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  • Writer's pictureWanderlust Mike

From the Alps to the Adriatic: An Epic Journey Through Switzerland, Northern Italy, and Croatia

From Rhine Falls to the Matterhorn, from tranquil Lake Como to the canals of Venice, Europe is steeped in a rich history and some incredible landscapes. Here's how we made it through the scenic locations of Switzerland, Northern Italy, and Croatia all in one trip!




European travel route map
Our route through Europe by train, boat, and car


This was our first trip together to Europe, so we were really excited to explore as much of it as we could! We utilized a Eurail railway pass to travel throughout Switzerland and Italy, a ferry to get to Croatia, and drove through Croatia. Our route was Zurich, Luzern (Lucerne), Bern, Zermatt, Milan, Varenna (Lake Como), Venice, Rovinj, Korana (Plitvice Lakes), and Zagreb. We flew from Zagreb back to Zurich, where we returned home. We had round-trip airline tickets through Zurich, Switzerland.



SWITZERLAND


Flying in to Zurich, we stayed with friends just outside of Schaffhausen, Switzerland, at the start of our journey. We enjoyed punting down the Rhine, brunching at Schloss Laufen castle adjacent to Rhine Falls, strolling through the picturesque town of Stein am Rhein, touring the quaint and historic village of Marthalen, the beautiful views of the Rhine from Munot Fortress, and a day visit to Konstanz, Germany. We did do some driving (rent a car from Zurich if you like), but took the train or a bus as much as possible. Stein am Rhein and Konstanz were both by train.



stein am rhein
Stein am Rhein, Switzerland

marthalen switzerland
A home in Marthalen, Switzerland

munot fortess
The Rhine River from Munot Fortress, Switzerland


We then proceeded by train to Luzern, Switzerland. Here we took a cogwheel train up, hiked around, and enjoyed the gondolas down the iconic Mount Pilatus. We lodged at the charming riverfront Hotel Des Alpes. We took a scenic ferry ride through lush Lake Luzern and enjoyed strolling the historic Kapellbrücke bridge and old town. We also climbed upon the old city wall, and visited the famous Lion Monument, which commemorates the Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution.



mount pilatus
Mount Pilatus views

lake lucerne
Boat ride around Lake Lucerne

chapel bridge lucerne
Kapellbrücke (Chapel) bridge


We stopped in Bern for the day, where we'd highly recommend a meal at the Rosengarten restaurant on a hill adjacent to town for wonderful views. We enjoyed the many town statues and fountains, the gothic cathedral, and of course the famous clock tower (or Zytglogge) animations as well!



bern
View from the Rosengarten restaurant

Zytglogge clock tower bern
Zytglogge clock tower

Our next stop was Zermatt for some breath-taking views of the Matterhorn. We utilized the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise gondola lift system to witness the Matterhorn up close. We hiked down to the village of Blatten from the Furi station, which looks like it popped right out of the film Heidi! We also enjoyed the Schweigmatten Shepherd Festival when we were there. And if the weather's just right, you can tandem paraglide in Zermatt as well!



matterhorn switzerland
View of the Matterhorn from the gondola

Schweigmatten Shepherd Festival
Schweigmatten Shepherd Festival


ITALY


We continued utilizing our Eurail pass to travel to Italy, where we made our way to Varenna at Lake Como (via Milan), and stayed at the historic Villa Torretta. Lake Como was so romantic and picturesque with its gardens, shops, and walking paths. Our favorite lakeside gardens were Villa Cipressi and Villa Monastero. We also hiked up to Castello di Vezio for commanding views of Lake Como!


We explored Villa del Balbianello, made famous as Padme's lakeside villa on Naboo from Star Wars Episode II, and the gorgeous nearby town of Bellagio by ferry as well.



varenna
Varenna, Lago di Como, Italia

villa del balbianello
Villa del Balbianello, Lago di Como (Lake Como)

Bellagio


We spent a day in Milano, Italy, between Lake Como and Venice. We really enjoyed a rooftop walk along the Duomo di Milano (cathedral). The marble sculptures on this structure are incredible! We also enjoyed exploring the famous grand shopping mall of Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II.



duomo di milano
Duomo di Milano


From the rooftop of Duomo di Milano

Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II shopping mall

Once we arrived in Venice, we explored Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace), which was beautiful and grandiose! Additional highlights included an intimate chamber operetta at Musica a Palazzo where each act is performed in a separate room of a Venetian palazzo, and a gondola ride through the canals. We also utilized their vaporetti to visit the famed glass-blowing town of Murano.


Tip: We recommend catching a gondola ride from the Ponte dell' Accademia bridge, with striking views of the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute church!


We stayed at Vanessa House bed and breakfast on the mainland adjacent to Venice, utilizing the bus system to travel back and forth.


Tip: Our best advice for Venice is to stray off the beaten tourist path. Stroll along the canals and outer banks. Savor your surroundings.


doges palace
Doge's Palace

venice gondola ride
Basilica di Santa Maria from our gondola


CROATIA


From Venice we took a ferry to Rovinj, Croatia. The old town was magnificent, and we discovered one of our favorites - a local farmers market - while we were there! Renting a car we drove to the small town of Korana, adjacent to Plitvice Lakes National Park, a beautiful place full of some of the world's highest rated waterfalls, with clear blue lakes and lush green forests. The boardwalks around the lakes and waterfalls are incredibly scenic and very well maintained.



rovinj croatia
Rovinj harbor, Croatia

plitvice lakes
Plitvice Lakes National Park


After a couple of days at Plitvice Lakes, we drove to Zagreb. Unfortunately we went straight to the airport to catch our flight back to Zurich, Switzerland, and were unable to see anything in town. From Zurich we spent one last night at a hotel near the airport, then returned home.


Tip: When connecting to flights from other airlines or within different countries, we usually spend an extra night just in case of flight delays or cancellations.


Europe is, without a doubt, the West's historical center. From architecture, to landscapes, to culture and history, there is so much allure to this wonderful continent. We encourage you to explore it for yourself!





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