Rome, Paris and Madrid are some of the well known global cities of Europe attracting travelers. But are you familiar with Prague a lesser known international European city in central Europe that will not disappoint in comparison.
The capital city of the Czech Republic is also it’s largest city. Prague has a gilded past filled with history and riches as the Bohemian Kingdom of the Holy Roman Empire and a key city of the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg empire.
Prague is culturally comparable to the formerly mentioned iconic European cities, offering modern amenities, theatres, galleries and museums scattered throughout the region.
Having survived the second world war, “The golden city of a hundred spires” is named for the extensive number of towers that fill her skyline. Prague stands as a baroque historic center of world heritage sites drawing visitors to her endless number of architectural gems. Breathtaking cathedrals, historic palaces and hundreds of statues scattered throughout this very walkable city makes it a must visit.
Visiting Prague offers amazing opportunities to tour attractions and sites, read on to further investigate which ones ought to be at the top of a must see list and why.
Prague Castle –
One of the most visited sites in Prague is a 9th century castle, that is Prague’s namesake. The complex has been in use continuously as the ruling location for emperors, kings, queens and presidents since its erection. At 750,000 square feet, this ancient castle has been declared the largest in the world. If that isn’t daunting enough, she also sits high above the city on a hill overlooking the Vltava River, making her appear even larger than reality.
Step into the past by watching the changing of the guard ceremony from the grand entrance at the Matthias gate. All within a stone’s throw from the entrance of the massive compound are stunning cathedrals, mesmerizing from the spires outside to the glittered treasures within. The old royal palaces represent the original medieval and renaissance architecture and tell the stories of their past residents. The various beautifully manicured gardens that once entertained nobility are all waiting to be discovered and enjoyed.
Due to its popularity and the number of sites, it is highly recommended to purchase tickets in advance.
Old Town –
Not far from the castle is the historic “Old Town” quarter of Prague. The oldest part of Prague dates back to the 10th century when it was the central marketplace. Later developed in the 12th century as the significant center of the city, it became the location for some of the Czechs most notable historical events including riots, revolutions and executions.
Surrounded by a mixture of architectural buildings built in various styles, at first sight you will find gothic churches and a medieval Old Town Hall with an astronomical clock, one of the oldest working clocks in the world. As you venture further along the cobblestoned streets past residences and shops you come upon the rococo Kinský Palace, home to Czech National Gallery and art museum.
Located nearby the old town, crossing over the Vltava river are the towers of the famed stone arch Charles Bridge. Named after the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, the structure is lined with statues representing saints, patron saints and some of Prague’s most famous inhabitants.The pedestrian bridge, connecting the old town and the lesser town of Prague, is always popping with tourists and locals alike. Note there is a nominal fee to cross the bridge, but this iconic attraction is a highlight when visiting Prague.
Prague’s less visited upper castle on the east bank of the Vltava is a 10th century fort. Believed to be the location of the original Prague settlement, here you will find a fortified castle built up with bastions, ramparts and gates. The Vyšehrad complexis a location popular with Praguer’s with many opportunities for outdoor recreation to enjoy local celebrations.
Within the ancient fortification, many hidden gems can be found and if that does not draw you here, the stunning views over Prague makes this a location worth exploring. The castle serves as a historic monument of the reign of Czech dukes and contains many architectural riches. The Saints Peter and Paul Basilica is a neo-gothic church originally built in the 10th century featuring intricately adorned pic worthy twin towers that are easily spotted from the river. Vyšehrad cemetery is the final resting place for hundreds of Czechs most famous past residents including artists, composers and writers, among others from the 18th and 19th century. Within the fortress grounds there is plenty of green space where you will find locals enjoying the area out for a jog and on weekends, frequenting the restaurants and bars making this experience more culturally immersive.
Prague is a gilded and historic destination treating you to beautiful architecture and innumerable cathedrals that draw you into the various town squares filled with friendly Czech culture. As a modern city, Prague offers all the necessary amenities with easy to access public transportation, luxurious accommodations and some of the best shopping and dining in the heart of Europe. When desiring to experience the best of central European cities, we recommend spending time in Prague among other breathtaking cities like Vienna, Salzburg and Budapest. A top travel experience is enjoying these iconic regions on a ten night river cruise traveling along the Danube River.
Find out more about the river cruise experience from our website.
Traveling has many different faces ranging from local excursions close to home to extreme far off destinations that take days to reach. Within each individual journey are many opportunities for purpose driven travel. Purposeful travel is arriving at a destination with a set goal. Volunteer travel, ancestry travel, historical travel and wine travel all fall under this category.
Wine travel which is officially referred to as vinitourism, oenotourism or enotourism includes exploring destinations with visits to local vineyards and wineries, familiarizing oneself with a region’s history of wine, experiencing the art of their vinification and the ultimate treat, sampling the wines. If timed accurately, one may even find themselves participating in the annual harvest physically and/or celebratorily.
Italy, France and Spain, are some of the European regions that are most visited for this type of experience. However areas, like Greece, that sit under the radar are home to wine-producing regions that while not as well known, provide many opportunities for unique and enjoyable purposeful wine experiences paired with visiting the cradle of civilization.
The birthplace of western culture, Greece is visited for its abundance of beautiful scenery, pristine beaches, friendly easy going lifestyles and historic architecture. Unbeknownst to many, Greece is also one of the oldest regions of the world for wine production.
Within the Mediterranean, wine has a historical past that dates back 6,500 years with Greece as its original producer. The distribution of Greek wines made its way throughout Italy, Spain, Portugal and into Northern Europe as Europe was colonized during the era of the Roman Empire.
Greece’s role in wine production with lesser known grape varieties are waiting to be unearthed throughout 29 wine regions as the home to 700+ wineries.
Central Greece on the mainland peninsula is the wine region of Attica. With its warm, dry climate, Attica’s main growth is the fruity and floral white grape Savatiano which is used to produce a 2000 year old table wine Retsina. Retsina is a fruity, oily wine with a pine finish that is made from a combination of Savatiano and Rhoditis grapes and then infused with resin (hence the name and the pine flavor). For the sophisticated wine drinker, the Savatiano grape as a single varietal blend will be similar to Chardonnay wines grown in the French Chablis region. Though when oaked, Savatiano wines will resemble a white Burgundy from the Cote’d’Or region in France.
In the foothills, near the former home of the Greek gods, Mt. Olympus is Rapsani, the first officially declared wine appellation of Greece. The mountain vineyards of the Rapsani region blend the locally grown red grapes, Xinomavro, Stavroto and Krassato and cask age them to produce wines with strong tannins, minerality and a fruity finish.
The legendary Peloponnese peninsula is home to the Nemea region, near the former Greek ancient capital city, Nafplio. This region produces Greece’s most well known native growth, the Agiorgitiko grape. Grown at some of the highest elevations in Greece and oaked for up to five years, the result is a complex flavored and balanced, medium acidity and yet full bodied red wine. With a flavor similar to a spicy Merlot, the presentation of this wine can be compared to a young French Beaujolais Nouveau wine.
The largest island of Greece, located in the Mediterranean Sea is the rugged island of Crete. One of the most attractive vacation spots in Greece, Crete is filled with luxury hotels and is home to the ancient white grape, Vidiano. This hard to grow grape produces a fruity and complex medium to full bodied wine. Grown on a smaller scale with very few vines still in existence, the outcome is a locally favored fruity wine primarily enjoyed by residents and visitors to the island.
The volcanic islands of the Aegean sea draw visitors to its ancient villages, bays, coves and bright blue waters. As a prominent cruise destination, the Aegean islands are filled with travelers searching for the perfect sun and sand experience combined with a uniquely Greek cultural experience. But another reason to visit these beautiful islands is for the wine.
Santorini, which is part of the Cyclades islands, is home to the white Assyrtiko grape. Considered to be one of the top white wines in Greece, Assyrtiko grapes are highly influenced by the island’s volcanic soil, producing a dry wine with a citrusy and crisp flavor similar to a German Riesling. Produced oaked and unoaked, the oaked version labeled locally as Nykteri will present a less acidic wine.
Samos, the lesser known Aegean island just a mile off the coast of Turkey, is the birthplace of the worldwide grown white Muscat (Muscat Blanc) grape. The UNESCO World Heritage site once drew affluent residents specifically for its ancient vineyards. Visiting Samos is a primitive look into the Aegean isles before the days of cruise ships and luxury hotels.
With various wine regions and grapes influenced by the diverse terrain, Greece offers plenty of opportunities to include wine tourism into a Hellenic vacation. Visiting by cruise ship, ferrying between mainland and islands, or taking a wine tour, even the most sophisticated oenophile can bring a Greek experience to a whole other level and travel purpose.
More wine travel articles can be found at our website. Yamas! (that’s Greek for cheers)
For the western world, celebrating Christmas is a time for folks to prepare for and participate in traditional winter activities to commemorate the holiday season. However, in parts of the Southern Hemisphere such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and parts of South America, Christmas falls during the warm summer months. For this reason, Christmas in July was developed when these respective countries participate in winter holiday activities during their actual winter periods.
While you won’t find annual holiday traditions within the U.S., U.K and many European countries in July, Christmas in July provides an opportunity to remind us that the holidays are only five months away and the perfect time to start planning yuletide festivities.
What better way to celebrate the holiday season than enjoying the festivities and traditions of other cultures that date back hundreds of years. July is the perfect time to plan for Christmas and design itineraries that celebrate the holidays in countries like Germany, France, Switzerland, Netherlands, Austria or Hungary.
In the Deutschland, the Christmas season begins with the celebration of Advent, the official holiday season in Europe, which starts at the end of November and lasts four weeks until Christmas Day. Many visit worthy traditions specific to individual regions are held during this period throughout Germany.
One of the largest cities in Germany, Cologne, is known for its annual Heinzels Wintermärchen festival within the Alstadt (old town) historic region of this gothic, culturally diverse city. Next to the iconic Cologne Cathedral, the annual event features the Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas market), an alley of artisans selling toys, ornaments and holiday treats for folks of all ages to enjoy. This Christmas village also features an outdoor ice rink that will have you swirling in winter bliss.
Nuremberg, the Bavarian capital of Germany, is home to the annual Christkindlesmarkt, one of the largest holiday markets in the world. Dating back to the early 1600’s, the market centers around Christkind, a symbol for gift giving in Nuremberg. The market features a local teen named as the Christkind representative. Dressed in gilded attire, she is present throughout the festival to greet guests as a representative of holiday spirit to the children in Nuremberg. Within the holiday market, you will find wood badens (booths) filled with handcrafted items, and holiday treats like gingerbread and traditional almond spice cookies (spekulatius).
One of the best preserved medieval cities in Germany, a Unesco World Heritage site is Regensburg. The city takes a unique approach to the holiday period as it comes to life with glistening holiday lights that complement the medieval architecture surrounding Regensburg’s Christmas markets. Regensburg’s largest market can be found at the medieval Neupfarr church. The excitement doesn’t stop at the markets. Walking the cobblestoned streets you will venture into courtyards, passageways, and find other gems the city has to offer. Don’t be surprised when you stumble upon secret stalls of local craftsmen featuring handmade items that can be taken home as gifts or souvenirs. Throughout your time in the city, dabble in the holiday entertainment, regional cuisine and indulge in the merriment also found along the Danube river and the surrounding beautiful winter scenery.
Rudesheim, a small wine village in the Upper Middle Rhine valley, brings a more international holiday experience with their annual Christmas Markets of Nations. This village’s representation of the traditions and customs of 20 countries from six continents draws visitors for a unique spin to the traditional German Christmas market experience. Featuring the traditional foods, goods and entertainment of each country makes this a fun and global way to celebrate the holidays. Rudesheim also presents the largest Nativity scene in Europe which can be found within the market square. Some of the more popular activities include festive storybook boat rides along the Rhine river and
breathtaking views of the river and Rudesheim’s vineyards on the decorated cable cars to the Niederwald monument.
Strasbourg in northeastern France is the original capital of Christmas. The first Christkindelsmärik (Christmas market) began over 500 years ago and has drawn visitors for centuries as the flagship holiday market experience. Squares throughout the cities offer unique themed areas filled with mini wooden houses (chalets) featuring the largest number of market food and craft vendors. Place Kléber, the central square of Strasbourg, is the prime location of celebration for the festival backdropped by a handpicked and decorated 100 foot Alsatian Christmas tree. Due to Strasbourg’s French and German heritage, you can find that popular foods like pain d’épices, gingerbread and spiced cookies, are influenced by both regions. Among other Alsatian specialties, don’t forget to try the Vin Chaud mulled wine that is a signature part of a Christkindelsmärik encounter.
Riquewihr is a magical French Alsatian wine village that is known for its fairytale-like architecture with half timbered houses that are spruced up with holiday decorations. Strolling the cobblestone street and seeing the village decorated with holiday lights and smelling the scent of chestnuts roasting will create a charming French holiday experience. The RiquewihrChristmas market is filled with cheer as you walk the wooden chalet’s filled with locally crafted item, stopping to enjoy a glass of local wine, or one of the local holiday treats of French spiced bread or German bretzels. You will be happy you stopped in this quaint Christmas town, unlike anywhere else in the world,
Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, well known for its canals, is even more magnificent during the holidays. The annual light festival proves to be a winter highlight with it’s art light displays accompanied by live music and street vendors along the city’s canals. While these displays can be spotted from the bridges and walkways along the quay, the best way to experience the Amsterdam Light Festival is by a tour boat traveling along the canals. For another purely Amsterdam holiday experience, visit Amsterdam’s Museumplein museum square area. Centered around an ice skating rink, the Ice Village features a wooden chalet serving local Dutch dishes like cheese fondue that can be enjoyed offering views of the 800 year old Rijksmuseum, which houses the art of Dutch master artists.
Vienna offers similar holiday experiences to what you will find in Germany but with a uniquely Viennese flare. Offering many Christkindlmarkt in the city, you are bound to find one that is your favorite. The largest market, the Wiener Christkindlmarkt found on the Rathausplatz within the center of Vienna’s historic area, is appropriately named for its large offering of local sausage vendors and has approximately 150 booths. Surrounding the market, you will find a carousel, ferris wheel, ice skating and the holiday “Tree of Hearts” decorated with illuminated holiday hearts. For a smaller, more upscale Christkindlmarkt, Schönbrunn offers the beautiful background of the glowing decorated summer palace of the former Austrian royalty, the Habsburgs. The heart of the Viennese holiday experience is the elegant light displays that illuminate the Austrian city. Whether you are strolling the Stephansplatz shopping area outside of the iconic St. Stephen’s Cathedral or riding the Ringstrasse train around the outside of the Vienna altstadt, you will not be disappointed with a multi sensory Vienna Christmas experience.
Salzburg, the Austrian Alps city that borders Germany is known as the birthplace of Austrian composer Mozart and the filming location for the movie musical, The Sound of Music. But during the holidays, Salzburg becomes a fairytale land filled with colorful festivity, snow and choirs singing the Austrian hymn “Silent Night”. Visiting the Salzburg Christkindlmarkt in the city’s centre, one of the oldest Advent markets in Austria offers a holiday experience among the backdrop of the snowy rooftops of this beautiful Alpine old city. In Salzburg you are bound to see parades, hear ye olde Christmas stories and tune in to choral concerts. While visiting you will want to tour one of the many of the local nativity scenes, visit the Salzburg Christmas Museum, and stop into the beautiful Salzburg Cathedral. In typical Salzberg fashion, enjoy a music performance with 360 degree views of wintery Salzburg from the observation tower of the Fortress Hohensalzburg. A holiday highlight is Salzburg caroling featuring songs by Mozart and other traditional local holiday songs.
Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is two cities separated by the Danube river united into one. For a traditional holiday experience, take the funicular car to the top of Buda Hill on the western side of the Danube river. Here you can explore the quaint, charming town of Old Buda (Óbuda) and visit their Christmas market outside of the town hall building. Don’t let the small size fool you, you will find within this holiday area concerts, a carousel, skating rink and many more festive activities. For a larger and more modern holiday experience, head across the Danube river and into the eastern portion of the city, Pest. In Pest, you can visit the largest of Hungary’s holiday markets in the shopping district surrounding Vörösmarty square where you will find traditional crafts, artists, plus food booths and daily concerts by local Hungarian bands. A favorite holiday experience in Budapest is the intimate Christmas market that sits outside of the breathtaking St. Stephen’s Basilica. In addition to a small ice skating rink and a picturesque Christmas tree, you will find a holiday light show that occurs hourly upon the face of the beautiful exterior of the cathedral.
