Two years ago my travels took me to Vienna, while on a short winter European vacation with my daughter. Upon arrival in Austria’s capital city, while drinking coffee and eating cake in a sweet little café, we found ourselves seated next to a very friendly older gentleman who spoke only German and seemed tickled by our American English conversation. As he tried in vain to introduce himself to us with lots of hand gestures and smiles, I racked my brain to speak some simple German phrases that had long lain dormant in my brain – though I’d studied abroad in Mainz, Germany, and reached an advanced level of speaking German… when I was 20.
And though I hadn’t spoken a lick of German in more than two decades, it quickly came back. I found myself making introductions, asking him where he was from (though I later realized I screwed up that simple question) and chatting with him about things to see and do in the city. As the German words came flooding back, so did my fond memories of spending time as a college student in Germany, and traveling through the neighboring countries of Austria and Switzerland – taking the train through darling little storybook villages; wandering in the Black Forest with my host family; touring ancient castles; and simply getting to know the charming residents of these Alpine countries.
I left that Austrian café thinking, “I have got to spend more time in the Alps — and introduce my kids to this incredibly beautiful region of the world!”
With a high-school graduation gift for my teenage daughter still up for discussion – we’re a family that likes to gift experiences instead of things – I’m contemplating a lengthy summer road trip to the Alps, since this scenic area of Europe is filled with plenty of activities for our entire family to enjoy: mountain hikes, Bavarian food (sausages and pretzels washed down with beer = my slice of heaven), and quintessential landmark sights, from the famed Matterhorn mountain to Munich’s Glockenspiel clock tower. It’s hard not to get excited about a road trip in the Alps after watching this “Where Clouds Dance” Absolutely Alps video!
I love the idea of flying into Zurich and out of Munich (or vice versa) as outlined in these driving itineraries the Alpine Tourist Commission put together. The suggested routes include many of the key attractions and activities visitors to the Alps should experience. Autobahns and village roads are supremely easy to navigate in the Alps (yay for driving on the right side of the road!), and key locales aren’t far from one another so it’s easy to cover a lot of distance in, say, a two-week vacation — be sure to check out each of the fabulous itinerary maps with driving time between cities and towns.
While my husband also spent some time in this Alpine region in college, my kids have never been to this area of Europe. So, for my ideal Williams Family vacation, I’d want to hit up some of the locales I frequented – and loved – as a college student, while exploring some new-to-us places together. If I had my druthers on a two-week road trip, here’s the bare minimum of what I’d be sure to include:
Top Six Must-See Stops on Our Family Road Trip in the Alps
Munich: I have fabulous memories (and some blackmail-worthy photos) of sampling big beers with some upbeat Germans at Munich’s most famous biergarten, Hofbrauhaus back in 1989. Though I doubt I’d tie one on at the Hofbrauhaus like I did when I was 20, I think it would be fun to share the festive scene with my teens, in addition to sharing some of the other, tamer photo ops: its famous clock tower, BMW World (for my car-loving son) and English Garden.
Nuremberg: My husband was actually born in Nuremberg, Germany, while his father was stationed in the U.S. Army there, so this is an absolutely must-stop city on our family’s itinerary. It would be such fun to track down his very first home address there! Apparently, Nuremberg is also known for its tasty gingerbread. Since I’ve been making the same from-scratch Christmas gingerbread house with my kids that my mom made with me (a 44-year tradition!) we’d absolutely make a stop at Nuremberg’s gingerbread factory.
Zermatt: This perfect little car-free ski town sits at the base of the famous Matterhorn mountain. My memories of Zermatt include flower-filled windows on charming little guesthouses and shops; lots of bicycles; and the most delicious raclette and fondue I’d ever eaten. Oh, how I’d love to introduce my kids to the wonders of Swiss specialties (and for more gastronomical goodness, I wouldn’t mind hitting up as many of these 9 must-try dishes as possible).
Interlaken: This Swiss city between two lakes (thus, its name) is surrounded by three massive mountains: Jungfrau, Eiger and Monch. It’s the first place I overnighted when I landed in Europe to backpack for a few weeks before my study-abroad stint began. While I don’t need to rest my head in the rowdy hostel I stayed at back then (instead the Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa looks lovely!), I’d love to share this scenic spot with my family and use it as a home base for exploring the area mountains by mountain railway, cable car and hiking trail.
Salzburg: Schmaltzy maybe, but I would make my teens watch the Sound of Music on the flight over to Europe, and then embark on a “Sound of Music Tour” in Austria to see key film locations in the movie.
Hohe Tauern National Park: My family and I make entire vacations out of visits to national parks in the United States, so it’s only natural we’d explore one of Austria’s largest on our road trip through the Alps. The scenery here along its 30-mile Grossglockner High Alpine Road reaching 12,640 feet sounds absolutely divine: sprawling meadows, sheer cliffs, huge glaciers.
My must-see stops truly hit only a fraction of things to see and do on a family road trip in the Alps. For still more Alpine inspiration, check out these 9 fun facts and 9 hidden gems. Do let me know if you plan your own family road trip to the Alps!