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One last driving trip in Europe

We've made several driving trips in Europe and this could be our last. I'm not listing all the places we've been; just the ones we're now considering. With driving we see great scenery, history, small villages and stop in places outside big tourist cities (e.g., Ireland was fantastic with a car). We hope to avoid places easily reached by public transportation or tours. I hope there are some opinions out there that will help us figure this trip out. We'll go in September and allow about 4 weeks staying about 3-5 nights per location depending on day trip availability from each. I know this is a big question but, for now, I'm looking for ideas to narrow down our choices. Thank you!

Option #1 Switzerland-Italian Lakes region - has anyone traveled Switzerland via both car and train? Which worked out better? (We will appreciate suggestions for good locations from which to take multiple day trips!)
Option #2 Eastern Europe from Poland to Dubrovnik
Option #3 Greece and north up the west coast of Croatia

P.S. We are well aware of car drop-off fee and know this will require careful planning when switching from country to country and back again.

Posted by
736 posts

We traveled in Switzerland both by train and by car in 2013. We had a home exchange just outside Bern. First we had a 2-week Swiss Pass, then we picked up a rental car just prior to departure. Drove up and over the Alps through the stunning Grimsel glacier pass, down through Lugano, and on a car ferry over Lake Maggiore to Stresa, then on to Turin.

Although driving is easy in Switzerland, the Swiss Pass was way more fun. Everything connects so seamlessly. In just one day, we took a bus to a train to another train to a boat to various funiculars and cog railways and gondolas. And back again. It was such a hoot. In between transportation, we hiked to beautiful lakes, enjoyed summer luge runs, ate some great meals and watched an old Swiss farmer stack his winter wood for over an hour, from the patio where we had lunch.

The drive over the pass was spectacular and not too scary (I was driving). We enjoyed that after having read Swiss Watching about all the secret military installations inside mountains - we could, or imagined we could, see the places where fighter jets might come roaring out of the mountainside to preserve Switzerland's neutrality. For all the places in Italy that we visited over the next 3 weeks, a car was mandatory.

So my advice is to mix up the cars and the trains, but adventures with a Swiss Pass are not to be missed.

And if option 1 turns out to be your choice, I can share some great little places you'd probably enjoy based on your description above.

Posted by
5690 posts

Option 2 & 3 likely would have some hefty one way rental car drop fees, if one way is permitted.

I would check out these details before I got committed to one of these options

Happy travels!

Posted by
1325 posts

We loved, loved, loved Poland and there are many small cities to stop and visit. We did not drive, but will on our next trip there. We have driven around Croatia and since they rebuilt most of their roads, the driving was smooth. I don’t know about the drop off fees, but you could always fly between the countries. Otherwise you have to drive through Slovakia and Hungary.

Posted by
2338 posts

We've done your option one, and used both car and trains. Most of the trip was by car ( we lived in Germany at the time). We had an apartment in the little town of Chateau d'Oex and day tripped to places like Gruyere, Gstaad, and Montreux. In other places, like Lauterbrunnen, the car pretty much stayed parked and we used public transport for day trips.

But if you were to also take in the Italian lakes, make sure to either circle back into Switzerland to drop off the car before returning home, or switch to rail only for that part of the trip ( fly home from Milan?).

Posted by
13787 posts

Option 3 - a thought for logistics. Friends of mine visited Croatia. They flew into Venice and rented a car there, did a loop and returned it back in Venice. With 4 weeks, you could do a loop through Croatia and Greece. It doubles the distance, but allows you to go through a lot of potentially scenic inland areas as well.

Posted by
16123 posts

Wanting to stay at each location for 3 to 5 nights (as do I) limits the number of places you can drop anchor on a 4-week trip. I don't think that would work so well for a trip from Poland to southern Croatia. Poland is very large, Croatia is long from north to south, and there are worthwhile sights in Slovakia and Hungary along the way. I have recently spent 5 weeks in Poland and over 3 weeks in Hungary, and those visits were not long enough.

Combining Greece and Croatia might be more possible if you visited no islands, though I don't know anything about the road connections between those two countries. It's possible that, aside from the near certainty of an eye-watering international drop charge, you would have difficulty finding a car-rental firm allowing its cars to be driven in Albania or Macedonia.

Posted by
2827 posts

Re drop off fees: You should look into leasing. It can be done through AutoEurope just like renting. Also, with renting, some companies may not allow taking cars on ferries.

Posted by
16632 posts

It's been a long time since I drove around Switzerland as part of a longer trip. It was no problem, but you do have to park and take alternate transport to mountain resorts. Public transport of all types is well connected there. Switzerland also has plenty of lakes, so the Italian lakes might be a bit anti-climactic, although culture and food are different.

