A globetrotter's guide to the grape and the grain

As the festive season approaches, Hannah Paterson bar-hops across Europe
Click to follow
The Independent Travel


"Italy is a country where everyday wine is cheaper than Coca-Cola and milk, and where every family owns some vineyards or has some relatives who supply most of their daily needs – which are not great. Even though they live in one of the world's largest wine-growing countries, Italians imbibe relatively little, usually only at meals." Cadogan Guide to Italy


"There is a great deal of drinking in Romania, as you will soon notice, and most crime is alcohol-related. Non-drinkers will meet with the same incomprehension as vegetarians. Bars are generally men-only places and range from dark, rough-and-ready dives to places with a rather chintzy, ice cream-parlour atmosphere." Rough Guide to Romania


"No one talks about a trip to Norway without complaining about the high cost of alcohol," says the Insight Guide to Norway (£16.99). The cost of a large beer in Oslo is around £5, while the prices of spirits are "through the roof". Outside Oslo, prices and availability can be unpredictable, especially on the West Coast, where the ardently anti-alcohol Christian Democratic Party holds power, leaving the area practically dry.


Prince Vladimir of Kiev once said, "Drinking is the joy of the Russians. We could not be without it," according to the Rough Guide to St Petersburg, which the book describes as "one of the most drink-sodden cities on earth". Not much has changed in the 11 centuries since the Prince declared (or slurred) that assertion. Vodka is the root of all inebriation in Russia. The authors of Lonely Planet's Moscow say, "The average Russian drinks the equivalent of over a bottle a week," and the economy depends on this. A World Health Organisation report released in April says that 60,000 Russians died of alcohol poisoning last year.


"Switzerland still ranks among the top consumers [of alcohol] and the percentage of Swiss people who drink to excess is on the increase." Eurocare, Advocacy for the Prevention of Alcohol-Related Harm


"If you have an accident while drunk (or under the the influence of illegal drugs) and end up in hospital, many insurance policies won't pay out, and you could be faced with a large bill." Rough Guide to Ibiza


"Greeks never simply 'go out drinking'. Even if an evening involves heavy drinking of retsina or ouzo, these will always be accompanied by food, an inveterate habit which minimises the effects (and after-effects) of the alcohol." Insight Guide to Greece

Czech Republic

"Czechs drink the largest volume of beer per capita of any country in the world... They have many incredulous slogans used to promote their beer, a favourite of which being 'beer makes beautiful bodies'." Lonely Planet's Czech and Slovak Republics


"Don't order Coke with a gourmet meal. It will not be tolerated." Rough Guide to France

Think before you drink before you drive... abroad

By Jo Cox

Drivers who assume that the same drink-drive levels apply in the rest of Europe as in the UK are in for a shock. Along with Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg and Switzerland, Britain has a maximum legal alcohol-blood ratio of 0.08. Medical experts say that driving abilities are affected well before you reach this level. Once across the Channel or North Sea, the law becomes tougher.

The standard limit in most European countries is 0.05 per cent, which applies in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Norway, Portugal and Spain. The further east you go, the lower the limit. In Poland, drivers can only get away with an alcohol/blood ratio of 0.02 per cent before they face a fine, although the starting level is just £40. If you're driving in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Romania or the Slovak Republic, the limit is nil – in other words, you should not drive until any alcohol has cleared from your system.

Source: the German motoring organisation, ADAC