5 Weeks in Europe, Our Odyssey through France, Spain, Switzerland, Wales and England
As a return visitor and slow travel enthusiast, how do you plan for a 5 week adventure in Europe? If you have seen all the European highlights, what else is there to explore? We took five weeks to revisit some favorite spots and experience some new places.
We started our itinerary planning with a Covid delayed week long trip down the Canal du Midi, in the south of France. We flew into Paris, so we added a week of Paris, living like a local. We visited smaller museums and took a few day trips ahead of our voyage down the Canal du Midi.
The closest major airport to Narbonne, France where we ended our Canal du Midi voyage, is Barcelona. We added a few days in Barcelona to our itinerary to see the progress on Sagrada Familia and eat some delicious Spanish food. Instead of flying home from Barcelona, we flew to Zurich, Switzerland to spend 12 days enjoying our first new country visit since 2019. We ended in Geneva, from where we flew to London.
At London Heathrow Airport, we rented a car and drove to Cardiff, Wales, our second new country since 2019. After 2 days of hiking the Welsh Coast and touring Cardiff, we returned our car and took the train into London for 5 days of English fun. At the end of the 35 days, we were tired but energized by the possibility more extended travel trips.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
We started our journey with air travel to Paris. We also flew from Barcelona to Zurich. We utilized Swiss trains and electric buses to see the country from Zurich to Geneva. In Geneva, we flew to London to continue our travel in the United Kingdom. We rented a car to get from London to Cardiff and around Wales. We took the train from Heathrow to London City Center and used our feet or Uber to get around London and Paris. Walking was our primary mode of transportation once we arrived at a destination, I averaged over 15,000 steps per day for the 35 days we were in Europe.
The Best Bites
Our food plan for Europe is to stay in a hotel that has breakfast included, have a snack in the afternoon and enjoy a nice dinner. That worked for us everywhere expect Paris, where we stayed in a residential area in a VRBO Rental.
The Parisians eat a light breakfast usually coffee, bread and jam. I prefer coffee only in the morning so that worked out just fine. Throughout our trip, we ate in small places where mainly locals eat. Most the entrees were moderately priced (for the area). Nearly everything we tried was absolutely delicious, surprisingly we had very few bad meals.
Here are a few of the highlights:
Paris: Bistrot de L’Oulette-Cassoulet, La Vache Acrobate-Onion Soup, Les Cocotto-Duck Confit.
Canal du Mid: Le Computer des Halles-Foie Gras and Duck on Salad, Restaurant La Marquiere-Foie Gras Ravioli, La Poissonnerie Modern-Giant Seafood Boat,
Barcelona; Bistro Helena-Gazpacho, L'Antic Bocoi del Gothic-Catalan Tomato Bread, Cafe de L'Opera-Churros and Chocolate, Bar Central La Boqueria-Mussels in Tomato Sauce, Colom-Paella
Zurich: Weinstube zur Haue-Traditional Swiss,
Bern: Brasserie Obstberg
Lucerne: Wirtshaus Taube-Fondue
Interlaken: Ox Restaurant & Grill-steak
Zermatt: Rub Thai-Red Curry
Geneva: Le Bistrot de Charlotte-Escargot
United Kingdom: Sticky Toffee Pudding , Full English Breakfast,
London: Masala Zone-India Street Food, Rock & Sole Plaice-Fish and Chips, Savoy Grill-Splurge Dinner, Beef Wellington,
Cardiff: The Potted Pig - Mixed Pork Plate.
While we were in France our beverage of choice was wine. We did a full day tour of the wine producing region of Champagne, where they grow Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay grapes to blend into their sparkling wine. As part of the tour we did tastings at 3 champagne houses. (see below for details).
While cruising the Canal du Midi (see below for details), we explored the Languedoc wine producing region. This region is the world's third largest wine producing region, bottling more wine per year than the United States. An interesting wine produced in this area is the sparkling wine, Crémant de Limoux, made mostly with Chardonnay grapes. It is said that Dom Perignon originally started producing sparkling wine at a monastery in the south of France before heading north to Champagne. We did try some and it had a clean, fresh bubbly taste.