Basel, is a city on the Rhine river in the northwestern portion of Switzerland bordering France and Germany. The main markets of Switzerland are found in Basel’s center of the city within the old town. Basler Weihnachtsmarkt in the central shopping district is the largest of the markets with the most vendors in Switzerland. The Weihnachtsmarkt on Münsterplatz is smaller in size, however exquisite with its large, decorated Christmas tree adjacent to the Basel Münster (cathedral). Climb to the top of the cathedral towers for fantastic views of the illuminated old town. These Christmas Markets are distinguished by their wooden chalets featuring local artists’ creations and popular food items influenced by Basel’s location near both France and Germany. The most popular items include house made waffles, Gluhwein (mulled wine) and sausages among Swiss favorites like Basel Läckerli (gingerbread) and raclette, a melted cheese. The holiday spirit of the city is spotted among the decorated streets, within the windows of the local businesses, residences and along the Rhine as you stroll along its wintery banks.
So now that you know about the various holiday experiences that await you in Europe. So what is the best way for you to start your planning? A Christmas Market river cruise will transport you into Europe’s most popular cities and villages covered with snow-capped Cathedrals and brimming with holiday cheer.
From late November through December, travel along the waterways of central Europe from Amsterdam to Switzerland or Germany to Hungary visiting the traditional and authentic charming markets that still appear as they have for hundreds of years.
In addition to the Christmas experience, you have plenty of time to explore fairytale castles along the Rhine Gorge, the gorgeous mountainous snowy alps or the dreamy gilded sites of Vienna and the cathedrals of medieval Germany. Tours are included in ports to visit the landmarks of each city with ample time to explore the unique offerings of the local holiday delights.
Discover more about river cruising. If you would like more information on a Christmas Markets River Cruise, BucketList Travel Advisors can assist you with planning the perfect river cruise experience.
Germany attracts visitors for its beautiful countryside of mountains, forests, rivers and even beaches. While the landscape of Germany is vast and offers many opportunities to explore, a top of the list for visitors is immersing into the culture and traditions of the region you are visiting. The most recognizable opportunity for immersion is with the local cuisine. Germany is most known for its traditional German fare of bratwurst, pretzels and sauerkraut, but what is not known is that like other countries, the foods within Germany are regional.
Made up of various food provisions that are reflective of the history of the region, cooking practices may also be influenced from neighboring countries. For instance, making a dish like bratwurst in Bavaria may be very different from those served in the Rhineland. Think, Chicago vs New York pizza. At the end of the day it’s pizza, but the thick vs thin crust is a debatable topic. One bratwurst may not be better than the other, they are just unique to their regions.
Many restaurants throughout Germany have been awarded the highest Michelin dining designation (three stars) for dining excellence and have the fourth highest rating for total Michelin stars in the world after Japan, France and Italy.
Journey into the dining experiences of the most popular regions of Germany, traveling from the southern Baden region to Bavaria, Franconia and the Rhineland.
The Gemeinde Baden (that’s German for; Baden municipality) is in the southwestern portion of Germany north of Lake Constance at the Switzerland border and to the east of France. With a warmer climate than the rest of Germany, you will find many locally grown products that are incorporated within the cuisine. The combination of farm to table ingredients and influence from both France and Switzerland’s cuisine arguably make it some of the best food in Germany.
With the country influences that surround Baden, there are actually only a few dishes here that are uniquely from Baden. Most of the offerings are popular dishes in neighboring regions that have been adjusted toward a uniquely Baden experience. These dishes will be adjusted using many of the fresh components that are readily available in Baden and the results are less heavy dishes than those found in other regions of Germany.
For example, by adding additional eggs, the popular German noodle dish Spätzle tastes richer than in other parts of Germany. In Baden, it is not uncommon to find traditional dishes from the nearby French Alsace region. Baeckeoffe, an Alsatian casserole dish and Flammekueche, a popular French Tart are served throughout the Baden region. The very popular German cabbage side dish, Sauerkrautor (sauerkraut), pretzels and German potato salad can also all be enjoyed with a unique Baden influence.
East of Baden, in southeastern Germany, is the very popular Bavarian region. Bavaria, the largest state in Germany, is an elevated region and is credited for Germany’s popular potato and beet dishes. Many of Germany’s signature dishes that are also found throughout the world were influenced by Bavaria’s eastern neighbors of Austria and the Czech Republic.
Bavaria’s specialty dishes include Brotzeit, a traditional bread snack, similar to the deli sandwich topped with meats, cheeses and condiments. Other notable dishes are Weisswurst (white sausage), Münchner Schnitzel (fried breaded cutlets) served with spätzel noodle dumplings, Knödel (boiled dumplings) and the world famous Bavarian pretzels, Brezel’s.
The capital of Bavaria, Munich is Germany’s third largest city and the home of the popular annual festival, Oktoberfest, the world’s largest beer festival that occurs from mid to late September to early October. Regardless if you are visiting during the festival or any other time of year, you will want to pair your dining experience with a stein (mug) of local bier (beer). For full immersion into the gastronomic culture of Munich, take a Bavarian Beer and Food tour and visit some of the best beer halls in Germany.
While technically a part of Bavaria, Franconia has its own unique cuisine. Franconia’s largest cities; Nuremberg, Bamberg & Würzburg carry a distinct culture that stems from the Medieval Germanic tribes that once existed here.
Bread, potatoes and meats, like the rest of Bavaria, are still the main components of a Franconian meal, the biggest difference is the gravy that smothers the food creating a heartier dish. Franconian gravies can be enjoyed with various meats served in the area like Schäuferla, roast pork.
There are many items to enjoy throughout Nuremberg and the other Franconian influenced locations within Bavaria. Grilled Nuremberger Bratwurst pork sausages served with sauerkraut, Franconian Bread soup and Zwiebelkuchen onion cake are all popular items. Not to be missed and the most well known dessert within Franconian culture is Nürnberger Lebkuchen, a gingerbread cake commonly found during the cooler holiday periods.
Franconia is home to hundreds of small breweries and has the largest number of breweries in the world. When visiting try some of the local specialties like Rauchbier (smoked beer) Dunkel (dark lager), wheat beer (Hefeweizen) and Helles pale lager.
But bier isn’t the only viable drinking option, Franconian wines grown along the Main river produce some of the best whites in Germany. Franconian wines are bottled in easy-to-spot Bocksbeutel, green bulb shaped, bottles that you will want to take home as a souvenir of your visit.
The final region we are visiting is also the northernmost of the regions. Located in western Germany, this hilly Rhineland area surrounds the Rhine river and covers the areas of Germany that borders the countries of Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands. Some of the most visited cities of the Rhineland; Bonn, Düsseldorf, Koblenz and Cologne are found throughout the middle section of the Rhine river.
Within this cooler area of Germany, the gastronomy is made up of hearty dishes of stews, potatoes, soups and traditional German offerings like sauerkraut. A popular dish of the region is Himmel un Ääd (Heaven and Earth), a mashed potato dish made with apples that signify heaven since they grow from trees and hang above the earth and potatoes which grow from the earth.
The perfect Rhine experience includes a visit to the largest city on the Rhine river, Cologne. A medieval city, Cologne is the largest city within western Germany and a prime cultural area. Featuring many architectural sites, landmarks and museums, the best gastronomy of the Rhineland region can be found in Cologne. The city boasts thousands of pubs, cafes and restaurants offering many opportunities to enjoy a Rhineland dining experience.
A key part of a Cologne foodie experience is sampling the locally brewed Kölsch beer from one of the many local breweries here. Taking a local brewery tour, you will find paired with the local brewery cuisine; Kölsche Kaviar, a black pudding with onions or Halve Hahn, a traditional Cologne cheese sandwich made with locally sourced Gouda cheese on a rye roll with mustard and onions.
When visiting Germany, food is just one of the many experiences that immerse you into the many faces of the Deutchland. If you need additional reasons why Germany needs to be on your travel bucket list, here are ten more for you. The best way to travel through Germany is by river cruise. Hit all of the best cities along the Rhine, the Main or the Moselle enjoying the towns, sites and the gastronomy of the different regions of Germany.
Regardless if you are an oenophile, a vin lover or just getting your feet wet in the wine world, Bordeaux is the most renowned region for wine. Exploring wine, understanding the vinification process and sampling wine, Bordeaux is known for high quality, aged wines, and being the world wine capital. Here you can enjoy some of the world’s most expensive reds and deliciously sweet white wines.
Wine’s existence in Bordeaux began with the Romans who occupied the area in the 1st century. Today Bordeaux is one of the oldest continuously producing wine communities in the world. The key success to the wines of this area is the combination of the maritime climate, the calcium rich soils, and the rivers, the Garonne and Dordogne that provide irrigation year round for continued vine growth.
The heart of the region, centered around the town of Bordeaux, is well known not just for their wines, but as an international destination filled with history and medieval architecture and for its connection to the rivers that flow through the area. The famed Cabernet Sauvignon producing Medoc region is where you will find some of the most esteemed wine villages along the left bank of the Garonne river. And the popular Saint-Émilion region on the right bank of the Dordogne produces Merlot with a reputation for superior wines. But this is not all Bordeaux has to offer, the region is also established for White Bordeaux wines produced from Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadet grapes. Vinified in the cooler parts of Bordeaux, sweet dessert wines are fermented naturally using a process called Botrytis. Botrytis concentrates the sugars in the grapes as they ripen and develops unique flavors that can only be found within this part of the region.
In a nutshell, Oenotourisme is the purpose of traveling that centers around wine. Exploring and enjoying the production of the region plus the cultural heritage that unites it all together is a wine traveler’s dream. With almost 300,000 acres of vineyards and a multitude of wine options, Bordeaux is a top destination. So one might wonder the best way to explore the vast and largest wine growing region of France. The answer is by bicycle. Bicycles will take you on the streets that create Bordeaux’s iconic towns, past the historical monuments, along the rivers, and through the villages that are home to the wineries locally known as châteaux. It is within these villages where you will taste the most respected wines in the world and venture into the vineyards that grow the famed blends.
City of Bordeaux
The heart of the wine region is a bike friendly city offering paths of approximately 400 miles of bicycle trails. Traveling by bike through the walled city centre, you can explore sites like the grandiose Place de la Bourse square with a grand reflecting fountain and the iconic Bordeaux Cathedral. You may also find yourself stopping along the way to enjoy dining in a local cafe, popping into a shop on the Rue Sainte-Catherine or even finding unexpected historical treasures throughout this UNESCO World Heritage city centre.
Within the city of Bordeaux, there are many paths to take you on adventures well beyond the wine regions. Bike through forests, into the outer regions to visit one of the many beautiful parks, like the nature reserve in Barails and you can even cycle all the way to the beaches on the Atlantic coast. Jumping onto one of the many paths available, you never know what hidden discoveries you will find as you explore the area guided or on your own.
A relaxing hour-long ride is all it takes to lead you along both sides of the Garonne river. Start from the bell towers at the Place Pey Berland, cross the Pont de Pierre stone bridge to the right bank of the Garonne. Ride along the shores of the right bank, admiring the views of the city of Bordeaux across the river until you reach the Chaban-Delmas bridge which will take you back to the left bank. Crossing the river, you will find you are near the popular Chartrons district, the perfect stop to enjoy one of the many bistros or taverns before continuing along the river back to the bell towers where you began your ride.
Within reach from the historic centre are the prestigious appellations of the Médoc region. Following “La Route de Vins des Bordeaux” by bicycle, you can enjoy a relaxed ride along the Garonne river into the countryside and through the villages where you will find yourself upon the famed vineyards of Bordeaux.
Traveling from the city of Bordeaux in just 3 hours each way, you pass through some of the highest respected elite first growth wine producing château in France. Château Margaux, Château Pichon Longueville, Château Latour, Château Lafite Rothschild and Château Mouton Rothschild, produce Bordeaux’s most valuable and esteemed wines. By bike, you can leisurely stop along the way and visit the vineyards of these most prestigious wine producers with plenty of time to sample some of the most expensive wines in the world.
Alternately starting in the city, you can head south along the “Route des vins” into the birthplace of the region. The city of Graves is home to the only Premier Cru château outside the northern Medoc region, Château Haut Brion. Continuing on this path, you will pass some of the oldest château, and historical castles as you ride along the vineyards leading you into the Sauternes region to the Château d’Yquem whose vineyards are famed for its sweet White Bordeaux’s.
Although not as accessible as the Left Bank from the city of Bordeaux, with the superb public transportation that Bordeaux offers, visiting the right bank is just a train ride away. Starting from the Gare de Bordeaux St Jean, a 30 minute ride will take you to the city of Libourne, the second largest city center in the Bordeaux region. Located in Saint-Émilion, Libourne is the main city of the Right Bank along the Dordogne river and the commercial location for the wines of the Right Bank and the Entre Deux Mer region.
Saint-Émilion is the prime wine region of the Right bank and along with its neighboring area, Pomerol, as Grand Cru vineyards, produce the highly desired Merlot based blends of Bordeaux.
Embarking on your two and half hour bike ride (without stops) will start from the train station in Libourne. Cycling northwest along the Right Bank of the Dordogne, you will find some of the largest castles, smallest villages and most approachable wines from world famous vineyards as you enjoy your ride to the town of Fronsac. Exploring Fronsac you will find historic sites dating back to Charlemagne and the Roman Empire as well as some highly reputable château vineyards.
From Fronsac, moving east and passing through the French countryside vineyards of the picturesque Pomerol region you will find yourself traveling to the rustic village of medieval St-Émilion, a UNESCO World Heritage site and another historic center for Bordeaux wines. Arriving in St-Émilion, explore the beautiful hilly town, visit the historical church and stop in at a local bistro to enjoy a meal with some locally produced Grand Cru vin before traveling on.
Making your way back towards Libourne from Saint-Emilion, you will reach the Dordogne, and cross the river into the Entre Deux Mer region on your way to Graves de Vayres. Graves de Vayres is known for its terraced vineyards that produce both red sweet Merlot wines and dry white wines produced from Sauvignon Blanc. A reward for your biking travels will be reaching one of the most prestigious medieval castle’s built in the region, the Château de Vayres. Sitting on the left bank of the Dordogne river, a visit to this historic location will offer you a fantastic view into the past royal presence within the Bordeaux region. Exploring the beautiful château and the French and medieval gardens will be the perfect stop before your 30 minute ride traveling back to the Libourne train station.
As the premium wine producer in France, Bordeaux offers many opportunities to fully explore the famed region as a wine traveler. However biking through Bordeaux will offer an immersion that you can not otherwise experience by motor vehicle and is a way to connect with Bordeaux on a more personal level, path by path.
Did you know, many of these biking adventures, in addition to others, are provided excursions on a Bordeaux river cruise starting at the city of Bordeaux. What better way to enjoy seven days of vinitourism on both the Garonne and Dordogne rivers visiting the many châteaux along the way. Familiarizing yourself with the region and sampling some of the finest wines are all expected when visiting Bordeaux. But imagine your experience when you explore on one of the bicycles included onboard, guided or on your own. Spend your time cruising the rivers, bicycling the beautiful French countryside and enjoying the wines that have made this the most famous wine region in the world. Wine travel doesn’t get any better than this!
If this sounds like your perfect vacation, join us starting on June 9, 2022 for a 7 night Bordeaux river cruise. Let us guide you through this fantastic wine experience. Space is limited. Learn more about Traveling the Rivers of Bordeaux and inquire for more information here.
The Douro Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for being one of the oldest wine regions in the world, is recognized for its production of Portuguese regional Port wines. Along the Rio Douro, which travels east from the Atlantic coast and the city of Porto (Oporto locally) through Portugal to the Spanish border, is the Douro Valley, the prime region for the wine growth of Port wine.
The rugged and remote 60 mile area of the Douro Valley is broken down into subregions. Within the central core Cima Corgo (land above the Corgo river) is where you will find the famous terraced vineyards that produce the finest Port wines of the Douro wine region.
