Some years ago I wrote a series of articles for the Sunday Herald Sun called ‘Hidden Cities’. It was based on the idea that while print and online travel guides may know a lot about a destination, they don’t know everything.
To find the places that are truly ‘off the beaten track’, I believed it was worthwhile talking to a hotel concierge, a taxi driver and a flight attendant. I was hoping to mine for copper; in the end I struck gold.
The series was a great success and I travelled to places like Venice, Los Angeles, Cancun, Saigon, Port Vila and Madang in Papua New Guinea. In each place I found ‘hidden destinations’, from kava bars or ‘nakamals’ in Port Vila to a hidden 600 acre wilderness park 10 minutes from the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles.
Segue to June, 2012. I landed in Paris with my wife as we were about to join the Tour de Europe with Harry Cadle. The ‘tour’ was a 19-day escorted, self-drive tour from Paris to Venice. We were about to travel through France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia before ending on the island of Lido.
Little did I know that I would discover Hidden Cities each day.
I knew Harry when he was ‘Bash’ Director for Variety – the children’s charity in Victoria, a position he held with distinction for more than 16 years. For those who are unaware of the ‘Bash’, it was an idea conceived by Dick Smith in the mid-1980s. He brought together a group of mates to travel around Outback NSW and raise money for charity. The idea has grown to the point where Variety nationally raises millions of dollars each year.
Harry is a rough diamond; an affable bear of a man with an easygoing manner, a love of touring and an encyclopedic memory. He struck me as a contradiction. I always thought of him as a man wedded to the Australian Outback, yet I discovered that he is a consummate Europhile who has led driving tours in Russia, Eastern Europe and most cosmopolitan countries in the West.
His sidekick is Mike Brady, a much-loved balladeer who has written many successful radio jingles (‘Lucky you’re with AAMI’ is a notable one) and arguably the most successful song in Australian sporting history, ‘Up There Cazaly’.
Harry and Mike teamed up to run the first Tour de Europe.
To understand how a Bash-like driving event works, it helps to know the ground rules: this is not a race, it’s not competitive, and participants can drive in convoy or ‘do their own thing’ between leaving a hotel in the morning and arriving at the next hotel at night. On lay-days, that is when you spend more than one night in a given city, you are completely free to explore the sights or laze around the hotel. Quite literally the perfect options for an old fart like me.
Before we joined the Tour de Europe, Harry had travelled there to carefully research and document the routes. The Internet can do many things, but it can’t compensate for the sense of place. You can write about love, but unless you’ve been in love it’s all artifice.
Much of what Harry discovered was committed to a touring manual that each participant received before leaving Australia. The routes were uploaded into a GPS that Harry gives to each driver (new vehicles are supplied by Citroen through its DriveEurope™program).
What you won’t find in the manual are the anecdotes that Harry brought to the team meeting each night. It might be about a small village with fabulous apple strudel a few kilometres off the autobahn, or a tragic love affair in a castle that most tourists are unaware of. (There are more castles and broken hearts in Europe than McDonald’s restaurants!)
Harry’s passion and encyclopedic memory turned a wonderful holiday into a very special adventure.
Touring by car offers the best of both worlds. You simply can’t experience Europe in all its diversity if you travel by bus, train or riverboat. They all have their place, but you are master of your destiny when you gun the motor and head off to explore parts unknown.
The Tour de Europe isn’t a new concept, but Harry has made it distinctly his own. Although a typical Variety ‘Bash’ involved around 120 cars, Harry’s Europe model is restricted to no more than 20 cars.
“The small group is perfect for exploring Europe by road,” Harry says. “You can have 300 people wandering around Salzburg, but it wouldn’t work at the top of the Stelvio Pass. The magic of the moment would be compromised.”
Harry and Mike have announced the itinerary for 2013. The 17-day Tour de Europe will begin in Paris on June 28th and end in Monte Carlo on July 15th. It will cross France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Monaco.
Among the highlights is a two-night visit to the Montreux Jazz Festival on Switzerland’s Lake Geneva, Bastille Day on the French Riviera, the 900 year-old Saturday market at Apt in Provence and a drive along Germany’s 350 km Romantic Road which reveals some of the most magnificent medieval sights in Europe.
Petrol heads will also have a chance to drive Nürburgring, a race track built in the 1920s around the medieval castle of Nürburg in the Eifel Mountains. The old track is considered to be the most demanding and difficult purpose-built racing circuit in the world.
Lay-days have been planned for Maastricht, Kronberg, Neuschwanstein, Montreux, Barcelona, Avignon, and Monte Carlo.
I for one will be signing up. I’ve seen much of Europe in my life as a travel writer, but know very little of it compared to Harry Cadle. I look forward to discovering more Hidden Cities in his company.
• Further details are available from the website www.tourdeeurope.com.au or Harry Cadle on 0418 348 085 or firstname.lastname@example.org