In France wine production is controlled by 363 AOCs, short for Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée. These 363 AOCs control everything from how the grapes are grown to what wine varieties are in the bottle. The largest AOC in Languedoc in the Minervois AOC. It is blended predominately from from Syrah, Mourvedre, and Grenache. This easy to drink, red wine is widely available throughout France at a reasonable price. This was our go-to wine when ordering a bottle in restaurants.
CaptK and I love a nice libation. Sangria was my drink of choice in Barcelona. This fruit filled refresher is not nearly as sweet some of the versions you find in the United States. It pairs beautifully with the warm climate and delicious nibbles or tapas served throughout Barcelona. Switzerland produces some lovey light white, mostly from German varietals. They are served in restaurants and cafes as the house wine. Once we arrived in the United Kingdom, cocktails were our drink of choice. We had two superiors cocktail experiences, one at the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel in London and one the Alchemist in Cardiff, Wales.
First Stop Paris
Since we have retired. we embrace slow travel and a "live like a local' mentality. We frequently stay in residential apartments. In Paris, we stayed in a very affordable apartment from VRBO, just on the edge of the Le Marais neighborhood on the Right Bank. We enjoyed exploring our “home away from home” neighborhood. We wandered through the local farmers market, visited the Place de La Bastille, walked along the Seine, stopped at several cafes and had an incredible dinners at "local's favorite" bistros. We did day trips to the surrounding area and visited small museums. I am endlessly fascinated with Paris and it did not disappoint.
Champagne Day Trip
Tasting local wines is my favorite way to explore the culinary and agricultural history of a place. Visiting the birthplace of Champagne and tasting the delights from her fields is my idea of a perfect day! We did a small group, full day tour, through Viator. We tasted at 3 Champagne Houses, visited a modern production facility, toured the wine storage caves that run underneath the village of Champagne and stood in the vineyards where Dom Perignon grew his famous grapes. It was a wonderfully, long day, broken up by an outstanding 3 course lunch with wine.
Museum Day in Paris
I am fascinated with the life and works of Pablo Picasso. I first saw his work in a touring exhibition, when I was a teenager. This exhibition featured some of his most famous works. On subsequent visits to Madrid, I saw how his work was shaped by other artists. I also experienced some of his early works at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. The Musee Picasso in Paris offers you a completely different perspective on his work. This museum shares insight into Picasso’s life and work through the lens of his relationship with his oldest daughter, her mother and his relationship with his family. It is an enlightening way to view his creativity and colorful interpersonal relationships. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday. Admission is 11 euro for adults. Allow about 2 hours for your visit.
Do you have a place you have wanted to visit for a long time? For me it is the Rodin Museum in Paris AND it exceeded my expectations. Not only do you get to see his most famous pieces up close but in multiple sizes. You can view his personal art collection including pieces by Van Gogh, Monet and Cezanne. The museum is housed in the Château where Rodin lived while he was in Paris. The gardens are dotted with casts of his most famous pieces. It was interesting to learn that some of his most famous sculptures ,including "The Thinker" were part of a much larger commission that was never installed. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. Last entry is at 5.45 p.m. The admission is 13 euro.
Day Trip to Normandy
Our visit Normandy and the D-day Beaches exceeded my expectations. All the memorials were tastefully and respectfully created and beautifully maintained. All nationalities of fallen soldiers were remembered. It is a poignant reminder that everyone suffers loss and heartbreak in War. We did a full day tour from Paris that included stops at the Omaha Beach Visitor Centre, Utah Beach Museum, the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Merand and lunch at a waterside restaurant.
Half Day Trip to Giverney
A great day trip from Paris is to Giverny, visiting Monet’s home and gardens. The home and gardens are maintained just like they were when Monet lived there! It is fascinating to wander through the spaces where he worked and the gardens that inspired a lot of his work. We took a half day organized tour because the train was a complicated and more expensive option. We had plenty of time to tour the house, absorb the beauty of the gardens and the surrounding village. It is easy to understand how it was such an inspiration to Monet.
