By Emily King
Factories of high-end products and legendary brands are scattered throughout Europe, and many allow visitors to check out their expertly engineered process of production. Fans of industry will enjoy our top five picks for factory tours to visit across Europe.
Fragonard, Grasse, France
Visitors can watch the entire process of a perfume maker with a free tour at the Fragonard factory. Learn how plants are distilled into essential oils and bottles into wonderful scents. Have your nose ready--it is impossible to resist sniffing everything in sight. The on-site museum, housed in the original factory buildings from 1782, covers over 3000 years of perfume history.
Volkswagen Factory at Autostadt, Wolfsburg, Germany
Car-lovers must visit the “City of Cars” at Autostadt in Germany. The tour starts with watching the building of a car along an assembly line of robots and humans and includes an extensive car museum, a design symposium, and a full run-down of process from initial design and modeling of a car to completed vehicle. Separate pavilions house each VW brand of car--Bugatti, Bently, Lamborghini, Audi, Skoda, and VW, and visitors can try out a huge variety of cars.
The most unique element of the factory is the car vending machine--enormous silos are stacked full of cars waiting to be picked up by their new owners. A gigantic robotic arm spirals up from the center of the silo, slides underneath a car, and safely lowers it to the road. The Autostadt also includes one of the best car museums in the world, featuring early steam-engine vehicles and historic cars up to the era of the modern auto industry.
Riedel, Kufstein, Austria
A glassmaker crafting mouth-blown wine glasses is a magically captivating sight, and at Riedel visitors will see world masters carefully forming each glass by hand. The factory offers a “glass tasting” session: tasters are given the same wine in a few differently shaped glasses and asked to sample each one, noting how the variety of form changes the flavor of the wine.
Although the beer is no longer brewed in this factory, Heineken has turned the space into a sort of mecca for their cultish fans. Visitors get hands-on with ingredients before brewing, watch a strange 4-D movie from the point of view of beer being brewed and bottled, interact with countless displays and exhibits, and enjoy one of the world’s most loved beers. Tours are self-guided.
Völkl, Straubring, Germany
One of the most modern ski-making facilities in the world, the Völkl factory is a dream for fans of winter sports and industrialization. A beautiful mix of precision machining and expert hand-crafting goes into each ski, and every individual ski is tested for flex and warping to the hundredth of a millimeter. Even if you are the most avid ski geek snow has seen, you are sure to learn things you never knew about the carefully engineered construction of skis. This factory allows visitors a more intimate experience--tours must be scheduled in advance by phone.