On a National Lampoon's European Vacation in Europe

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Dec 29, 2016

by STEVE MCKENNA, Writer

The bumbling Griswalds holiday like only they know how. Amid the chaos, they catch some of the Continent’s iconic sights. By Steve McKenna.

Two years after their hapless cross-country American road trip – a misadventure comically charted in National Lampoon’s Vacation – the gaffe-prone Griswald family made its way across the Atlantic, having won a two-week holiday to Europe on a game show called Pig in a Poke.

Led by clumsy yet eternally upbeat dad Clark (Chevy Chase), the Griswalds begin with a little sightseeing in England, taking in landmarks such as Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and Stonehenge – which they manage to knock over in domino-falling fashion with their Austin Maxi hire car. 

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Then, after stumbling around Paris wearing berets, the foolhardy foursome head to the majestic Bavarian Alps to trace their German ancestry. Most of the movie’s rib-tickling alpine scenes were shot in South Tyrol, a predominantly German-speaking province that’s actually in northern Italy, close to the Austrian border.

Even today, visitors will encounter more guten tags than buongiornos and see locals eating as much sauerkraut and schnitzel as pizza and pasta – particularly in the charming town of Brixen where, in the film, Clark sparks a mass brawl during a folksy beer-fuelled festival and is pursued by a lederhosen-clad mob through the narrow medieval alleys and archways fanning out from the Piazza del Duomo.

Located about halfway between Munich and Venice, Brixen – also known as Bressanone – boasts pretty Baroque architecture, pavement cafés and taverns, and cosy-chic boltholes such as Hotel Pupp and Hotel Traube.

While the surrounding piste-peppered countryside lures snow bunnies in winter, in the warmer months (May to October) it’s made for scenic drives, hikes and bike rides. Take in the storybook views of the jagged Dolomite mountain range, forested valleys, fast-flowing rivers and wildflower-dotted meadows that are alive with the sound of tinkling cowbells. 

One of European Vacation’s most cinematic moments – the dream sequence of the Griswalds dancing in traditional alpine attire in front of a chain of snow-capped peaks – was filmed in the Puez-Odle Nature Park, south-east of Brixen. 

Once you tire of the peace, quiet and fantastically fresh air of this idyllic region, follow in the Griswalds’ footsteps and hit Rome. A seven-hour drive away, it was the last leg – bustling and traffic-choked – of the family’s chaotic trip. 

SEE ALSO: You Can Trace the Footsteps of the Von Trapp Family in Austria