South to the Canal du Midi
Cruising the Canal du Midi in the south of France is slow travel at its very best! As you bump along this historic waterway, you travel through forests, vineyards, orchids of fruit trees, quaint villages and locks. Navigating the locks is not difficult. It does require all hands on deck to handle the lines that keep the boat in place. We rented our canal boat through Le Boat. We enjoyed a night at the charming Bed & Breakfast, Le clos d'Andre in Castelnaudary before boarding the boat the next day.
Seven Days Cruising the Canal du Midi
Slow travel along the Canal du Midi gives you insight into the agricultural landscape of the south of France. It also takes you through dozens of delightful villages. We traveled the Canal from Castelnaudary to Homps. We explored these villages in depth: Castlenaudary, Bram, Carcassone, Trebes, Minerve and Homps. We rode bikes through vineyards and along the canal, visited castles and farmers markets, tasted delicacies from local bakeries and ate delicious meals.
One of my passions is learning about wine regions all over the world. On our week along the Canal du Midi, we did a wine tasting at O vineyards. We spent a delightful evening learning about wine production in the Languedoc Roussillon region. The flagship wine of this region is Minervois, an easy to drink red wine. We also tasted their lovely white Corbières. The vastness of this wine region is mind boggling.
Next Stop Barcelona
Barcelona is one of our favorite cities in Spain. The food, art and history draws us back time and again. This visit we stayed at the Grand Central Hotel on the edge of the Gothic Quarter. One of the tastiest places to visit in Barcelona is La Boqueria. Opened 1840, this open air market has everything that a home chef could possibly need and everything a hungry traveler could possibly want. Not only is there locally grown produce, freshly caught seafood, meats and spices, you will find are delicious bites of European specialties. For travelers, La Boqueria is the perfect place for lunch!
The most visited attraction in Barcelona is Sagrada Familia. This church is the largest unfinished Roman Catholic church in the world. It was designed by the architect Antoni Gaudí in his ornate style combining Gothic and Art Nouveaux styles. Gaudi passed in 1926, when the construction was only 25% completed. He is buried in the crypt within the church. The construction has been overseen by three other architects since Gaudi's death. Construction is expected to be completed in 2026. The lines to purchase tickets can be very long. I recommend getting tickets on the Sagrada Famila website and down loading their app for the audio tour. Sagrada Familia is open daily from 9am to 6pm with admission priced at 38 euro for adults.
Off to Switzerland, First Stop Zurich
We were completely wowed by Switzerland. Clean, orderly, stunning geography and an interesting history, we enjoyed every minute of our 12 days in Switzerland. We flew from Barcelona to Zurich and began our explorations in this beautiful lakefront city. We wandered around old town on foot. We learned about Swiss History including why the Swiss Guards were formed, how Switzerland’s unique type of democracy works and why neutrality is ingrained into the fabric of Swiss life at the Landesmuseum. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday 10am to 5pm, admission is 10 Swiss Franc
We took a train 3/4 of the way up the verdant Uetliberg Mountain. We hiked the last portion to the top for panoramic views of Zurich and Lake Zurich. There is a hotel and two restaurants at the top. There are multiple hiking trails at the top for those interested in more exploring. If you have time it is a lovely walk down the hill back to Zurich.
We strolled along Lake Zurich with magnificent vistas of the snow capped mountains reflected in the lake. We saw memorabilia from past World Cups at the FIFA Museum. This fun inactive museum is open Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 6pm, admission is 24 Swiss Francs per person. There is a sports bar at street level which is a great place to watch a European Football Match. We ate traditional Swiss food at several delicious restaurants, my favorite was the very traditional Weinstube zur Haue, where we ate Ghackets and Hornli. We stayed just up the hill from the train station at the Royal Hotel Zurich.
In Switzerland we used the train for travel between cities and did most of our explorations by foot. We left Zurich by train and headed to the Swiss Capital city of Bern for a quick overnight stay. The architecture in Bern is stunning. The Parliament Building stands proudly on the banks of the Aare River. The town is dotted beautiful examples of medieval architecture. We spent 24 hours poking around her frescoed buildings, had a marvelous dinner at Brasserie Obstberg in a residential neighborhood and coffee at the house where Albert Einstein lived while in Bern. We stayed on the cobble stoned, main shopping street at the Belle Epoque Hotel.
