Kieron and I took part in The Rusty Rally challenge raising money for The Outward Bound Trust. We set off on a motoring challenge across Europe, drove over 1,700 miles over 5 days visiting 7 countries along the way, all in a car worth under £500.
The adventure was very tough mentally due to driving time and lack of time to do this but we loved every minute of it. It changed our opinion of Europe! It has some absolutely stunning scenery and so much history! I guess that’s always the case where you don’t see what is on your doorstep and always look at far away places to look for inspiration.
The places we visited and the hotels we stayed at are all detailed below along with our route and rating of different places.
Thursday 9th June: Day 1 – France, Belgium and Luxembourg
Approximate Distance: 380 miles
Approximate Driving Time: 6 hours and 30 minutes
The first stop was at Durbuy in Belgium. Durbuy has photogenic cobblestone alleys, riverbanks and restaurants and they’re understandably very popular with visitors. There are cute craft shops and eateries around in this river valley town. When we visited, it was a Thursday afternoon and surprisingly quiet but we were told the weekend is very busy so if you plan to visit, avoid the weekends! We found somewhere to park for a minor fee, had a stroll around the town and grabbed some lunch before setting off to the next stop. If you are looking for a classic Belgium town, lovely scenery, friendly people and a relaxed atmosphere, this is a place to stop!
The second stop was at Remich in Luxembourg. Remich is a small, picturesque tourist town, and an important wine and trading centre. Guided tours through famous wineries are available (some with cellars hewn into the rick). We visited the ‘Caves St Martin’ on the river Moselle. There are river cruises along the Moselle, quaint cobbled streets and art galleries. This is another place where there is a relaxed feel, friendly people and a great atmosphere.
We finished the day at the Grand Hotel Fillipo which is located in the lovely spa town of Niederbronn Les Bains. We enjoyed some French food and wine and even had a flutter in the casino! If you are looking for a party town, this is not the place. We didn’t see anyone for ages whilst walking around, it was like a ghost town but for us it was pretty, scenic and more importantly cheap!
Friday 10th June: Day 2 – Germany and Switzerland
Destination: Glarus Nord
Approximate Distance: 215 miles
Approximate Driving Time: 5 hours
The first stop was at Baden-Baden – Black Forest, Germany. The Summer capital of Europe during the bele époque, and a rendezvous for the rich and beautiful, Baden-Baden today is famous worldwide as a spa town with a cultural tradition and a top-class reputation for healthcare. Glittering festivals and unrivalled elegance make it a byword for exclusivity, elegance and luxury living. Baden-Baden excels in everything is does, whether it’s cures or culture. The biggest thing we noticed was how clean Germany is, it is spotless! No graffiti, rubbish, chewing gum or anything!
Next stop was the Black Forest High Road via Gengenbach. Gengenbach is a town in the district of Ortenau, Baden-Württemberg, Germany and a popular tourist destination on the western edge of the Black Forest with about 11,000 inhabitants. In a TV documentary, Gengenbach, with its lovely half-timbered houses, was once called a “pearly among the Black Forest towns” – visitors speak of a romantic gem, of Nice of Baden. Travellers approaching Gengenbach are greeted from afar by the church and watchtowers that invite them into the historical down centre, where narrow alleys lead them to picturesque corners. The mountain view in the black forest was truly breath taking and a definite highlight of our trip. This is a must do and a must visit!
Next stop was the Rhein Falls in Switzerland. The Rhine Falls is the largest plain waterfall in Europe. The falls are located on the High Rhine between the municipalities of Neuhausen am Rheinfall and Laufen-Uhwiesen, near the town of Schaffhausen. Every year, more than 1 millions visitors enjoy the magnificent natural spectacle offered by the Rhine Falls. Depending on the time of the year, between 250 and 500m3 of water per second plummet to the depths. Visitors can walk around the basin, cross the bridge above the Rhine Falls to Castle Laufen on the other side and proceed from there to the ‘Känzeli’ observation platform, a most spectacular viewpoint built directly beside the water. It is only 5 euro (or 5 franks) which is definitely worth it!
