We broke the return drive into a three day drive.

So pointing our camper northwards, we head northwards through the French Alps, in the direction of Annecy which is situated on what is probably France's most attractive lake. There are many enchanting villages en-route to Annecy, and as the drive itself is relatively short, we stopped and ambled around several villages on the way. One that particularly stands out in memory is Talloires, located on the east shore of the lake and about 14 kms from Annecy. Talloires is steeped in history, with picturesque houses in narrow streets built around the 11th century Benedictine monastry. Nearby, the village of Menthon has a beautiful castle well worth a visit, as is the dramatic waterfall near Angon.

Annecy itself is a delightful mixture of modern and ancient streets and buildings festooned with gay, colorful floral displays especially in the summer months and endowed with many cafes and restaurants to relax in, which of course, we did.

Day 14 - Annecy to Freiburg

Up bright and early, we head out on the next to last day of a delightful trip. Entering Switzerland, we drive along the northern bank of Lake Geneva until we reach the town of Gruyeres, a charming little hillside village world famous for its cheese. After a sampling at a cheese factory (who can resist) we continue past the Swiss cities of Bern and Basel through to Germany, reaching Freiburg our destination, located smack bang in the middle of the Black Forest, after an easy 2.5 hour drive.
The day is yet young - we have plenty of time to prepare a delightful meal based on all the lovely food we picked up at Gruyeres and to clean and organize our camper for return tomorrow.

Day 15 - Freiburg to Frankfurt

So starts the final day of out trip. No need to get up bright and early today - Freiburg is only about 250 kms from Frankfurt, a 2.5 hour drive.

Driving to Frankfurt, we all discuss the many highlights of our trip, the numerous perspectives we got on the pastoral European way of life and unanimously declare it as one of the best. So that's it - the end of a fantastic vacation, all that's left is to drop off our RV at the rental depot and head on home.

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