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2, 152 Miles in 16 days at 100 MPH

Written By: Erik Hale and Erin Price Barca or Bust: Taking the High Road Across Europe

I love road trips. More accurately, I love the idea of road trips—plotting my course on Google Maps, making road trip-worthy playlists and grabbing gas station-sized, kidney-straining mega sodas. But actually driving? Not always fun. The leg cramps, long stretches of seemingly endless road, the constant dread of being pulled over for speeding. This summer, however, I found a solution to road trip boredom: Drive an exciting car on roads without speed limits while enlisting your best friend (and fiancée) as navigator, storyteller, co-driver and Snack Commander in Chief. This time, the journey could be just as thrilling as reaching our destination.

 

The Ride: 2016 Mercedes-Benz E-Class E400A Convertible; 329 Horsepower
Color: Polar White; Black Interior with Black Convertible Top

Six months prior to our scheduled European vacation, my fiancée Erin and I met with Lorna Farthing at Fletcher Jones Mercedes-Benz in Newport Beach. Lorna was a sales consultant specializing in European Delivery for Mercedes-Benz. We spent the day test driving vehicles, deciding on the model and, finally, choosing a color. We decided on an elegant 2016 E400A convertible in Polar White with a contrasting black top. A few days later, Lorna emailed us to confirm our order, providing us with the exact date we would be able to pick up our new Mercedes-Benz at the factory in Germany. We were officially going to Europe.

 

Stuttgart, Germany

The road trip begins … well, almost.

Erin and I arrived in Stuttgart after an 11-hour flight from our stopover in Seattle. Still reeling from jetlag, the complimentary lodging and taxi vouchers courtesy of Mercedes-Benz was a welcome perk. With outside temperatures reaching well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, all we wanted was A/C and a cold shower. After checking into the Althoff Hotel am Schlossgarten and firing up the Wi-Fi, we noticed an email marked URGENT at the top of our inbox. Uh oh. We wouldn’t be able to pick up the car for a few days. Bummer? Not really. Now we had an excuse to explore. Zurich, Switzerland, here we come.

Stuttgart to Zurich to Stuttgart
Number of miles/km driven: 270 miles/438 km
The Ride: 2015 Smart ForTwo Sedan; Top Speed: 76 MPH
Hotel: Storchen Zurich
Caution, Speed Demons: There are photo radar cameras everywhere; drive within the posted limits.

 

Zooming down roads in a car reminiscent of a soup can, traversing mile-long tunnels crowded with commercial trucks and ascending steep mountain roads was actually a blast. Part of the excitement came from reading every German sign aloud (the signs for Exit, or Ausfahrt, truly brought out the inner child in both of us). On top of a couple near-death experiences, we had our picture taken five times during that first day of driving. The camera really loves you while speeding, running a red light, changing lanes—even when seemingly abiding by the law! Please be aware of photo radar; it can increase your vacation costs significantly.

We could have spent our entire trip in Zurich. Beautiful buildings line the waterfront promenade of the Limmat River, which dissects the city on its journey toward Lake Zurich. We spent the afternoon walking along the promenade, watching boaters row, swimmers swim and sunbathers enjoy the 90-degree sunshine and 80-degree, crystal-clear water. We rented a boat that afternoon, drove to the middle of the lake and skinny dipped.

We found our hotel, Storchen Zurich, on TripAdvisor with 4.5 star reviews and glowing recommendations. The historic boutique hotel located on the banks of the Limmat did not disappoint. Packed with charm, the space showcased beautiful artwork at every turn while offering amenities like crisp and clean bedding, large windows and an extremely accomodating staff. Parking was nearly impossible to find near the hotel so we parked as close as we could and walked over. The doorman happily fetched our car and we turned in for the night after a quick cocktail at the hotel bar facing the river.

Better Lake Than Never: Find a way to swim in the lake. Rent a boat, pay admission to a swim club or just jump off the pier. The lake water is so clean you could bottle it.

 

Sindelfingen, Germany

We drove the car off the factory floor.

It was finally time to pick up our brand new E400. Mercedes-Benz was kind enough to provide us with a lunch of sandwiches and wine to enjoy on our trip. Less than an hour later, our car arrived on the delivery floor. The Mercedes-Benz team gave us the ins and outs of handling the car before finally putting the keys in my hand. It was ours to drive all over Europe for the next 15 days. Erin jumped for joy. The car was spotless. I had to check the odometer—less than 10 kilometers in total.

 

Sindelfingen, Germany to Venice, Italy by way of the Swiss Alps
Miles/km: 434 miles/699 km
The Ride: The Mercedes-Benz E400A

 

The beauty of the German Autobahn is that it allows you to thoroughly mash the gas pedal. Flying at a top speed of 131 MPH, we made our way to Venice, Italy, through the Swiss Alps. The drive through Austria and the Alps is the most breathtaking scenery either of us have ever experienced. The curvy mountain roads slowed our pace and took our minds off the odometer so that we could enjoy the beauty—evergreen treetops, aquamarine pools of water and stark, rocky peaks. We made sure to make plenty of pit stops to take in the surrounding landscape, fuel up the car and find a place to eat the picnic lunch from Mercedes-Benz. There are also plenty of roadside stands serving wurst and pommes frites that we highly recommend taste testing. The drive out of the Alps is endless in the best way possible.

