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First time traveler, and it's a doozy!

I have never really traveled outside the US, and all of a sudden I'm going to Europe for 4 weeks at the end of August.. Landing in Amsterdam, staying 3 nights, and meeting my brother/travel companion, we hope to take the train to Bayeux, Normandy for 3 days, then to Munich for 3-4 nights, then to the German Alps (Garmisch?) for 2 nights, Innsbruck for 2 nights and finally the Dolomites (Ortisei?) for 4 nights. I'm a big fan of Rick Steves shows and travel guides, and this website, and hope to stay in smaller hotels, eat (and drink) where locals eat. I have tried the travel agent route, but I'm getting fancy hotels and group tours. We are retired and in good hiking shape, which is what we most want to do. We had originally hoped to not make hotel reservations (like all of our friends who did these trips out of college in the 70's), but I'm thinking we will be tired and ready to dump our backpacks in a room as soon as we arrive in a city. I have a good budget for this trip and I'm willing to spend whatever it takes to do this right. I would like hotels with 2 beds, in-room bathroom, air conditioning and in a walkable part of each city/town we stay in. While I'd like to stay at hotels in the $250-$300 range, if I find I need to spend more it's okay. Can anyone recommend places to stay in Munich, Garmisch, Innsbruck and Ortisei that are the small, family run hotels that are in Rick's guides? Should we do the Global Rail Pass? I want to sleep in hotels that Rick Steves would stay in! I am open to advice!

Posted by
2322 posts

You might want to use Booking.com or similar to look for accommodations - you can apply filters for price and desired amenities. Once you find something appealing, it’s generally better to book directly, if that’s an option.

Posted by
288 posts

Just spent 5 nights in Ortesei..ck out Hotel Grones..friends also stayed there and loved it. Cannot speak to many cities but like Torbrau hotel in Munich.

Posted by
8198 posts

No reason to wing it on hotels if you have a planned itinerary. And the internet makes it so easy to book in advance. You've seen Ricks recommendations for hotel in those places, so are you not comfortable with them? Just read the descriptions carefully online so you know what shortcomings (like no elevator) they might have.

As you found, many travel agents are accustomed to dealing with Americans, who want American-style business class hotels, and who are not that familiar with rail travel abroad

Just have to note that when you plan 2 nights somewhere, you really only have 1 - 1.5 days there due to the travel time and logistics of getting around.

Posted by
1112 posts

This year Europe is swamped with so many travelers that even reservations for accommodations two months in advance are hard to get - much less one month in advance. My favorite family-owned small hotel in Amsterdam is the Keizershof Hotel on the Keizer canal. It’s a mansion with a large backyard owned by a wonderful Dutch family. To get a reservation here, you have to reserve months ahead and it’s entirely booked for Late August. The runner-up is the Hotel Brouwer which is in a brick building that went up in 1652. It looks like it’s now under the name “Hotel Craftsmen” and it also looks like it’s booked solid for the last week of August, but you might check for a cancellation. It was in Rick’s guidebook to the Netherlands.

For Bayeaux, and your other destinations in Germany, Austria and Ortisei ( aka St Ulrich or Urtijei) you could try www.Trivago.com which consolidates accommodations data from about 200 websites. Look for ratings above 8.0 for better quality places. If Ortisei has thin availability, nearby Castelrotto ( aka Kastelruth) might have something available.

For the real local Ma and Pa guesthouses in Germany and Austria that you likely won’t find on the internet because they don’t want to pay a 10% to 20% commission to the likes of Booking.com— look for signs on residences that say “Gasthaus” or “Zimmer Frei.” Translation is “Guesthouse” and “Room Available” in someone’s house. In Italy the signs say “Pensione.”

It doesn’t get better than that to get a close look at how the locals live and you can get a lot of great tips about the area you’re visiting from resident-experts.

Have a wonderful first trip to Europe!

Posted by
3560 posts

First on hotels. At the price range you mentioned, you should have no problem finding nice accommodations. The suggestion to look on booking.com is a good one. We often use them, especially If we are visiting multiple destinations. That way all of our reservations are in one place. They have all kinds of listings, from modest inns to 5* luxury hotels. Their listings have reviews which can only be posted by people who have actually stayed at the place. They also clearly list all amenities.
I think RS’s recommendations are a mixed bag, some good, but others pretty dismal. That goes for restaurants as well as hotels. One problem about guidebooks is that their information is dated by the time they come out. I also think that in trying to get Americans away from chain hotels, he glamorizes the alternatives. (Just so you know we almost never stay at chain hotels.)
We always get reservations. The couple of times that we didn’t did not work out well. We also have friends who once had to sleep under a tree during a rain shower because they wanted spontaneity. (Long time ago when they were young and foolish). So, I think your plan to reserve is very sensible.

