Breakfast at Grand Hotel Europa
This was the first hotel during our trip where breakfast was included with our room and was the best hotel breakfast we had while we were in Europe. Unlike the other hotels where we had breakfast, this one had a much larger selection of food besides the usual cold cuts and cheeses. This one had American eggs, bacon, and sausage, as well as a small section for Asian breakfast items. We did notice a diverse group of tourists in the morning at breakfast and the hotel obviously knows how to cater to all of them. During breakfast, we also had soft boiled eggs, which we later found to be quite popular in Europe, although not every restaurant made them as good as the Hotel Europa. Service during breakfast was also impeccable, truly “white glove.”
Drive to Lake Como through the Swiss Alps
It basically took us all day to get to Lake Como. We probably left around 8:30 am and arrived in Lake Como around 4pm. I didn’t take the most direct route as I wanted to drive through as many switchbacks as possible. The drive was a ton of fun, although my car still wasn’t fully broken in; I had to keep the RPMs low and couldn’t go as fast as I wanted. The alps are amazingly beautiful and we got some great photos. At the bottom of the alps, the weather is fairly warm, but as you get to the top, they are covered in snow. We have a great picture of us in our flip flops with the car, and snow covered peaks in the background. This is probably one of our favorite photos we took on the entire trip.
We stopped for lunch in a small town in Switzerland called Andermatt. We wanted to get to Como so we wanted something quick so we stopped at a restaurant right next to a gas station. It was clean and while the two ladies didn’t speak great English, they really tried to help us figure out what we wanted to eat. The hamburger we had here was really good and you could taste that the ground beef was very fresh. It was nice, because although the national Swiss currency is the Swiss franc, the accepted our euros.
Once we got near Italy, the driving became a bit more confusing because the streets continuously change names and curve every which way. By following signs, though, we were able to get to Lake Como. While it was tough to navigate, the last hour of our drive was beautiful as well, even though it wasn’t the Swiss alps. We drove by a lake and enjoyed the view as we got closer to Como.
Once we got to Como, it took us almost an hour to find our hotel(didn’t come up on the navi and many buildings are not numbered), even though our hotel ended up being huge. There just happened to be a couple of buses blocking the very large sign with the hotel name. We drove by the hotel several times not knowing it was ours.
Como is definitely not a car friendly city as the streets are very narrow and parking is extremely difficult. After arriving at the hotel, we did not take our car out the entire time we were in Como.
Dinner at Ristorante Belle Isole
After checking into the hotel, we set out to have dinner and figure out where to buy ferry tickets for the next day. We found the ferry ticket station within a 5 minute walk of our hotel and a very nice attendant there helped us figure out which tickets we needed.
Very close to the ticket booth, we found a restaurant where the owner was greeting customers outside. He was extremely friendly and spoke great English, and we read good reviews about the restaurant online, so we decided to try it. We ordered a bottle of wine, which really wasn’t expensive compared to US standards and some pasta and ravioli. The food was pretty good and the owner was so nice. We sat outside with a view of the lake and Bellagio on the other side of the lake.
The Grand Hotel Caddenabbia
This hotel was a nice surprise. We got a great deal on this hotel on Expedia.com and did not expect the rooms to be as big as they were. Our room was decorated in an old Victorian style with dual sinks, a sitting area, and outdoor balcony area overlooking the lake. We also had a traditional bath tub right next to the bed. While the building was older, the rooms were very clean and luxurious. It was also nice because parking was free here. Breakfast was also included.
Breakfast at Grand Hotel Caddenabbia
Breakfast at this hotel was fine, but could not compare to Hotel Europa. We didn’t complain as it was included in our already very reasonable hotel room rate. The perk to having breakfast here was the view of the lake. We did find the service to be somewhat slow and lacking and we thought that certain linens and cups could have been cleaner, especially for a 4 star hotel.
We bought an all day ferry pass first thing in the morning and set off to explore the different small towns along the lake. The day pass price was very reasonable, although we found the schedule grids to be very confusing. We ended up just asking people to figure out what time we had to be back on the ferry because that was much easier than trying to figure out the grids.
We got off at Lenno and took the hike up to Villa Balbianello. There is also a small speedboat you can take for about 5 euros each way. We found the hike to be nice and the trail was beautiful. It wasn’t too tough of a hike, although most of it was uphill. We got to the villa and purchased tickets for the gardens only, as we had heard that the inside of the villa was not that worthwhile to see. At the entrance of the villa, there was nobody to collect/check our tickets. Again, it’s about the honesty policy.
The villa was absolutely beautiful and we got some amazing photos. It was cool to see that part of Casino Royale was filmed there, although it didn’t look like it did in the movie.
We would definitely recommend this to villa to visit if you are in Como.