Native Knowledge: While the landscape was beautiful, clean restrooms are hard to come by. We recommend taking the chance to freshen up at one of the roadside restaurants.

 

Venice, Italy

Water babies.


Hotel: Centurion Palace
The Ride: Motoscafi (motorized water taxi)

The hotels and residences that line the canals of Venice were all once great mansions of the fabulously wealthy and important. Our hotel is no exception as it was built in 1892 to house the Genovese family. The Centurion Palace is directly on the main (and much wider) canal and boasts a gothic-Venetian façade. After parking the Mercedes-Benz in a nearby garage, our motoscafi, or water taxi, approached, circled once and dropped us at the hotel’s wooden dock.

Although our hotel possesses a very traditional outward appearance, the interior is anything but old fashioned. The hotel has been transformed from a historic residence into a very contemporary hotel, each room decorated differently. We dropped our bags in our third-floor room and took in the views before heading out to traverse Venice.

Venice is as Instagram-worthy as they come. 

  1. Venice Jails
  2. Catching up with friends
  3. Canals

 

Venice Italy to Florence, Italy

The most romantic city we explored wasn’t Venice, it was Florence.


Miles/Km: 160 miles/258 km
Hotel: J.K. Place, Firenze

 

Pocket Protection: Make sure to carry plenty of different credit cards and cash in different currencies. We lost count at over 40 toll road stops on our trip and there were several times that we had to play credit card roulette to find a card the machine would accept.

Quality Control: Leave the convertible top up for this portion. You will encounter traffic and exhaust filled smog on your way into Florence.

The drive from Venice to Florence was gorgeous—the Tuscan region is beautiful. Those who love rolling fields and farm houses will really enjoy this drive.  

We originally planned for two days in Florence, but after the long drive from Venice and the feeling the city gave us, we cancelled our drive to Rome to extend our stay in Florence. Our hotel was part of the reason we extended our stay. Although our room was small, it was immaculately clean and impeccably decorated. It was simple yet sophisticated. Even though Florence boasts a large number of world-renowned restaurants, we found ourselves having three meals at the hotel during our stay (once for dinner and twice for a family style breakfast around a communal dining table in the lounge).

What did we love about Florence? 

  1. The bridges over the Arno River:  Ponte Vecchio, Ponte Santa Trinita and Ponte alla Grazie—in that order
  2. The guided tour of the Duomo
  3. Outdoor movies at Cinema Chiardiluna
  4. The food—especially at Alla Vecchia Bettola
  5. Making friends:  We met a local nicknamed “Little Tony” who gave us a free tour of his city
  6. The warm nights
  7. The river reflecting the streetlights at night

 

Florence to Lucca
Miles/km: 51 miles/82 km
Native Knowledge: Lucca is only 10 miles from Pisa. We suggest skipping the Insta-opportunity of pretending to lean against the Tower of Pisa and visiting Lucca instead.

 

Florence to Cinque Terre to Portofino to Monte Carlo, Monaco
Miles/km: 288 miles/480 km

 

Where to stop:

  1. Cinque Terre: There are five towns that make up the coastal region referred to as Cinque Terre. Prepare for a winding, steep drive to the beaches below the cliffs. Once you arrive, you can take a train between all five towns. The houses hang from the cliffs in a multi-colored pattern that is enchanting to stare at, especially during the golden hour.
  2. Portofino: It still feels like a dream. We stayed the night in a town that felt like a movie set. We met Magic Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson as soon as we arrived and learned that Madonna had eaten at our table the night before.
  3. Every small town you pass on this road: We lost count after crossing over 100 bridges and passing through the same number of tunnels. You rarely see the coast; and when you do, we suggest that you pull over.

 

Monte Carlo, Monaco

Native Knowledge: After a night of partying, or after dinner, make sure to enjoy coffee and dessert at Cipriani. The place was packed at midnight. We were lucky enough to sit next to Novak Djokovic, who had just won Wimbledon the day before.

5 Reasons to Stay at The Fairmont Monte Carlo While Visiting Monaco:

     1.The Grand Prix of Monaco takes place in May, and the famous hairpin turn is directly in front of the hotel.

  1. The view from the tiny patio deck of Nobu restaurant allows you to see three countries and enjoy amazing sushi.
  2. The world famous Nikki Beach has a rooftop outpost on top of the hotel. We drank a magnum of rosé two days in a row and arrived early for poolside lounging.
  3. It contains its own casino and is only a short walk from the Monte Carlo Casino.
  4. We left our passports in our room and did not realize it until we reached Barcelona.  We called from our hotel in Spain and The Fairmont had them overnighted to us.