Auto lease/buy-back programs are based in France, and so pick-up and drop-off are available there or in near neighboring countries: https://www.autoeurope.com/car-lease-locations/.

The only problem I had driving in Croatia (north only) was the traffic jam of a Saturday in August. September should be easier.

I second the warning that car rental companies are not likely to allow you to cross borders into Albania, Macedonia, or Greece. I had trouble when wanting to pick up a car in either Greece, or Macedonia, or Bulgaria to drive between them. You'd be better off flying from Dubrovnik to Athens and renting two, separate cars. There are no ferries connecting these countries (unless you cross to Italy and back) and trains are also not convenient.

Posted by
9954 posts

One of the most beautiful, culturally diverse and just plain fascinating regions I have been to is the Eastern European countries of the Balkan Peninsula. What is difficult is that transportation is limited. The roads are good, but few trains and rather ratty looking buses. I don’t drive on vacation, just against my religion. But I do enjoy driving on vacation and in this area I can afford to sit back and let someone else do the driving. But, I appreciate your taste and your desire to drive.

So, while it isnt any of the three options you listed, it is what I would do if I drove and if I wanted to revisit some of my favorite places (many discovered on fishing trips). I sort of offer this almost as jest as my taste is really off the wall. But it gave me a few minutes to relive some of my favorite places.

Part One
https://goo.gl/maps/tu5tpbs5rHRPtqGT8
Part Two
https://goo.gl/maps/r6aUQ9vxc8RQHRsh8

If you were to do this crazy trip you would want to make a few more stops than this, but some of the highlights would be

Podgorica, no nights
Mojkovac, Montenegro at least one night, as many as three if you are into trout. I know this stunning resort sort of place in the mountains.
Žabljak, Montenegro, well just outside, on the Tara River gorge. Stunning. Ride the zip line. At least a night, and again, more if you are into trout.
Ostrog Monastery, Montenegro for a stop to see the monastery built into the side of a cliff.
Budva, Montenegro and excellent coastal town. A night or two. While I didn’t add it to the route, a day or two south at Stari Bar and / or Ulcinj would be wonderful. These are two towns you will never forget.
Perast, Montenegro, yup, I skipped Kotor. Yes, stop if you want, but it’s nothing compared to Dubrovnik. Perast is picture perfect little town on the bay. Really beautiful
Dubrovnik, Croatia. Two nights tops. Its beautiful but its also tourist hell.
Mostar and Split. I haven’t been to either.
Jajce, BiH, beautiful country. Wonderful sights. Good trout.
Sarajevo, BiH, here is a town that is an enigma. I cant explain it. I both loved it and hated it. One of the more emotionally moving places I have ever been. Not to be missed.
Belgrade, Serbia; a must for one or two nights. Not a beautiful place, but the place drips with modern history.
Novi Sad, Serbia; beautiful and where I would spend the second night after Belgrade
Timisoara; some of the best of Romania is in and near here.
Budapest; no better place to rest and unwind before heading home.

Posted by
825 posts

I don’t know where you’ve driven before, Kay. Option 1: The Ticino area of Switzerland has its attractive parts but nothing compared to further north (if you’ve visited ?). Driving around and between the Italian lakes was not enjoyable for me - the roads are narrow and busy, the areas in Piedmont and Lombardy immediately to the south not appealing in the slightest.

My favourite drives are probably in the general alps region and the Val d’Orcia of Tuscany. My last couple of trips I’ve returned to the Mosel area: away from the river, there are some very attractive, almost empty country roads in a pastoral setting in the Vulkaneifel region of Germany and the Mullerthal region of Luxembourg.

Posted by
660 posts

I'm sorry for the tardy reply after receiving such great responses. Self guided travel sure requires a lot of work. I will be checking out the options for driving/training in Switzerland. It is probably appearing more complex now than perhaps it really is. We have never leased a car; always straight rented. We really need to check out leasing options. We are familiar with the drop fee situation so making a circular route (if we solely drive). I suspect Greece is a trip (or more) unto itself so we probably won't be heading north from there. I appreciate the amazing routes from JamesE as there is much to consider. In reply to Gunderson, we have driven around the Mosel and Eifel regions of Germany and loved it. This year, we drove for four weeks in Ireland (previously England and Scotland). We are fairly well practiced with driving narrow, single track roads on both sides of the lane (Scandinavia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain). I will have more questions through this process and thank you all for your help now and in the future! Happy new decade!