One of the reasons I never tire of visiting Europe is because it is so big and there are so many new places to see. I tend to return to a couple of favourite haunts on each trip but I always make sure to include new regions in my itinerary and it's always exciting heading to a new destination.
During my eight week European holiday of 2014 I was lucky enough to visit four new countries (Spain, Slovenia, Slovakia and Czech Republic) and two regions of France that I hadn’t visited before - Provence and Normandy. We enjoyed everywhere we visited and would happily return to each of the places again, so it was particularly hard to narrow down my European highlights of the year.
I could go through my entire 2014 itinerary and tell you what I loved about each and every destination (but your eyes would probably start to glaze over!) so instead, I’ve managed to whittle my 2014 highlights down to the following sights and places.
Millau Viaduct and Pont du Gard, France
These two French bridges are both marvels of technology but from totally different eras. The Millau Viaduct, is a 2,460 metre long structure that, to me, resembles a sail blowing in the wind, above the Tarn Valley. Its the highest road deck bridge in Europe at 270 metres above the valley below at its highest point and was finished in December 2004.
I expected to be a little scared driving across the bridge as I am not keen on heights but the bridge is built in such a way that it actually felt quite enclosed. There were no glimpses over the side of vertical drops, thank goodness. Its an amazing modern-day structure that’s expected to last at least 120 years.
The Pont du Gard, meanwhile, was built by the Romans two thousand years ago! To think it still stands today is a miracle in itself and to see this amazing aqueduct first hand just takes your breath away. I’d seen hundreds of photos of the bridge over the years but it wasn’t until I stood in front of it and walked across it, that I truly appreciated the ingenuity of the Romans. I had expected to enjoy my visit to the Pont du Gard (that’s why I was going, after all) but I didn’t expect it to be the highlight it turned out to be.
Lake Como, Italy
Varenna, our little hideaway on Lake Como, was full of surprises. Despite desperately wanting to visit, I admit I had been a little put off in the past by my perceived perception that it would be overrun with tourists and a nightmare on the roads. Yes, the traffic on the road from Milan was pretty busy and yes, there were lots of tourists around (heck, we were there!), but having settled in to our little apartment overlooking Lake Como, none of that mattered.
The views were heavenly, the car was parked for the next five days, and we could do as little or as much as we liked. About a third of the way through our trip, this was exactly what we needed. We both totally relaxed - the hardest decision we had to make each day was whether or not to catch a ferry to another lakeside town. Varenna, one of our 2014 European highlights, has already been booked in on our 2015 itinerary.
Storybook-like villages seem to feature heavily in my travels. There’s something about those brightly coloured buildings, adorned with flowers in summer, that calls to me. I can’t get enough of them and I’ve been fortunate to visit many towns and villages with these fairytale houses before. Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Germany, therefore, had to be amazingly pretty to meet my high standards. Of course, it didn’t disappoint.
I’ve previously written about my visit to Rothenburg and I can honestly say, visiting the town was like stepping into the pages of a children’s storybook. Each time I turned the corner of another narrow, cobblestoned street, I expected the Brothers Grimm to appear in front of me. The well-preserved buildings, the old town walls (you can still walk almost the whole way around the town along the medieval walls), the beautifully presented shops and a bustling market square, all added to the ambience and uniqueness of the town.
A crystal clear lake with its own island, complete with church, a medieval castle atop a rocky cliff face beside the lake, acres and acres of forest nearby - what’s not to love about Bled in Slovenia? This small town had been on my radar for many years and I now know why it's such a popular spot to visit.
The scenery around Bled is just stunning. It’s very similar to Austria with, perhaps, a less-polished finish - but that’s a good thing. The locals we met were passionate about their beautiful country and happy to share it with us. We wished we could have stayed longer.
We based ourselves in Honfleur for our four night visit to Normandy and whilst we loved the town with its maritime feel, it was the region on a whole that won us over. We enjoyed day trips to Bayeux and Mont St. Michel and spent time in Deauville and along the Cote Fleurie (flower coast).
A chance stop at Cabourg had us besotted and if we are brave enough to chance the Normandy summer weather in future, we would happily return to explore this seaside resort some more. Lush green fields, sandy beaches and half-timbered houses are a feature of the region.
After writing this list of my 2014 highlights, I asked my husband what his highlights of this year’s trip were. Interestingly, he listed exactly the same places as me - I guess I plan pretty good itineraries after all! Phew!
My full itinerary on this trip was:
Barcelona - 3 nights
Olonzac (Languedoc region, France) - 7 nights
Avignon - 2 nights
Annecy - 2 nights
Lake Como - 4 nights
Chur (Switzerland) - 1 night
Fussen - 3 nights
Zell am See - 5 nights
Bled - 3 nights
Vienna - 3 nights
Niederranna, Austria) - 3 nights
Rothenburg ob der Tauber - 1 night
Riquewihr - 4 nights
Paris - 6 nights
Honfleur - 4 nights
Paris - 1 night
If you'd like to see what made my list of highlights in 2013, you can check it out here.
Tell me what your European highlight has been - either this year or in past years. I'd love to hear all about it in the comments below.