As you travel the Douro river east, witness breathtaking high mountainous terrain with vineyards that expand into steep granite sloping land. From the rio you can see the grapevines growing in what appears to be a quilted patchwork. At the heart of the Cima Corgo where the Rio Douro and the Rio Pinhão converge is the small unassuming town of Pinhão. The small sleepy vila is surrounded by approximately 47,000 acres of vineyards and some of those vines date as far back as the original plantings by the Roman Empire.
The wines of Pinhão, similarly to most of the Douro region, are primarily sweet, fortified wines produced from local grapes; Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tempranillo. Blended together, these grapes create wines that are both higher in alcohol and superior in flavor. Port wines are produced in varying styles based on an aging process ranging from the standard couple year aged Ruby Port to long aged and tawny colored wines. In addition to the popular Port wines, unfortified still and dry wines are also produced here using the same grapes. White Port wines are also found produced in this region as well as some Rose’ and dessert wines.
To fully understand these wines produced here, it is recommended that you immerse yourself in the wine culture of the town of Pinhão and its surrounding areas.
Pinhão Rail Station – considered one of the most beautiful train stations in Portugal, many visitors begin their Pinhão experience here in one way or another. For those arriving by train, they disembark and discover 25 beautiful panels of azuelos tiles each designed to portray historic scenes of the Douro wine region. As the main, central site within the town, even visitors who are not arriving by train will find themselves starting their explorations of the town of Pinhão here.
Tip: If traveling between June and October, take a ride on the historic coal burning Comboio steam train that travels above the scenic Douro river. During the ride, enjoy local entertainment while indulging in a glass of port onboard.
Originating in Regua, the train will arrive in Pinhão, with your next stop being one of the many local Quintas.
Visit a Quinta or two or three….. – family owned estates that feature a large manor home or possibly even a small palace, stands as the base for a vineyard, winery and even for an olive grower. Quintas, which means one-fifth, was the amount of produce that renters paid to use the properties they farmed on. The Quinta is at the center of wine production in Portugal and is part of a classification system that ranks Quintas based on characteristics of the vineyard. These include location, age, yield and topography with the highest quality Quintas receiving the highest prices for their wines.
Quinta hopping is part of the Douro experience and is the best way to experience some of the finest Port wines within the Douro region. Taking a vineyard tour of a Quinta provides understanding of the history and the vinification practices of that particular Quinta.
A highlight of your visit will be sampling their Port, usually while sitting on an open terrace peering out onto the vineyard and possibly overlooking the rabelos floating on the Douro river.
Rabelo Boat ride – Part of a Douro wine experience is understanding the history and culture of Port Wine production. In the late 18th to early 19th century after being put into oak barrels, the wines were sent downriver to the city of Oporto for bottling and distribution. The wooden flat bottomed boats used to transport the wine barrels are called “barcos rabelos”. Only found in the Douro region, the historic vessels can still be seen floating up and down the river.
A rabelo boat ride is the perfect opportunity to explore the Pinhão area from historic wooden cargo ships that transport guests between vineyards or offer a scenic cruise along the river. On your cruise as you travel from Pinhão and then back again, you will see the terraced vineyards as they have been seen for centuries.
Enjoy a late morning ride before grabbing a bite at one of the nearby cafes.
Dine like a local – When in Rome or in this case, Pinhão, sampling the local gastronomy is an integral part of your experience. Portuguese dining is essentially a farm to table experience. The Douro is well known for its fortified wines, and also grows many ingredients, like olives, almonds, mushrooms and chestnuts and more used in the fantastic dining experiences here. Honey and cured meats are also locally produced and served in Pinhão restaurants. Dining in Pinhão is all about the rustic flavors of the hearty meals and pairing them with the locally produced vins.
Some of the recommended local fare to try; Bola de Lamego, sandwiches made with fresh breads and fillings, Alheira smoked sausage and Arroz de Cabidela, a Portuguese risotto-like dish. While there are some great dining opportunities in and around Pinhão, some of the best dining can be found in the Quintas throughout the region. Pinhão even has a Michlin rated restaurant, Rabelo, known for its high standards and reputation as being the “best of the best” in the area. Located in a small hotel overlooking the river, Rabelo offers a modern take on local Portuguese fare. Of course don’t forget the Ports and unfortified wines that will make every bite taste better then the last.
Now that you are well nourished, you are ready for some adventure in the vineyards.
Hike the Douro Valley – One of the experiences that separates the Douro Valley wine region from others is the ability to hike your way through the area. The public trails through the villages and vineyards allow you to familiarize yourself with the famed wine region and its terraced slopes.
If hiking on your own seems risky, then take advantage of the opportunity to arrange a guided tour or hop onto a guided trail tour offered by one of the many Quintas throughout the region.
As the center of wine production in Portugal, Pinhão offers plenty of experiences to immerse oneself into fully understanding the famed region. Familiarizing oneself with the grapes grown in the locally produced Port wines, learning about the historic production methods and of course sampling some of the Douro’s finest offerings are all included in time spent here. Pinhão is the perfect base for exploring the central Douro Valley and enjoying the region’s highlights.
*Photo Courtesy of AmaWaterways
Many of the experiences discussed above are provided excursions on a Douro river cruise from the main city center of Northern Portugal, Porto. Enjoy seven days of travel on the scenic river stopping along the way to enjoy the amazing sites and flavors that this beautiful region has to offer.
Vienna, the capital of Austria is one of the most captivating cities of Europe for its culture, architecture, music, art and dining.
The beautiful location of the city along the Danube river, with many Imperial palaces and buildings which invite you in to view the art and architecture of one of the greatest monarchy’s of European history. Plus perfectly manicured parks which are quietly waiting to be explored offer hidden treasures throughout every corner of the city. The most memorable experiences here, fully indulge the senses. Hearing the sounds of the city’s longtime connection to music, tasting the gastronomy at the historic cafes and seeing the beauty of the plentiful gardens together create a truly Vienna experience.
If you have researched Vienna you know the connection to music is just as long and important as the connection to art. The home of many famous composers like Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms also has a place in the world of orchestra, opera and theatre. One of the first buildings you pass as you set out along the famed Ringstrasse (circle road surrounding Vienna) is the State Opera House. The Wiener Staatsoper was built as the Royal Opera by former Austrian Emperor Joseph I and to this day, the opera house welcomes guests who still enjoy the Renaissance musical experience.
Vienna’s connection to music expands on from the exquisite building of the opera house to the world celebrated Vienna Philharmonic which can be enjoyed at the Vienna Musikverein, where you can relish in the sounds of Mozart, Beethoven and Strauss. However, if a formal music experience is not available or untimely, historic Viennese music can also be enjoyed with performances at some of the smaller theatres and possibly some of the churches, cathedrals or palaces, throughout the city.
Viennese cafes are a unique experience that should not be missed. Housed in Baroque buildings, cafes are what many locals consider their second home as they spend hours reading, socializing, working and sipping some of the best coffee in Europe at these popular local shops. Viennese cafes were established long before Starbucks ever brewed their first cup with some of the local cafe’s dating back to the 1700’s. It would have been common to spot Mozart or Beethoven entertaining relaxing guests at one of the many local cafes, sampling their newest compositions.
Vienna’s love for coffee started even earlier than the cafe. In the late 1600’s, bags of coffee beans were abandoned by invading Turkish soldiers who left them in the hands of unfamiliar Austrians. The beans were roasted, and served with milk and sugar to sweeten the bitter turkish coffee which established what would soon become the Vienna coffee culture.
Drinking coffee in Vienna is an artform that is specific to the Viennese lifestyle. Typically sitting at marble tables, your waiter delivers your coffee in a porcelain cup, served with a glass of water to cleanse the palate between sips. Usually as you also enjoy an order of one of the popular housemade pastries as you scroll the daily newspaper. Specialty cafes further enhance the enjoyment of the Kaffeehaus encounter. Cafe Sacher, a cafe in the 5 star Hotel Sacher is the home of the Sacre Torte, long considered the “World’s Most Famous Cake”. Tip: Due to the popularity of and long lines for cafes, share a table and amplify your experience with a memorable conversation.
With over 50% of the city of Vienna featuring green space, it is not surprising that timeless manicured gardens are still enjoyed as an integral part of a Viennese experience.
Stadtpark(Vienna City Park) – the oldest and largest of the parks in Vienna just outside the famed Ringstrasse features memorials to Vienna’s famous writers and composers and pays homage to them with regularly scheduled waltz concerts at the Kursalon building.
Volksgarten – . Designed in an English garden style and as a French Baroque garden, the park houses a monument to past Empress Elizabeth (wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I) and features a rose garden and symbolic fountains. Once part of Hofburg castle (the former Imperial winter residence of the Hapsburg dynasty), this garden is today considered “the people’s garden”
Schönbrunn Palace Garden –the summer residence for the Hapsburg rulers has one of the most popular parks with the locals as well as with tourists. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the once private area today offers recreation for the locals, jogging and sport, in addition to regularly scheduled events that occur throughout the year that also attracts visitors. Amenities within the park include an opulent private palace garden, the Orangery (exotic plant) garden, a maze garden, plus a zoo that was founded as the Imperial menagerie. Note: some require an admission fee.
Vienna, a classic destination, appeals to the senses for immersion into the very Austrian culture. A must when wanting to experience the best of the European cities. Spending time in Vienna among other regions of Austria, Salzburg and the Wachau Valley, is included in a 7 night river cruise along the Danube River, but one of the highlights of a Danube travel experience.
Find out more about the river cruise experience from our website.
Within the northern region of Italy where she borders France and Switzerland at the foot of the Alps, is the Italian territory of the Piedmont. From the mountainous alp region offering some of the highest peaks in Europe, to the flat valley along the Po river, the area draws visitors for its historical features, palaces and royal residences, the beautiful churches that make the Piedmont a popular religious destination and for sport like alpine skiing and mountainous winter and summer activities.
The second largest administrative region of Italy in terms of area, the Piedmont is most notable as the second largest wine region in Italy after the Veneto region and is known for its famed wines based on the Nebbiolo and Barbara or Glera and Moscato, red and white grapes respectively. The majority of the highest classified vineyards can be found in the Barolo, Barbaresco, Alba and Asti Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) appellations. Respectfully known as the home of some of the greatest red dry and white sweet sparkling wines within Italy.
A visit to this region of Italy comes not without its rewards as one travels throughout, visiting the area and tasting some of it’s best vine productions.
Turin, the capital of Piedmont and largest section of the administrative area is the best place to base your visit with its close proximity to the top appellations of the region. Turin is well known for its baroque architecture, grand boulevards, squares and as a gastronomic center for the Northern region. The city is filled with numerous art galleries, opera houses, gardens and elegant palaces that were once the home to the Residences of the Royal House of Savoy who unified and ruled Italy from the late 18th Century through World War II. The original capital of Italy, before moving to Rome, the residences are UNESCO World Heritage sites built between the 16th and 18th centuries and also the location for the Tombs of members of the Savoy family during their reign. Turin is well known for its chocolate production of gianduiotto, individually wrapped hazelnut chocolates and bicerin, a native tradition of layered espresso, chocolate and milk.
Alba is about an hours drive southeast from Turin, and home to the most famous of the wine productions in the Piedmont. Barolo and Barbaresco make Alba a very important site for the local wine industry. With almost 300 wineries here, Alba is among the most renowned wine areas in Italy. Highlighting the line up of the Piedmont is it’s most famous grape, Nebbiolo, a full bodied, low acid light red to dark garnet colored wine. Kept for three years in the barrel, once well aged, Nebbiolo will offer an aromatic and well balanced wine with flavors of berries, herbs and tobacco. Another popular grape, in fact the most planted in terms of acreage in the Piedmont is the Barbera grape. Within the Alba region, the lesser known grapes of Barbara and Dolcetto produce single vintage wines that are notable and worthy of enjoying. Barbara is acidic and lighter bodied, low tannic and easily grown wine offering ripe flavors of cherry, while Dolcetto creates a dark red, fruity and softer palette wine. When visiting Alba, walking the medieval city and a visit to the Duomo with its popular wood-carved chorus stalls is a must do.
The province of Asti, 45 minutes east of and bordering the province of Turin is well known for its sparkling wines. Asti Spumante, the formal name for the fruity wines produced from the Moscato Bianco (Muscat) grape is the largest production of wine in Italy. Based on Asti DOCG wine laws, the low alcohol wine that is considered a dessert wine must be produced with 100% Moscato using a method that ferments the wine in large pressurized tanks called the Charmat method. Unlike the other popular red wines of the Piedmont, Asti wines are consumed young for best flavors. Also within the Asti region, the half sparkling (frizzante) red Barbara d’ Asti wines can be found. As the name infers, the wine is vinified using the 90 – 100% of the red grape Barbara which is grown in the hilly regions of Asti. Despite it’s dark red appearance, the light bodied wine is rich with notes of berries and a full bouquet. To experience some of the many wineries, set out on the wine trail Walk, bike or trek hills covered by vineyards, stopping by wineries and farms to sample different wines and local produce. Filled with many medieval palaces and beautiful churches, Asti is well known as the religious center of the Piedmont and the “City with Hundred Towers” and features a tower and ancient walls that date back to the reign of the Emperor Augustus.
For the wine connoisseur, Piedmont is a must visit region of Italy’s famed wine appellations. Touring and tasting are key attractions of this northern administration however this land of mountains will also offer travelers the opportunity for active outdoor experiences within the diverse countryside or 56 national parks and historical visits within the capital city of Turin.
Africa, an outdoor enthusiasts dream. An entire continent of open space filled with five ecosystems each offering a unique aspect to the landscape. Deserts, mountains, savanna’s, rain forests and coastline. One of the few places on earth where despite being the second most populated continent still contains many locations that look just as they did hundreds or maybe even thousands of years ago.
Visiting Africa for its amazing scenery, landscapes and its most endearing feature it’s biodiversity. Containing the most flora and fauna still in existence Africa is one of the most desired locations for travelers looking to step into a world completely different then their own.
Excited passengers whisking off in 4 x 4 vehicles on protectedwildlife Safarisled by a local guide to search for the Big 5 (Cape buffalo, elephant, lion, leopard and rhinoceros) among others. But there is another experience, one less considered and yet an amazing more intimate way to see wildlife in a natural and sustainable way.
The one source that all animals need for existence is water. Which is what makes very important to the existence of Africa’s wildlife, the rivers.
Africa has dry and wet seasons that occur annually interacting with the animal behavior driving them to and from the rivers, their main source for water. On average Africa’s wettest season is from April to early June and they see some rain October – December. However June through September is the dry period when animals begin migration to and along the rivers for sustainability.
Like the animals, traveling along the rivers can offer explorers a unique experience for up-close wildlife sightings and viewing of wildlife in their natural habitats as they play, socialize, feed, bathe and rest.
*Photo courtesy of AmaWaterways River Cruises
Traveling the Chobe and Zambezi rivers into the Chobe National Park in Botswana, brings guests to the source that attracts wildlife from hundreds of miles to the only water available during the African dry winter months. Offering unobstructed views of herds of elephant, giraffe, hooved animals and hundreds of birds all visiting for the season.
In addition to the wildlife experience, the scenery along the river offers many opportunities for unexpected views of the river and the African landscape. Don’t be surprised if you also come across some other unexpected surprises like the breathtaking sunsets that you can see from your cabin balcony.
The best part of an African river cruise is you don’t miss out on the land safari’s. Time is also spent exploring on safari in the Chobe National Park among other areas within Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Rwanda.
Visit national parks, iconic locations like Victoria Falls and private game reserves all while enjoying the best available five star accommodations that are arranged for you based on the itinerary that you choose.
Enjoying an African river cruise can offer many opportunities for immersing in the local culture, exploring the best sites and experiencing the bucket list adventures that most interest you.
Bordeaux, a world renowned wine region and for good reason. Within the total area are many wine appellations filled with over 8,000 chateau and vineyards all produce some of the most sought after, best aging, highest quality and most expensive wines in the world.
Wine and Bordeaux’s relationship date back 2000 years, since it’s time as a commercial center for the Roman Empire. Today Bordeaux provides one-fourth of the production of the best wines in France.
The greater Bordeaux region is located in southwestern France where crescent shaped land surrounds and is surrounded by the Garonne and Dordogne rivers and the Gironde river, respectively.
Within the region of Bordeaux, on the left bank of the Garonne river you will find the port city and capital of the Nouvelle Aquitaine region, similarly named, “Bordeaux”.
