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Advice on Spring/Fall trips to Scotland and Alsace

Advice on Spring/Fall trips to Scotland and Alsace

Jul 23rd, 2017, 07:05 AM
  #1  
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Advice on Spring/Fall trips to Scotland and Alsace

I’m in the planning stages (I’m always in the planning stages....) for next year’s trip, and would appreciate your advice. I’d love to take two overseas trips, one in late April-early May and one in September/October, to Alsace and Scotland, if we can swing it! For context, my husband and I are in our late 60s/early 70s, good walking shape, love architecture, gardens and forests, good food, relaxing and meeting people. We would be flying out of LA.

These would probably be about ten days in length. In Scotland it would be limited to Edinburgh and environs for maybe five nights, then a bit north for a few nights (I’m looking at the area around Pitlochry). We definitely do not want to drive in Scotland, and I have bookmarked some day guides so that we can see a bit more of the outlying areas. Should we fall in love with Scotland, we’d return later to see the rest of the country, but for this trip, I’m starting here.

In Alsace, we’d stay in Strasbourg for perhaps five nights, using the train to see the Black Forest areas as well; train to Colmar, do walks there; if we can swing it, end up in Lucerne and fly out of Zurich. We’re not particularly interested in wine tasting, as our son and DIL are in the wine business in Napa and we get plenty of that, but more in walking through the vineyards for the scenery.

Knowing this, which destination would you recommend in the late spring, and which in the fall?
Iwan2go is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2017, 07:15 AM
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>>Knowing this, which destination would you recommend in the late spring, and which in the fall?<<

Six of one / half dozen of the other really. Weather will be a crap shoot in either. But 'in general' Sept. will likely be better in Scotland than April.

. . . BTW - I would not base in Pitlochry for a short 'taster' location in Scotland. Also, is there a reason you are so sure you don't want to drive?
janisj is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2017, 07:46 AM
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Colmar is a sensible base for a walking trip in Alsace. The vinyards only go up so far into the Vosges (the mountain chain to the west) and they are topped with trees, castles etc etc. There is fine walking along the ridge (I think it is a French long distance path and I've skied along most of it) and certainly you can drive up and walk along all you like. Paths are well marked and local tourist info will have maps etc. At the southerly end are a few "ballons" which are big open meadows with fine views of the Alps on a clear day, there are bars up there and can be a very pleasant half day out.

Naturally there is a col in the line of mountains just north of Colmar but it is very shallow.

You can also walk from village to village through the vines or follow the concrete paths in the vinyards on bike (bike hire is limited but available) or on foot. Tends to be a bit hotter but the views can be fine.

Between the two, ie village level and the mountain tops (and these are old so short mountains) there are also well marked paths.

Generally the higher hamlets have less food and drink available to you may need to stick a bottle in a bag etc.

Colmar itself is a largish town and while it is a fine base you'll need to hack out to the villages to get the best walking, either taxi or the odd school bus (operating to french school timetables) will help.

I go roughly every couple of years, for the wine, and prefer to stay in a village, as they get quiet nice in the evening once the hordes have gone.

Eguisheim is my present favorite.

Strasbourg has a lovely old centre worth about 8 hours visiting time. So I would not base here, but, hey up to you.

Locally you also have WW1 military bases, a concentration camp and some pre WW1 fortifications if you like that sort of thing.

Alsace does well either part of the year, vignerons are always busy so if you want to taste go in the spring, otherwise it doesn't matter.

Alsace websites are a bit "odd" this one works pretty badly https://www.tourisme-alsace.com/en so you soon have to use tools down at village level. The southern area "the Haut Rhin" (68) is the morespectacular in my way of thinking.
bilboburgler is online now  
Jul 23rd, 2017, 11:25 AM
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Driving in Scotland is the easiest way to see what's outside the cities - the Scots didn't plan castles, abbeys, lakes or battlefields by train stations. It's not that hard because everyone else drives on the wrong side of the bloody road too.