Lunch at Bar Sport
After hiking to and from the villa, we were hungry so decided to try this pizza place called Numero Uno, that had been recommended to us the previously night by the owner of Belle Isole. However, when we arrived at Numero Uno, they said that the restaurant was now closed. We were disappointed and made our way to Bar Sport for pizza and pasta, which was right on the lake. We ate inside as outdoor sitting was full. The food was just ok and I wouldn’t eat here again if I had a choice. The restaurant was also very busy so the service was somewhat slow.
La Fabbrica Del Gelato
After lunch, I stopped here for some gelato, which was really good and perfect on a warm day. Best gelato the entire trip, possibly best ever.
We then got back onto the ferry and left Lenno to get off at Varenna. This was a fairly small town and we walked around to get a feel for it. There wasn’t much to do here so we sat down at Varenna Caffe to have some coffee and enjoy the view of the lake, while waiting for the next ferry. The cafe service was friendly, and free WiFi was provided.
We then took the ferry to Mennagio which was a much larger town. We enjoyed walking around and there were a lot of cars driving around honking their horns–it seemed like a soccer game had just been won and people were out in the streets celebrating.
Now, finally time for the famous Bellagio. We took the ferry here and it was beautiful. We walked around the shops and came to find a restaurant called Bilacus, which the owner of Belle Isole had also recommended. We sat outside on the patio and enjoyed a lovely bottle of wine and some great Italian food.
The service here was great and we found this to be a great way to end a fantastic day exploring the towns of Como.
Overall, we would recommend this restaurant to others as well as recommend that you spend the day exploring on the ferry.
My wife wanted to take a day trip to Milan and do some shopping. Since I got a car, and this was her only request, I decided to forgo my day trip to the Ferrari factory so that she could go to Milan.
We learned that the easiest way to get to Milan was to take the ferry from Tremezzo (the next town over from Cadenabbia, within walking distance) to Como, then from Como to take the train to Milan. Again, these schedules were very confusing and there were multiple Milan stops and we had to constantly keep asking people where to get off to do some shopping. Between the ferry and the train, it took us almost 2 hours to get to Milan.
We got off at the main Milan train station, where we had to pay to use the restrooms. This was the first time we had to pay for restrooms in Europe and found these to be the dirtiest public restrooms we had used. Once we left the train station and asked for direction to head toward the oldest mall in the world, Emmanuel Vittoria, we immediately noticed that Milan was much dirtier than the cities we visited in Germany and Austria. The architecture throughout the city was beautiful.
My wife’s first order of business was to buy a bag a Prada, which by the way there were about 6 Prada stores all within walking distance in Milan. We have been to major shopping districts such as Rodeo Drive, Fifth Avenue in New York City, and Hong Kong. Milan put all of those cities to shame. My wife had a great time in the Prada store where they gave her great service and she was able to find a bag she liked. FYI-because of the tax refund possibility for tourists, it is cheaper to buy a Prada in Italy than it is in the US.
After Prada, it was my turn to shop. I headed to the largest Armani store in the world and bought some stuff for myself. Then it was time for lunch. By this time we were no longer at the Emmanuel Vittoria. It had started to rain so we picked the first lunch place we found that looked appetizing and ducked inside to escape the rain. The restaurant was super crowded and it was very hot. It was as if there was no air circulating inside. The food was decent, but the prices were quite high for what you got. We wouldn’t recommend this restaurant to anyone. Had it not been raining, we would have probably walked back towards Emmanuel Vittoria, where the restaurants looked bigger and much more affordable.
Once lunch was done, we walked back to the train station to head back to our hotel.
Dinner on Our Patio
After a long day of shopping, we decided not to go out to dinner and have a nice meal on our hotel patio overlooking the lake. We went to the local market which was within walking distance from our hotel, and bought supplies.
We had a great meal of sandwiches, cold cuts and melon, and a great bottle of Barolo, with a fantastic view of the lake.
We woke up and had breakfast at the hotel again and set off to find the site where Mussolini was executed. My wife had read online that it was a cool place to see and the lady at the front desk at the hotel told us it was about a 20 minute walk, so we figured why not?
Turns out, this site was about a 40 minute walk away from our hotel and it was not easy to find. We must have asked a half a dozen people how to get there along the way and surprisingly, not everyone knew what we were talking about. At the end we finally found it. I think we were happier to have finally found the place, than we were impressed with the site.
The site is located in Mezzegra so if you are close, I would recommend you see it as it was a key point in history. If you are further away and not a super history buff, you can skip this one.
Lunch at Albergo Corona in Vicosoprano
We then left Como and set off for Fussen, back in Germany to start our drive along the Romantic Road the following day. Right before crossing into Switzerland, I stopped at a self car wash-car wash number 3. During the drive I gassed up once in Switzerland and another time in Austria just before entering Germany. Gas is cheaper in Austria compared to Germany.