We finished the day at the Seminarhotel Lihn which is located in the stunning Swiss Alps in Glarus Nord. The hotel overlooked the scenic Lake Walensee set high on the side of a mountain. If you are looking for somewhere reasonable to stay with amazing views, this is the place. There are rooms on the 3rd floor that have 6 beds in a maisonette for larger groups who don’t mind sharing, this will bring the cost down too! Switzerland isn’t cheap but it is beautiful.
Please note that in Switzerland when driving, you are required to have a vignette (basically like road tax that’s pays all tolls in one so no roads are tolled separately). We got away with this going through the first time but was caught the second time. It costs 40 euro which you can get cheaper online but it’s a gamble as many people who went with us didn’t get caught so it’s a gamble you can take. It all depends on how busy the border crossing is as to how many cars get stopped.
Saturday 11th June: Day 3 – Switzerland and Italy
Starting: Glarus Nord
Destination: Lake D’Iseo
Approximate Distance: 200 miles
Approximate Driving Time: 4 hours and 30 minutes
The first stop was the San Bernadino Pass and Mesocco in Switzerland (The Great Road on Top Gear). The San Bernadino Pass crosses idyllic landscapes dotted with mirror-like lakes and glacial ridges. At 2065m high, The San Bernadino Pass has been in use since Roman times. The man difficulty was not the pass itself but the tricky route through the 300m deep Rhine gorge between Thusis and Zillis, which does not bear the name Via Mala (“Bad Road”) for no reason! This was something on our bucket list and a definite worthwhile trip rather than going through the tunnel. This way you get the scenery but it is cold at the top. It was 5 degrees at the top compared with 22 degrees at the bottom so wear something warm if you plan to get out.
Next stop was Lake Como in Italy. This jewel in the crown of Italy’s famous lakes is a haven of tranquillity, superb cuisine, majestic snow capped mountains, courteous folk and style. In his ‘Charterhouse of Parma’ Stendhal described it as an “enchanting spot, unequalled on earth in its loveliness”. Virgil called it simply “our greatest” lake.
We visited the Villa del Balbianello, a stunning waterfront villa appearing in films such as Casino Royale and Star Wars. We got the ferry to Bellagio rather than driving around but at 18 euros, this is an expensive 10 minutes but it saved over an hour driving. If you have time, drive around, if not its ideal. Bellagio is beautiful and full of cobbled streets, quaint shops and ice cream parlours!
The last stop on this journey was Bergamo. This is an extremely pretty old town in Lombardy, on the edge of the Alps. Bergamo’s original location was a defensive hilltop, and the town was also protected by walls; nowadays this historic part of town is known as the Città Alta (upper town) and it’s where you will find most of the historic buildings and tourist sights. There is little traffic, and the narrow lanes are pleasant to wander (not so easy to drive through in a large car!)
Whilst in Beramo we visited Piazza Vecchia. It’s a wide open space surrounded by a mixture of medieval and Renaissance architecture, the piazza fills up with students from the university, chatting and picnicking around the fountain. Out of all the towns we stopped at, this was our favourite. It has history, views, ice cream and a great atmosphere. It gets busy on weekend evenings so get there before 6pm! There is also a funicular in the town which is a must visit!
We finished the day at the Cocca Hotel Royal Thai Spa located by the scenic Lake D’Iseo. Great scenery, cheap at under £80 (you wont find anywhere else on the lake for cheaper) but don’t expect great service or food, it was a weird hotel which should have been good but wasn’t. but it was cheap and it was only 1 night!
Sunday 12th June and Monday 13th June: Day 4 and 5
These two days were spent driving back to England. We stayed in a town called Metz in France.
After spending a small fortune on tolls and Redbull, we made it, in one piece! If we had longer there was plenty to see but for a 5 day, 7 country whistle stop tour, it was definitely worthwhile!
Here’s the video of our adventure!