Last week we got back from our German/Austrian road trip. It’s my first day back working after one of the most incredible trips of my life. So naturally, I’m not feeling as motivated as I should be. I want to be back in the snow-capped Austrian hills and wandering round the exquisitely festive Christmas markets.
There were a few firsts on this trip. It was our first experience of taking our dogs abroad, our first Christmas together after getting engaged, and our first Christmas away from home.
If you are considering going away for Christmas but keep thinking, ‘but Christmas isn’t the same unless you are at home’, read this post and it just might inspire you to give it a try. No, it’s not the same as Christmas at home with your family, but it’s also wonderfully different and refreshing, and an experience you can treasure forever.
Here’s what we got up to on our Christmas 2016 road trip…
We packed the car and headed to the Euro Tunnel at Folkestone, which is luckily just over an hour from us. We usually get the ferry, so the Eurotunnel was a new experience.
It’s slightly more expensive but I would say it’s definitely worth it. The train takes just over half an hour and it goes so quick, it’s hard to believe you have entered another country.
After arriving at Calais we drove to our first stop-off point, Cologne. The drive took around four hours, and we went through five different countries (UK, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany).
It’s quite odd driving through so many countries in such a short stint. We arrived in the evening, so we didn’t get to see Cologne in the daylight. But that didn’t matter too much because we wanted to experience the Christmas markets there, which are better at night.
I haven’t been to a foreign Christmas market before. I’ve heard the German ones are pretty epic, and I wasn’t disappointed. The first one we went to (Neumarkt) was like a winter wonderland, with stalls covered in fairy lights, Christmas lights scattered in the trees above, and a stage playing Christmas music.
This was by far our favourite market. We had some mulled wine in cute mugs, tried our first German sausage and tasted the most delicious waffles I have ever had the pleasure of eating. My taste buds are craving those waffles as I type, they were so fluffy and tasty. Neumarkt mainly consists of food and arts and crafts.
The next market we went to was Heumarkt, which looked a little like a ski resort. It had an ice rink, ice bowls and cool ski lift type seats. There were lots of pubs selling German drinks and beers, and plenty of beautiful jewellery. We also went to a market set right in front on a rather grand cathedral, but FYI it shuts at nine, so we didn’t get to see much of it.
If you are looking for a basic, affordable hotel that’s just outside Cologne, I would recommend Hotel Servatius. It’s not in the prettiest part of the city, but the location is so convenient, and the hotel is nice inside.
It’s about ten minute’s walk from the tram station, and about a fifteen-minute tram ride from the city centre. The tram takes you all around the city, but to be fair you can reach most of the Christmas markets on foot.
The breakfast at our hotels was excellent, it had cheese, eggs, meat, smoked salmon, pastries, cakes, cereal and fruit. The room was huge and the bed was comfy.
For some reason the hotels we stayed in throughout Germany didn’t have any tea making facilities, I had to ask the receptions for boiling water. I think I have a herbal tea addiction because I couldn’t cope without my usual daily intake.
We also arrived in Nuremberg in the early evening, so we only saw it in the dark. From what we saw of it though, it looked lovely. I would say the Christmas markets at Cologne were better, but Nuremberg was a more impressive and charming city.
It’s got loads of striking buildings and awe-inspiring architecture, including the enormous cathedral in the main square. Instead of having lots of Christmas markets spread across the city, Nuremberg just had one big one in the centre. Although it definitely wasn’t as Christmassy or magical as the markets in Cologne.
Our hotel in Nuremberg was OK, the room was very small, but again, the location was spot on. There was a tube station a two-minute walk which got us to the centre in ten minutes. The breakfast was really good and it was in a nice location in the outskirts of the city.
I had high hopes for Salzburg, and although it was a lovely city, it wasn’t quite as I had imagined. It’s got plenty of shops but many of them are quite pricey, plus a few restaurants and cute cafes. I don’t think you need more than a day here really, we were able to see most of the city in a few hours.
There are horse carriages taking tourists around the city, a small Christmas market and some attractive buildings. If you do go to Salzburg, make sure you take the time to walk up to the castle where you can admire sweeping views of the city.
It’s also quite nice strolling around the river, especially when the city is dusted in snow. We didn’t have time to go to Vienna in the end, and I have a feeling it would have been the better option.
Hallstatt is a village in Austria’s mountainous Salzkammergut region. We were recommended this place by a few Austrians on Facebook, and I can see why they suggested stopping off there. It’s an adorable village with 16th century Alpine houses, and it’s nestled alongside an enormous lake within the mountains.
Make sure you visit when it’s snowy, as this is when you can get some postcard worthy pictures of the houses covered in powder. I loved this little village, but if I’m honest it did feel a little touristy and not as authentic as where we were staying in Bad Aussie.
Rothenburg der Tauber
Possibly my favourite place of the whole trip, and it was the last place we went to. We stopped off here on the way back to Calais. Rothenburg der Tauber is around six or seven hour’s drive from Calais.
Our dog’s vet is German, and she recommended this town to us. I’m so glad she did! It’s like a fairytale town with colourful houses with wooden beams, cobbled streets and shops selling all sorts of stuff.
We were so lucky because as we were wandering round, it started to snow, which made the town feel even more magical. We bought some Schneeball, which literally means snowball. They are a tasty biscuit treat that the town is famous for, and they come in lots of mouth-watering flavours.
This is where we stayed for six nights in Austria. It’s about a 14-hour drive from the UK. Bad Aussie is lovely because it’s still very traditional and authentic, and hasn’t been overwhelmed by tourism. I’m pretty sure we were the only English people there. There are a few local shops selling things like ski gear and lederhosen, four or five decent restaurants and some cafes.
Our apartment was a little out of town right in the mountains, and it was perfect for what we needed. We had the most incredible view from our balcony of a glacier and mountains covered in snow. I loved waking up every morning in somewhere so peaceful and being surrounded by nature.
We went on a long walk with the dogs every day, they had so much fun playing in the snow and taking in their new surroundings. Having the dogs with us made it so much more special, because it felt like we had part of our family with us. Plus, the huskies in the snow felt super festive and wintery.
I was apprehensive about spending Christmas abroad away from my family. We do the same thing every year, spending Christmas at my mum’s house. But Christmas day in Austria turned out to be amazing. Although it had snowed before we arrived, annoyingly it rained on Christmas eve, which washed most of the snow away.
We woke on Christmas day and we could see that half way up the mountains it was snowing, so we set on a mission to find it. We trekked up with massive hill and nearly gave up just as we entered a little clearing where it was snowing.
I will never forget those few minutes that we spent there with the dogs, taking in the wonderful feeling of watching snowflakes fall on a mountain on Christmas day.
Next we went out for lunch at a restaurant in a nearby village. It was in the middle of nowhere down a long winding road. When we stepped inside we knew we had chosen the right place.
The waitresses were dressed in lederhosen, the restaurant was packed with a warm atmosphere and it felt a bit like being in a log cabin. We ended up having a delicious meal for lunch. I had road beef with potatoes and vegetables and will had a traditional goulash game stew with dumplings. Plus, to top everything off, it was snowing outside.
In the afternoon we went to a local spa for a few hours, which was very busy, so I guess that’s the thing to do on Christmas day in Austria! And to finish off what was an extremely enjoyable day, we cooked our own roast dinner in the evening and watch Christmas movies. Perfection!
And just to finish off, here’s a couple of pictures of the scenery we were blessed with whilst driving around Austria.