Fall is my favorite season – I love the beautiful colors of the foliage, the cooler temperatures, and the calm in the schedule before the hectic pace of the holidays begins.
We’ve been stationed in Europe for the past 2 ½ years, and our family has been enjoying the change of seasons that we didn’t have in Florida. And given our location, we are never at a loss for things to do!
If you’re stationed in Europe, there are some wonderful weekend destinations that are fun (and educational!) for the entire family, and fall is the perfect time to explore them. The weather is mild, but not too cold, the summer crowds have faded, and the Christmas market season isn’t in full swing yet.
Here are five European fall destinations that the whole family will enjoy:
When you think of Alsace, you automatically think of wine (well, at least I do!), but it is a great weekend destination for families. Situated near the German border, this beautiful region of France is an ideal spot for a fall weekend trip. While Strasbourg is the major city in the region, wait and experience it during Christmas market season. Instead, spend a day in Colmar (also known as Belle’s hometown from the Disney classic Beauty and the Beast) wandering the charming, quaint streets lined with half-timbered houses. Be sure to walk through “Petite Venice” and take a boat ride along the canal and then enjoy the regional specialty of “flammekeuche” (also known as tart flambée) to round out the day.
About 35 kilometers south of Colmar in Ungersheim, you’ll find the theme park, Le Parc du Petit Prince and the Écomusée d’Alsace, an open-air museum depicting a twentieth century Alsatian village with activities for the whole family (before you go, be sure to check the websites for seasonal hours and opening times). Or for a different experience, head 30 kilometers north of Colmar and tour the Chateau du Haut-Kœnigsbourg and then drive south along the “Route de Vin” and explore the charming towns along the way including Eguisheim (voted France’s favorite town in 2013), Kaysersburg and Riquewihr. We visited Alsace in the summer, but you can imagine how gorgeous the fall foliage must be, especially during harvest season!
You can book a hotel in Colmar, but we enjoyed staying outside of the city to get a true appreciation of the region. Hôtel de l’Ange in Niedermorschwihr offers several family rooms, a restaurant on site, and a wine tasting at their family cellar located directly across the street. Because you can’t visit Alsace without trying the wine, right?
Located in the southwest corner of Belgium in the Ardennes, Bastogne was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in World War II during The Battle of the Bulge. However, despite its tragic history and the deep memories that remain, it is a very scenic and peaceful place to visit and the gorgeous colors of fall will only enhance its beauty.
To truly experience Bastogne and its history, particularly as Americans, you must begin your day at the Bastogne War Museum. Completely renovated and modernized, the museum re-opened in the spring of 2014, and it is truly one of the best military history museums we have visited (and that’s saying a lot!). The museum is very interactive, and your entry ticket includes an audio guide that provides the perspective from four fictional characters (a corporal in the US 101st Airborne, a lieutenant in the German army, a young teacher from Bastogne, and a young, local schoolchild). The audioguide keeps the kids engaged and depending on their age, they can follow along the more in-depth route, or there are interactive points and highlights specifically designed for younger children.
When you finish at the museum, head outside and climb to the top of the Mardasson Memorial, a monument honoring the American soldiers killed or wounded during the Battle of the Bulge, which gives a panoramic view of the area. A few kilometers down the road, you’ll find “Bois Jaques” (or Jack’s Wood). If you watched the HBO series, “Band of Brothers,” you’ll recognize this as the place where Easy Company lost a number of their men to heavy shelling from the Germans. In this beautiful and peaceful wood, you can visit their foxholes that still exist today.
And if you have time, head to Brasserie D’Achouffe where you can take a tour of the brewery and enjoy a tasting session (children welcome), or just have dinner in the tavern and enjoy a La Chouffe beer. Because you can’t visit Belgium without trying the beer, right? (hmmmm … seems to be a pattern here …)
Luxembourg is small but beautiful, and despite its size, there is a lot to do!