A popular location as the starting point for a wine experience, the city of Bordeaux also offers history, architecture, culture, dining, shopping and so much more. When taking a break from your “wine travels” or completely venturing out to see all that the city of Bordeaux has to offer, the best place to start is within the seven districts of the city of Bordeaux that each has its own flair, its own history and offers its own unique Bordelais experience.
The birthplace of the city of Bordeaux started here as the Roman city of Burdigala transforming over 2000 years into the primary city centre and heart of the downtown area. The location of the port entrance and where the economy that developed Bordeaux into a major city was built upon. It is here that you will find some of the oldest architecture and history of the city. Visiting the local landmarks of the Porte Cailhau, the Pont de Pierre, Saint-Pierre church, the iconic and recognizable Place de la Bourse along the Garonne river and its modern counterpart the must see Miroir d’eau reflecting pool which is the most photographed location in Bordeaux. The Old Town is also the location of the Rue Saint-Catherine, the longest pedestrian shopping street in France.
The upscale region of the city, known as the “Golden Triangle” of parishes offering beautifully elegant stone buildings and boulevards featuring well maintained city squares like the Place des Quinconces, the Place Tourny shopping district and some of Bordeaux’s top restaurants, luxurious boutiques and the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux, Place de la Comédie. Grand Hommes is the area to see and be seen as you explore the city and outer regions of Bordeaux.
Saint Seurin – Fondaudège
The residential district northwest of the Grand Hommes, named for the oldest cemetery in Bordeaux, Saint Seurin, is within walking distance to the old town. A quiet upscale area featuring a mixture of modern architecture with old stone buildings and beautiful gardens. This where you will find the Jardin Botanique to venture out for a local experience. However if mixing with the locals is not of interest, the area is still visit worthy for the Palais Gallien, a former Roman arena and one of the only remaining forms of architecture from the Gallo-Roman era in Bordeaux and the Natural History museum located at the edge of the Jardin.
Town Hall District
South of the Saint Seurin district and west of the Old Town, you will find the district with both visitors and locals enjoying the centrally located and symbolic Place Gambetta square. Other visitors may be searching out the once medieval residence, Palais Rohan that today is Bordeaux’s Town Hall (Hôtel De Ville)home of the Museum of Fine Arts. Not far from there is the most beautiful and primary Cathedral within Bordeaux, Saint Andrew and the adjacent and popular Pey – Beland bell tower. Within this district is also where you can discover the antique district and the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design located in one of the most beautifully decorated 18th century mansions of Bordeaux.
The Saints District
In the southernmost district of the city is the Saint – Jean train station the neighborhood of Saint-Michel and the Saint-Croix church. As the central location where train passengers are passing through all day long, this area is filled with local immersion. Le Marché des Capucins is a local market open early morning until early afternoon and is worth exploring for fresh regional and popular items to sample and bring home. Come back to the area in the evening for a truly Bordelaisen experience heading to one of the many restaurants, bars and clubs where you will find an energetic and animated crowd of both travelers and locals. Also located within this district is the Quai de Paludate popular with the locals for music and nightlife.
The city of Bordeaux is not completely limited to the left side of the Garonne river. On the right bank is the recently gentrified neighborhood of La Bastide. The former industrial area has been built up with restaurants and movie theatres in a newly developed urban area and features fantastic views of the historic Old Town from across the Garonne. Within the district you can find a newly developed botanical garden. The Jardin botanique de la Bastide features six different garden areas including a water garden and an arboretum.
Bassins a Flot
Crossing back across the Garonne via the Chaban Delmas bridge is the district of Bassins a flot. The most northern area of the city is the location of the city’s river commercial docks, once home to the largest port in Europe. Despite it’s maritime history this is where you can now find the most modernistic and futuristic architecture in the world, better known as the wine tower, the La Cité du Vin museum. Walking the paths along the river quay you will pass barges and other relics of the area’s river past and eventually you will reach the Bordeaux Submarine base. One of five sub bases built by the Italians during World War II, the bunker has been repurposed into a multicultural building with the Bassins de Lumiere art museum, and offers various concerts throughout the year.
Last but not least is the most eclectic of Bordeaux districts. North of the Old Town district is the original home of the 14th century Chartreux Abbey. The historic neighborhood has been restored from its dilapidated existence into a chic bohemian experience offering a centrally located public garden and featuring the Place du Marché Chartrons marketplace filled with local merchants offering river and locally sourced food like oysters, foie gras and macarons. Explore the nearby Saint-Louis Cathedral and also within this district you will find riverside dining and the Quai des Marques shopping area filled with cafe’s and boutiques for the hipster in all of us. With all the activity that happens here, it is not surprising that this is the location where the quays for river boats dock making it a popular location for tourism and travelers looking for a Bordeaux experience.
Looking beyond Bordeaux’s wine presence, you can see that the city of Bordeaux is abundant in culture and experiences and offers an internationally cosmopolitan vibe. The many areas throughout the city are vibrant and yet each offers its own unique reasons for visiting. The city draws a romance of it’s own. Read more specifically to find Romance in Bordeaux.
No matter how you choose to explore the region, one of our very favorite experiences that brings all of these experiences to you in one amazing week is by river cruise. Learn more about river cruising from our website.
Madrid, the capital of Spain and the melting pot of the various cultures found within the Spanish region. Filled with sites, historical locations like palaces and monuments, standing as the center of finance and cultural arts in Spain, offering active sports complexes, and featuring luxury shopping along its beautiful boulevards, plus a vivid nightlife it is not unexpected that Madrid is also a central hub for food and drink.
Within Madrid, the flavors of Spanish cuisine of the past that were influenced by the Roman, North African and Iberian cultures still exist today. However, these traditions are now combined with influences from the various customs and traditions that were brought into the newly established capital city in the 16th century after the relocation of the Spanish Empire during the reign of King Felipe II.
Modern Madrid has hundreds of dining experiences that feature both regional and international cuisine making it a gastronomic destination for both foodies and the typical foreign visitor looking to experience both the sophisticated and the popular dining experiences.
Worth noting is the difference in dining schedules from other regions of Europe. Similar to many other European regions, breakfast is typically a quick bite late in the morning. However, the mid-day meal of lunch is typically eaten between 2 and 3:30 pm local time with restaurants opening around 1:30pm for the largest meal of the day. The Madrilenian typically have a late afternoon/early evening snack (merienda) around 6 or 7 pm and then finish the day with a light dinner usually around 9 or 10 pm.
From savory to sweet, tapas to full dining experiences, you will find the local dishes are centered around stews and soups while the tapeo (tapas) are a bar hopping experience and the center of the Madrid nightlife. Walking into a local tavern, ordering a beer or glass of locally sourced wine or cider and accompanying it with a hot or cold Spanish snack before moving on to your next gastronomic experience.
With so many options and the various dining experiences, read on for a some recommendations for the best dining experiences in Madrid:
Formal dining at it’s finest, white tablecloths and the highest gastronomic experiences within the city. Offering some of the staples of Madrilenian foods like croquetas (filled fried rolls) to enjoy as an appetizer before delving into one of the many enjoyable soups, stews or meats that Madrid is known for. Featuring set menus with a la carte options or shared plates, the restaurante’s can offer both a cultural and historic dining experience.
Sobrino de Botin
One of the oldest restaurants in Madrid, is also considered one of the world’s top 10 classic restaurants. Restaurant Botin began serving in 1725. Well noted for its cochinillo asado (roast suckling pig) and Castilian lamb (cordero asado), which are slow cooked over wood in the original ovens. The menu is popular for traditional Spanish cuisine also offering additional starters and main courses to appeal to various tastes and interests.
This historic establishment is not just known for its history and its menu. Distinguished by some popular figures of the past, Ernest Hemingway, a frequent visitor, left his mark by including the wood paneled dining room in his final scene of The Sun Also Rises. Additionally, famed Spanish painter Francisco de Goya worked as a waiter in his early days as a struggling artist.
Serving lunch daily from 1pm – 4pm and dinner starting at 8pm, tours of the facility are available for an additional look into the past of the landmark restaurant. Due to its popularity, reservations are highly recommended.
Another classic Madrileno experience, this award winning restaurant opened its doors in 1839. A popular establishment for fine dining with the Spanish aristocracy of the 19th century, the venue has not changed since it’s design in 1880. From your arrival at the front doors, the unassuming store front welcomes you into an elegant white tablecloth dining experience.
The fixed price menus feature Spanish comfort dining influenced by French cuisine. A traditional menu of stews and soups, roasts and daily special menus are offered in addition to an appetizer and a dessert. Lhardy is well known for the locally popular Cocido Madrileno stew, a vegetable and beef dish created with chickpeas and sausage that is served in three courses.
First course is bone marrow based broth, the second course of beans and vegetables is then served and the third course is made up of stewed ham, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, chorizo and blood sausage in a tomato sauce to finish off the experience.
Open daily for lunch from 1 – 3:30 pm and 8:30pm to 11pm for dinner, reservations are a must to guarantee a dining experience.
Where the restaurants have been established within Spanish aristocracy, Literary cafes appealed to the everyday patron. Cultural experiences in themselves, cafe’s are more informal than the restaurants as locations where the locals come for inspiration, to meet to discuss current events and literature and to socialize with their peers while sharing experiences. Referred to as tertulias (social gatherings), cafe’s aremore sophisticated than a coffee house yet less formal than the restaurante’s. Open in the morning for simple breakfasts throughout the day and into the late afternoon or early evening for between meal snacks. A popular local item found at the Madrid cafe’s is the Tortilla de patatas (potato omelet) handcrafted by each cafe in it’s own unique style.
Considered to be one of the original literary cafes of Madrid was opened in 1888. Cafe Gijon has always been a leader in the local Madrid Cafe experience and was a centerplace for the literary movement in the city starting post Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s. This location has been historically documented in books, movies and paintings and many tertulias (social gatherings) have occurred within the walls of the historic cafe.
Popular in the mornings for breakfast, the cafe features coffee, pastries, baguettes and breakfast sandwiches throughout the day and multi course tapa menus in the afternoon/evening.
A great place to come for experience, but also to people watch as you can still find animated Castilian enjoying a social experience inside at one of the small cafe tables or outdoors on the terrace.
Typically a rustic Madrid bar featuring tapas, wines, ciders, sherry, vermouth among other options to relax and indulge after a long day of touring. Comparatively they are the Spanish version of a French bistro or Italian trattoria where the locals go for spirited beverages and conversation. This is where you will go when you embark on a bar hopping experience in search of the best tapeo (tapas) in Madrid.
One of the oldest taberna in Madrid, circa 1827, the history and nostalgia can be seen just upon entering through the fire red door. Once inside the Spanish atmosphere is seen in the metal and wood bar, ornate wood trim and the grouping of white tablecloth tables set up throughout. As you look around you can see the walls are filled with Spanish culture and nostalgia of almost 200 years of service at this very location.
The tapas menu is as interesting as the popular libation vermouth which is served on tap here. Featuring classic house specialities like Madrilian Tripe (callos a la madrileña) and rabo de toro (oxtail stew), meatballs and cod among other tasty starters, the artistic presentation is as enjoyable as the dishes.
A visit to a taberna is all about tradition and if you are interested in literary history, it is worth noting that Miguel de Cervantes, author of the novel Don Quixote, once resided within the historic building that Casa Albert continues to serve from.
Other Dining Musts
Madrid dining experiences go well beyond the best taberna’s, cafes and restaurante’s and offer traditional popular food options that can be found nearby the cities most popular attractions.
Bocadillo de Calamares
Madrid’s most famous sandwich can be discovered at one of the popular sandwich bars found around the city’s equally popular shopping and sightseeing regions.
Fresh fried calamari (squid) rings are loaded into crusty bread with specialty sauces or custom crafted aioli and served with a lemon wedge. The perfect accompaniment to a cold beer for a filling and refreshing early evening merienda (snack).
The most popular location for locals to enjoy one of these Madrialano treats is La Campana. Located on a side street near popular Plaza Mayor. It is not uncommon to find a line in the late afternoon of equally hungry people patiently waiting to sample and enjoy their Bocadillo de Calamares.
Churros con Chocolate
A visit to Madrid would not be complete without sampling one of it’s most famous treats, the Spanish donuts, aka the churro. A staple for locals post bar hopping and for late night treats, these are popular really anytime of the day when the desire for a sweet and decadent snack is in order.
Commonly served with hot sipping chocolate, you can find many locals enjoying one for breakfast or during the early evening merienda to tide them over until dinner hour.
The most popular location for enjoying a plate of churros is at the Chocolateria San Ginés’. San Ginés’ can be found in central Madrid within an alleyway appropriately named San Ginés’. One of the most historic locations in the city, the Chocolateria has served the thin and crunchy churro since 1894. Also serving porros it’s thicker and softer big brother, coffee’s, ice cream and many offerings of chocolate based treats, this is a local experience that is highly recommended and available 24 hours a day.
With so many options, it is clear why Madrid is known for its gastronomic experiences. We have not even touched on the many bars or bar de copas throughout the area that are the very center of Madrilonian nightlife or the markets where you can sample some of the local street cuisine. One thing we can say is that these are also experiences that will only enhance an already visit worthy itinerary.
There are many options for planning a visit to Madrid. Our favorite option is post a 7 night river cruise along the Douro river through Portugal and into Spain. Check here for more information on cruising the Douro.
The city of Luxor in southern Egypt, is a modern city, once the ancient Greek city of Thebes and former capital of Egypt known as Waset in the prime of Pharaoh rule during the sixteenth – eleventh centuries BC today is the gateway to the ancient Egyptian monuments..
Located on the Eastern bank of the Nile river, Luxor is the prime location for visiting the ancient sites found on both banks of the Nile river. Luxor was originally built during the 11th Egyptian dynasty as the home of the Egyptian god Aman-Ra and over the growth and power of the Egyptian dynasty grew into a wealthy and prosperous capital city of the Upper region from the 18th – 20th dynasties.
Today as was in ancient times, the city of Luxor is the center of daily life and still where you will find the majority of the people, the airport, hotels, port and the majority of the tourism industry that draws visitors to the area.
Across the river on the West bank of the Nile is the location of the temples and burial sites of the ancient royals who ruled Egypt from the East bank.
When planning a visit to Egypt, what are the sites to plan on visiting on both banks?
East Bank –
The main archeological attractions outside the city of Luxor are the ancient temples of Karnak and Luxor which sit about 2 miles apart along the Nile river.
The Temple of Karnak and Open Air Museum
The second most visited site in Egypt is one of Egypt’s largest surviving temples. Originally designed as the main religious site of the kingdom during the Middle Kingdom period (2030 to 1650 B.C) of Pharaonic rule dedicated to the Egyptian god Amun – Re saw continuous building well into the Ptolemaic period from 305 – 30 BC.
Various monuments were added by the many Pharaohs (approximately 30) who ruled through the Middle Kingdom, during the Roman era, the New Kingdom and into the Ptolemaic period of rule making it one of the largest archaeological sites in Egypt. Filled with substantially decorated courts, temples, pylons and shrines that tell the stories of religion, coronations and military campaigns that occurred throughout the time of construction.
With so many sites to see, one of the key sites is the Great Hypostyle Hall which is a 50,000 square foot area filled with 134 columns from 33 – 69 feet tall, an archaeological feat for construction of the time. Also worth visiting is the Open Air Museum, an archaeological museum featuring reconstructed structures from the various periods.
Recommendation: Schedule time for the evening Sound and Light show that takes you on a visual journey through the history of the Karnak Temple region.
The Temple of Luxor
The second of the primary ancient temples, was constructed from sandstone between 1500 – 1200 BC. Under commissions by the Pharaohs Amenhotep III and Ramses the Great (II) as a dedication to the Ka (original dynasty of Pharaoh gods) and the fertility god Amen was used for the annual Opet festival which paid tribute to the royals of Egypt.
It is assumed that this was where the Pharaohs were crowned. Here you will find the chapels of the Amenhotep, Ramses II, Tutankhamun and Alexander the Great along with shrines that can be found between the Temples of Luxor and Karnak. During the Roman rule of Egypt, The Temple of Luxor was used as the center of Roman government. In the 11th century AD, a mosque was built on top of the temple, Abu al-Haggag, which is still active today.