Pitlochry is worthy of a lunch stop. Other places are worthy of a short period of residence.
BigRuss is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2017, 12:20 PM
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Inverness is nice, and you can get the train there.
I wouldn't drive in Scotland - there's plenty to see from the train windows.
fuzzbucket is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2017, 03:17 PM
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Thanks! We drove in the UK about twenty years ago, and do not wish to do so again. We’re fine on the continent and often drive there, but it is just NOT a relaxing vacation to do so on the other side of the road. I do understand that much of what we may wish to see is away from the train lines - that’s the reason I found some local guides. We’re OK with that!

I looked into Pitlochry because it’s on the main line from Edinburgh/Glasgow to Inverness, about halfway, and seemed to be a location that made sense. I liked the hotel I found there, the Knockendarroch, and there were walking paths in the vicinity. Can you recommend another village in its place? I liked the look of Callendar, near the Trossachs, too.

Sounds like Scotland would be better in the fall, and Alsace in the spring?
Iwan2go is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2017, 03:25 PM
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We stayed at Roman Camp in Callander. One of the prettier properties we've ever stayed. Room was fine, but walking around the grounds was spectacular. I would make advance plans for dinner. We stayed on a weeknight in mid-May and nearly got shut out of all the restaurants in town.

maitaitom is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2017, 05:15 PM
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>>I looked into Pitlochry because it’s on the main line from Edinburgh/Glasgow to Inverness, about halfway, and seemed to be a location that made sense.<<

That really doesn't make much sense logistically. If you want to be on a mainline train and in an area where you can take day tours and hire driver guides -- then (Aand I'm hating to have to say this) Inverness make a LOT more sense than Pitlochry.

>>We stayed at Roman Camp in Callander.<<

Unfortunately that won't help much since there are no trains closer than Stirling or Dunblane.
janisj is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2017, 05:27 PM
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Mid-Late September or so will be the grape harvest in Alsace if that is of any interest to you.
joannyc is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2017, 06:55 PM
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Thanks. Janisj, you're right of course, Callander isn't on the rail line.

I chose Pitlochry because it isn't too far from Edinburgh, around two hours, and several of the guides I am interested in are based in that area. It's also about two hours from Inverness, so if we wanted to do day trips to that area, the Cairngorms, etc, we would be more centrally located. But being on the rail line means we could get there and then back to Edinburgh for our flight home.

I'm trying to find a place we can easily reach from Edinburgh, and that seemed like one that could work. If anyone has another suggestion, that's great, I appreciate it.
Iwan2go is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2017, 07:29 PM
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Both cities will probably be wet and very chilly during the months you've mentioned.
I've been all through Scotland in the Autumn and enjoyed the Fall colors.
Strasbourg is downright miserable in the Springtime, but if you're experienced hikers, you should be fine.
I'd recommend watching a live weather channel to see what the actual conditions are, before knowing what to pack, because weather systems can change in a flash.
fuzzbucket is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2017, 08:03 PM
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Just so you understand the train from Inverness to Edinburgh is only about 1 hour 10 mins longer than from Pitlochry.
janisj is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2017, 08:32 PM
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Do you think that Inverness is a much better second base than Pitlochry? That sounds good. I thought I’d read that Inverness was not that interesting (the town itself) - more of a larger more industrial city. I was looking for a countryside experience, if I could find it. But any advice is appreciated! I’m open. Thanks.

Fuzzbucket, we’re more “walkers” than hikers. If it was particularly rainy, we’d hang out in the towns, I think.
Iwan2go is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2017, 10:03 PM
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I have never been to Pitlochry, but it appears that you might have to hire a car to get around.

Inverness is a fairly compact city, with lots of churches, museums and other things to do - I wouldn't let the industrial angle bother you, because it's more centered around the coast, and you don't have to go there.
Loch Ness is a wonderful day out, if you disregard the commentary of the boatmen.

I went to Thurso - the last stop on the train - and stuck my feet in the North Sea in late November. Not too smart...
fuzzbucket is offline  
Jul 24th, 2017, 05:13 AM
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>>Do you think that Inverness is a much better second base than Pitlochry? <<

I normally recommend people not stay IN Inverness, but out in the countryside. But most of those visitors will drive. When one is relying on public transport and hired driver/guides - you need to be in a place that is more of a commercial hub. So Inverness makes much more sense.