Again, I had fun going through the switchbacks of the Swiss alps. Of course I plotted out the longer route, ensuring extra time through the Alps. For lunch, we stopped at this little restaurant and hotel called Albergo Corona in the very small town of Vicosoprano in Switzerland. It was somewhat late for lunch, and nobody was in this restaurant, but the lady welcomed us, opened the restaurant, and took our orders. We were surprised at how good the food was and how friendly the service was. If by chance, you are in this small town, this place is great. They also accepted our euros, despite the national currency being the Swiss franc.
After a day of driving, we made it to Hotel Hirsch. We found the hotel rooms to be clean, but very basic. The reviews of the hotel on TripAdvisor made it seem much more luxurious than we found it to be. We also booked one of their higher end rooms, so I wonder what the more basic rooms were like. My wife complained that the hotel had a towel warmer, but didn’t provide shampoo. We ended up having dinner at the hotel as it was more convenient. The food was ok and the soup was bit too salty. They also might have been having an off night, as it took them forever to bring out our dessert at the end of our meal.
Day 12-Romantic Road
Breakfast at Hotel Hirsch
Breakfast was again included in our hotel room rate. It was very basic and didn’t have much hot food selection. It was pretty much all cold cuts, cheese, and bread.
Our first stop along the Romantic Road was Neuschwanstein Castle. My wife reserved our tickets for the English tour weeks before we actually left for Europe. The tickets for the tour were almost 20 euros/person, although we did end up getting a discount of 1 euro/ticket from our hotel. However, the tour of the inside of the castle lasted less than one hour. Because the castle was never completed by King Ludwig II, there isn’t much to see inside. There are some amazing hand crafted wood pieces and beautiful paintings. This ended up being our favorite castle that we visited but my wife and I debated whether or not we would recommend that people tour the inside.
The outside of the castle, however, is beautiful. We would definitely recommend the hike to Marienburg, which is a bridge, where one has the best view of the castle. We got some amazing photos here. On the way to Marienburg, there is also a spot where you can take pictures of the older castle, Hohenschwangau.
We literally stopped her for less than 10 minutes as we didn’t have much time. The church is much prettier on the inside, that it is on the outside. I was able to take a few pictures inside. If you don’t have much time and aren’t into churches, you can skip this one.
Landsberg a Lech
This was our third stop along the Romantic Road. We had lunch at an Italian restaurant called il Lago Digarda. There were no English menus, but our waitress was really nice and helped us figure out what we wanted to order. The food was great and she then gave us directions on how to walk to the prison, where Hitler was once incarcerated in 1924.
The prison is hard to find via driving and much easier to find on foot. However, because the prison is still in use today, they do not allow photos. It was a cool spot to see, but not a must see.
This is one of the oldest projects in the world and is still in use today. There were quite a few tour buses at the front, but we didn’t really have much time to go in. Plus, I didn’t want to pay 4 euros/person to go inside the projects. We took a couple of photos in front of the Fuggerie and headed off to our next stop.
This was a pretty cool spot to stop along the Romantic Road. Parking here was not easy, though. We parked and went to visit the tower called Daniel, which is part of St George’s church. It was a few euros/person to get in and over 300 very steep steps to get to the top of the tower. The climb was somewhat tiring, but what a view from the top. The city of Nordlingen is a perfectly round circle and the view we had from the top of Daniel tower is supposed to be similar to the final shot in the old version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Apparently, that last shot was filmed in Nordlingen.
We left Nordlingen and wanted to check into our hotel before heading to Rothenberg. There was a section of the drive where we drove through the country side. Most of it had no speed limit, with what seemed to be endless miles of rolling hills, and miles of continuous S turns. It was such a picturesque drive and I had tons of fun. Unfortunately my Contour action camera was temporarily down. After the road mellowed out a bit I realized I could try and capture part of the drive with my DSLR. At this point the road wasn’t as winding anymore.
Rothenberg was our last stop for the day along the Romantic Road. We got there just in time to take the Night Watchman tour, which lasts an hour. We were only there for the first 30 minutes, as we were hungry and the tour seemed to be moving slow. The tour was interesting though, and we probably could have stayed through the entire thing. If you are not into medieval history though, you will not enjoy the tour.
We ended up having a great dinner at this restaurant called Alter Keller. It was one of the better German foods we had during the trip. Service was great and we would recommend this restaurant as well. The owner came by and is a big fan of BMW. He saw that we were paying with our BMW card, and noted he had a BMW too. Later, he brought his phone over showing us pictures of his 3 series touring, and photos he had taken at BMW Welt/the museum.
