Plane-free holidays

Published on: Monday, May 24, 2010
Plane-free holidays - feature


Thanks to the untimely eruptions of an Icelandic volcano, you may be re-thinking you holiday plans this summer. Avoid potential chaos by opting for a rail, cruise or driving holiday.

Plane-free holidays: By car

Whether taking your own vehicle to the continent, or hiring some wheels once off the ferry or Eurostar, the collage of countries just across the Channel lends itself perfectly to a wealth of diverse and fascinating road trips.

Driving holidays to Italy
Wind your way from London to Italy’s fashion capital Milan, via French architectural hotspots and gleaming Swiss scenery. After an early morning Eurostar from Folkstone to Calais, head to the French city Reims, home to the country’s most impressive cathedral. The Champagne region is within easy reach, if you fancy a couple of non-driving days sampling the world famous fizz.

Head onto Strasbourg, on the Franco-German border, and explore medieval streets, canals, bridges and ornate architecture. Across the Swiss border, Basel offers a hub of modern design and architecture. Driving through Switzerland is a pleasure: this undulating land is sprinkled with waterfalls, rivers, and mountain vistas. Once into Italy, Milan is your aesthetically pleasing oyster: see the world’s largest gothic cathedral, delve into the best shops on the continent, and enjoy masterful paintings and extensive museums.

Driving holidays to Spain
If you prefer sunny Spain, hit the road from London to Bilbao, via western France. After arriving in Calais, drive to Tours, and take a wander around the city’s free botanical gardens. From Tours, move on to Bordeaux, nestled at the heart of one of the world’s best wine regions. If you have the time, it is definitely worth spending a couple of days here to fully appreciate the year-round mild climate, fine wines and glorious cuisine.

Once in Spain, those eager for a dose of fashionable and lively beachside fun will love San Sebastian, which boasts sandy strips, lively festivals and a cosmopolitan vibe. Travel along the coast to Bilbao, home to the Guggenheim Museum, and some of Spain’s most exceptional cuisine.

Plane-free holidays: By cruise ship

The appeal of a cruise holiday is obvious – you can drive straight to the ship (or take advantage of one of the many free coach transfers offered by cruise lines), unpack, relax and enjoy the scenery unfold. If you’re a first time cruiser, a voyage to northern Europe offers immense rewards.

Baltic cruises
Baltic cruise holidays are a must for history buffs. Itineraries vary but typically include charming Copenhagen offering fairytale spires and towers; Helsinki, Riga and Tallin brimming with elegant palaces, fortresses and churches and the jewel of the Baltic, St Petersburg, laden with architectural gems, including the world-class Hermitage Museum.

Scandinavian cruises
Scandinavian cruise holidays will appeal more to wildlife- and nature-lovers. From Bergen to Tromso and the North Cape, the Norwegian fjords are lined with soaring cliffs, tumbling waterfalls and snow-capped mountains. Watch out for humpback or killer whales, discover quaint fishing villages, winding cobbled streets, and if you’re lucky, you may even glimpse the magical spectacle of the Northern Lights.

NCL, P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises, and Costa Cruises are among those companies offering northern European voyages, with itineraries ranging from seven days to over two weeks. Departures are available from Liverpool, Dover and Southampton.

Plane-free holidays: By rail

For a unique plane-free travel experience, wave goodbye to London and pop over to the continent by rail.

Rail holidays to Spain
Hop on the morning Eurostar train to Paris, and after a few hours exploring the romantic French capital, head to Spain on board the classy Elipsos Trenhotel. This overnight train to Madrid comes with cosy bedrooms, some with en-suite shower and toilet, a café/bar and a restaurant car. No plastic airline forks here, just proper metal cutlery and clean tablecloths.

Once in Madrid, make your way to Atocha train station for the high-speed AVE train, which reaches Seville in 2 hours 30 minutes, cutting through the mountains via a dramatic series of viaducts and tunnels. Seville is quintessential Spain offering everything from flamenco to fiestas and tapas to bullfights.

Rail holidays to France
Alternatively, visit the French Riviera by rail. From 10 July, a weekly, direct Eurostar service departs from London St Pancras or Ashford International on Saturday mornings and arrives in Avignon by early afternoon. The scenery en route is jaw-dropping as the train sweeps down the Rhône Valley, passing typical French villages and crossing spectacular viaducts.

Spend a day or two in Avignon, visiting the Palais des Papes and the famous Pont d’Avignon before heading for the French Riviera. Beyond Toulon, the railway follows the coast past beaches, rocky capes, millionaires’ villas and yacht-filled harbours. Stay overnight in a luxury Cannes hotel, discover the culinary delicacies offered in Nice’s seafood restaurants or wander up to the casino to glam Monte Carlo in Monaco.