If you only have time for one city in Switzerland, make it Lucerne! This historic city sits on a crystal clear lake with the snow capped Alps as the backdrop. There is hiking on Mt Pilatus and Mt Titlis as well as in the valley. Museums, historical sights, shopping and delicious restaurants will keep you busy for days! It is centrally located making it a great jumping off place for day trips throughout central Switzerland.
On our first full day in Lucerne, we did the Golden Round Trip to Mt Pilatus. This 6983 foot peak is part of the Swiss Alps. You can purchase the tickets for this adventure at the ferry ticket offices in front of the Lucerne Train Station. The first part of your experience is the boat ride on Lake Lucerne to the village of Alphnachstad, where you board a cog train that takes you to the top of Mt Pilatus. There are trails, scenic overlooks, restaurants, gift shops and a hotel at the top. From the top you can take a gondola down the opposite side of the mountain to the alpine village of Frakmuntegg or you can hike down. Frakmuntegg has a self service restaurant, alpine slide, ropes course and gift shop. From Frakuntegg you can take another gondola down to the Lucerne suburb of Kriens or you can hike down. From Kriens, you jump on the number 1 bus back to the train station in Lucerne. This is an all day adventure. We finished the day with Swiss Fondue at Wirtshaus Taube.
On our second day in Lucerne we hiked to and around the alpine Lake Rotsee. We continued walking on to the Transportation Museum and their Chocolate Experience. This exhibit takes you on a ride through the process of sourcing and producing the delicious Swiss Chocolate. It is open daily from 10am to 5 pm and admission in 20 Swiss francs, for adults. We took the ferry across Lake Lucerne back to downtown. While in Lucerne, we stayed in old town Lucerne at KoBi Boutique Studios on the Hirchenplatz.
Gateway to the Alps Interlaken
Whether the sun is shining or the rain is falling, Switzerland continued to WOW us! Interlaken is adventure sports capital of Switzerland. While the weather prevented us from hiking much or hang gliding, the vistas of the alps, charming villages and delicious restaurants captivated us. Switzerland has moved to the top of our most beautiful places in the world list!
Our original plan was to visit Jungfraujoch Mountain while in Interlaken. The weather forced us to change our plans. Rain and low clouds came in on our second day. We used the sunny first afternoon to ride the funicular to the top of Harder Kulm Mountain to get views of Jungfraujoch and the valley before the clouds arrived. At the top you will find a full service restaurant as well as a self service outdoor seating area. There are also multiple trails for hiking and the panoramic views from Two Lakes Viewing Platform. You cross the Aara River just west of the train station in Interlaken to find the funicular station for Harder Kulm. The tickets are 34 Swiss Francs per person and the funicular operates from 9:10 am to 9:10 pm during the warm weather months.
That afternoon, we also took the train to Staubbach, an alpine village nestled in the valley between two mountain peaks. Staubbach is know for its numerous waterfalls, many of which are walking distance from the train station. The next day despite the rain, we visited Schynige Platte and Grindelwald, by train. Our weather related change of plans came at the recommendation of the manager at our quaint hotel, Post Hardermannli.
The Alpine Village of Zermatt
Zermatt was love at first sight, for me. Clean, picturesque, full of outdoor activities and incredible vistas, what more could one want in an alpine village! Our first day was cloudy and rainy so we explored the town. The second day we were up early and ready for the outdoors. We made the multiple gondola trip to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise at the base of the Matterhorn. There are tunnels that allow you to experience a glacier from the inside out. There are also viewing platforms, a snack bar and gift shop at the top. The views of the Matterhorn will take your breath away, they are so beautiful. Skiing is available at the top year round.
We returned to the village to take a cog wheel train to the top Gornergrat Peak. We hiked above the tree line around alpine lakes, enjoying incredible views. Then we took the cog wheel train to a lower station and hiked through the pine forests back to the village. There were many more hikes in Zermatt, we would have loved to do…next time! We stayed at the Hotel Bristol and had a surprising delicious meal at Rub Thai.
