So I recently took a short but sweet "city break" to a tiny village I had never even heard of. A friend of mine actually recommended it as she had already planned on visiting, so I decided to tag along. Epen is a small village in the Netherlands, located quite close to the border with Germany. It was also my first time taking the night coach... Needless to say, it's also my last. I don't care if people say I'm still "young", the cramped seats and stuffy bus is just not worth it. Next time I'm definitely springing for train tickets.
To be completely honest, I had absolutely zero part in organising this trip. I literally just asked for the date and time of the coach leaving Paris, packed for 3 days (it was a long weekend) and turned up. It didn't turn out too bad, but as with most cases you definitely feel more in control if you know what's going on beforehand. Our stop was actually a city called Aachen in Germany and we unfortunately arrived too early for the start of the public transportation schedule. As such, we decided to get a late check-in at the closest hotel... Only the closest hotel was in the town centre and the coach dropped us off in the suburbs. Always travel with someone else if you're not sure where you're gonna end up and the coach stop isn't in an actual town.
As I type this, I realise that the fastest way of describing my experience was this: the beginning and end was hell but in between? Heaven.
After sleeping off the cramps from the night coach in Aachen, we had breakfast and checked-out to continue our journey to Epen. I was quite surprised that not many locals spoke English considering that we were still in Germany. We made do with sign language instead. Just another experience to add to the list. The good thing about city breaks is that you're basically on an aimless journey and have absolutely zero plans. No demands on your time and the chance to truly unwind. Taking the bus from Aachen, we quickly crossed the border into the Netherlands (I didn't even realise we had until my friend pointed out the EU flag signalling the border) and changed lines for another bus that brought us within 5 minutes walk to our hotel in Epen.
One thing I noticed and loved about the little village was the surprisingly high number of hotels in the area. Most looked to be large manor houses that had been converted into bed-and-breakfast hotels. We decided to explore the village before heading off into the hills so-to-speak. Even then, the views were beautiful and Epen offered great weather for our entire stay.
Spending our first day strolling about was an easy plan. Stopping by little cafés where the locals where enjoying a beer or coffee in the sun, hiking up the numerous hills and trails crossing hectares of farmland. You don't even realise that you've spent hours walking when you're actually under zero pressure to get things done or tick off activities on whatever list you've planned for a "holiday".
Although there weren't a great many choices for dinner, we still managed to find a great Italian restaurant with a very homey and warm atmosphere. One thing that's important to note is that the locals tend to eat really, really early.
Good thing we were already hungry at that point! Although the service at Bij Giuseppe restaurant and pizzeria was a bit slow (considering we were starving at that point), the food was great and absolutely delicious - grumbling stomachs notwithstanding. I got myself a mouthwatering (I rarely, if ever, use this word to describe anything) carbonara that I actually managed to finish! The portions are plenty and the price is reasonable, around 20€ for a main, dessert and drink.
Another big positive of our stay in Epen was the hotel. My friend organised everything, including accommodation. The bus stop was about five minutes away from the hotel's lane and the hotel itself was absolutely beautiful! Hotel Landgoed Schoutenhof is a ten-minute walk from the village center and connects to one of the many lanes and trails that line the hills and valleys of Epen. The weather was perfect for breakfast on the backyard terrace with a view overlooking the hills and woods.
After our full day of peace and quiet, we decided to enjoy our breakfast before checkout and pack up our backpacks to head back to Aachen. Seeing as how we still had another full day before catching our night coach back to Paris, we decided we might as well explore the German city straddling the borders with Belgium and Netherlands.
The town is small but the weather was great and the locals were out in droves to enjoy the weekend sun. Because we didn't have anything planned and had zero clue about the cultural attractions of Aachen, we got to enjoy the city at a more relaxed
pace. Warm temperatures, clear blue skies and live bands playing in town squares.
Seeing as we had the entire day in Aachen before our return to hell via the night bus, we took our time choosing a restaurant and then spending a lazy afternoon in the town centre, joining all the other locals in their bid to being the best sloths of Aachen. After a long, and not altogether fruitful, deliberation, we decided on a traditional (slightly upscale) bistro named the Rose am Dom. Meat was king for our choice of main, and even though we it was a trial trying to understand the names of the dishes (everything was in Dutch), everything went well! The bistro's interior decor and atmosphere was warm and so...European! Really no other word for it.
The hurdle of trying to understand a menu that's in no language you can speak should not be underestimated! Luckily, there are some familiar words in the dutch/german language, if you know some English and French, you should be able to decipher it... And if not, Google is your best friend! I personally decided to forego the entrée because, well, I'm not really into greens. For the main, I chose the Kalbsleber Berliner Art (16€), followed by a classic Creme Brüle (6€) and a Cappuccino (3€).
Our evening was spent in a little cupcake cafe that was a little girl's dream come true, complete with frilly pink bows, floral patterned chairs and sparkling lights. Barbarella has the cutest decor and a large selection of cupcake flavours to choose from and I highly recommend either the Tiramisu or the Blueberry cupcakes... or both! Why be stingy? Either way, it was a sweet end to our city break in Epen and Aachen!