Posted by
2989 posts

Before I board the plane, I would want ALL reservations in hand in this year of Big Tourism.

I think your itinerary sounds pretty much OK. 2 night minimums is our approach. Normandy-Munich? Is that a air transit? It would be a long day on a train.

We are older (70 and 73). Still, we choose to stay in hostels now and again. In Munich, we stayed in 4 You Hostel. Hostels are really lower-level hotels with a lot of younger travelers. We stay in private rooms in the hostel. They may still have rooms available.

Posted by
501 posts

Get reservations. Traveling without is a thing of the decades past unless you want at least one unpleasant experience per trip. I know others feel differently, but in my experience there are much better choices and often prices by booking early. Even cancelable rates can be cheaper booked in advance.

I see Booking.com mentioned on this forum frequently. I don’t book thru them although I do “shop” there. Find a hotel you like and book thru their website. If anything goes wrong with a Booking.com booking, it has to be resolved thru them as they are the agent. I overheard a man trying to resolve a billing issue in Bergen, Norway just last week. Referred back to Booking.com Hotel truly couldn’t help as they hadn’t made the booking. Again, my opinion but I’m a frequent Asia and Europe traveler.

I have had pleasant encounters and conversations with local staff in “luxury” hotels. RS has a bias about not spending for higher rate hotels. My personal experience is that he ignores options that some travelers enjoy. His perspective generally reminds me of the travel I did out of college in the ‘70s, as the OP notes. The world has changed - many Europeans traveling better these days as well as US visitors.

Posted by
2036 posts

About your hotel wish lists:

If you want rooms with 2 beds, I hope you mean two twin size beds. You won’t find rooms in Europe with two queen size beds. Even two full size beds is a challenge.

You will be hard pressed to find rooms with air conditioning in the mountains. It’s just not that common.

Mittenwald is a lovely town in the Garmisch area. We’ve driven through it a couple times, but not stopped overnight. Check it out.

We recently stayed at Aparthotel La Tambra in Santa Cristina Val Gardena, about 10 minutes from Ortesei and absolutely loved it. Killer views, amazing food, no ac.

Booking.com is a great resource for narrowing down your options based on search features (like air conditioning and breakfast). Once you identify some places you like, you can book direct with the hotel, usually at a discount. An owner recently told me that booking.com takes 15%, which is why they can offer discounts to people who book direct.

Posted by
9122 posts

Please do start looking for hotels now.. I am afraid with so many people traveling this summer, you are already going to find many places booked up.

I hope you have a great trip ! You have a lot of wonderful places on your itinerary.

Posted by
1563 posts

Just want to add my recommendation for booking.com. Be certain to book any accommodation with free cancellation

you can also use booking for research and then book directly with the lodging if you so desire.

And as others have suggested, book now like book your hotels today if you still have not.

Posted by
5295 posts

Your budget is not backpacker. Do it right and make reservations now since your dates are fixed. Using booking.com is a great idea, as already suggested. Also as noted, it is rare in Europe to find a room with two separate beds. The bed arrangement is usually two twins pushed up next to each other. It is very American to have two queen beds in a room.

Backpacks? No, just take rolling suitcases. Global Rail Pass - yes, only if you want to waste a lot of money and deal with the hassle of reservations. With an expensive rail pass, the luxury is that you can remain flexible. With your itinerary already fixed, you can just buy your train/plane tickets now at a greatly reduced cost (not from Rail Europe, only from the actual operators of the train, mind you).

Posted by
3860 posts

You have a lot of extra days in your 4 week schedule with only 15 nights mentioned in your post. If you are firm about those 18 nights it would be good to book accommodation now. Be aware of Munich’s September Octoberfest dates as that will almost triple the cost of hotels in Munich. We’ve flipped schedules around several times before we settled on locations and nights then booked. Since 2020 we haven’t booked any hotels though that weren’t cancelable and we’ve paid slightly more to do so. We look up hotels on booking.com or Google maps and book directly with the hotel. You’ve got a good itinerary so far.

EDIT: in reading your profile I see that you have the extra nights expertly taken care of for the end of your trip!