We were also in Rothenberg during a holiday weekend, so there were a lot of people dressed up in traditional costumes. There was a group of young children dressed up who came up to us yelling, “photo, photo, photo!” I figured they were excited to be in their costumes and wanted a tourist to take a picture of them. Immediately afterwards, they each extended their hands for money. I was surprised but started handing out euro coins. Almost immediately afterwards, a lady, who I am assuming was some sort of parental figure to the kids, came over to yell at the kids, collected the coins I had given them, and gave them back to me. My wife and I found this to be extremely entertaining. I actually told the lady that the kids could keep the coins, but she insisted I take them back.
Castle Colmberg Hotel
My wife really wanted to stay in a castle during our Europe trip. We did some research and found the Colmberg Hotel. It is about a 20 minute drive away from Rothenberg and is pretty far off the beaten path. If you don’t have a car, this hotel is probably pretty tough to get to. The hotel was quite pretty from the outside and the room was quite nice. We both thought it was pretty cool to stay in a castle, that was built around the year 1000 AD. In the late 1900s, the owners converted it to a hotel. The only downside to this place is that there is no elevator. We stayed on the 4th floor, which meant I had to carry our luggage up 4.5 flights of stairs. Also, the front desk is not open 24 hours a day so you must check in by 8:30pm. After 10pm, the exterior lights of the castle turn off. I happened to be grabbing something from the car, and it was a little scary walking around a deserted castle in the dark. Once inside, all the lights were off as well except for a few small night lights here and there. Other than that, we would recommend this hotel.
Day 13-Romantic Road continued
Breakfast at Castle Colmberg Hotel
Breakfast was also included in our room rate. We were getting somewhat tired of European breakfasts though as they really don’t believe in hot food. It was more cold cuts, cheese, and bread. Although, this hotel did have those soft boiled eggs we like. After breakfast we walked around the castle.
Rothenberg-Walk the Wall
Rothenberg is one of the few medieval cities, where part of wall surrounding the city is still up. We decided to walk the wall, which took us less than an hour and was pretty cool to not only see the city, but get a perspective of how they protected the city during the medieval era.
My wife then wanted to buy some Christmas ornaments, as the idea of the Christmas tree was invented in Germany and Rothenberg is famous for its Christmas shops. However, it was a German religious holiday, called fire tag, so all of the stores were closed. I ended up asking around and figured out that the only way for my wife to buy ornaments was to pay for admission at the Christmas museum and then go to the gift shop. This satisfied her and we are now the proud owners of a very expensive Christmas ornament from Rothenberg.
A friend had recommended we stop here, we got there and realized it was a very small basic church and cemetery. We were probably here for about 10 minutes and then left for Wurzburg.
Once we arrived in Wurzburg, we were quite hungry and tired of German food. We found a pretty good Italian restaurant called Le Candele, where we were able to grab a quick bite and then headed off to see the sites. We realized immediately that Wurzburg was probably going to be the largest city we visited along the Romantic Road.
We then walked on over to the Wurzburg Residenz and took some photos from the outside. We had already toured in the Residenz in Munich and were not in the mood to tour another one. The Wurzburg Residenz was quite pretty from the outside.
Then we visited was St. Kilian’s Cathedral. It was very large and very pretty and it seemed to accommodate all faiths. We hadn’t really explored a cathedral since we had been in Europe as we aren’t really religious, but enjoyed walking through this one.
We enjoyed walking around the town and ended up on a bridge where many people were drinking and socializing, probably due to the holiday.
We then decided to take the car and drive to the other side of Wurzburg, where the Marienburg Fortress was located. The fortress was very large and provided great views of the city. It did require a lot of walking. The fortress pretty much looms over the city and is so large, that we thought that anyone would be crazy to try and attack the city.
25Hours Hotel Levi’s
From Wurzburg, we drove to Frankfurt to our hotel. We chose the 25Hours Levi’s hotel for several reasons:
1. Parking was available for 20 euros/night
2. It has a super convenient location with the main public transportation station right across the street.
3. It was very reasonably priced compared to some other hotels we had researched in Frankfurt.
The rooms were very clean and unique looking. However, we did find them to be a bit small. We had dinner at the hotel’s restaurant called Chez Ima, which was very delicious. The highlight of our meal were probably the lamb chops. Chez Ima seems to be a really popular dining place for locals. It was packed every night, and one of the nights they had a live band playing.
Some people online found this hotel to be too close to the red light district, although we didn’t mind. We did see a fight break out during the day, people who were high as a kite at night, and a group of people getting ready to get high with one person using a knife to cut up the drugs. Again, this hotel is not a luxury hotel, but we found it quite good and very convenient. We would recommend this hotel to tourists looking for the same things we were.
Driving around Frankfurt is also not easy as the streets are not labeled well and parking is very challenging.
To be continued in Part III with the visit to Frankfurt and the nurburgring.