Why not embark on a cultural route that will carry you through time and place into several different European countries? An intra-European perspective allows you to appreciate both the similarities and the differences among European cultures.
Europe strives in numerous ways to honor both the history and heritage of its different peoples and to unite in a common community for the good of all. The European Institute of Cultural Routes develops cultural routes that assist both Europeans and visitors alike to appreciate the interconnectivity of what may seem like separate histories, and to increase cross-cultural understanding.
An architectural route
Trace the development of early cities astride the Rhine in French Alsace and the German Black Forest through the legacy of Heinrich Schickhardt, nicknamed “the Swabian Leonardo da Vinci”. See his works in the fairytale towns of Montbeliard and Riquewihr in France (fortify yourself with a local specialty such as tarte flambé and some wonderful white wine while you’re there). Schickhardt’s signature touches in Germany are in Stuttgart’s lovely Schillerplatz and Freudenstadt’s spacious market square.
Parks and gardens
We often associate architects with buildings, yet some of Europe’s’ most important architects turned their talents to parks and gardens. Andre Le Notre was the genius behind many dazzling gardens in France, including those at Versailles, Vaux-le-Vicomte, and Chantilly. Another important landscape architect was Capability Brown, who helped make Britain the garden capital it is today with his works at Blenheim Palace and Warwick Castle, for example. Belgium has a treasury of gardens among its many châteaux, well worth a visit. Not to be missed in Spain are the lovely, Moorish-influenced patios and pools gracing the gardens of Andalusia.
A Musical Route
Mozart, born in Salzburg, Austria, traveled throughout Europe during his illustrious career. In fact, he spent approximately one third of his life on the road, and the number of European "Mozart" towns is astonishing! Follow his path through Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Belgium, Holland, France, England and Italy. Walk in the very halls where he conducted his music, and enjoy a concert along the way.
The Route to an Emperor’s Crown
Charlemagne is sometimes called the “Father of Europe” for uniting much of Western Europe. The Via Carolingia goes from Rome, where he was crowned by the Pope on Christmas in the year 800 as Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, to Germany, where he is entombed in Aachen Cathedral. This path includez sites from the Carolingian period such as the monastery of St. John of Mustair in Switzerland as well as castles and churches in Belgium and France.
Route linking east and west
The Via Regia is the oldest east-west route in Europe, stretching from Santiago de Compostela in Spain on a diagonal course through France to Belgium, then crossing Germany and Poland. The list of towns on the Via Regia could keep you exploring for months, even with modern transportation. Kings needed to link major cities and pilgrims used the Via Regia in the Middle Ages. A critical trade, pilgrimage, and military highway, it was actually known as the salt road in Germany. Napoleon used it when he invaded Russia.
One of the most famous religious routes is the Way of St. James, (el Camino de Santiago), a UNESCO World Heritage site. This is more accurately a collection of routes leading from numerous destinations in Europe to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. The cathedral is the focus of this important pilgrimage because it is believed to house the remains of the apostle St James. A large proportion of the pilgrims en route to Compostela came through France, which has an enormous network of routes studded with hundreds of religious sites , many of them on the World Heritage List. The Shrine Towns of France, if not on The Way of St. James, were often reason for a detour, being important pilgrimage sites in their own rite.
In the eastern Mediterranean, you can follow the footsteps of Paul the Apostle: Beginning in Antioch, (now Antalya, Turkey), sail to Cyprus, venturing next to modern-day Turkey and further westward to Greece. Here, following his route will bring you to Kavala, Filippi, Thessalonica, Veria, Athens-Piraeus, Corinth, and to the isle of Kefalonia before you conclude make a stop in Malta and conclude in Rome, where St. Paul brought the gospel to Europe. Going West, make sure you don't miss the several pilgrimage routes Portugal has to offer, as well as one the world's most important religious sites, the Sanctuary of Fatima.
Jewish heritage sites in Europe compose religious routes of history and remembrance. The early history of the Jewish people in Europe makes for fascinating travel on the Caminos de Sefarad of Spain. The Alsace region has teamed up with Spain and other organizations to develop the European Jewish Heritage Cultural Route. Among other countries, Belgium also received waves of Jewish immigration for centuries, from Roman times through the Ottoman Empire and into the 20th century.
And more routes
The Painters’ Trail along the French Cote d’Azur takes you to the vistas that inspired Cezanne, Van Gogh, Léger and Chagall, as well as excellent galleries, museums, and a variety of monuments.
Switzerland offers a salt route, religious routes, and even the route that Thomas Cook, the founder of the gigantic travel company we know today, used for his first group of travelers back in 1863.