In June 2008, we loaded up the mini van and headed off on a road trip with two of our kids, a 19 and a 5-year old. We started in Gangelt and headed for the Cote d’Azur! We spent the night near Spangdahlem Air Base, so we could gas up and hit the commissary. Our goal was to break up the drive so that we all had fun and maintained our sanity. All in all, we drove about 1800 miles, but we split it up so that we didn’t drive more than 4 to 5 hours a day, so it wasn’t bad at all. We went via Southern Germany so we were able to gas up before we left the country and again as soon as we got back, so we only had to purchase 2 to 2.5 tanks of gas on the economy. We were able to bring all of our non perishables with us, such as tuna, pasta, juices, long-shelf life milk, cereal, etc. The units in St Tropez come fairly well equipped, but you’ll want to bring toilet paper, paper towels, coffee etc. The rental company lends you all your cleaning supplies on check out day, so you don’t need those.
When you enter Switzerland, stop and get a road stamp. They’re 40 euro and good for one year.
We stayed here. http://www.hiexpress.com/luzern
We drove to Mt Pilatus and took the world’s steepest cog wheel train up the mountain. There are various options you can include, such as a tram ride and a boat trip, but we didn’t have time for all of those. The train ride is absolutely beautiful and the views spectacular from the top. Even in mid-June, there was snow on top, so bring a jacket!
The town itself has many beautiful buildings. Definitely have some fondue while you’re here!
The Lion of Lucerne, designed by A. B. Thorvaldsen, was erected in 1821 in memory of the Swiss Guards (basically conscripts who fought in various European armies) who were killed in Paris in 1792. It is beautiful and touching.
Once you leave Luzerne, you will go through many many tunnels. Expect delays and make sure you have plenty of cold water. We froze water bottles and juice boxes and had them in the cooler. During a particularly long stau in a tunnel, we actually encountered a man who got out of his car and appeared to be in real distress, either heat stroke or heart attack! We were glad we had some ice water to offer him. The drive along the coast is one of the most beautiful in the world.
We stayed here: http://www.bj-rivieraholidays.com/pays/uk/index.htm These are self-contained little mobile homes within a resort area. They have a kitchen. Ours had 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. The two smaller bedrooms each had 2 twin beds in them. Ours also had air conditioning, although not all units do. I highly recommend the air conditioning! There are a couple of small grocery stores on the resort, which is situated right on the beach. You can get fresh bread there along with pretty much anything you might need. The prices weren’t too bad for a resort. They have a little amusement park at night with rides for the younger sect. There is a larger amusement park nearby as well as a water park. The resort is actually in Port Grimaud, a stone’s throw across the bay from St Tropez. There are a few restaurants and bars on the resort, a laundry mat (5 euro to wash one load!), and live music at night for free. Each unit has a patio area and a clothesline. You can rent a BBQ grill as well. There were people there from all over Europe. We even ran into a few from Geilenkirchen! We found a large supermarket a few minutes drive away called Geant Casino (http://www.geant.fr/). It is like a Super Walmart and we found some great stuff there for much less then at the market where all the tourists go.
The beach on the resort is wonderful! We alternated beach days and touristy days. We ate most of our meals in our little home, but did enjoy one of the best fish meals we’ve ever had in nearby Port Grimaud (walking distance from the resort!). Plenty of awesome gelato to be had as well!
We took a boat tour across the bay into St Tropez. On the ride, we passed “millionaire row” to look at the mansions. The one with the boat house right on the water is Dodi Fayad’s, where he and Princess Di stayed.
It’s fun to check out all the amazing yachts lined up. Note the chairs at the cafe right across from the yachts are all facing out so we commoners can people-watch the rich.
We also took a day trip to the Gorge de Verdun, called the “Grand Canyon of Europe”. The drive itself is full of extreme twists & turns, enough so that one of our children got car sick. Definitely bring Dramamine! There are some pretty villages and a huge bridge along the way. If you’re really brave, you can even bungee jump from it. We did not.
Our departure day finally came. We cleaned up our facility and packed the van and off we went to Monaco!
We spent an afternoon in Monaco, the 2d smallest country in the world! It is less than 1 square mile. We took one of those small trains around it. There is a lot you can do, such as a world class aquarium and several museums. The palace is situated on a high promontory in the old town of Monaco-Ville. You can tour it if the Prince is not in. At noon there is a changing of the guards.
Monaco-Ville has lovely little streets.
You can go in the casinos, but only the truly high rollers can play at the tables.
We also visited the chapel where Princess Grace married Prince Rainier, and where she is interred.
After a few hours, we were ready to get back on the road.
After Monaco, we drove to Milan to spend the night. Driving in Milan can be challenging and stressful. Thank God for GPS. Get used to much honking and yelling!
We stayed here: http://www.holidayinn.com/milangaribaldi
We went to dinner at a place called Nubucco’s. The food was expensive but really good. They serve you champagne as soon as you are seated. Our hotel receptionist said it was a kid friendly restaurant, but they didn’t have a kid menu. However, they did prepare some spaghetti for our 5 year old. There’s a really nice pedestrian area to wander around.
The next day, we visited the Duomo di Milano (cathedral). For a small fee, you can walk up to the top, for slightly more you can ride an elevator. The walk wasn’t bad – not nearly as steep as the Koln cathedral! If you plan to visit, ensure you wear something that covers you shoulders and knees or you will be turned away.
Next to the Duomo is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. Beautiful! Expensive shops inside.
The Piazza Duomo-Piazza della Scala. The street people are extremely aggressive here. One tied a little string bracelet around our child’s wrist while we were saying “No” then expected money. Another cleaned our windshield at a stop light over our protests, then scoffed at the 1 euro coin we offered up! You really have to be forceful! There are, of course, lots of pigeons to feed, so bring some bread crumbs!
After Milan, we drove to Rastatt/Baden-Baden and stayed here. We had a small child with so really couldn’t do the whole spa thing; however, we wandered around Rastatt. There is some very lovely architecture, including Schloss Rastatt (http://www.wgm-rastatt.de/dasmuseum.html) a laid back atmosphere and some nice shops. We were there on a Saturday, so enjoyed their market as well.
We stayed here. http://www.holidayinn.com/rastattger
This was a great vacation for our family!