Want to avoid the crowds this summer in Europe? I offer you ten tested and approved destinations for a roadtrip in Europe off the beaten track. From the lakes of Poland to the castles of Luxembourg, passing through a little-known French valley or a route around Spanish wines: there is something for everyone! All these destinations are accessible by car (or car + ferry) from Belgium or France. For the more distant, I also suggest a nice stop to make a stopover on the way and thus avoid having to take the plane to get there.
POLAND: MASURIA AND THE 1000 LAKES REGION
Masuria is one of the first regions I discovered in Poland, and it remains one of my favorites. Located in the North of Poland, Masuria is a region with many charms: you can walk there in mysterious forests, enjoy its many lakes, discover typical villages untouched by mass tourism and even (and it is the experience not to be missed in the region) sleeping in ancient palaces transformed into splendid hotels. Another interesting visit is that of the Wolf’s Lair , the former Hitler bunker where the famous Operation Valkyrie took place, the first failed attack on Hitler.
Distance : 1500km (15h) from Brussels, 1700km (18h) from Paris
Possible stops: you can do a nice stopover in Düsseldorf in Germany, a city with the largest Japanese community in Europe, and/or in Poznan, the hipster city in Poland.
NETHERLANDS: THE CHEESE VALLEY
What if you go to eat gouda in Gouda, the city? The Cheese Valley, also called the “Green Heart of the Netherlands”, is a fairly recent and still little-known tourist destination, but with yet many attractions, for cheese lovers of course, but also for cheese lovers. others, since there are very, very good restaurants there. This region stretches between Rotterdam and Utrecht, and you will find yourself in the midst of a typically Dutch setting: mills, fields, small canals (polders) and cycle paths! It’s really lovely. Gouda, the historic center of the region, is worth the trip in itself.
Distance : 150km (2h) from Brussels, 450km (5h) from Paris
Possible stages: although it is not a far-off destination, you can also combine this little road trip with a visit to Rotterdam. If you are coming from France, you can also combine this road trip with the one in Hainaut in Wallonia, which I will tell you about below.
FRANCE: THE LOIR VALLEY (AND NOT THE LOIRE!)
Admittedly, the Loire Valley and its castles will probably be crowded this summer, and yet you just have to go a few tens of kilometers north of the Loire to arrive in the little-known Loir Valley, which also has beautiful castles, with a major difference: it is much quieter here! Among its human-sized castles, I particularly recommend the Château du Lude and the Château de Bazouges. And if you like beautiful gardens, don’t miss the Jardins du Prieuré de Vauboin in Beaumont-Sur-Dême.
Distance : 550km (6h) from Brussels, 250km (2h30) from Paris
Possible stages: if you come from Belgium, you can take the opportunity to discover this superb hotel in Valenciennes.
ITALY: VAL CAMONICA AND LAKE ISEO, THE FORGOTTEN LAKE REGION
If you fancy a combination of mountains and lakes, the province of Brescia in Lombardy is the perfect off the beaten track region in northern Italy. You will discover the splendid Lake Iseo, one of the most unknown lakes of the Lake District in Italy. From Lake Iseo to the mountain village of Ponte di Legno stretches for 90km the Val Camonica, a large valley in the Italian Alps crossed by the Oglio river. Val Camonica was also the very first Italian site to be classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its prehistoric rock art (petroglyphs).
Distance : 950km (10h) from Paris, 950km (10h30) from Brussels
Possible stages: from Paris, you can make a stage around Lake Geneva ( Génève, Lausanne, Evian, Yvoire,…); from Belgium, you can stop in Strasbourg in Alsace.
GERMANY: WINES AND NATURE IN RHINELAND-PALATINATE
If you want peace and nature, I recommend a short roadtrip in Rhineland-Palatinate, between Zweibrucken (Deux-Ponts in French) and Bad Bergzabern, a beautiful German region crossed by the German Wine Route and covered by the Forest Palatine, classified as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO.
Distance : 350km (3h30) from Brussels, 425km (4h) from Paris
Possible stages: even if it is quite close, you can take the opportunity to also discover Metz in France or Luxembourg-city.
LUXEMBOURG: THE VALLEY OF THE 7 CASTLES
Head to Luxembourg and the Vallée des 7 Châteaux for an ultra-easy road trip that can even be done in a weekend from Brussels or Paris. This small road trip allows you to discover the castles of the Eisch Valley in a day or even a half-day.
Distance : 225km (2h30) from Brussels, 400km (4h) from Paris
Possible stages: road trip to combine with a discovery of Luxembourg: Luxembourg-city, the “Little Luxembourgish Switzerland” (Mullerthal) , etc.
BELGIUM: THE CANAL DU CENTER AND THE UNESCO SITES OF HAINAUT
Hainaut is probably the most unknown province in Wallonia, and yet it has many surprises in store (and I’m not saying that because it’s my region of origin, no!). The Canal du Center is the perfect destination to combine a visit to UNESCO-listed sites and bike rides. On the program: visits to the hydraulic boat lifts of the Canal du Center, the Bois-du-Luc mining site, and finally the town of Binche, known for its Carnival.
Distance : 75km (1h) from Brussels, 275km (3h) from Paris
Possible stages : if you come from France, you can take the opportunity to stop in Mons.
SPAIN: THE RUEDA WINE ROUTE
Want to sunbathe while tasting good wines? I suggest you go to Castile and León in Spain for a gourmet trip on the Rueda Wine Route, between the cities of Segovia and Valladolid. This trip will allow you to discover the wines of the AOC Rueda, known for its white wines, but also to discover the splendid historic city of Segovia, classified by UNESCO, and the very gourmet Valladolid, the Spanish capital of tapas.
Distance : 1550km (3.30pm) from Brussels, 1200km (12.30pm) from Paris
Possible stages : the charming towns of Blois and Poitiers are on the road
ITALY: THE GARGANO PENINSULA – PUGLIA DIFFERENTLY
Admittedly, Puglia is a fairly popular destination, but strangely all tourists are concentrated in the south of this region, while in the north of Puglia there is an equally incredible and less touristy place, the Gargano Peninsula National Park, especially popular with Italian tourists. This region combines dream beaches, wild coasts, fields of olive trees as far as the eye can see, typical mountain villages, forests,… It is the perfect destination to combine nature, beach and gourmet discovery of local specialties! Do not miss the beautiful coastal town of Vieste, perched on a rocky promontory.
Distance : 1650km (5.30pm) from Brussels, 1650km (4.30pm) from Paris
Possible stages: it is possible to do several gourmet stages in Italy, in particular in Milan, Parma, Bologna, or, more unknown, Ascoli Piceno.
POLAND: THE EAGLE’S NEST ROUTE IN SILESIA
Poland remaining THE destination off the beaten track par excellence in Europe, here is also a second possible destination for an original roadtrip between nature and culture in the south-west of Poland: the Eagle’s Nests Route which will allow you to discover the castles of Silesia and to take some beautiful walks in nature. I recommend in particular the visit of the castles of Mirow and Bobolice (linked by a nice little hike).