>> I thought I’d read that Inverness was not that interesting (the town itself) - more of a larger more industrial city<<

It is the commercial centre for all of northern Scotland -- but where you'd be staying in the centre along the river you'd have no idea there are any industrial parks/super centers.

>>I was looking for a countryside experience,<<

If you want countryside, which I'd prefer too -- you really need to have a car or it gets pretty complicated. You say you drove in the UK years ago - where was that? Because driving in the rural parts of Scotland is very (VERY) easy. ESPECIALLY in the off season when you are traveling. You wouldn't want to drive in Edinburgh of course. But in the scenic bits there will be next to no traffic.

I'm not saying you 'must' drive -- you can have a terrific trip car-less. But if you don't have a car, you need to make concessions re where you base yourselves.
janisj is offline  
Jul 24th, 2017, 07:17 AM
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Got it, thanks for the additional information. Janis, we drove through northern Wales and southwestern England, mostly countryside but some smaller cities. And I do understand that we’re limiting things by not driving, of course. We have driven on many other vacations and done just fine, but I know from experience that it might not be the best idea now. I think if we can find a smaller town, or area of a larger town, that affords restaurants nearby, that would work really well.

Looking back, I think that the thing that particularly appealed to me about Pitlochry was the trees - the photos looked like it was more in the forest, and we love that aspect of it. Perhaps there are some areas of Inverness-adjacent (for lack of a better word) that would have the same forested aspect? Can you recommend a place I should start looking? Another option could be to stay a few nights in Pitlochry, then go on to Inverness for another few nights.

There are a few guides I’m looking into: one is based in Pitlochry and offers four hour (or longer) tours, and the other offers daily tours all over Scotland but is more costly. I’m thinking of mixing the two people, half-days and full days, to make it a more relaxed pace.

Again, I really appreciate everyone's insights, including yours on Alsace, Bilbo - thank you so much for the specifics!
Iwan2go is offline  
Jul 24th, 2017, 07:29 AM
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Re trees: Scotland IS trees so yes there are a lot in Pitlochry but most everywhere else too.

If you have contacts w/ guides based in Pitlochry that would help. But a four hour tour won't get you very far assuming you are actually visiting castles, gardens, and villages along the way and not just driving past. May I ask how much they want to charge for full and half day tours?
janisj is offline  
Jul 24th, 2017, 08:25 AM
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If you Google "Inverness tourism" you'll find lots of forest areas.
I walked along the river and up into the hills - even found an old cemetery.
I stayed in a BnB that is probably not in operation anymore.
I would do a search for BnB's in or near the countryside, though.
fuzzbucket is offline  
Jul 24th, 2017, 10:40 AM
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Here's my two cents on driving: I drove around Southern England two years ago and it was white-knuckle driving. Narrow roads, lots of traffic, villages with cars parked on both sides, etc. It was not enjoyable.

Last month, I spent 10 days driving around the Borders area of Scotland and it was an entirely different experience - very positive! The difference was that the roads were wider and there was very little traffic. I suspect that the roads you encountered in Southwestern England were also narrow and fairly busy but Scotland in September should be much quieter. (June is prime tourist season and I didn't encounter many other cars, in fact, I was often on long stretches of road by myself - not the A1 but 3 and 4 digit roads.)

So, I understand your reluctance to drive based on prior experience but you'll be able to see so much more if you drive yourself. Just an opinion for your consideration!
vickiebypass is offline  
Jul 24th, 2017, 01:58 PM
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Thank you for painting a picture of “trees all over the place”, basically. I’m going off photos I see online, so that helps. (An aside: I don’t see a lot on Skye - am I wrong?)

Janis, one of the tour guides (based in Pitlochry) charges 35 GBP/hour with a minimum of four hours. I assume we’d stay out longer than that, but at least it’s offered as an option. The other charges 535 GBP/ day, and will drive from one place to another and stay overnight (i.e., if we wanted to start in Edinburgh and end up in Inverness, then go on to Skye, etc).

Thanks to all of you for your comments on driving in Scotland. I’ve heard about driving in rural Ireland, perhaps I am mistaken to infer from those conversations that Scotland is similar. ? Sounds like it isn’t?
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