A few years ago I was hiking in the Alps near Interlaken, Switzerland.  I was doing a little exploring on my  own and checking out some new destinations for my tours.  I decided to “take on” a rather challenging day hike high up in the mountains.  Early in the morning, I took a train up to my starting point and off I went through the green meadows that seemed to cascade down the steep hills forever under a blue sky filled with puffy white clouds.  It was a perfect day for hiking! There’s a lot to this story that I’ll have to tell at another time, but for now let me concentrate on the issue of water.

Three hours into the hike my water bottle was dry and I was looking for anything to rehydrate my aching body.  I came across a little restaurant at one of the highest points on the trail and went in to buy a liter or two of water to get me through the next five hours of hiking.  Well, all they had was water with gas!  At the time I hated water with gas, but weighing the possibility of no water for the next five hours or water with gas, I purchased the water with gas.  That’s the day I learned to like the stuff.

Europeans have been purchasing their water for as long as I can remember.  Whether at a grocery or in a restaurant, it just seems acceptable to pay for water.  Originally this stemmed from the idea that tap water was unsanitary or that the natural minerals which bottled “spring water” contained were good for you.  Regardless of the reasoning, when in Europe, it is customary to purchase “bottled mineral water” when dining out or even at the grocery for consumption at home.

Bottled water comes in two varieties: with and without gas.  Now you might ask why would anyone want water with gas in it?  Gas is simply carbonation, CO2, the same stuff that makes a cola fizzy.  But drinking it and enjoying it requires some practice in order to acquire the taste. The taste may even have to be forced as I was on my hike in Switzerland.

In North America, two popular brands of “water with gas” are Perrier (from France) and San Pellegrino (from Italy).  Now-a-days, you can get these at most groceries in the US and at most finer-dining establishments.  But you may have noticed that bottled water “without gas” is also very popular in the US too.  So I guess North Americans may be taking on this custom from the Europeans.

The bottom line here is that when traveling in most of Europe, you should plan on paying for a bottle of water with your meal.  Doing so will ensure you get fresh and clean water that is reasonably chilled.  It will come with glasses but no ice.  Two varieties are readily available: with gas, and without gas.  It’s not a problem to request either and most often the waiter will ask which you prefer.

Here is how I make the request for water:
ITALIAN- acqua natuarale senza gas (no gas); acqua con gas (with gas); acqua frizzante (with gas); acqua gazzata (with gas)
GERMAN- wasser no gas (no gas); wasser mit gas (with gas)
SPANISH- agua sin gas (no gas); agua con gas (with gas)
FRENCH-  d’eau sans gaz; d’eau avec gaz (with gas) Good news! In France it is customary to order a pitcher of fresh tap water at no charge.  Simply ask for it!  In French, it goes something like this: un carafe d’eau s’il vous plaît.

So there you have it… all you’ll ever need to know about drinking water in Europe.  In my next post I’ll talk about how to get rid of it!


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About the Author
David McGuffin established David McGuffin's Exploring Europe, Inc. in 2001 to formally offer European tours. Since then, he has taken several thousand satisfied customers on memorable and educational tours to Europe.

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