Posted by
671 posts

Our good friends raved about this hotel in Ortisei, and said it was their favorite in a month long trip. Casa al Sole https://www.casa-alsole.it While in Garmisch, consider a walk across the Highline 179 and a visit to the Ehrenberg Castle ruins.

Posted by
10329 posts

One of our favorite hotels is Hotel Grones in Ortisei. Family owned and run, walkable to town and lifts up to mountain hiking. We ate wonderful dinners there too as they were included in our package. I can’t recommend Hotel Grones and Ortisei highly enough!

Posted by
3 posts

WOW! First, thank you for all the great suggestions! I’m on it! You’ve all been so kind, may I ask two more questions? Can you recommend a particular part of town in Munich to book our hotel? Also, the train travel has me a bit baffled. I’ve read to be prepared for late and missed trains, which could cause us to miss a hotel reservation. It was suggested to purchase train tickets before leaving home directly from the train company. If you have time, and knowledge, could you give some tips on buying the train tickets? Okay, a third question (as Bayeux>Munich is a long travel day by train): should we spend a night in Paris before moving along to Munich? Thank you all again! Like Bill Walton, I’m the luckiest guy in the world (you have to see that ESPN 30 for 30!)! Sincerely, The Grateful Hiker, Skip

Posted by
314 posts

Sounds like a great trip and a wonderful time with a sibling!

The first thing I do is to Google Map the city and use the search "nearby" for hotels. Zoom in, click on the locations, open a new tab in your browser (incognito is preferable) and start hunting for hotels. I will look at 10 max, otherwise it's too overwhelming. Like you, we want to stay in a smaller hotel, centrally located. I look at pictures of the bathroom (I prefer a shower, not a tub with wand) and a breakfast.

This seems like a lot of work but it helps orient me to the city, gives me ideas about what's nearby (restaurants, trains, museums, etc) and gets me excited about the trip. We have used the RS guidebooks, but it's all a crapshoot anyway. If it doesn't work out then it makes for a good story later! :)

Happy travels!

Posted by
5125 posts

Also, the train travel has me a bit baffled. I’ve read to be prepared for late and missed trains, which could cause us to miss a hotel reservation. It was suggested to purchase train tickets before leaving home directly from the train company. If you have time, and knowledge, could you give some tips on buying the train tickets?

Generally, trains in Europe run on time; at least 75-80% of the time. Since you will be traveling longer distances, I would strongly suggest buying your tickets in advance. Take a look at this website - The Man in Seat 61 - and you will find wonderful tutorials on traveling by train all over Europe.

If you train from Normandy to Munich, you can either buy your tickets on SNCF - https://www.sncf-connect.com/en-en the French rail network, or Deutsche Bahn - https://bahn.de/en - which is the German. I prefer the German network but that's because I'm more familiar with their system. Either way, you can certainly price them both to see which has the better prices, then book your ticket. You might want to post questions in the France forum about SNCF if you have questions about that, and on the Germany forum for questions about DB.

Keep in mind that the train ride from Bayeux to Munich is around 9 hours. You might want to consider a sleeper train so that you have more time for traveling. Once you are in Munich, you can use DB (Deutsche Bahn) for the rest of your train travel, or use the Austrain rail network; https://www.oebb.at/en. But do check out the Man in Seat 61 linked above - you will find it very helpful.

Lastly, unless you really don't mind paying more, you do not need to buy 1st class train tickets. 2nd class tickets give you perfectly good seats. Having said that, you do get a bit more with 1st class - meal service, larger seats with more privacy and an attendant in the car. So depending on how you travel from Bayeux to Munich, with a longer train ride, you might want to spring for something a bit nicer.

Posted by
9122 posts

Excellent advice to spend some time on the Man in Seat 61 site for general advice on trains (and for the specific cities / countries you will be looking for).

Another source is to look through the pages of tips that our own host here, Rick Steves, provides about train travel on his own website (but most of us here recommend against buying a Eurail pass!).

https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips

Posted by
2322 posts

Wanted to note that if you are using booking.com, and it says that there are no rooms left for your dates, that only means that there are no rooms that have been put aside for booking.com. It’s still possible that there really are rooms left, that you can book directly with the hotel. Also, the method mentioned above, of searching for nearby hotels on an online map, has worked really well for me.

