13 years ago we were on our very first backpacking adventure: a month travelling around Europe by train armed with an Interrail pass. We were 19, on University summer holidays, and typically for first time travellers it was a whirlwind tour visiting 9 countries: France, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and the Netherlands. We loved the feeling of freedom and immersing ourselves in new cultures, with every day different from the previous, and it was when our travel bug truly began.
We love travelling by train and are enjoying spending our summers exploring more of Europe, so when Eurail offered us a rail pass it seemed the perfect opportunity to recreate our very first trip. The idea of following the exact same route was tempting, for about two minutes, before we remembered that we are slow travellers now and we just have no desire these days to travel that quickly.
Instead we decided to focus on two main countries that we want to explore: Slovenia which is a new destination for us but everyone we know who has been there raves about it, and Italy which we aim to visit each year for some serious eating. As we are currently in England visiting family we’ll be starting our rail trip in London (or more precisely, just north from our hometown of Milton Keynes), just as we did all those years ago, so we have a few bonus stops along the way.
Our trip begins tomorrow with a recreation of the first one 13 years ago: London to Paris, an easy two hour journey on the Eurostar train. Back then we spent the afternoon drinking rosé in a cafe before getting on an overnight train to Venice (we’d already explored Paris a few months earlier when Simon treated me for my 19th birthday). This time we’ll spend three nights in the city.
As we’ve seen the tourist sights before on this trip we’ll focus on experiencing an alternative side to Paris. I managed to find a studio apartment on Airbnb for £40 a night (including Airbnb fees), a bargain compared to hotels in the city, and it’s in the untouristy Belleville neighbourhood, which is just what we were looking for. Belleville is a neighbourhood of immigrants and artists with lots of cafes and restaurants, and parks with views of Paris. We can’t wait to explore so please let us know if you have any tips.
Unless any of you recommend a can’t miss vegetarian-friendly restaurant we don’t plan to eat in restaurants in Paris, as we’ll be quite happy to live off cheese and bread, pain au chocolate, macarons, wine, and maybe some crêpes. Otherwise we have no plans for Paris other than to wander, visit some markets, and soak up the atmosphere.
From Paris it’s a 6.5 hour train journey to Munich. We know nothing about the city and it’ll be my first visit to Germany. We only have two nights/one full day in Munich with no plans so we’re open to your suggestions of things to do and veggie-friendly cheap eats.
Another day on the train will take us through Austria (we’re not stopping as we’ve been before) to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. It’s one of the smallest capital cities in Europe and from what we’ve heard from many blogger friends it’s beautiful, charming, and relaxed. While there we’ll be doing lots of aimless wandering and taking a food walk with the new Ljubljananjam to find out how Slovenian food is for vegetarians.
We have eight days in Slovenia and from the capital we’ll head to the Vipava region to visit caves, castles, and beautiful Lippizaner horses, and try Slovenian wine at some local wineries.
Our final stop will be Lake Bled where we have four nights to enjoy the seriously stunning scenery and take part in the many outdoor activities it has to offer including hiking, swimming, boating, and horse riding. We’ll also hopefully be visiting the Julian Alps and white water rafting on the turquoise Soca river on a tour with 3glav Adventures.
Although we’ll be travelling around the country independently the Slovenian Tourism Board will be supporting us with accommodation and some of our travel experiences in the country.
Slovenia shares a border with Italy and from Lake Bled we’ll be taking the scenic train ride to Nova Gorica and crossing the border to Gorizia, before continuing to Venice.
We visited Venice on that first trip 13 years ago and loved it, but as we’ve visited before and hotel prices are crazy high we’ll only be staying a night, just enough time to get lost wandering its alleyways. We’d love any restaurant recommendations you have for Venice as I know it can be tricky to avoid the tourist traps.
Although there is so much of Italy we still want to explore we were in Tuscany and Umbria last year so this time we’re heading south. A day on the train will take us down Italy’s Adriatic Coast to Bari in Puglia, the heel of Italy. We visited Puglia in 2009, our last holiday before becoming digital nomads, and fell in love with its gorgeous whitewashed villages, the unique trullis (conical stone huts) in the countryside, delicious vegetarian-friendly cuisine (oh, the antipasti!), and some of the best beaches in Italy. As a bonus this region sees far fewer visitors and is cheaper and sunnier than Central and Northern Italy.
We wanted to return to Puglia so we could write about it on this site as we think it deserves more attention from Italy visitors. We’ll be working with the Puglia Tourism Board who have arranged a food themed week in the region for us including markets, cooking classes, wineries, and dairies. We’ll be visiting some of the cities and villages we loved on our first visit (Locorotondo, Lecce, Gallipolli, Otranto) and some new ones (Bari, Andria, Galatina). It is possible to travel by train here but we’ll be hiring a car so we can stay in masserie, farmhouses in the countryside, which are a great way to experience Italy (and they have some of the best food!).
After Puglia our plans are more open but we hope to revisit Matera, which we think is one of the best kept secrets in Italy. It’s a stunning city of sassi, cave houses dug out of the limestone rocks of the ravine it sits in. Then we’ll eat pizza in Naples, and take the train to Sicily where we plan to rent an apartment in Palermo for a month, and maybe stop off at the Aeolian islands on the way.
For the next month we’ll be travelling at a far quicker pace than we’re used to these days, and it’s going to be tough to balance work and travel (Simon’s working really hard to get Trail Wallet 2.0 finished), but we are excited to explore new parts of Europe, revisit some old favourites, and enjoy the comfort of train travel. Please let us know if you have any tips to share!
Eurail are providing our InterRail global rail passes (the pass for Europeans) as we’ll be writing some articles for their new Eurail blog. Look out for our tips for train trips in Italy and Slovenia, as well as what it’s like to take a whole train on a ferry.