Why a Road Trip from Lucerne to Venice?
Within the travel/backpacking community it’s generally frowned upon to tick off the number of countries you’ve visited. When someone boasts about how long their list is, it’s usually met with disparaging remarks and the firmly delivered opinion that travel shouldn’t be a box-ticking exercise – it’s the value of the experiences and the depth of discovery that are important.
There’s a lot of truth in this, but if we’re being completely honest, I think most of us would admit to getting an extra big buzz from crossing into a country we’ve never visited – and, in our defense, it’s not just because of the bragging rights. Neighbouring countries often provide very different experiences, from national cuisine to dominant languages, popular pastimes or unique customs.
Europe is the perfect destination for so-called country collectors. For the most part, the countries are packed tightly together on one landmass and interconnected by reliable road and rail networks. This makes it possible to pack multiple countries into relatively short trips. One such road trip that’s well worth considering is a jaunt from Lucerne, in Switzerland, to Venice, in Italy, which also takes in the delights of Liechtenstein’s capital, Vaduz, and the wonderfully colourful Austrian city of Innsbruck.
Incredibly, this journey takes just two days, but includes four different countries. The direction you do it in is inconsequential – you should have no problem finding a place to rent a car in mainland Europe. The important thing is that you do the driving during daylight hours because the roadside views are as memorable as the places you choose to stop in. You should also give yourself a day or two either side in which to explore Lucerne and Venice properly.
With ornate turrets poking out above the rooftops, and covered wooden bridges stretching across the Reuss river, Lucerne could easily have been dreamt up by the Brothers Grimm.
You can keep yourself entertained for a full day just by wandering through the streets. Footpaths lead up the hillside, for stunning views of the city, and on into the woodland beyond.
There are some lovely half-timber structures with painted fronts, richly decorated churches and old town walls with watchtowers, a transport museum and a world leading concert hall, as well as a fascinating Lion Monument commemorating Swiss Guards who lost their lives during the French Revolution, which Mark Twain described as ‘the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world’.
For those who like to get out into the back of beyond, the Swiss Alps are within easy reach. You could take Europe’s oldest cogwheel railway or a panoramic aerial cable car to the top of Mount Rigi, or the world’s steepest cogwheel railway to a dining experience with a view on top of Mount Pilatus. For unobstructed views as you ascend, a new type of double-decker cable car with open-air standing room takes visitors to Mount Stanserhorn’s summit. If you’re feeling active, skiing, sledding and hiking are all options too.
Driving from Lucerne to Vaduz via the A3 should take approximately 1 hour 30 minutes and is just over 130 km. This makes it a great place to stop off for lunch on your way to Innsbruck. You should still be able to make it to Innsbruck in enough time to explore the city in the afternoon, before bedding down for the night and continuing on to Venice the next day.
With just over 5000 inhabitants, Vaduz itself is rather small and not particularly exciting, but it is worth stopping by to see the castle that sits atop a sheer cliff in the centre of town. This is the home of the reigning Prince of Liechtenstein. You might also take this opportunity to change the last of your Swiss Francs before crossing the border into Austria. A few of the larger souvenir stores will do this for you, although they’d probably rather you bought some chocolate, a wind up music box or a cuckoo clock.
The fastest route from Vaduz to Innsbruck goes via the S16 and A12. Allowing for traffic, the 180 km journey may take up to 2 hours 30 minutes.
Innsbruck is a colourful and lively city popular for winter sports. In fact, it has hosted the Winter Olympics and Winter Paralympics twice each.
The multicoloured houses on the banks of the river are a must see, as is the golden roof in the city’s old town. The latter was constructed in 1500 to mark an emperor’s wedding, and consists of 2738 fire-gilded copper tiles.
Located in the Tirol district, which is home to some very high mountains, Innsbruck attracts skiers in the winter and mountaineers at other times.
Climb the steps of the city tower for a view over the rooftops to the Nordkette mountains beyond. If you’re keen to get a closer look, you can board the Hungerburg funicular at a station close to the city centre and be at the Hungerburg plateau in just 8 minutes. From here, you can watch expert skiers race down Europe’s steepest slope.
The shortest route to Venice from Innsbruck takes just over 4 hours if traffic is light. However, a less direct route incorporating the Great Dolomite Road provides some knock out views. It’s definitely worth doing some research on this area and even considering making a couple of overnight stops along the way if you have the time.
Once you reach Venice, it’s usually cheaper to find accommodation away from the Grand Canal or main centre. You can then take a boat across the next day, which is a highlight in itself.
There’s a lot to see and do in Venice, but you could fit a lot of the main sights into one day if you had to. Some of the main attractions – St Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace and the Torre dell’Orologio – are all just off the piazza San Marco. From here you can also visit a glass blowing workshop and see the masters at work.
Afterwards, climb the Campanile for a view over Venice. It also helps to get your bearings and to note some of the prominent structures, as you’ll no doubt get quite lost wandering through tiny passageways and over countless bridges later in the day.
Of course, no trip to Venice is complete without a ride in a gondola, and it’s a really good way to explore the more watery parts of the city. Sadly, the gondoliers have been asked, out of respect for the residents, not to sing, but the experience is still very romantic if you request a private ride.
For lovers of the arts, there are countless museums, theatres and galleries; for shoppers there are designer stores and souvenir shops aplenty; and foodies will think they’ve died and gone to heaven. If you can visit during Carnevale, you might be able to get yourself an invitation to a masked ball, but at any time of year, the streets and piazzas bustle with face painters, street performers and poseurs in ornate costume.
Of course, when visiting any country it’s a shame not to take your time soaking up its atmosphere and exploring its every nook and crevice, but if time is something you’re short of, a road trip like this should overwhelm the senses and provide far more unique and memorable experiences than a single-destination package holiday might.