Posted by
2207 posts

hey hey Grateful Hiker Skip
what a fun vacation to explore with your brother.
i agree with looking at booking.com or trivago.com for rooms. look at the mapping of where hotel is and how close you are to town "central" to walk out and enjoy the sights/food/bars. one thing to remember is that check-in times are 2-4pm and check-out times are 10-11am. most hotels let you store luggage until check your room is ready. check filters you want and look at pictures and read reviews
had ugly experience in london about 6 years ago, landed 8am and had to wait till 2pm for our airbnb on a sunday. not much opened and sat at outside restaurant table with luggage and jet lagged/grumpy. was not pretty, plus 2 bed/1 bath turned into 1 bed, "2nd bed" was bedroom, living room, dining room, sofa couch all in one LOL.
another issue is pick the train carriage "correctly". coming back from annecy to paris we happened to be in a family carriage, didn't pay attention till seated when most families boarded as close to departure. so many young toddlers running up and down aisles, crying babies, others not happy sitting still, temper tantrums/throwing food. no peace and quiet, my own opinion that now i really look at the picture of train carriages, seats when booking. i like sitting facing front of train, back side can make me dizzy, do you want window/aisle or window/window, 2 seats, one with a table. lots to think about but you'll be happier with comfy seat & view.
we have also brought food & bottle wine, don't forget that corkscrew, or beer and ask dining/bar car for glass with ice. you do you
have a fabulous trip and enjoy all you will see
aloha

Posted by
501 posts

A couple train tips - the distance trains like France to Germany are cheaper the earlier you book. I also like the bahn.com, German site, which you can access in English. I saved a significant amount for Germany to Copenhagen by booking soon after ticket release date. Same is true within France if you book a French point to French point longer distance train. Germany has a number of regional day passes in different areas/states that can be savers and convenient for regional trains.

Warning - check your planned departures several days before traveling on a DB ticket. I was very, very lucky last week that I checked and saw that the departure station had been changed. Somehow, I had missed receiving an email update or a notice in the DB app that I had been monitoring. I was set to start at the wrong station.

Posted by
9199 posts

Another enthusiastic vote for Booking.com. The best and easiest way to find hotels.

The 9.5 hr train trip from Bayeux to Munich stops in Karlsruhe, where you change trains and then another 3 hrs to Munich. You could stay a night in Karlsruhe, a nice town. Your Bayeux train goes to Paris where you’ll have to change train stations, you could stay a few nights and enjoy Paris if you’re up for it.

Hotel d’Argouges in Bayeux is wonderful, exactly as you describe you’d like, and a RS favorite. Family owned, gardens, fabulous breakfast, large rooms and large (for Europe) en-suite bathrooms. But i very much doubt they have rooms available at this late date, but it’s worth asking.

You are going to have so much fun!!
Bon Voyage!

Posted by
100 posts

Last summer in Munich, my son and I stayed at Kings Hotel on Marsstrasse. Our room had two twin beds and it was perfect for us. Breakfast was excellent and the hotel is a short walk around the corner from the Haupt Bahnhof. A lovely hotel in a great location.

Posted by
14 posts

Certainly, here are some recommendations for small and charming places to stay in Munich:

  • Gästehaus Englischer Garten: This cozy guest house is located near the beautiful Englischer Garten and offers comfortable rooms with a friendly atmosphere.
  • Hotel Admiral: Situated in the vibrant Schwabing neighbourhood, this boutique hotel provides a charming and intimate setting with individually designed rooms.

Garmisch:

  • Hotel Zugspitze: This family-run hotel offers a warm and welcoming atmosphere in the heart of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. It features comfortable rooms and is within walking distance of the town's attractions.
  • Hotel Garni Trifthof: Located in a quiet area near the town center, this small hotel provides cozy accommodations and is known for its friendly service.

And yes Global Rail pass will be definately come in hand.

Posted by
1284 posts

Booking.com

I use Booking.com for all my reservations, whether I reserve 6 months ahead or two day ahead, but there is a problem:

You can search for "Private Bathroom", but in their parlance a private Bathroom is NOT necessarily "In room/ensuite". Twice in 20 years I have reserved a room with private bath room, which was across the corridor. Still private, so I could leave my things there, but across the corridor, so I had to dress, when I visited it during the night.

Posted by
671 posts

After searching on booking.com and locating a hotel, I always contact them directly to book the room. Oftentimes the price is better and there may be extra perks. Direct booking at some of the smaller, family owned hotels is not possible, in which case I do use booking's reservation system. Pay close attention to their cancellation policies. Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
415 posts

An area of Munich that is nice to stay is the Marienplatz area or near there. It is easy to walk to many sights from there and you can also take the S bahn. We really liked Hotel Torbrau near the Isartor Gate. Another hotel mentioned often on this site is the Platzl hotel.