Tip: For a less crowded and amazing additional temple experience, visit again at sunset or in the evening to walk the grounds of the Luxor Temple when the ruins are lit up.
Between the two temples along the Nile river, an archaeological museum filled with antiquities from the graves of Tutankhamun, statues that were found within the Luxor Temple and the mummies of Ramesses I and Ahmose I.
West Bank –
As if the East Bank did not offer enough ancient Egyptian experience, the West Bank offers a deeper dive into the ancient Egyptian culture filled with Pharaonic death temples and decorated tombs.
The Colossi of the Memnon
The first site you will pass as you are headed along the main road will be the twin statues of Amenhotep III sitting facing the river Nile accompanied by statues of his wife and mother. Constructed of quartzite sandstone the 60 foot statues which are estimated to weigh approximately 720 tons each sit in ruins and are almost unrecognizable.
Originally constructed to stand guard at his 85 acre mortuary temple which at the time of construction was considered one of the largest and most richly decorated in Ancient Egypt, the statues are some of the few remains of the original complex which eroded over time from river flooding by the nearby Nile.
Your next stop will be the temple of Ramesses III. One of the best preserved temples of the New Kingdom period, it’s location is directly across the river from the Temple of Luxor and originally the site of the temple of the god Amun, the god of creation and fertility.
Ramesses III enclosed the Amun temple and built his memorial shrine within the complex. 75,000 square feet of shrine are decorated with script and scenes from Ramesses’ many military triumphs and festivals that were celebrated in his honor during his reign.
Within the complex you will see large statues of Ramesses, large halls, courtyards and a church that was added during the Greco-Roman period.
Valley of the Queens
Just southwest of the temples of Medinet Habu, built into the cliffs is the necropolis of tombs of the royal family members. Here you will find 90 tombs of Egyptian queens, princes and high officials of the New Kingdom.
Starting in the 19th Dynasty with Sitre, wife of Ramesses I, the Valley of the Queens became the traditional burial site and by early BC and AD, due to lack of space, tombs were being reused for nobles and mummified animal remains.
Many of the tombs had been robbed and vandalized over the thousands of years that they sat abandoned, however in 1905, the tomb of Nefertari, wife of Ramesses II was discovered. Referred to as the “Sistine Chapel of Ancient Egypt” it is considered the most beautiful tomb in Egypt. Commissioned by Ramesses II for his favorite wife, his love for her can be seen in the level of detail and vibrant colors used within the designs of the tomb.
Still an active archaeological site, new discoveries are still being made and some tombs may be closed or inaccessible when visiting.
The mortuary temple of Ramesses the Great (II), known as the great warrior, is one of the largest temples of the New Kingdom era. Originally named the “Mansion of Millions of Years” for Ramesses dedication to Egypt as the most powerful and most celebrated ruler of Egypt, the complex is nothing short of a fantastic step into the ancient past.
Featuring gateways and pillared halls filled with columns, sanctuaries and the remains of one of the largest statues in the world estimated to stand originally at 92 feet. All that is left is 62’ of his base and torso. Unlike other mortuaries, the shrine features rising floors and drop ceilings symbolizing the rise of Egypt under Ramesses power.
Also within the complex are temples dedicated to Ramesses mother and first wife Nefertari and a temple palace. One of the highlights of visiting is the preserved painted ceiling and walls decorated with scenes of his military successes and his representation as a god of Egypt.
Valley of the Nobles
As you journey on you will see scattered through the hills the tombs of the high nobles who assisted and guided the royals during the Old and New Kingdoms and through the Golden age of Thebes when it was the most powerful city in Greece.
Stopping in to explore some of these lesser acknowledged tombs will offer a unique experience into the history and culture of the times. Each chapel of the tomb is decorated with scenes telling the stories of its owners and also sharing details into the lives of the ancient Egyptians.
Valley of the Kings
Your final leg of your journey and one the more popular destinations of Luxor will take you to the inland location where you will find hidden within the valley walls 63 tombs of the New Kingdom (1550 – 1070 BC) pharaohs and their royal family members.
Divided into the East Valley and the West Valley, your primary focus will be the East Valley which has many available tombs for public visiting. Each tomb within the Valley has a KV number which means Kings Valley and then the order for which the tombs were opened by archaeologists.
Some of the tombs that may be accessible for visiting are all the Ramesses with the exception of Ramesses II who has a separate tomb closer to the river (see Ramesseumabove) and Ramesses the IIX whose tomb has yet to be identified. As well other New Kingdom pharaohs with the most well known being the boy pharoah, Tutankhamun. The tombs are carved into the cliffs with shafts that lead underground into the burial chambers, decorated with images, religious text and their supposed journies into the afterlife.
Although Tutankhamen is the most well known of the pharaohs it is worth knowing that his tomb has the least to see as most of the tomb has been relocated to Cairo.
Note that not all tombs may not be open at the same time, some are periodically closed for renovation and the more popular tombs like Tutankhamen, Ramesses VI require an additional ticket for entry. The area is still a live archaeological site and subject to closure for additional discovery, it is worth checking before arrival to avoid disappointment.
Egypt offers many rewarding experiences and definitely needs to be top of the list with a visit to Cairo to see the Sphinx and the pyramids of Giza. But also a visit to Luxor and both banks of the Nile needs to be part of the itinerary. Expect to spend at least 3 full days to explore all of the sites and experiences mentioned above.
A tour guide is highly recommended for the most enjoyment and best understanding of the sites you are visiting. Our favorite way to explore ancient and modern Egypt is by river cruise to travel in luxurywith every detail thoughtfully designed for a one of a kind experience of both ancient and modern Egypt.
Bordeaux is the world’s most famous wine region as the world capital of wine. So much so that generally 4.3 million visitors travel to the region each year. The Gironde department of Southwest France is the most popular wine tourism destination in France for attracting both French and foreign visitors.
Separated into 3 distinct regions, the Left Bank along the left bank of the Gironde Estuary and the Right Bank on the right side of the Gironde. Between the two, the central island of sorts named Entre-deux-Mer (between to tides) is separated by the Garonne River of the Left Bank and the Dordogne River of the Right Bank which confluence into the Gironde.
Most visitors are drawn to the main city of the region, Bordeaux, a port city, the capital of the Nouvelle – Aquitaine region and the fifth largest city in France. Located on the Left Bank of the Garonne river not far from the Atlantic Coast, Bordeaux is not just as the hub of wine production and distribution but also a UNESCO World Heritage site. The main city offers many opportunities for exploring beautiful architecture and historical monuments, is famed for its gastronomy and yes this is the perfect place to start your journey into the vins of the famed region with a visit to the Cité du Vin museum.
We could go on and on just about the city of Bordeaux but today we are focusing on the entire region of Bordeaux and its relationship to the world of vinology and travel. The Bordeaux wine region is about 30 miles in length and 6 ½ miles in width as the crow flies which means you can get almost anywhere from the city of Bordeaux in less than an hour.
The majority of wines produced in the Bordeaux region (85%) are medium to full bodied reds made from Merlot, the number one grape grown primarily on the Right Bank and Cabernet Sauvignon the number two grape, primarily grown on the Left Bank. Although less than 15% growth of white grapes can be found in Bordeaux, the region is known for its Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc & Muscadelle grape blends that can be found growing in the Entre-deux-Mers and southern Bordeaux regions.
The key to exploring Bordeaux red wines is to know that the primary wines are blends of the main Merlot and Cabernet grape growths with additional vintages like Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenere to produce some of the highest rated and most expensive wines in the world.
The Left Bank
This is where the city of Bordeaux is located, the Médoc and Graves regions make up the area primarily known as the Left Bank. Gravel soils promote the growth of Cabernet Sauvignon led blends that are highly tannic which is the component that allows for the aging of the wines for decades. The primary area for the wines of the 1855 Classification for first growth Château producing most of the best wines of Bordeaux can be found in the Left Bank.
The Médoc areas create these most prestigious Premier Cru (top rated) wines which can be found in the sub-regions of Pessac – Léognan south of the city of Bordeaux, Margaux, Saint-Julien, Pauillac and Saint-Estephe which are all located north of the city of Bordeaux along the Gironde Estuary.
Following the Médoc route and visiting these Premier Cru will not only provide you with a deep understanding of some of the world’s greatest red wines but how they are made from growth through vinifying, aging, bottling, distribution and taste.
Graves in the southern Bordeaux region along the Garonne river with its forests, is a cooler region of Bordeaux where you can find dry white wine blends surrounding the city of Graves and some sweeter dessert blends in addition to some popular historic sites like the Château de Roquetaillade a former fortress that was converted to a castle.
The Right Bank
Within the Right Bank the regions of Libournais, Saint-Émilion, Fronsac and Pomerol are some of the prestigious appellations of the area. The location of the Right Bank closer to the Atlantic Ocean combined with the red clay soils are perfect for the growth of the dominating grape, Merlot. Some of the top quality long aging Bordeaux Merlot leading blends can be found around the town of St.Émilion. Although the grapes are less heavily structured, the combination of the soil and the climate create enough tannin’s that these wines can also age for many years also producing high-end wines.
The town of Saint-Émilion and it’s eight villages can be found on the right bank of the Dordogne River. A UNESCO World Heritage site for it’s 2000 years of viticulture history among historical relics dating back to Paleolithic tribes. From early man to present day, you will find many sites to explore among the town and cathedrals of Saint-Émilion.
Further east you can travel into the main city of the Right Bank, Libourne who the Right Bank region is named for where you will find a fortified medieval town and Gothic church, French markets and of course locally sourced wines. The commune of Fronsac just west of Libourne features beautiful landscapes and wine Château featuring Merlot and Cabernet Franc. North of Libourne is the Pomerol wine region. A smaller and more modern region for wine vinification, Pomerol is an up and coming area that is producing many notable quality wines from Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
From Pomerol as you move west along the Dordogne, you will reach the beautiful historic village of Côtes de Bourg where you will find Merlot and a small amount of white wines. Visit the Citadel and then travel on to the rolling hills of the Gironde Estuary, more archaeological sites, churches and the vineyards of the Côtes de Bordeaux commune of Blaye. Sample traditional Red and White Bordelais blends and you can also enjoy some of the locally produced rose’.
The largest region of Bordeaux is located between the Garonne River of the Left Bank and the Dordogne River of the Right Bank. Mostly filled with forests, the Entre-deux-Mers is where you will find the smallest production of both red and white wines. With the most fertile lands and coolest weather of the Bordeaux region, the Merlot grape is prominent, but it’s the approved white blends from the Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes that the area is most known for. This is also where you will find the famed sweet Sémillon based wines of Bordeaux that are produced as a result of the Botrytis fungus that grows in the foggy and humid river regions.
Filled with small villages, some of the highlights are visiting the beautiful port town of Cadillac, along the Gironde river, it’s many communes filled with historic ruins, stately Château, cathedrals, medieval villages and famed sweet white wines under the Cadillac AOC. Also along the Gironde, Loupiac, is known for its late harvest sweet wines from Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon which can be sampled at one of the wine Châteaux while also visiting the castle/abbey and church located here.
On the opposite side of the Entre-deux-Mers, the Graves de Vayres wine region has been traced back to the Roman age of Octavius. Home to the Château de Vayres medieval castle along the banks of the Dordogne here you find both dry reds and white wines to sample as you explore the area.
Visiting the Bordeaux region of France is a learning experience. A popular tourism destination with many attractions, but for the wine expert or the novice looking to improve their Oenology skills this is the perfect opportunity to experience the vineyards, wineries and tastings throughout each region and its sub-region.
The best way to travel Bordeaux and discover its red, whites, rosés and sweet wines is by river cruise roundtrip from the capital city of Bordeaux along the Garonne, Dordogne and cruising through the Gironde Estuary. Visit the Châteaux, historical landmarks, the countryside and sip your way through the Bordeaux vineyards without missing a thing on a 7 day journey.
As one of the oldest cities in the world, Lisbon is located on the western coast of the Iberian Peninsula where the Atlantic Coast meets the Tagus River is the ninth most visited of Southern European cities. With a colorful history that includes Roman, German & Moorish influences Lisbon offers many reasons to visit.
Lisbon is Portugal’s hilly, coastal capital city. The old cities’ pastel buildings, Roman ruins, Moor Castles, stunning views, the local Atlantic beaches, beautiful weather, fantastic gastronomy, the Fado Houses of the Bairrio District and to top it all off, the active nightlife. As a destination she already has so much to offer.
You can easily spend your day visiting the menu of historic and storied castles, exploring the vibrant local markets, riding the historic trolley or visiting the many museums. But if you are looking for some of the Lisbon’s “Secret” visits, here are 10 of our top lesser known worth seeing recommendations, Read on:
Misteiro dos Jeronimos
Formally known as the Royal Monastery of Saint Mary Belem, was built beginning in the early 15th Century by King Manuel I, the building process took 100 years, which can be seen in the detail of the facility which was inhabited as an active religious complex until the 19th Century.
It is not surprising that the monastery is Internationally recognized for the structure, the cloisters, the refectory and the library which can all still be seen today. The Manueline rich architecture and decor (as it is referred from the influences of King Manuel I), is seen throughout the complex and is considered both one of the most fantastic Portuguese churches and also one of Europe’s most notable.
The site is noted for her design encompassing ornamental columns, statues and facade paintings, but the magnificent church hall and the silver ornamental tabernacle are one of the most beautiful in Europe. A Portuguese national monument and also a UNESCO World Heritage site, the monastery can be found in Lisbon’s historical sea-faring, Belem District overlooking the River Tagus.
Padrao Dos Descobrimentos
The Monument of the Discoveries also located in the Belem District of Lisbon is a symbol of the historical achievements of Portugal’s Age of Existence throughout her lifetime. Originally designed in the 1940’s for the Portuguese World exhibition, as a temporary display, the 184 foot statue was reconstructed in 1960 as a permanent memorial for the anniversary of the death of Portugal’s most notable contributor and main statue, Prince Henry the Navigator who was instrumental in the maritime discoveries and expansion of Portugal throughout the world.
The location of the structure is of important significance for its location where the River Tagus meets the Atlantic Ocean. This is the location where many ships departed during the 15th and 16th Centuries during Portugal’s Age of Discovery when expansion was key.
The two sided display features 33 statues helmed by Prince Henry the Navigator holding a ship with others each holding an identifying artifact signifying their contributions to Portuguese exploration. You will find notable characters like Ferdinand Magellan who was the first explorer to circumnavigate the globe holding the world and Vasco da Gama holding a sword, who discovered the sea route to India among other explorers, sea captains, missionaries, writers, poets, royals, pilots and navigators who were all dedicated to the Portuguese act of discovery.
From the middle of the monument visitors can climb steps to a platform with views of the river and the area that surrounds you. Below the statue a cultural museum was designed featuring an exhibition hall and auditorium.
One of the highlights of visiting Lisbon is walking the medieval neighborhood streets and alleys of the historical districts. The Barrio Alto is the most notable for its traditional Fado quarter but seeing the town of Alfama is a must for the full Lisbon experience. Like a small village within the larger Lisbon city center Alfama offers many opportunities for snapping photos of the colorful homes, the Lisbon Cathedral, small city squares and narrow hilly streets that back up to the picturesque area where the Tagus River empties into the Atlantic Ocean.
Originally settled by the Romans, Alfama played an important role as both the old Jewish Quarter and as a central town originally designed by the Moors. Set below St. George castle which looms above, many of the buildings have been repurposed as hotels and gentrified apartments.
The magic of visiting the area is to see the 11th century Castelo de S. Jorge and the beautiful views from above before aimlessly wandering the streets indulging in the views, visiting the Lisbon Cathedral and immersing in the local culture of the residents who live here.
Parque Eduardo VII
Considered Lisbon’s “central park” the 64 acre location offers so much more than beautiful green space to stretch out and relax in the perfect Portuguese weather.
Well located in Lisbon’s city center the park stretches from the popular shopping boulevard of Avenida da Liberdade down to Pombal Square with a roundabout featuring the statue of the 1st Marquis of Pombal that connects many of Lisbon’s busiest thoroughfares.
One of the highest points in central Lisbon, the top of the park features panoramic views of the city. The cultured hedge maze attracts visitors to lounge in its shade while having a picnic or reading a book. However there are many opportunities for enjoying the shade from one of the benches or picnic tables found throughout the park.
