Navigation for wanderlust
Getting around Europe is easy. Brian Johnston looks at the transport options that will offer the best experiences.
It would be difficult to nominate my favourite experience on the move in Europe. It might be the rack railway that clangs up Mt Rigi in central Switzerland, pressing your back against your seat as buttercup-studded meadows and snowy peaks grow ever more extravagant beyond the windows.
It might be sailing out of Santorini in Greece at sunset, the cliffs of the volcanic island turning to gold as drinks are served on the deck of a cruise ship. Or it might be driving along the back roads of the Dordogne region in France through half-timbered villages and apple orchards.
There are abundant reasons to love Europe as a travel destination, and certainly getting around is easier than anywhere else.
It has more transport options to more places than any other continent, and generally of high quality, reliability and safety. destinations really should be seen from the sea: there’s no better way to admire the Norwegian coast, Svalbard islands or the approach to Kotor in Montenegro.
You have to stick to coastal destinations, leaving much of Europe unexplored. Big-name cities such as Rome, Paris, London and Berlin, although visited on shore excursions, are often distant from cruise ports.
Another downside is that you seldom see ports in the evening, or have the chance to enjoy the atmosphere and regional cuisine of local restaurants.
Europe imposes size restrictions on river-cruise vessels thanks to locks and low historic bridges.
Space is tight in cabins, and public areas and amenities are limited, although cruise itineraries generally have you off the ship most of the day. Communal dining requires sociability. Shore excursions often focus on run-of-the-mill sights.
Some companies also offer additional-charge excursions of a more varied nature. Last-minute deals are now rare, and you really have to book up to a year in advance to get a good price and the cabin category you want.
The approach to Kotor, Montenegro, is magnificent. Driving the Amalfi Coast will be one of the most challenging, but rewarding, drives of your life.