Taking The High Road through Europe

Backpacking in the alps

Backpacking through Europe. The idea sounds great, in theory. Trekking through the mountains on foot, soul searching your way through the European mountain peaks. Sounds like the prime adventure. Sure, unless you’ve seen any movie…ever. So, unless you’re aspiring to be Reese Witherspoon, I’d recommend a rental car or train. I don’t mean to cheapen the experience but, I am directionally challenged and in Europe. I would much rather have the added security of GPS or someone else driving. Takes some of the stress out of getting from point A to point B.

Personally, a trip by train through the French Mountains sounds perfect. Starting at the Ardennes, making my way through the Vosges mountains, then on to Jura and ending up in Mont-Blanc to end in Chamonix, France. With so many options on how to get there deciding which adventure I actually want to take is what is taking the most time.

Ardennes in Belgium is the start of this particular adventure. The Ardennes mountains are covered with greenery as far as you can see, covered in forest. The allure of the mountain is its history in relation to past wars. Its dense forest interiors were used by armies in the past to provide cover during battle. Today, our strategies have changed. We don’t practice face to face combat anymore so this area no longer appeals to military strategists. But, it is great for its outdoor activities like hiking and canoeing. Spending the afternoon exploring the beautiful valleys would not be a waste of time.

Then on to the Vosges mountains. This mountain is in Alsatian plains of France but borders Germany. Its ambiance is a mixture of both German and French. It’s a very natural atmosphere. But, my destination here would be Saverne. The Chateau de Rohan’s and the Place of the Unicorn. Right in the center of town legend says that over 1000 years ago a Unicorn dipped its horn into the water in the center of the town of Saverne. So because of that, the water is said to have healing power. Another afternoon well spent.

Next is Jura which borders Switzerland and France. It’s full of natural scenery. It has great hiking paths where you can see natural formations like the Creux du Van. It was formed by natural water erosion and kinda reminds me of Europe’s version of the Grand Canyon.

Finally, the mountain de jour. Mont-Blanc. Mont-Blanc borders France and Italy. Where there are insane tourist attractions on either side of the mountain. It’s safe to assume that since both towns border the 11th largest mountain in the world, that skiing is in abundance. Mont Blanc is 4808 meters above sea level. If having that told to you in metric’s isn’t impressive. Allow me to translate. That would be about 15,774 feet. A little more impressive? I agree. But, with that in mind, the mountains here are great for more experienced skiers.

The town of Courmayeur, Italy, borders one side, the with some of the buildings date back to the 17th century. But, there are new enough attractions to keep the youth of the world happy. Skiing, nightlife, quaint little cafes, and shops all around. And you can’t beat Italian cuisine, especially when you’re in Italy. Nothing like it. You have to take your time when you’re making your way through this little town. It has the Skipass, the ski lift that gives you an awesome view of the mountains and can take you from Italy to France in 20 minutes. And you can’t leave until you see the Saussurea Alpine Botanical Gardens. The scenery is unlike anything you will ever see.

Leaving from Courmayeur to Chamonix, France on the other side of the mountain kinda reminds me of the Jersey turnpike. Really. With exception to the view of insanely high mountains surrounding the Mont Blanc tunnel that connects Italy to France, the traffic and the ambiance is the same. The tunnel is a toll booth that connects the town of Courmayeur, Italy to Chamonix, France. Since, neither side has ever really decided who the mountain belongs to, “being in two places at once” can be scratched off of your bucket list.

Switzerland by train

train travelling on switzerland matterhorn train

It feels like I have been waiting forever for the chance to see Switzerland for myself and experience it firsthand. As I wait in anticipation I can’t help but think about all the things that I’ve heard about and would like to see once I arrive. I’m watching through the train windows as mountains begin to appear in the distance and I feel the excitement grow. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I intend to make the most of it!

My travel brochure states that I will be staying in a mountain chalet that is surrounded by beautiful forests and even a lake. I should even be able to see the mountain peaks from where I’m staying. As the train pulls into the station, I grab my backpack and head for the door, stopping to say hello and lend a hand to the two older gals in front of me trying to get their bags and make their way toward the door. Finally, I’m here! I take a moment to appreciate the fresh clean air and brisk 65 degrees that greet me. I glance all around me looking for the people carrier transfer that is usually waiting outside the train depot.

Finding my way aboard the people carrier I get comfortable while other passengers climb in and get themselves situated. Just a few moments later we’re on our way to the beautiful chalets that await us. I’ve been warned that I won’t be able to hit the slopes on my first day here, but I look forward to testing out my skiing ability very soon. The people carrier is under way and as we travel through the hills and villages of Switzerland the driver begins a running commentary about things we might find interesting while here for our stay. Since the common languages spoken are French, German and Italian, I have never been more grateful that I took Italian just a few years ago as a high school senior. I’m a little rusty, but at least I’ll be able to manage if I travel into any of the villages on my own.
After a longer ride than I’d like, and checking in with the chalet manager, I’m more than ready to finally get a glimpse of my home for the next seven days! And it does not disappoint! I’m totally excited about the hot tub, the view of the lake, even though, I’m not planning on swimming in that water if it’s only 65 degrees outside! Although, I may have to go in up to my knees just to say that I did when I return home from my European adventure. Who knows when I’ll have this opportunity again?!

I’m so ready to stretch my legs, so after stowing my backpack, I head on down to the lake. It is absolutely amazing how beautiful the scenery is here! The sky is such a gorgeous blue; the lake reflects the sunlight and clouds that are floating high above. Lucky I brought along my gimbal and camera to take it all in. Looking at the skyline, I can just make out the snow on the peaks of the mountains in the distance. I feel like anything is possible at this very moment and I breathe deeply just taking in this majestic moment. I guess I should’ve brought my jacket with me because after standing and admiring the lake for just a short time, the breeze has me slightly chilled. I head back toward the chalet eager to explore my digs for the next week.

Walking through the front door I take notice of the huge window facing toward the mountains. Wow! What a great view! The sunlight spills through the window touching on the wooden furniture and accents and showing off the rustic look and feel of the chalet. I call the front desk to make sure my trip to the slopes tomorrow is still planned and after a quick dinner at the main hall, head back to my chalet to get some sleep.

I begin my day bright and early, ready to make the most of my day on the slopes. I’m really looking forward to my ski lesson.  The crisp cold air has a bite to it, but that’s okay, soon I’ll be warm enough as I sail down mountains! I cannot believe I have never done this before! Skiing is exhilarating! I may have wiped out a few times, but the hot cocoa is to die for! After being outside in the cold for most of the morning, I needed a warm drink and some food. I plan to hit the slopes for the afternoon and then tomorrow begin some sightseeing for a couple days followed by a final day hiking around the lakes on the many trails available surrounding the village and my chalets.  If there is any time leftover, I’ll be spending it on the slopes once again.

My time in Switzerland will come to a close faster than I’m ready for, but my travel plans later include going to France and that is a dream come true as well. Besides, I think my legs will be more than ready for a break, after all the skiing, hiking and village exploring I have planned.