If you are traveling with young children, the park offers playgrounds, a pool and has a sports complex that is popular with the locals. You will also find the Estufa Fria a 3 ½ acre greenhouse with three separate gardens to explore and further enjoy the outdoors.
Miradouro da Senhora do Monte
Our Lady of the Hill church offers some of the highest panoramic perspective with a birds eye view across central Lisbon, the Castelo (São Jorge Castle) in the distance, the Bairro Alto historic district below, the Ponte de 25 Abril Bridge and the Tagus River Estuary.
Located in the Graca neighborhood, the church is just outside the central Lisbon area, adjacent to a popular viewpoint, the Miradouro da Graça, the church is a lesser known location to also enjoy the sites surrounded by trees and a less bustling area filled with tourists.
The chapel is also worth a visit. Dating back to the 12th century, the original structure was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake and rebuilt in the late 1700’s.
Tip: The best time to visit is just before sunset to see the glow of the sky upon the city or visit the Miradouro da Graça at night to see the city come alive with lights.
One of the popular attractions to Lisbon for those fascinated with architecture is the many Azulezhu designs scattered throughout the city. An iconic part of the culture, the tin-glazed ceramic tile works tell the history and stories behind the capital city of Portugal.
Azulezhu is the proper name for the tiles the Portuguese used and continue to use among the walls of the faces of their buildings. Originally brought to Lisbon by the Moors to function as assistance with temperature control of the warm Portuguese summer, the design was later modified to create traditional Portuguese patterns to tell stories and became an ornamental art and traditional decor. Azulejos are commonly spotted within churches and palaces throughout the region but it is also not uncommon to see them on apartment buildings, shops, restaurants, bars and even public buildings.
Unfortunately it has become common for vandals to steal tiles and sell them on the black market to unknowing tourists and well knowing collectors. It is estimated that about 25% of the original tiles within the city were stolen and sold over 20 years between 1980 and 2000. So in 2007 a protection group was formed and in 2013 it became illegal to demolish buildings featuring them without protective measures first taken.
Many of the tiles that have been salvaged can be viewed at the National Tile Museum that will take you on a journey through Lisbon’s history through Azulezhu tiles.
Arco da Rua Agusta
The triumphal arch building was constructed after the 1755 earthquake that resulted in a tsunami and fire destroying much of the downtown area of Lisbon. Formally known as the Arco Triunfal da Rua Augusta, it welcomes you into the commercial waterfront area.
Designed to symbolize the strength and rebuilding of the city of Lisbon after the devastating event. The stone building features six columns and is decorated with statues of some of Lisbon’s well known historical personalities.
Standing at over 135 feet from the top of the arch to the bottom of the columns, the statues above the arch representing Glory, Valor and Genius each stand approximately 23 feet tall to coincide with the size of the arch. An elevator from the arch transports you to the top for 360 degree views of the downtown area.
Located along one of Lisbon’s busiest streets, the arch leads from the Rua Agusta as an entrance to the Praça do Comércio pedestrian waterfront area that faces the Targus River, filled with cafe’s, shops, restaurants and lots of local artists and entertainers.
Campo Pequeno Bullring
Located in the historical center of Baixa in a district named Campo Pegueno which means small field. Constructed in 1890 influenced by Moorish design and the original bullring of Madrid, Spain. The building stands as the official home of Portuguese bullfighting.
The North African inspired circular building located at Campo Pequeno Square was created with brick featuring octagonal towers topped with domes and turrets at the main entrance. The inside of the arena is covered with sand, traditional to a bullfighting ring.
Bullfighting season lasts from Easter to summer. During the off season the facility is used as a concert venue. Refurbished in 2006, an entertainment center was added to also feature an underground area filled with shops, restaurants and a movie theatre.
Because slaughtering the bulls was deemed inhumane by King Miguel during his reign between 1828 – 1834, Portuguese bulls are not killed at the end of the fight, as they are in Spain keeping the sport enjoyable for all who participate.
You might recognize this monumental statue as similar to the Christ the Redeemer statue that stands overlooking the Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. That is because it was inspired by the original after the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon visited the monument.
Built in 1959 on a hilltop 133 feet above Lisbon in Almada, the cement shrine is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ and similarly to the Redeemer in Rio, overlooks the city of Lisbon. Standing 630 feet above the River Tagus, the significance of the statue was to give thanks for Portugal being spared from the effects of the Great World War.
The 92 foot monument itself stands on a 269 foot high pedestal with its arms extended, similar to the original, in the form of a cross facing the city of Lisbon. The pedestal contains four arches that are each positioned in the directions of a compass rose.
On the 25th anniversary of the monument, the area was refurbished and a sanctuary and visitor center was added. The Chapel of our Lady of Peace features a rectory and a chapel and the visitor center offers exhibition galleries among administrative and meeting rooms. At the top of the pedestal is an observation deck with a not to be missed 360 degree view of Lisbon and the 25 de Abril Bridge over the Tagus River.
Known as the city facing the sea, Setúbal is a coastal town located just 40 minutes south of the city of Lisbon in southern Lisboa. A historic area dating back to before the Roman occupation features a historic center of Baroque churches within a busy coastal town, the area is also well visited for the beautiful scenery and its beaches.
Located on the Setúbal Peninsula the region offers a bustling downtown area filled with squares imbued with fountains and gardens surrounded by shops and restaurants offering the latest catch from the fisherman whose boats line the large harbor that spend their days fishing the area. The town is filled with many locations to relax with a glass of Setúbal celebrated locally grown moscatel wine and people watch the locals, the tourists and the street artists who are fighting for their attention.
Another reason that visitors come to the region is for Arrábida Natural Park. Just a five minute drive from the town of Setúbal, offers a mountainous area overlooking the sea. The mediteranean climate provides 27 thousand acres of preserved beauty deeper into the peninsula with fabulous views of the clear waters below. Hiking the protected area you may spot one of the many local species of mink or fox or see eagles flying above searching for their next meal.
Within Arrábida Park you will also find a protected marine area popular for scuba diving with beautiful untouched beaches. Praia de Galapinhos beach is a remote beach 15 minutes west along the coast from the town of Setúbal that is considered one of the best beaches in Europe and not to be missed if you are looking for a beach day. Further along the coastal road nearby Praia do Portinho da Arrábida is a quaint tiny coastal town with a beach and another great spot to stop to grab lunch and relax.
Tip: The Lisboa card will provide all inclusive access to many of the above named sites.
While a day will give you the highlights of the Lisbon region, if you want to see all of the above, at least three days are recommended to fully immerse in the area. One of our favorite ways to explore Lisbon is pre a 7 night cruise of the Douro river from Porto, Portugal.
Despite the negative press that South Africa is receiving right now from the Covid-19 variant, when travel is safe, Africa is one of the most fabulous travel destinations for both the casual tourist and the adventurous.
Both awe-inspiring and the largest waterfall in the world, Victoria Falls happens to be located on one of the most alluring continents in the world, Africa. One of the seven natural wonders of the world is located along the Zambezi River at the border of the countries of Zambia and Zimbabwe where lies the majestic site that many aspire to visiting on their travel bucket lists.
Named by Scottish explorer David Livingstone in 1855 after Queen Victoria, the almost 1 ½ mile basalt cliffs form the falls where water from the Zambezi river plummet over the edge and into the gorge some 300 feet below. The power of the falls can be seen from 30 miles away, heard from 25 miles away and the mists can be felt as high as 430 yards from the falling water.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, on average 500,000,000 liters of water flow when the water levels peak at the end of the rainy season in late March or early April. Alternatively the falls will reach their lowest points in the fall during the dry period when it is even possible to walk through specific points of the falls.
Surrounded by rainforest, another basalt cliff faces the Main falls with a path through heavy spray offering exceptional views of the falls. Another option for viewing, is from the Knife-Edge Bridge for panoramic views of the Main falls and the Boiling Pot area where the river switches down the Batoka Gorge. For the more weary, views from Livingstone Island during the dry season or the Falls Bridge that crosses over the Zambezia provide panoramic views.
Depending on the time of year that you visit, after seeing the beauty and power of Victoria Falls, there are many options for immersing yourself with the area finding adventure at and around Victoria Falls. We recommend that you hire a local guide as some of these experiences can be dangerous for those not familiar with the area. Not all adventures require physical activity, but each offers the opportunity for an adventure you will remember forever:
Flight of Angels
Regardless if it is during the peak flood period when the falls are at their highest or dry season when it’s at its lowest, flying over Victoria Falls is one of the most astounding and most personal ways for seeing the falls from an angle most do not have the opportunity to.
From the windows of a small prop plane, follow the Zambezi river to the gorges that form into the massive magnificent Victoria Falls offering panoramic instagram worthy photos and an unforgettable experience. Other flight options are by helicopter to get you even closer to the action, also flying over the Batoka Gorge and Mosi-oa-Tunya National park.
Your flight experience usually ends with a DVD of your 15 – 30 minute flight as a souvenir to take home and share your experience with others.
Swim in the Devil’s Pool
Close to Victoria Falls, rock pools have formed and the most popular for its location is Devil’s Pool. Located near Livingstone Island at the edge of the falls with a sheer 325 foot drop, the site provides the heart-pumping exhilaration of a natural infinity pool looking over the side of the falls.
The most active part of this experience is the climb down to the Zambezi river and swim across the pool. Unless you are the fearless type who jumps full throttle into the raging waters of the pool from above. Regardless, the thrill that you will get from the view at the edge and feeling the force of the river flowing over the falls providing an invigoration and energy that you will not soon forget.
Devil’s pool is seasonally accessible depending on the water levels. Access to the pool can be dangerous and it is highly recommended that a guide be hired for the safest experience.
Swim below the Falls
Another unique experience is to swim the rock pools located below the falls to view the basalt cliffs as the water cascades above you.
A more active experience involves walking the Batoka Gorge to the river where inflatable rafts and a guide await you to paddle to a location near Victoria Falls for some unique and amazing views. Once your rafts arrive at the rock pools below the falls, you can enjoy some downtime swimming and enjoying the waters that surround you.
Although more physically demanding, this 3 hour or so guided experience allows you to immerse with the geology of the region as you walk over the rocks and interact directly with the river before walking back up the gorge at the end of your tour.
Kayak or White Water raft the rapids of the Zambezi River
From the top of Batoka Gorge, an experienced white water guide will fit you with a paddle, helmet and life jacket before leading you down the 450 – 800 feet to the river to board your kayak or raft boat. Your guide will then steer you through the rapids and direct you for safety with the ultimate enjoyment.
Although no previous experience is required, this is an encounter for those who are both physically able and mentally prepared for this type of adventure. Other requirements may exist as determined by your tour provider.
Kayaking is usually a full day experience offering breakfast at the top of the gorge and picnic lunch as a final reward for your day’s activities. White water rafting offers a half or full day or for the active adventurous type, enjoy the “float of angels” taking a full day on the Zambezi followed by an overnight in a camp deep within the Batoka Gorge to wake up and take on another full day of a roller coaster of rapids.
The best time for rafting all 23 rapids is during the drier season from early summer through early winter.
Victoria Falls is but one of the many Africa experiences that adventurists venture to the farest regions of the earth for. Other exciting journeys await you with safaris within Tanzania and Botswana and spending time at the beautiful beaches and winelands of South Africa’s Cape’s rugged coast.
With so much to see, how do you explore these regions seamlessly and enjoyably? Imagine an experience that combines all of the experiences in a 10 – 21 day African experience. Start your journey on land combined with four nights on a small private luxury African boat drifting along the river all the while having an up-close wildlife experience before heading back on land for more time to explore Victoria Falls, the villages and unique highlights of the region.
Plan now for travel in 2022 and beyond. For more information on the safest and most intimate ways to explore Africa with river cruising visit our webpage.
The Danube river is one of the longest rivers in Europe, second longest to be exact after the Volta river. The traditional trade route on the Danube through Europe dates back thousands of years. The Danube starts in Central Europe and travels through Eastern Europe where it empties into the Black Sea.
As a UNESCO nature site, Wachau Valley offers active opportunities to explore the river, the castles, monasteries, ruins, small cafes, wine villages and exceptional scenery with active experiences;
Biking the Danube Cycle Path –
Possibly the most scenic biking trail in Europe, the Danube Cycle path begins in the Black Forest region of Donaueschingen, Germany and travels a total of 745 miles through Austria and Slovakia along the Danube all the way to Budapest in Hungary. It’s the 260 miles through the Austrian Lower Danube that offers the top scenery of the UNESCO landscape and world class wine region.
From the path as you travel from start to finish, you pass mountains rising out of the river with historical monuments and ruins atop them, forested slopes with the rooftops of old villages peaking through and a patchwork of vineyards that wind through the landscape. Riding from Melk you travel through the towns of Aggsbach, Oberansdorf, before crossing the Danube to pass through Spitz, Weissenkirchen and Durnstein and then reaching your final destination of Krems. Each leg offers historical architecture dating back to the Middle Ages, unique geographical formations, medieval estates and churches that will entice you to visit and inspire you to pedal on.
Whether traveling along the manicured bike path, or on the cobblestone streets of the villages there are many spots to stop to rest, grab a bite to eat or just enjoy the scenic beauty that surrounds you.
There are many options for bicycle tours; from fully guided cruisers to e-bikes or self guided with use of public bike rental systems that all allow you time to explore the regions as you reach them. Guided tours generally include visits to some of the local vineyards with cellar tours and wine tastings.
Kayaking the Danube –
A popular mode of transportation during the warmer summer months, kayakers set out to enjoy the scenic nature of the area while also cooling off with some time on the water, paddling for 25 miles between the cities of Melk and Krems through the postcard worthy Wachau Valley.
Seeing the sites of the ancient relics, riverside villages and stopping at some of the river beaches for a quick swim are usually rewarded with a stop at one of the local vineyards for a tour and tasting of local Gruner Veltliner and/or Riesling wines.
Offered in small group tours or as private excursions, an experienced guide will safely lead you along one of Europe’s busiest waterways on an intimate and yet rewarding river experience. With views of the river, from the river and the panoramic views above the river you will accomplish what most travelers do not get the opportunity to experience.
Hike the Wachau World Heritage trail –
Lastly, an active opportunity that the Lower Austria region offers is scenic trails through the Danube Valley. Connecting 15 separate municipalities of the Wachau Valley with historical paths that have been connected together to form 112 miles of opportunities to explore ruins, castles, fortresses, abbey’s, vineyards and apricot orchards that all make up this fantastic UNESCO World Heritage site.
The trail is broken up into legs that can be hiked individually or in larger segments. With use of the river ferry, even the novice hiker can navigate their way throughout the region.
Offering both remote trails and beautifully scenic views along the river, the landscape will both surprise and inspire you. Ranging from easy to medium in intensity, and from 4 ⅓ miles to 10 ½ mile segments. Some of the top hiking trails are the 6 ½ to 10 mile segments within the Wachau Valley.
Trail 01, Krems to Durnstein: the easy rated 7 ½ mile trail starts at the Gozzoburg Castle in the medieval city of Krems and travels through the nearby vineyards of Krems and Stein into the nature preserves before reaching the rock and forested area below the ruins of Durnstein Castle. Then up the final 20 min leg of the trail, offering not just a unique experience to explore the almost 900 year old castle associated with the legend of Richard the Lionhearted, but offering some of the most amazing views of the Wachau Valley and surrounding vineyards.
Trail 03, Weissenkirchen to Spitz: a medium rated 6 mile trail takes you through the largest area of vineyards in the Wachau Valley. These most notable terraced vineyards of the region lay high above the Danube river and provide beautiful views making this an exceptional experience. You will pass through woods and rocky landscapes before arriving into the wine village of Spitz where you can reap the rewards of your journey with a glass of local wine at one of the many village cafes, restaurants or taverns.
Not a very vast region but definitely one that is worth exploring. Did you know the best way to experience the Danube is by river cruise. Learn more about river cruising from our websiteand actively enjoy the Wachau Valley among central Europe’s best and most beautiful medieval cities.
Traveling to Egypt is a popular location for the adventurist looking for an archeological journey into the cradle of civilization. But what many are finding is that Egypt has so much more to offer then it’s historical sightseeing. Egypt’s Red Sea is an inlet that lies between Asia and Africa offering relaxing beach coastline and water activities while also offering the Arabic desert experience one comes to expect from visiting Egypt.