Posted by
589 posts

You could start with looking up the places in RS guides since you are an enthusiast of the RS guides.
With your budget why not simply go on a RS tour?

Posted by
1516 posts

Hiker Skip!

I've travelled and hiked quite a bit in the areas you describe. I'd skip Innsbruck and give an extra day each the "German Alps" and the Dolomites. There's nothing wrong with Innsbruck, but it's not at all a must see, and much more than other places the mountains take time, and you're going to be happier with slightly longer stays in two places than shorter in 3.

I'll give you my very best advice for hiking the Alps near Munich: go to Tannheim in Tannheimtal. Nobody from the US ever goes, but Germany's biggest hiking magazine's readership rated Tannheimtal as the best hiking destination by a landslide. Great towns, trails, lifts, huts and views.

Or Bertchesgaden. It's a smaller area, but taller mountains, incredible history, good infrastructure, and a wonderful place to hike.

You are STOKED my friend - You've picked wonderful places to visit and will have a great time! Welcome to Europe :)

Posted by
3 posts

Update on Europalooza ‘23: thank you to everyone who responded with helpful advice on my initial adventure to Europe! A minimum stay of 3 nights was great advice. My initial 3 nights in The Haag was perfect, and my hotel, at under $300E per night, was next to the train station making it a $5E tram ride to Zoetermeer where my family members live. 10 hours in Amsterdam was plenty, but the bike ride into the countryside from Zoetermeer wonderful. Food was fine, and the beer great! The train ride to Bayeux, Normandy was exciting and a great way to see the landscape. Just changing train stations in Paris reinforced that my heart is in smaller towns. Everyone I know loves Paris; it’s just too big and busy for me. It was something to visit the D Day beaches, cemetery’s and museums and get a picture of where our father landed in 1944 at the age of 19. The American cemetery at 5 pm was an experience I will never forget. Again, traveling thru Paris we made our way to Munich and we’re more than pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed what must be a large city, but felt small. Hotel Deutsche Eiche Munchen was amazing! Located 2 blocks from Marienplatz, convenient to buses, trams and train stations, restaurants, bakeries, coffee, and the hotel had a hopping rooftop terrace with amazing views and a great bar. Again, under $300E/night. After 3 nights in Munich we were ready for some hiking, and the 90 minute train ride seemed shorter, even though it was standing room only on a Saturday morning. The Germans on the train were delightful to talk to on the train, the tourists from some parts of the world, not so considerate. No big deal. A 10 minute walk from the Garmisch train station to our Hotel Zugspitze was easy, and passed a Lidle grocery, which was a great place to stock up on water at a reasonable price. The hotel room was large with 2 beds, a small living room and a balcony facing the Bavarian Alps. Not only was the room very reasonable, the food was amazing and breakfast was included and easily kept us full enough that we skipped lunch and enjoyed complimentary soup, water, coffee, salads and cakes when we returned after hiking at 4:30 each day. Lake Eibsee, Mt. Zugspitze, and a hike thru an enormous gorge with waterfalls on the way in, well worth the $7E charge to enter, and the climb to the top with meadows and views on the way out. Fortunately we planned laundry for our final day, which was our only day of rain. After 5 nights we hopped a train to Ortesei, which was the highlight of our 19 days together. I highly recommend Hotel La Rondula, run by Ursula and her husband. For just 2 of us we took the 2 bedroom, 1.5 bath chalet with a queen bed in one room, bunk beds in the second, a large living room with comfortable furniture, a dining room table that could easily fit 6, 2 outdoor seating areas, a table top outdoor grill, lawn furniture. Maybe not perfect for my wife, but luxury for 2 guys traveling with backpacks, and right at $200E/night. Only a 3 minute walk into town, even less for 2 of the mountain cable cars. I must say we found food and lodging everywhere we went in Europe to be a bargain compared to the States. The train from Ortesei to Venice was a breeze, even without my brother, the seasoned European traveler. 3 nights in Venice is plenty for me as it’s quite touristy, but I’m now with my wife and tomorrow we leave for Lake Como and then a day in Milan before heading home. A great 4 weeks of travel! Thank you again, and as Arnold would say… I’ll be back; I hope,
The Grateful Hiker

Posted by
465 posts

Thanks for reporting back about how your trip has gone so far. It's a great process to see, from inception through some input from the forum, to what sounds like a great trip!! When you're back home, you might like to put that last post plus any other ideas into a new 'trip report'.