Europe roadtrip: Italy, Switzerland, France - pt 3
Driving into the motorway service station where we were going to be spending the night, our little Van Marci-Vanderson was dwarfed by the articulated lorries that were crossing Europe that night and had pulled up alongside us.
By this time it was already pretty late and the main service station had closed, leaving just the toilets and showers open overnight for the lorry drivers. Walking back from the (immaculate) loos in the dark, the drivers’ compartment of the lorries were all lit up, curtains drawn, with television and laptop screens lighting up the cabs with flashes of blue. It looked like such a strange, lonely lifestyle.
I spotted an old man who hadn’t drawn his curtains, naked, shifting across the front seats.
The next day, we set out for Switzerland, via the Simplon Pass, a high mountain road on the Italo-Swiss border. Last time we had crossed over this border it was on foot, four years earlier, during the Tour du Mont Blanc.
The plan was to get as close as possible to Zermatt (which is car-free) so we could do a day-hike the following day. We picked a campsite on the way into Tasch, from where you get the train to Zermatt, pitched up and spent the afternoon inhaling the sweet Swiss air, listening to the birdies tweet and reading our books.
The next day we got up super early and took the train to Zermatt. We stopped for an expensively Swiss breakfast of bread, cheese and a boiled egg at Cafe Fuchs (can you guess why we stopped there?) before ambling to the cable car station. We had been recommended a 5 lakes walk so enquired how to get there. As it was early in the season, not all the cable cars were running and the woman behind the desk told us the cable car we needed wasn’t yet in operation, but that we could attempt to walk up from a lower station. Imagining blizzard conditions as soon as she said “too early to do that route” I was a little hesitant, but we thought we’d walk up as far as we could.
I don’t know if it had been a warm winter or if the Swiss are particularly cautious, but there wasn’t a scrap of snow on the trail and we were able to easily nip round the five lakes.
I’m not sure I’d recommend the walk. You get some beautiful views of the Matterhorn (which I was very excited about seeing in the flesh… or stone, I suppose) but you are almost always walking alongside roads and ski areas so you don’t feel particularly isolated. It was perfect for what we wanted, a quick morning hike before heading off, but if I had more time there I’d want to seek out a bit ‘wilder’ route, I think.
Since we had left so early we had finished the walk by lunchtime and had the whole afternoon ahead of us. What to do? Next country of course!
The drive contained what was possibly one of my husband’s favourite parts of the trip: Van’s first mountain train. We drove onto the rickety open train (more like a moving platform, really) and were whizzed through a Swiss tunnel.
We arrived in Eguisheim, Alsace, and found a campsite. The owner had a lovely sing-song French accent and my husband was excited to be able to chat to someone after a few weeks of my barbaric Italian and our non-existent German. The campsite, Les Trois Chateaux, was great.
Neither of us had ever been to the Alsace region, which is why we stopped off there. I hadn’t anticipated it would look like Disney’s Beauty and the Beast come to life, but that’s what it looks like. Every corner is twee and medieval, but in a good way. We had a lovely dinner at Caveau Heuhaus.
The next day we popped into Colmar, which was beautiful, but packed with tourists. I was jostled and shoved trying to take the picture below of “La Petite Venise.”
Only one stop left on our epic European roadtrip and it was epically underwhelming. Unless you’re a champagne obsessive, don’t bother going to Epernay. There is nothing to see. The ‘Avenue de Champagne’ is just a boring street. Go visit the vineyards instead. Here is me drinking some (admittedly, very nice) champagne.
We stayed the night in a municipal campsite in Epernay (a Sunday, no shops or restaurants open, meaning nowhere - in the homeland of champagne - to get a glass of wine. Shamefully, we drove for a good half hour until we found an expensive cheap bottle of wine from a petrol station) and the following morning headed to Calais to get the Channel Tunnel to England.
Arrivederci, Auf Wiedersehen, Au Revoir!