Luxembourg City is typically the big draw and rightfully so with its charming pedestrian area filled with shops and cafes, as well as the fortifications that surround the city. Kids will enjoy riding the “Pétrusse Express” (the mini tourist train) around the city and visiting the Bock Casemates, a UNESCO World Heritage site, where they can explore the underground tunnels and passageways (open for the season through November 5, 2017). Keep in mind, these old tunnels are not made for strollers! Stroll past the Grand Ducal Palace or enjoy the palace view from across the street while sipping hot chocolate at the Chocolate House and then walk over to the “Pirate Ship Playground” (only 10 minutes from the palace) to burn off the excess energy!
About an hour north of Luxembourg City, you’ll find the beautiful rolling hills and forests of the Luxembourg Ardennes. Start the day in the town of Clervaux and visit the Clervaux Castle, where a Sherman tank is parked outside. Destroyed during WWII, the castle has been rebuilt and now houses the Battle of the Bulge Museum and a collection of models of Luxembourg’s castles. Travel 30 minutes south to the medieval city of Vianden, situated on the River Our. Tour the Vianden Castle which sits on a hill high above the town and take in the beautiful fall foliage. Parking is available near the castle, but if you’re feeling adventurous, park in town at the bottom of the hill and either walk up or take the chairlift (open for the season, weather permitting, until October 19th).
And a visit to Luxembourg wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the American Cemetery to pay your respects to the fallen soldiers of World War II, including General George Patton’s grave.
Maastricht (The Netherlands)
Obviously, our family likes to combine fun and education when we travel, and Maastricht is another perfect place to do both. Located in the very southern tip of Holland right between Belgium and Germany, Maastricht is one of the oldest cities in The Netherlands. Maastricht is a university town with a great shopping, restaurant and cultural scene.
Doesn’t sound like a family-friendly destination, right? But head underground (literally!) and the whole family will enjoy a guided tour of the subterranean network of caves and tunnels that have been excavated by miners over the centuries. Above ground, you can visit Fort Sint Pieter which was built in the early 18th century to defend against the French. The fort is only accessible via guided tour, so for a few euros extra, you can purchase a combination ticket for both the caves and the fort.
About 10km east of Maastricht, you’ll find the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten where more than 8,000 American soldiers were killed nearby during World War II.
What makes this cemetery so special is that every grave (8,301 to be exact) has been adopted by a local family for the past 70 years. These Dutch families tend to the graves by placing flowers on Memorial Day, the soldier’s birthday or date of death. There’s a waiting list to adopt grave because many times the responsibility for these graves are passed from one generation to the next. It’s a truly moving and inspiring place.
Situated in the Black Forest, Triberg is home to one of the highest waterfalls in Germany. There are three hiking trails that reach the waterfall, all varying in length, difficulty and scenery. The Cascade trail is the easiest of the three and takes about 45 minutes. It is a well-paved path and is the most stroller-friendly of the three trails, although baby-wearing is definitely your best option! If you have older children or if you are looking for a more challenging hike, the Culture and the Nature trails are a bit more difficult and take approximately 60 and 90 minutes, respectively. Regardless of the trail you choose, the view of the falls is amazing from numerous vantage points.
There is also a ropes course located within the park (additional charges apply). There are multiple courses ranging from a beginner-level (which was perfect for my 6 year-old) to much more advanced levels that had my husband shaking in his hiking boots!
After you’ve worn the kids out hiking and zip-lining, spend some time browsing the shops in town, which are filled with cuckoo clocks, handmade woodcarvings and Black Forest ham, of course. But don’t share your Black Forest cake with the kids! My husband and I were surprised to learn that it’s soaked with booze (and also very grateful that we were walking back to our hotel!)!
Boy, it was difficult for me to choose only five destinations! There are so many great places to see if you are stationed in Europe.
Where are your favorite places for weekend trips?
Help me add to my ever-growing list!