As travel is beginning to open up, Europe beckons with its promise of a different culture, different climate and the chance to indulge in a different cuisine. So where better for your first outing abroad for a while, than two fab and not so far flung destinations on the continent….”Where?” I hear you ask. Well, let’s explore…
Brilon- it’s just brilliant!
An all year destination, perfect for the summer or winter with a top class combination of history, outdoor adventure, lakes and mountains. I’m not describing Italy or Switzerland, but Germany. At only a 3 hour’s drive from the ports of Ljmuiden or Rotterdam, Brilon, located in the region of North Rhine-Westphalia is great for the less confident European driver. Our reasoning for picking Brilon as a destination for a holiday in Germany came about as a result of the website of a campsite promising huge pitches on a terraced plot, something which is not as common as you’d think in Germany.
At “Camping und Ferienpark Brilon” we were treated to one of the largest caravan pitches we have ever visited and enjoyed the privacy of the well manicured hedges separating each pitch. Think Lake District and Aberdeenshire all rolled into one and you’ll not be far off the landscape in which we enjoyed exploring and exercising every day. We visited Brilon in July and the weather was a very warm 27 degrees Celsius or above most days, meaning that we didn’t feel that we missed out from more popular summer resort locations further south. The campsite itself was clean and spacious with good toilet, shower and laundry facilities and even had self catering units available for those without their own tent or home on wheels. It was also well placed for activities for winter visits as it’s close to winter sports destinations like Willingen which has its own toboggan run and skiing opportunities for all levels of difficulty. What’s more, there are lots of walking and cycling trails just off the site and it’s a 5 minute walk to two nearby cafes.
4 reasons why we loved Brilon so much ………
- Willingen nearby– Complete with its own cable car ride up to the top of the Ettelsburg, (837m), and its own Sommerrodelbahn, (toboggan run), Willingen is great fun any time of year! Located in Hesse, it’s a 15 minute drive from the campsite at Brilon. From the main town carpark, you can catch a cable car ride, (dog friendly), to the summit of Ettelsberg and either take the elevator or the 241 steps inside the tower at the top for a beautiful view of the mountains. Next to the toboggan run was a children’s play park, whilst the walk into the town centre allowed plenty of opportunities to shop until you drop and grab a coffee at the many eateries along the road. We also enjoyed playing “snooker golf” at one of the outside cafes. Whilst similar to the beauty and appeal of Lake District resorts in the UK, this German resort was popular but not at all crowded, unlike tourist hotspots found in the UK in the summer meaning that we could enjoy our own space and soak up the gentle mountain views at our own pace. We also enjoyed a “currywurst ” or two!!
- Kassel-Located about an hour’s ride from our campsite was Kassel where we spent the entire day walking around the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Wilhelmshöhe Mountain Park ,(Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe), one of the largest mountain parks in Europe. From the Hercules statue at the top of the park a 350m baroque cascade of water runs down to the classical palace at the bottom of the hill twice a week. It’s a spectacular site! It’s also a great dog friendly day out with plenty of opportunities to grab a meal or bite to eat on your climb up to the top of the park or during your climb down. There is plenty of history for you to explore too in the C17th Bergpark. You can visit Schloss Wilhelmshohe and Löwenburg Castle as well as Kassel itself which is home to “Grimm World” an interactive museum about the Brothers Grimm who both lived and wrote in this interesting town. For more information about the park, castles and museum in Kassel visit https://www.hessen-tourismus.de/en/towns-and-cities/kassel/
- Lovely Lakes– From Diemelsee to the east to Hennesee in the west there are plenty of opportunities for water sports and aquatic adventures nearby. Diemelsee is fantastic for cyclists, anglers, or walkers with plenty of routes around the lake and further upland. You can also hire boats, go kayaking or even enjoy a boat tour from the resorts dotted along the lake. Alternatively, enjoy a lazy day and soak up the scenery on the beach. Hennesee offers similar leisure activities whilst you can climb up the Himmelstreppe to the top of the dam and soak up those majestic views! More information about Hennesee can be found here.
