It’s been a long time since my last blog post which is kinda what I had said last time around. So a brief update of Germany and Italy. Let’s take this in order.
UK to Stuttgart
The drive from England to Stuttgart is a really long one. It’s also incredibly fast in Germany before and after the Frankfurt bit where you get restricted to a measly 130kmph. Stuttgart is a little on the pricey side and you can’t park in the centre unless you have an emission badge. I couldn’t be bothered with all of that so I stayed with the missus near the airport but right next to a train station in Echterdingen.
The food in Park hotel was very good, they had a few restaurants to pick from. The Sunday brunch or frühstück as the Germans know it at Le Cassoulet at Le Meridien hotel was out of this world. It was really expensive at 43 euros per person but well worth it. To put it into context, it was twice as good as the one I had at the Hyatt in Köln many years ago. In Stuttgart, there’s also the Mercedes museum, which is one of the most kick ass museums I have ever been to. There are a lot of interactive things to do and everyone is given one of those listening tour guide things in the price. The place is massive and requires half a day at least to cover the whole place. We spent about 5 hours there and got kicked out at closing time! Near the end of the experience is a F1 simulator that costs extra. It closes early so go there first and circle back up the museum to see stuff later if you want to enjoy that experience.
Metzingen outlet city
My favourite thing about Stuttgart was Metzingen which is not actually part of Stuttgart. It is half an hour’s drive south and there you will find many brand’s flagship outlet stores. Hugo Boss HQ is in Metzingen and they started the outlet trend off by sticking an outlet store by their factory many years ago. Many people flocked and now brands like Burberry, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Adidas, Joop!, Timberland, Levi’s and Esprit have huge stores out there with massive discounts all year round. Food there is rubbish though. They have plenty of parking spaces and all of the car parks are close to the shops (which is deceiving on maps of the area). Go to a free space a little further out and go crazy for a long day of real city shopping at outlet prices. Oh yeah, I forgot to say that the place is a real city that just happens to have outlet stores as the norm. It is not a purpose built outlet place. I bought a lot of stuff out there!
Stuttgart to Lake Garda
The drive from Stuttgart to Lake Garda is long. It is also very fast with most of the way unlimited in speed. I would recommend going through Austria as the road taxes are lower than Switzerland. You have to buy a motorway pass vignette thing at the first town you go past in Austria to not get fined. It costs 8 euros for 10 days. There are a few tolls on the way down but it’s not extortionate. I would recommend spending longer on the autobahn in Germany and to go down to Italy via the Munich area as the more ‘direct route’ is a hard tailpin journey up and down windy mountains. My preferred route would be the E52 to E60 to E45. Ok next up is the Italian section of the drive. Watch out for the Italian drivers. They are the ones driving between lanes to overtake in between cars. It’s not possible to do but some definitely try it! There is a speed limit in Italy but you wouldn’t know it from driving there. The people drive fast and ultra aggressively regardless of how hard the road conditions are. Lanes are narrower than in Germany and there are a lot more bends and potholes.
Lake Garda is like a massive seaside resort but around a lake. The hotels are decked out with pools overlooking the lake and people walk around in bathing suits in the summer. We hired a boat to go around the lake which was great fun especially as it was the off season in March so there were just fishermen present on the lake. You will need to know how to tie knots competently in harbours before you can realistically take a boat out on the lake though. If you don’t want that level of responsibility, you can hire a guy to drive the boat for you or. You can take water taxis all over the lake too. For either of those services I recommend Flavio who can be contacted on +39 331 9787787 or firstname.lastname@example.org, tell him that Kwai sent you his way for a nice discount.
The north most points of the lake are for sail boat people and the rest of the lake is for everyone else. The southern most point of Lake Garda is really touristy. Sirmione is the most visited destination on the lake. To get around (even if you do have a boat) is by car. You really, really need to drive to get around to the best places. We had the best chateaubriand in La Casa degli Spiriti in the middle of nowhere up some crazy hairpin single lane roads up a mountain (Monte Baldo). To visit the most north tip of the lake you will also need to have a car as only sail boats can get up there. It’s pretty peaceful up the north tip with some really nice chilled out beaches to relax on. I very much prefer the vibe of the north to the south.
Food is generally good around Lake Garda. To see all my food reviews around Lake Garda, take a look at my tripadvisor reviews here. I have annoyed some restaurants with my negative commentary on some of the places! It’s definitely a fun read to see the restaurant’s responses. Those are the perils with having tried so much good stuff in a short space of time. It makes the bad taste absolutely vial! My favourite restaurant at Lake Garda was Esplanade in Desenzano by a long shot. I had some crazy fresh flavours and the waiter was a really awesome dude. In the summer they open up the pier for a private dinner for two where you can park up a boat and then eat a fab Michelin starred meal. I would recommend going for fish dishes rather than lobster or crab as they are exceptional dishes. The lobster dishes are dishes for lobster’s sake.
Ristorante Gabriellino in Gardone Riviera was the best value restaurant we found around Lake Garda. It’s unassuming and serves really good food. The price is easy to swallow too. The most disappointing thing about Lake Garda was that there wasn’t much to see and do. See one ruin and you’ve seen them all. We took a day out to Milan which was a couple of hours away but it felt too fast compared to the slow pace of Lake Garda for a holiday. I never really have appreciated Milan. Finally, the shopping in Lake Garda is not too bad. There is a huge shopping mall by Desenzano called Il Leone. It has a supermarket and plenty of shops although we found Germany to be cheaper for most clothes stores. As a side note, the wife finds the UK cheaper than Italy, France and Germany for Lancôme make up.
Lake Garda to Munich
The drive to Munich from Lake Garda is long. It is a lot quicker than the drive from Stuttgart to Lake Garda by a few hours though. The route through Austria is on the main motorway all the way so it avoids any crazy hairpin roads that can really slow you down. Munich also has a traffic pollution thing like Stuttgart but it is not as big. You can get from the edge of the pollution zone to the centre in less than 10 minutes by train. Public transport to get around is also very cheap.
Munich is home to the BMW museum. It is coupled with BMW World which is basically a giant flagship showroom. BMW world does not have the listening thing that Mercedes have but they have interactive things all around the museum to play with including a touchscreen table and giant books that narrate a story as you turn pages. It is a little smaller than the Mercedes museum but I prefer what they had in the museum as it felt more inclusive on an interactive level.
Munich shopping was decent with loads of big department stores filtered in between a ton of smaller chain stores. I was randomly looking for olive cooking spoons and spatulas whilst in Italy but couldn’t find any. On our last day in Munich we randomly found some in one of the department stores for a couples of euros each. Food in Munich tasted rubbish straight after a trip to Italy. We went to a couple of Bavarian restaurants but the experience was pretty poor. Again, feel free to check out my tripadvisor reviews.
Munich to England
The trip from Munich to England is a very, very long one! We encountered a ton of traffic in Belgium on the way back but luckily we took a diversion through Kingdom of the Netherlands courtesy of Sygic satnav on my Android phone. We got to Calais a couple of hours early so we bought a load of French food and Avène products at dirt cheap prices before heading home through the Eurotunnel.
Road trips are worth it
All in all it was a fantastic holiday with ample memories to treasure forever. The highlight that literally sticks with me is the Metzingen shopping experience as I am currently exclusively wearing stuff that I bought from there as I write this blog post now. Road trips through Europe are fun but be prepared for some sore bums or tired eyes if you are not used to long distance driving!