September 1994: On my second visit to Europe, I had only one “must see” on my agenda—the Alps. My husband took my request a bit too literally by making sure I saw the Alps at every opportunity. And, every mountain range was breathtakingly beautiful.
Our European trip began in Brussels, Belgium. I arrived in gray, drizzly weather, but the rain let up as we drove from the airport through the Belgium countryside to Kasteel Cleydael, a moated castle in Aartselaar in the province of Antwerp, Belgium. Parts of the building dated back to the 14th century. The castle was the home of the lords of Cleydael until the end of the 18th century. Here, we would spend our first night.
To get over jet lag and work up an appetite, I wandered through the castle, then strolled the grounds. Dinner that night, a five-course prix fixe meal, was excellent: lobster bisque, pâté with finger toasts, salad, duck breast with chanterelle mushrooms, and a mousse of white and dark chocolate. The ambience was priceless. Our window table overlooked the castle moat in the foreground and the golf greens in the background.
Our room, housed in one of the castle’s turrets, had a canopied bed and a cast iron claw-foot tub in the bathroom. The doors and windows were intentionally low to maintain heat, so my husband had to duck every time he went from the bedroom into the bathroom or vice versa. The walls and fireplace were carved from granite.
The next morning the sun cooperated, and we were able to take pictures before we climbed into the car and headed to Brussels, where we roamed the city and window-shopped. After lunch, we motored through the countryside and crossed the border into Luxembourg. We made a brief stop to sightsee, then drove to the Mosel wine region of Germany, where we spent the night in Ediger-Eller at a small B&B and ate dinner at Hotel Fieden; the meal of wild boar and lingonberry sauce was delicious.
The following day, we roamed the towns of Ediger and Eller and snapped pictures of the lush green vineyards that blanketed the steep slopes of the Calmont, the steepest vineyard in Europe. After a stroll along the Moselle River, we hiked the hill to tour Reichsburg Castle, a medieval castle that dominates the skyline. Restored in the 19th century, the interiors were designed from the imagination of the restorers. But what I found interesting was the secret passageways and the huge rooms with their massive fireplaces. The interior was surpassed only by its exterior with its commanding views of Cochem and the river.
In the afternoon we entered France but didn’t make our first stop, Strasbourg, as planned because the pouring rain showed no signs of easing. Disappointed, we left Strasbourg behind and drove through France’s Alsace-Lorraine region at a leisurely pace.
While my husband, a history buff, gave me a detailed description of the back and forth ownership of the area, I half-listened to who had ruled Alsace-Lorraine and when, the Germans or the French. I was focused on the captivating scenery of lush green vineyards, numerous castles (most in ruins), verdant pastures dotted with herds of cattle, lakes surrounded by forests of pines, beeches, and maples, and in the distance the snow-covered Swiss mountains.
From France, we crossed into Switzerland. We stayed the night in Zurich, toured the city the next day, and on the third day cruised through the Alps to Grimsel Pass for an espresso break and to take in the magnificent view. I felt like I was standing on the highest peak in the entire world, a heady experience. After our java break, we sped off to see the Matterhorn.