The Daily Telegraph - Travel
The ultimate European road trip
A month ahead of the EU referendum, Jonathan Thompson embarks on a 21st-century take on the Grand Tour
Historically, a “Grand Tour” of Europe was a rite of passage for young Englishmen: a pilgrimage across the continent, expanding their cultural and social horizons over months, or even years. My goal this summer – accompanied by a photographer and videographer – is a 21st-century spin on that concept, confined to one calendar month: a “mini” Grand Tour.
We’re aiming to take in all the key stopping points of a traditional tour – from Calais to Vienna to Rome – but also to unearth some hidden gems such as Wallonia, Transylvania and Moravia to the backstreets of Europe’s liveliest second cities, like Aarhus, Turku and Brno.
Unlike our forebears, we’re not restricted to horse and carriage as our primary means of propulsion but, to even things up, we’re making it more difficult for ourselves.
Blessed with tarmac roads and GPS, we’re aiming to visit every country of the European Union. There are 28, from the UK to Cyprus, and to make the route function within the confines of a month (or, rather, Europe’s car ferry schedules) we’ll also need to cross two others: Turkey and Albania.
So, there’s a neat target for our millennial road trip: 30 countries in just over a month – and back in Britain for the long-awaited referendum on June 23.
Finally, to complete this latter-day Grand Tour, there was only one car we could really go for: a racing red Mini Clubman.
Days 1-5: UK to Sweden
“Hej!” chirrups the voice at the other end of the line. “You will soon be connected to a random Swede.”
A click, a pause and then there he is – our very own unpremeditated local. In this case it’s “Lars”, primed to answer any question we might have on his homeland.
Sweden is the first country to introduce a hotline that plugs you into the nation itself. It began last month and is already receiving 5,000 callers a day. “We’ve had calls from 185 different countries already,” says Lars. “There are only 11 nations who haven’t called Sweden for a chat.”
Unlike Syria, Guatemala, Kazakhstan and the other global party-poopers, I’m a fully paidup Swedophile today, following a reinvigorating night spent at an eco-hotel near Malmo. Angavellen, a
See video of Jonathan Thompson’s mini Grand Tour of Europe at telegraph.co.uk/ travel, or see Twitter and Instagram: @ JT_Travelsvideo
Jonathan has been assisted by Mini and by Aferry.com
Call Sweden on 0046 771 793 336.
Jonathan Thompson, far left, plans his trip; and the racing red Mini Clubman, above working farm with 26 guest cottages, was a greedy gulp of fresh air after four days on the road from home, with an organic restaurant justifiably lauded as “a living Utopia” by Gourmet magazine.
But I’m not ringing Sweden to boast about last night’s dinner. I need directions to a party in Stockholm. Thanks to yet another ridiculously cordial initiative – a “Slice of Swedish Hospitality” – tourists can now be “adopted” by a local host, who will feed and entertain them for the evening. I’ve duly been assigned to a buoyant bear of a man named Bjorn Arvidsson, known in Stockholm’s hilly Vasastan area for his daily backyard barbecues. Tonight I’ve been invited to join him, his wife Anni and assorted friends for their ritual.
Bjorn turns out to be a warm and gregarious host and is predictably proud of his country’s endemic benevolence. “Of course we’re