Last Stop in Switzerland, Geneva
Our last stop in Switzerland was Geneva. The train trip from Zermatt to Geneva takes you through the scenic agricultural heartland of Switzerland and along the 45 mile long Lake Geneva. The clouds were low and the sky was grey. I feel like we did not see Geneva at its best. Our visit was short, we were only able to scratch the surface on the rich history and intriguing museums of this beautiful city. We stayed at the hip Ruby Claire Hotel and ate our last delicious French/Swiss meal at Le Bistrot de Charlotte, before we had to say goodby to Switzerland.
A Few Days in Wales
Wales is a new country for CaptK and me. We were delighted with the beauty of the coast as we hiked around Porthcawl. Cardiff Castle gave us intriguing insights into the history of Wales. Old Town Cardiff is lively, full of pubs, breweries and delicious restaurants. We will return to enjoy Cardiff and explore the northern parts of this beautiful country! We stayed in old town Cardiff at the Hotel Indigo, had an outstanding meal and The Potted Pig and discovered an innovative cocktail bar, Alchemist.
The Final Days of Our Odyssey, London
Do you love big cities? I am a huge fan! I especially love repeat visits because it allows you to peel back the layers and see different versions of the city. This is especially true of London. With so much history, a multi cultural population, shopping, sports, theatre and a wide range of restaurants, every time I visit find new things to love. We spent a few nights enjoying the luxury of our favorite splurge hotel, The Savoy. We enjoyed cocktails at the American Bar and a splurge meal at the Savoy Grill. Then we moved to the more budget friendly Strand Hotel, directly across the street from The Savoy.
The British Museum in London is one of my all time favorites museums. This visit to London we spent a morning exploring antiquities preserved in this huge museum. We also wandered through the Victoria & Albert Museum. This museum gives you perspective into the British life historically, showcasing furnishings, clothing, and collectables. Both museums are free and offer great insight into the history of the United Kingdom and how people lived and what was important to them them through the centuries! We ended our museum day with an English Premiere League "football" game. We watched West Ham play Wolverhampton at Olympic Stadium in East London.
On our third day, we cruised past some of London’s most photographic landmarks on a sightseeing cruise from Westminster to Greenwich on the Thames River. We boarded the boat at Westminster Pier with Big Ben towering in the background. With live commentary you pass sights like the Shakespeare’s Globe, Tower Bridge, and the Tower of London, we enjoyed a different viewpoint of London's highlights. When we reached Greenwich, we left the boat to visit the Cutty Sark, the National Maritime Museum, the Naval Observatory and the prime meridian. This cruise is a relaxing way to see London while avoiding the city traffic.
That evening we enjoyed dinner at Masala Zone, in Covent Gardens. The food was absolutely fabulous. If you are a fan of Indian food this restaurant is a must visit. Then we saw a performance of Mouse Trap at St Martin's Theatre in the West End. This Agatha Christie Classic premiered in London in 1952. It is just as fun today as it was 70 years when it was first seen by audiences.
We started our European Odyssey with a visit to the D-Day Museum and Beaches of Normandy. We ended our trip with a Churchill Walking Tour of London and a visit to the War Rooms where the Normandy Invasion was planned and orchestrated. It felt like symmetry to start and end our trip with a part of history that had a huge impact on the areas we were visiting. Our tour was rich in details about Winston Churchill, his life, especially his life in London. We went to the places where he bought his cigars, raised his children, had his shirts made and bought his Champagne, which he drank daily. The tour ended with a visit to the Cabinet War Rooms Museum. For history buffs visiting the Churchill War Rooms is a must do!
As you can see, we made the most of our 5 weeks in Europe. We fell in love with two new countries, marked some things off our "life lists", ate some amazing meals and learned so much. Detailed posts on these destinations will be coming out in the next few weeks. For notifications on these posts and access to my dining guides and packing lists sign up for my resource page with the link below. CLICK HERE FOR EXCLUSIVE ACCESS TO MY RESOURCE PAGE Looking for Travel Gear or Travel Friendly Apparel Check out my Amazon Store and my LiketoKnowit