The Red Sea Riviera is a popular beach destination within Israel that many Europeans flock to during the winter for some warm beach vacations. But lesser known Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula became a popular diving destination starting back in the 1950’s with expeditions by the likes of known divers like Jacques Cousteau. Fast forward 70 years, the area now draws visitors to the many resort areas along the Red Sea coastline while also offering options for water sport activities in addition to soaking up the sun with a beach vacation.
If you want to know more about the beach regions of Egypt we invite you to read on:
One of the most well known beach destinations in Egypt, a beach town with Naama Bay on the Sinai Peninsula. One of the original diving spots within Egypt for the many coral reefs and Ras Mohammed National Park which offers world-class diving. Located within the Gulf of Aqaba, Sharm el-Sheikh offers turquoise blue ocean views of the Saudi Arabian mountains and coastline in the distance across the gulf.
If diving is not your jam, Ras Um Sid reef also offers snorkelers the opportunity to explore the corals and spot rainbow colored reef fish at the surface. The draw to the area is definitely the resort area of Sharm el-Sheikh with its sandy beaches and modern luxury resorts with many options for restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Formerly occupied by Israel from 1967 to 1982 who built up the area, the venture was successfully continued by Egypt once they resumed control of the region.
Regardless of your interest in visiting, the Sharm el-Sheikh area is filled with sun, beach and water activities and you won’t want to miss the sunsets over the gulf.
North of the town of Hurghada built along the shore and on small islands is the beach resort area of El Gouna. Built as a family-friendly vacation spot on Egypt’s eastern coast with many options for large and luxury resort accommodations offering many amenities and spas.
The draw to this area is the resort town and the marina with high-end shops, restaurants, bars and the multitude of additional activities that are available for the active traveler. A popular area for watersports, kayaking, paddleboarding and waterskiing. You can also find many other fun activities like paragliding, horseback riding, golfing and ATVing for a break from the beach.
El Gouna is filled with canals and lagoons offering beautiful seascape sites. The most popular activity in the area is kiteboarding which can be seen off the long and wide Mangroovy Beach area and is just as popular for watching as it is for participating. Zeytouna Beach offers white sand beaches and a jetty with coral reefs and great snorkeling opportunities.
Many Egyptians have been flocking to the area for years for luxury vacations. So whether looking for luxurious amenities to relax and unwind or an activity filled vacation, El Gouna can offer a little bit of everything.
An hour south of the main coastal town of Hurghada, where you will find an international airport, is the beach town of Soma Bay. Surrounded by water on 3 sides and the largest spa facilities in Egypt, makes this a playground for beach goers and resort vacationers.
Egypt’s very exclusive beaches can be found along the strip of white sands of Soma Bay with all-inclusive luxury resorts and 365 days of sunshine. Formerly a Egyptian military location. The peninsula is popular with wealthy Europeans who escape the cool winters for luxurious beach vacations.
As a newer beach area, the entire town consists of resorts surrounded by the ocean and being all inclusive there are many activities available within the resorts with water sports, golfing, entertainment and beach activities.
However for divers or snorkelers, the reefs nearby offer some of the best opportunities for enthusiasts. As a new and upcoming area, Soma Bay is constantly being developed and more opportunities for modern amenity resorts continue to pop up.
Just 3.5 hours from the city of Luxor makes Soma Bay an easy reach for travelers exploring the popular sites of the Egyptian ancient civilizations for post travel relaxation or side trips from a beach vacation.
A lesser known vacation destination area located in the most southern part of Egypt’s Red Sea coastline has been a well known diving spot for years. Filled with coral reefs and beautiful beaches, as the Red Sea coastline has increased in popularity, Marsa Alam has become the newest strip of hotels to the beach coast of Egypt.
Offering an international airport makes it easy to reach and filled with all-inclusive and five star resorts makes the area exclusive for visitors featuring private beaches, resort pools, family oriented activities and spas.
Abu Dabab beach offers beautiful reefs filled with colorful corals and more unique sealife. Turtles, crocodile fish and octopus with beautiful white sand beaches attract vacationers looking for diving, snorkeling and beach vacations rolled into one.
Some of the nearby popular diving areas that attract divers are Elphinstone filled with underwater fauna & sealife, Dolphin House, Shaab Samadai for the large amount of dolphin in the area and Fury Shoals which provides coral gardens, dolphin and various wrecks to explore.
For land experiences, the Emerald Mines of the Roman and Ptolemaic period of rule are nearby as is the Temple of Seti built by Seti, the son of Ramses I and father of Ramses II. The biggest highlight of the area is taking an Egyptian Safari, guided tours by quad or camel to some of the highlights of the interior desert region.
The Loire Valley in France is known for the Chateaus within the region and the small commune’s along the Loire River like the town of Amboise. Within central Loire Valley, Amboise offers some of the top sites of the area including the 15th Century home of King Charles VIII, Chateau d’Amboise and the last home and tomb of famed artist Leonardo da Vinci at Clos Lucé.
The beautiful streets are dotted with medieval timbered homes, cathedrals and shoppes with the Royal Chateau overlooking. But visiting the Loire Valley is not just for the Chateau, the region is well known for its wine and gastronomy that can be found within and around the city.
As you will find throughout France, there are many options for dining experiences within Amboise. Here are some recommendations for dining experiences in and around the “Royal City” of Amboise:
While visiting Amboise and the Royal Chateau, you will want to stop in for lunch or dinner at this farm to table local restaurant that is just a quick 3 minute walk. Featuring the best locally sourced products one can enjoy dining in the intimate and modern dining room or on the grassed terrace for a relaxing dining experience.
Serving authentic French cuisine sourced daily from local suppliers, the menu will regularly change with seasons. Expect to enjoy seasonal fruits, cheeses, meats, handcrafted breads and pastries.
The menu offers various options with appetizer, main course and dessert or an additional cheese option both for lunch and dinner. L’Ecluse welcomes guests Tuesday – Saturday for lunch from noon – 1:30pm and 6:30 – 7:30pm for dinner, reservations are recommended.
The House Bigot
A popular location within the old town is The House Bigot. Also a stones throw from the royal Chateau a local chocolatier, patisserie and glacier (ice cream) house that has been serving since 1913.
Established and well known for 50 years as a bakery, for its breads, in the early 1970’s a tea room was added and so launched La Maison Bigot into the chocolate making business. It was not unexpected when the popular French ice cream (glacier) was added to the menu.
Serving daily house pastries, donuts, eclairs and traditional local favorites from house recipes older than the shop itself. The chocolates are made using 100% pure cocoa to create seasonal treats, ganaches, pralines and local favorites like Amboisine which is made with almonds, chestnuts and hazelnut crushed into a paste and rolled in chocolate. If those don’t suit you, then the house crafted glaciers made with pure and local ingredients will treat you to enjoyable frozen dessert.
If you need a break after exploring the town, you can enjoy the fare from the traditional bakery within their tea room or on the terrace offering views of the nearby castle. Also serving breakfast and lunch, a stop in is a great way to start off your day in Amboise.
Chateau du Pray
Just a quick 5 minute drive along the Loire river on the south bank, surrounded by chateaux you will reach Chateau du Pray. A 13th Century chateau that sits on 5 acres of wooded beauty overlooking the river Loire. Featuring French gardens, the medieval chateau has been converted into a hotel featuring a Michelin rated restaurant, L’Orangerie.
The restaurant offers chef designed seasonal menus, each dish is a piece of art, custom created for the guest and delivered to their table to accompany the locally featured wines to pair for a culinary journey.
For an added treat, spend the night enjoying one of the 15 castle rooms of the family owned chateau with historic accommodations in an intimate boutique hotel and enjoy the night as the royals did hundreds of years ago while overlooking the beautiful Loire river.
Chateau du Petit Thouars
For a more unique experience, about an hour and fifteen minutes west of Amboise between Amboise and Angers, along the River Loire, you will find the family owned Chateau du Petit Thouars. A 17th century chateau and winery offering local experiences that will fulfill both romantic and gastronomic desires.
For the gastronomic experience, Chateau du Petit Thouars has almost 40 acres of vineyards featuring vins that range from free run juice aged in stainless steel vats to pressed wines aged for up to 24 months on oak. You can enjoy a visit to the cellar with a tour of the Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc vineyards along with a tasting of their award winning vintages. For the complete epicurean discovery, wine pairings are available to enjoy the wines with locally sourced products. .
For a romantic experience, you can extend your wine experience by enjoying your favorite wine relaxing within the Cabernet Franc vineyards with a custom prepared picnic lunch including some locally sourced seasonal specialties and a private view of the Loire Valley countryside. Or extend your stay at the 4 bedroom farmhouse surrounded by the vineyards for a relaxing stay within the grounds of the vineyard.
The Loire Valley known as the “Gardens of France” is just 2 hours from the city of Paris and offers a fantastic extension for additional time immersing in the beauty and history of the region. Explore some of the 1000+ chateaux that live there, or indulge in a fantastic wine experience sampling the grapes and terroir of the local Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc vines that are found throughout the central Loire Valley region. Discover our choices for Chateau to visit in the Loire Valley from the link.
You can also combine your visit with a 7 night river cruise along the nearby Garonne and Dordogne rivers in Bordeaux. For more information on river cruising through France or Central Europe check out our website.
The current climate of the world may keep us from being with that special someone for New Years, this year. The out with the old and in with the new which took us from 2020 into 2021 was a highly anticipated and desired change for most of the world. And although our new years eve may have looked very different this year, there is much to look forward to in the future.
Many countries have traditions, rituals and superstitions that they practice to assure themselves healthy and prosperous years. Here in the United States it is customary to make resolutions and to share a kiss at midnight. Other countries may have a traditional item that they consume like in the Netherlands where they eat deep fried dough. Other countries have more unique traditions like in Brazil they throw white flowers into the ocean, Greece they hang onions on their doorways, New Years eve masses are held in cemeteries instead of churches in the country of Chile and in Denmark they throw dishware at their friends and neighbors’ front doors.
Spain though has many rituals that are practiced throughout the country and take New Years Eve very seriously just as they do their Christmas celebrations and post New Years. New Years in Spain is referred to as Noche Vieja, old night and reflects the culture of the Spanish people.
Some of the fun New Years traditions you will find within Spain are;
Yes you read that correctly, if you are looking for love in the upcoming new year, the Spanish ritual of wearing red underwear is a popular one. It has been said that the underwear must have been a gift and you are required to give them away at the end of the night, for Cupid to target you in the upcoming year.
Celebrating in the Plaza Central
The locals head to the central square of their towns or villages that is centered around a a large clock on the post office tower. The main square in Spain is Puerta del Sol in Madrid which can be compared to New York’s Times Square where thousands gather to celebrate the arrival of a new year and their annual consumption of twelve grapes. Post midnight, the squares will be filled with Cava (sparkling) wine corks popping, confetti, noisemakers and streamers with revelers celebrating the new year.
Doce Uvas (Eating 12 Grapes)
The most well known tradition requires that when the main clocks of Spain strike midnight, as each chime rings, celebrators swallow one grape before the next chime consuming a total of 12 grapes before the clock stops ringing. This tradition brings happiness, prosperity and good luck for each of the next twelve months of the year, with one grape bringing one month of luck in the upcoming year. The site of thousands of Spaniards stuffing grapes into their mouths and swallowing them whole is sure to be quite a site in itself and worth traveling to Spain to celebrate the Noche Vieja. But we are not done yet with the celebration.
The traditional Spanish sparkling wine is a popular tool for celebrating ringing in the new year, similarly to other parts of the world. What makes this tradition unique is that to bring fortune in the new year, it is custom to place gold items into the glass before midnight and the entire glass of cava must be consumed and the gold item retrieved. Many married couples will place their wedding rings in their glass as a symbol of fidelity and you can probably guess what is the most popular night for wedding proposals in Spain.
It is believed that if you start off the New Year on the right foot, you will have a year of prosperity. That means literally using your right foot. It is conflicting based on who you ask, but some believe that you must step foot into your home after returning from your celebration while others have said that upon leaving your house on New Year’s day, your first step should be with your right foot. We guess either way, it is a step in the right direction.
Roscon de los Reyes (Twelfth Night Bread) is a popular New Year’s dessert. A circular cake, covered in candied fruit with a hidden gift placed into the cake. Similar to a Mardi Gras King Cake, the person who gets the surprise is crowned king or queen for the night.
Churros are a customary treat to start the day on New Years enjoyed with hot chocolate.
Lentil soup is a common Spanish tradition to eat on New Year’s day. The round shape of each lentil symbolizes a coin and enjoying a bowl of the coin soup will bring you wealth in the upcoming year.
In Madrid, the evening usually starts with dinner amongst family and friends consisting of seafood or lamb before heading out to the Puerto del Sol or gathering together around their televisions to watch the clock strike midnight and enjoy their 12 grapes. Once the clock strikes midnight and the cheering and celebrating is over, the older members will head home while the all-nighters will head to a local club where the already active Madrid nightlife is ten fold a regular weekend and they dance into the wee hours of the morning when they can enjoy their hot chocolate and churros right out of the fryer.
In Barcelona, also family oriented, celebrations start with traditional dinners before heading out to the Gothic clubs or for a local countdown at the Magic Fountain in the Plaça d’Espanya at Montjuïc. All celebrations will feature the traditional grape eating with fireworks and Cava. Each of Barcelona’s ten districts set off twelve palm tree fireworks that coincide with the twelve chimes of the clock that precede a larger firework show from specific locations featuring larger more elaborate showings. Post ringing in the New Year it is customary to continue to celebrate at local fiestas throughout the city with flamenco dancing, costumed guests and popular music, like the one hosted at the Spanish Village, Poble Espanyol.
In Bilbao, the capital of the Basque region, the festivities start early on the 31st with a fun run like the Rekalde San Silvestre race which passes through the center of town or the popular New Years Eve day tradition to hike to the Gorbea Cross. Parties begin in the afternoon in the Esplanade’s of some of the popular buildings within the Casco Viejo. For formal evenings, special dinner menus are offered featuring la cena cotillón de Noche Vieja specials at the Michlin and popular restaurants throughout the city. If looking for a less formal evening celebrating the night will occur at one of the many popular Pinxto bars throughout the city. The evening ends with a large firework display along the River Nervion over the contemporary landmarks of Bilbao . New Years day an annual music concert is held at the Palacio Euskalduna Hall and a popular attraction for the Basque locals.
The Spanish culture year round is based on food, drink, music and festivity and the Noche Vieja is yet another reason for the Spaniards to celebrate. Regardless of where you are in Spain, the streets are decorated and lit and the Spanish locals will be joyful and ready to welcome you to celebrate their many traditions and the new year with them.
Now is the best time to plan your holiday travel for 2021. Contact us to get more information about celebrating in Spain in 2021/2022.
As we approach the holidays, here is our gift to you:
Enjoying the season in Europe is a treat that everybody deserves. Here is our rendition of the holiday classic, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” to describe a Christmas Markets experience along the Central Europe rivers annually from the end of November through Christmas.
Each verse and accompanying photo will take you to more information, so click away!
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
From our family to yours, we wish you health, safety and blessings during this holiday season. When you are ready to experience the joy and beauty of the Christmas Markets, BucketList Travel Advisorscan assist you with planning the perfect river cruise.
The Loire Valley surrounds the Loire river, the longest river in France that flows from the Massif Central mountains northwest towards the Atlantic Ocean.
A popular wine region for its four very distinct wine growing areas along the river, the area is also well known for the numerous chateau of the region built using the same soils that also vinify some of the best wines in France. (See more about Loire Valley wine on Instagram)
With upwards of 300 Château scattered throughout the Loire Valley that range in size and style from simple 10th century fortified castles to massive residences, the structures were built for nobility and royalty who were drawn to the area to build their dream residences, during the renaissance. The one commonality between the many châteaux within the central region of the valley is their locations near the rivers of the region.
Within the Loire Valley, there are many options for towns and villages to visit and experience. From small market towns to large cities, Amboise Angers, Blois, Chinon, Nantes, Orleans, Saumur and Tours are each communes filled offering architectural experiences in the form of splendid residences.