 

Monte Carlo to Barcelona, Spain
Miles/Km: 424 mi 683 km

 

Barcelona is one of my favorite cities in the world, and I was determined to make it my fiancée’s as well.  Even though our arrival was off to a rough start as we realized only hours before arriving that we had left our passports in Monaco, I could not be deterred from selling this city to her.  

We arrived at The Grand Hotel Central, located in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona. Our faces were tan, our legs ached and we needed a drink. After helping us contact The Fairmont in Monaco to retrieve our passports, the hotel staff showed us to our room and told us about the rooftop infinity pool and bar. Our room was modern, clean and larger than we expected with amenities like an in-room Nespresso machine and a massive shower. We also had a view of the Barcelona Cathedral from our windows. After settling in, we went to the rooftop sky bar, ordered two mojitos and stared out at the beautiful horizon of buildings and apartments.

Grand Hotel Central Makes for an Excellent Homebase. Here’s What’s Walkable from the Front Door:

  1. La Sagrada Familia
  2. Parc Güell
  3. The Barcelona Zoo
  4. Parc de la Ciutadella
  5. Gothic Quarter
  6. Barceloneta Beach
  7. Mar Bella Beach (it’s right next door to Barceloneta and also a nudist beach)
  8. Las Ramblas
  9. La Boqueria

 

Barcelona, Spain to Paris, France
Miles/km: 1, 037 km/644 miles
Hotel: Hôtel Maison Souquet

 

Paris, France

The Finish Line

Native Knowledge: McDonald’s has free wifi. We needed it to book our hotel in Paris.

We were supposed to take two days to drive from Barcelona to Paris, stopping for a night in Bordeaux, before continuing our journey. From the minute we exited the city limits of Barcelona, it was obvious my fiancée had other plans. The drive should have taken 13 hours—she was determined to make it in 11. She hovered near the 200km/hour marker for hours, guiding us at Nascar speeds through the winding hills of Southern France, over bridges and through woods. We stopped only four times for gas and food before arriving in Paris.

Driving in Paris was an adventure in itself. We nearly ran down a motorcyclist in a roundabout. We arrived at our hotel late at night and the concierge was beyond helpful.

The Hôtel Maison Souquet is dark and cozy with hints of secret passageways amid the narrow hallways. Once a pleasure house during the Belle Époque era, the hotel has been transformed to emulate the gaudy opulence of that golden age in Western European history, but in a tasteful way. Rich fabrics, dark tones and quiet spaces make every conversation seem like a secret. We were offered cocktails in the lounge, which we accepted before retiring to our room for the night. The room, though small, would better be described as intimate. There was only one small window and the walls were padded with thick material. It was like sleeping inside a jewelry box.

 

What Not to Miss in Paris:

  1. Drink rosé in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. Bring a blanket because the lawn is overused and not as lush as you might have dreamed.
  2. Walk across the street from the hotel to see the Moulin Rouge.
  3. Take the longest tour of the Louvre your feet can manage.
  4. Make sure to watch the Eiffel Tower’s twinkling light show at night.

 

10 Most Important Things to Remember About Driving in Europe:

  1. Everyone drives fast but highways somehow feel safe
  2. The right lane is for passing only  
  3. Every freeway is not an autobahn
  4. They have cameras everywhere (we got snapped five times in one day)
  5. There are more tunnels and bridges than you have ever seen
  6. Gas stations are on the freeway off ramps
  7. McDonald’s has free Wifi and clean restrooms
  8. Audiobooks are great for long drives (We listened to The Sun Also Rises)
  9. Drake is also great for long drives
  10. CDs bought at Italian gas stations make great frisbees

 

You Are A Tourist, Act Like It:

  • Splurge on a once in a lifetime concert.  We saw Elton John in Lucca, Italy.
  • Eat lots of gelato (and granizados in Spain).
  • Take lots of annoying pics.
  • Go on plenty of walking tours.
  • See as much of the Louvre as you can.

 

The 5 Best Eats on Our Euro Roadtrip
-Everything at Alla Vecchia Bettola in Florence
-Ham and butter sandwich from a gas station in Paris
-Macarons from Ladurée at the airport in France
-Schnitzel in Göppingen, Germany
-Omelettes in every country (Europe just seems to do eggs better)

 

The 10 Best Things We Did


Watched Gone Girl under the stars with red wine at Cinema Chiardiluna
Rented a boat on Lake Zurich and skinny dipped
Dinner in Portofino looking at the Mega Yachts (also, meeting Magic Johnson)
Swimming in Cinque Terre
Venice with friends (ding dong ditching)
A night drinking in Barcelona and getting punched in the face
Driving on the autobahn until the governor slowed us down
200 polaroid pictures
Didn’t always follow our itinerary
Drinking wine in our condo above the Tour de France finish line

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