- Mountains galore– The Sauerland, (the name of this region), is host to 2 711 mountains over 400 metres tall. Although not as dramatic as the Alps or Pyrenees, this region is no less beautiful and home to hundreds of walking and cycling routes. It’s extremely easy to get away from it all and find your own space. Just a hop and a skip from our campsite were several walking routes across the forest complete with well signposted routes and highlighting information about your nearest refreshment stop along the way.
From the beautiful half-timbered houses surrounding the market place of Brilon, you can attempt the “Brilon Ridge Trail” or Briloner Kammweg , a 50 kilometre challenging circular route traversing the forested hills and mountains of this beautiful area. On top of this is the Sauerland Cycle Ring which at over 80 kilometres long runs through the heart of the region along an old railway line.
Colmar- culture , cuisine and country living at its best!
Think Cotswolds meets the vineyards of southern France or Italy, and you are not far from the scenic charms of this town in Alsace, France. If you have never given this area of France a go then I’d most heartily recommend it. In fact, it is our favourite region and somewhere where if we had the money, we’d definitely buy a house. From characterful villages filled with chocolate box houses dotted along the Alsatian wine route to jaw dropping castles, invigorating spas and local specialities encouraging you to burst at the seams, you really can’t afford to miss out!
A wonderful place to stay is Campsite Les Trois Chateaux, located in the beautiful Eguisheim around fifteen minutes’ drive away from Colmar. It has its own self-catering caravans for those without their home on wheels as well as reasonably priced pitches for tents, caravans and motorhomes. It also has several walks and cycle routes from the entrance of the campsite to cater for any outside explorer.
4 reasons why we loved Colmar and this region so much ………
- Colmar’s charm- It’s known as one of the best-preserved historical towns in all of France. Colmar, a settlement going back as far as 823AD is a vision of colour and half timbered houses. It simply oozes character and charm. Ambling down the historic streets you feel as if you are walking through a fairy tale and it’s no wonder that this town was rumoured to be the inspiration for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Tempt yourself at the restaurants and cafes selling flammkuchen, tartes flambés and kugelhopf, then visit the Chocolate Museum at the Place de la Cathédrale, or just sit beside picturesque canals winding through the town watching the world go by. Either way, you’ll be incredibly happy you’ve visited the place. The photos above should give you a sense of just how beautiful this town is, but just in case you still need to be persuaded, check out the tourist website here.
- Location, location, location– There are seven spas in the Alsace region and a potential spa day trip to Baden-Baden, (the mother of all spa towns), across the border in Germany for those bath babies. For the history buffs you have Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle situated upon a dramatic and rocky outcrop in the Vosges mountains. Built in 1147 its brilliant audio guides tell the story of the many battles between France and German ruling elites who have owned it through the centuries.
For culture vultures, you are very near the beautiful and cosmopolitan Strasbourg, whilst for nature lovers, you are next to the Vosges mountains, the German Black Forest and not far from the Swiss border. These are all places where you can get your outdoor fix of cycling, walking, skiing and adrenalin inspired activities to your heart’s content. And of course, it’s a relatively easy 6 hour’s drive to reach from Calais or Rotterdam without needing an overnight stop, unlike many other popular French tourist spots.
- Food glorious food!– From tartes flambés to chocolate pretzels, the region of Alsace is very much a foodie heaven. It’s safe to say you could easily put on a few pounds if you don’t reign yourself in with the delicacies on offer! It’s very easy to get carried away with stopping at every boulangerie, patisserie and cafe along the cobbled streets of picturesque villages like Eguisheim and Riquewihr. There is a myriad of venues catering for all budgets in this gastronomic region. For more foodie inspiration and pictures of what’s on offer, click here.
- The Alsace wine route– Home to seven different grape varieties and over 1000 producers this 170 kilometre long and winding route is a pleasure, not just because it’s so easy to sample a multitude of tipples, but for its delightful villages and countryside. Several of the quaint villages along this route have been rated as the most beautiful in France including Riquewihr, Eguisheim and Kaysersberg. For more information about this picturesque route check out the website here .
Whatever takes your fancy, you’re bound to love beautiful Brilon or charismatic Colmar! We certainly did!
I hope you’ve been inspired by these European holiday ideas. For more information on each of the places mentioned, don’t forget to click the links to find out more!
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