While visiting the Loire Valley and so many choices of Château to visit, these are three royal Château that offer not just stunning beauty and architecture, but also feature some of the best stories which are why they are on our not to miss list:
Château de Chenonceau
Located in the town of Chenonceaux, Château de Chenonceau is the most visited Châteaux in the Loire Valley. The attraction to the property is more than just its stately appearance, but the stories behind the residence. The history reflects on the women who contributed to the building, rebuilding, protection, restoration and philanthropy of the property. If the walls of Château de Chenonceau could talk, the tales would be filled with famous historians, architects, royals, dignitaries, authors and artists.
Originally built in the 12th century in the medieval style, the current complex was rebuilt between 1513 and 1517 by noblewoman Catherine Briçonnet who was influential in the design of the current Château.
In 1559 the widowed Queen of France, Catherine de Medici took control of the property further improving its magnificence by adding and enhancing beautiful gardens that are seen today throughout the property. Making it her primary residence, Catherine used the property as a showground with some of the best celebrations in France.
The home remained in royal control until the 18th century when it was purchased for Louise Dupin by her husband who welcomed many popular French literary figures to the property. Louise was responsible for saving the Château from destruction by the Revolutionary Guard during the French Revolution.
In 1864 Chenonceau was purchased by Madame Marguerite Pelouze who bankrupted her finances refurbishing the property to how it shows today. Passing hands multiple times, until it was sold in 1913 to a member of the Meunier family of French chocolatiers, Henri Meunier who opened the property to visitors. Proudly welcoming guests until World War 1 when it was used as a military hospital, treating 2,254 wounded soldiers led by Simone Meunier, grand daughter in law of Henri at her own expense. Then again in World War 2, because of its location at the border of the “free zone” on the river Cher and Nazi occupied France, the property was used as a safe zone for those who were fleeing the Nazi’s. But not without damage as the Germans occupied the residence in 1944 and the Allied troops bombed the chapel in efforts to retake the region.
If the history alone is not enough to draw visitors to this remarkable location, the magnificence of the Château, the gardens and the stately property makes a visit top of our list.
Located along the river Loire in the commune of Amboise, this luxurious Château is most notable as the residence of French kings starting in the 15th century up to the 19th century.
The property was acquired by King Charles VII in 1434 and later rebuilt by King Charles VIII starting in 1492 in the French Gothic style. After the loss of the Italian war in 1495, and his fascination with Italy, Charles hired Italy’s top designers to create an Italian palace in France. Charles died in 1498 before completion of the palace and without heirs his cousin Louis XII continued the process of completing the property.
Towards the end of the 1500’s King Francis I, who was raised there, made it his royal residence, which continued through the next hundred years. Some other notable residents were King Henry II and his wife Catherine de Medici who raised their family and Mary Stuart (Mary Queen of Scots) who was betrothed to their son Francis II.
There was a period of time during abandonment of the property that the château was used as a prison under Louis XVI for noble prisoners of the French civil wars from 1648 – 1653.
After almost complete destruction during the French Revolution, King Louis Phillipe began restoration on the property until his abdication of the throne in 1848 when the property was confiscated by the French government. In 1873 the property was returned to Louis Phillipe’s family and rebuilding commenced. Still maintained by the descendants of Louis Phillipe, the Château had been opened for visitation and still is today.
Standing on the balconies overlooking the Loire, the terraced gardens and the surrounding countryside, just as many French royals had for hundreds of years draws visitors to explore the history and beauty of Chateau d’Amboise.
Château de Chambord
The third Château also of royal commission is one of the most recognized of the region for its Renaissance architecture. Unlike the other two previous royal Châteaux, it was not designed as a residence, since he lived at his beloved Château d’Amboise, but as a holiday home for King Francis I.
Located off the river Loire in the marshlands of the central Loire Valley, Château de Chambord is the largest of the Châteaux in the Loire region. Built by Francis I as a hunting lodge it was within a days travel from his royal residences in Amboise and Blois. The design of the property was Italian with rumoured influences from artist Leonardo de Vinci.
The property was built over a period of 28 years with the intention to dazzle sovereigns and foreign ambassadors with architecture unlike anything that had been seen before in France. The rooftop was designed with 11 different towers and 3 chimneys to reflect a townscape with a resemblance to Constantinople in the distance rather than that of a château. Featuring 800 sculpted columns and an open 274 step double spiral staircase that climbed three floors in the main building without ever connecting, was the centerpiece of the château.
Francis passed in 1547 before completion of his showpiece château, so furnishings and wall coverings were not present at the time of his death. The property remained abandoned for 80 years, falling into ruin until 1639 when the Duke of Orleans was given Chambord by his brother, King Louis XIII.
Gaston d’Orleans directed the renovation and restoration of Chambord, acquiring new land to add the 20 mile boundary walls and a park within the grounds. Construction continued until 1680 when then King Louis XIV added the stables and temporarily furnished the royal apartments to use Chambord as originally intended, a hunting lodge and entertainment facility until 1685 when the Château was once again abandoned.
Used sporadically between 1725 and 1750 by King Louis XV, the château mostly sat abandoned.
Spared from destruction during the French Revolution, in 1792 the property was pillaged and vandalized by revolutionaries and post war, the revolutionary government sold off the remaining furnishings, including the woodwork to raise money for the government endeavors.
Final ownership of the property was given to the Count de Chambord who in 1871 oversaw the restoration of the Château, opening it to public access. Upon his death in 1930 when the home once again became government property and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Loire Valley châteaux stand as monuments of the Medieval and Renaissance periods featuring extensive grounds, exquisite decor, colorful gardens and beautiful chapels and each has a different history and elaborate story to tell.
When visiting the Loire Valley, we recommend staying in the commune of Amboise for easy access to the above châteaux, the local vineyards of Vouvray and the towns of Tours and Blois in the central Loire Valley.
You can combine your visit to the Loire Valley with a 7 night river cruise along the Garonne and Dordogne rivers in Bordeaux for a full French experience. For more information on river cruising through France, check out our website.
The Douro River flows west from central Spain through Northern Portugal to the mouth at the Atlantic Ocean in Porto, Portugal. The region is agricultural, known for prehistoric archeology and the entire region is a UNESCO World Heritage site as one of the most scenically impressive locales in the world but Douro is most notable for its fortified wine production of port.
Even if you are not a wine drinker, the beautiful landscapes of the region and the active experiences of exploring the terraced vineyards, olive groves, meeting the friendly people from the small villages and stopping along the way for some authentic local gastronomy makes this a special place to visit and must add to the bucket list.
I have already mentioned that Douro is a UNESCO World Heritage site. What does this mean? In general, as one of the oldest regions in the world, the landscape is almost unchanged from hundreds, maybe even thousands of years ago. As you travel the roads along the river you will experience the terraced vineyards high above the river. Along the lower banks you will find a landscape of trees meeting with vineyards and villages filled with churches and rows of houses along narrow roads along with the Douro quintas that sit as major landmarks.
The valley offers absolutely amazing landscapes and the best way to experience them is hiking through the valleys where for generations terraced staircases were built on a terroir of steep hillsides along the river transforming unusable lands into award winning vineyards.
You can start your experience in the town of Pinhão known as the “Valley of Enchantment” for its beautiful hillsides and never ending valleys. Not what you would expect for being the heart of the wine country, Pinhão is a small town in the Northern Douro region. It is here where some of the best wines in Portugal are grown, vinified and fortified into the popular Port and table wines.
From arrival at the beautiful train station as you embark on the preserved historic trails you will find a different view of the Douro river from every bend. As you walk the beautiful Vineyard trail exploring the area from Quinta to Quinta (wine estates) sampling both the local Ports and the stunning views of the river and river valley from their terraced vineyards.Some of the Quintas will offer their own hiking maps of trails located within their properties for you to explore.
As you travel the area you can visit a Quinta of choice (Portuguese for the country estates that act as a base for the wineries throughout the region) and there are many of them throughout the area. These are also where you will find some of the best restaurants in the region. If you are looking for a unique experience, some of the Quintas offer overnight accommodations to relax and immerse deeper into a Quinta bed and breakfast experience.
Tip: If you are interested in wine, when visiting the town of Pinhão schedule time to visit the Quinta Nova. One of the larger Quinta’s features a wine tour and tasting plus the Museu do Vinho (Wine Museum) takes you on a tour of the history of the region, the ancient practices and how winemaking has developed over the past few hundred years. They also offer one of the top restaurants in the region and a winery home that can be rented out for extended visits.
The weather in the Douro Valley is always temperate with annual highs around 85°F and the lows averaging about 60°F so you can truly visit anytime of year. However, for the best scenery while hiking, visit in the spring, April to June when the tree’s and vine’s begin to bloom or in the fall September to November, although a little more chance of rain, the colors will provide the best scenery with the best temperatures for hiking. Note that September, depending on that years weather is typically harvest season and may be more active with visitors and annual activities.
Pinhão is but one example of a hiking experience that is available in the Douro Valley. There are multiple other options for hiking tours from the popular trails to off the beaten path scenic hikes that also vary from 3 – 6 hour tours to multi-day excursions hiking throughout the entire region. The perfect opportunity to immerse in the landscape, culture, vinology and people of the Douro River Valley.
Note that when looking for a more extensive hiking experience, there are public hiking trails marked with red and yellow stripes on signs, posts, stones and trees leading you from point to point. Note that these may not be maintained to levels that you will find in the United States. For extensive longer hiking experiences, hiring a local guide is highly recommended and will enhance your experience on hikes from a few hours long to a few days, also providing information and historic details you will not get exploring on your own.
Hiking is one of the included activities on a 7 night river cruise from the city of Porto, known for the production and distribution for Port Wine. Travel along the scenic Douro River stopping along the way to hike, bike or explore the villages, Quintas and amazing sites that this beautiful region has to offer. For more information on river cruising check out our River cruise page.
Egypt, the origin of civilization, is primarily identified for the Nile River, the mysterious Pyramids and the Great Sphinx that date back to the ancient Pharoahs. If you are more of an Egyptophile, you have more knowledge about the mummies, the temples, the archaeology and early Egyptian royalty. But if you are like me, a bucket lister who wants to experience Egypt, wants more than a popular guidebook experience, where do you visit for some of the lesser known secrets of Egypt, while also seeing the key sites?
The country of Egypt is known for its relations to the Middle East however physically, it is located in northeast Africa. Cairo, the capital sits on the Nile river, today a very modern and luxurious city, is the perfect introduction to the culture and history of the Egyptian antiquities.
When planning your Egypt agenda, you will no doubt have the highlights of visiting the Nile River Valley, the city of Luxor’s Valley of the Kings and the 4500 year old limestone monuments of Giza. Here are 5 lesser known experiences throughout the region that you can add to your must see list for an unforgettable experience.
The Pyramid of Djoser – is an archaeological site northwest of the ancient capital city of Memphis, home of the Sphinx. Serving as the necropolis (cemetary) for the ancient Egyptian capital. The Djoser Pyramid was built for the burial of the early Egyptian Pharaoh Djoser in the 27th Century BC. The Step Pyramid is part of a large necropolis site (Saqqara) of many tombs of court officials and lesser royalty known as the “tombs of the nobles”. Built using stone and clay, the Step Pyramid was the first pyramid that the Egyptians ever built. Originally designed as a house of eternity with a flat roof and sloping sides in the standard for the time, mastaba style, the tomb evolved into a 200 foot six-layer pyramid. Within the structure, the limestone walls still contain images that were painted approximately 4,500 years ago. Underneath the pyramid are a labyrinth of tunnels almost 3.5 miles long. The pyramid and the complex are an amazing representation of early Egyptian architecture and with about 7 other structures in the area was one of the largest complexes ever built at the time. Saqqara is approximately 30 minutes outside of Cairo and 10 minutes from Old Memphis.
Khan el-Khalili – during a visit to Old Cairo, visiting a bazaar or suq market as it is referred to in Egypt is a must to physically transport yourself back in time. The main trade area established by the Muslims in the 14th century is now a standard part of the Cairenes lifestyle and a must see attraction. Khan el-Khalili, the largest and most popular of the bazaar’s is made up of many historic structures that combined offer more than just a place to bring home fun souvenirs. You will find handmade items, antiques, spices, gold & copper artifacts and jewelry. Visiting is truly a scavenger hunt of exotic local merchandise scattered throughout a maze of shops and alleyways. In addition to the shopping experience, there are many old cafes throughout to round out your visit. If you are looking for a great spot to sit, and sip some local tea or try a hookah while you people watch, El-Fishawi is the oldest cafe in the bazaar, for a full Egyptian dining experience, head over to Naguib Mahfouz Cafe near the Khan-el-Khalili compound.
Temples of Philae – located near Aswan, a historic city on the river Nile, is an island where a significant number of Egyptian archeological sites can be found. One of Nubia’s major monuments, the sacred former temple site is an astonishing experience to add to your agenda. Started in Egypt’s Pharaonic era and completed in the Greek-Roman period between 332 BC – 395 AD are the majority of ancient structures that were relocated brick by brick to a Agilkia island for their protection from flooding. You will arrive by rowboat to the temple complex as you explore the area you will journey through well preserved temples and structures of ancient Egypt where you will see first hand the original hieroglyphic reliefs that are still in the process of being translated. To fully understand the story and history of the complex from erection to conversion as a Christian pilgrimage site, you can also visit the site at night for an amazing Sound and Light Show.
Temple of Edfu – One of the best preserved temples in Egypt, can be found within the lesser visited Edfu region along the West Bank of the Nile Valley. Built in honor of the Egyptian God Horus, the first national god of Egypt, also known as Apollo by the Romans, represented kingship and the sky. Horus, depicted in drawings as a falcon was worshiped from late prehistoric Egypt through Roman Egyptian occupation. The temple’s building started in 237 BC and was completed in 57 BC. The structure originated during Pharaoh rule under Ptolemy III and was completed by Ptolemy XII. The inscriptions on the walls describe life during the Hellenistic period including the language, religion and culture with scenes of the mythical conflict between Horus and Seth for the claim to the throne. Edfu can be reached within 2 hours from Luxor and the Valley of the Kings.
Bucket list worthy experiences – the last experiences if not already on your to do list, may be one’s that you may not have known about or thought about, but highly recommended for the region:
Take a hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings and Queens. This unique experience offers you views of the temples and monuments as you glide over Luxor and Karnak on the West Bank of the Nile while the sun rises and illuminates them by the light of the sunrise. A once in a lifetime view of the ancient sites that even the Pharaohs themselves did not have.
We also recommend discovering the view of Cairo from a Felucca. Experience traveling by ancient river vessel used by royalty as you watch the sunset and sail the Nile river as many of Egypts Pharaohs and Queens did thousands of years ago.
Egypt is a bucket list experience. If you would like to discover the extended history and culture of Egypt starting in Cairo and then traveling from Luxor on a 7 day river journey, to visit the most important sites and some of the lesser known secrets of the region, discover more about river cruising from our website.
Beautiful Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is made up of the regions of Buda and Pest. Separated by the Danube river, Budapest has one of the most beautiful city skylines off the Danube river I have ever experienced. Made up of two very distinct areas and yet it is still a global city offering the historic and hilly Buda district that dates back to the Ancient Roman and Ottoman Empires and the flat, modern and luxurious Pest district that together is a melting pot of old and new. You can easily fill an entire agenda on the many sites in and around this beautiful city, but the hidden nightlife is an experience unlike any other in the world.
This story starts with a war, World War II, when the Hungarian Jewish Quarter of the 7th district was all but decimated between 1944 and 1945 with continuous battle over Budapest during the German occupation of the city. At the end of the war an estimated 250,000 Jewish died or were evicted leaving the city broken and the Jewish Quarter in ruins.
Fast forward to the new millennium, where once the location of the Jewish ghetto, sat buildings that had become dilapidated in the decades following the War. With the fall of the iron curtain, Budapest was becoming a major destination for travelers with high end shops, restaurants and entertainment. A group of Pest locals came up with an idea for opening a pub within the less desirable area to attract other locals to a place to enjoy a drink inexpensively in a laid back environment and so Szimpla Kert (simple garden) was born.
In 2004 a few blocks from the pub a run-down residential building and former stove factory was scheduled to be demolished by the city. The owners of Szimpla Kert stepped up to save the historical building from its fate and moved their popular pub to this location at 14 Kazinczy Street. The pub was renamed at the time to Szimpla Kertmozi (simple open-air cinema) because of the large courtyard that would be designated as an area to show underground Indie films.
Szimpla Kert set the standard for the romkocsma (ruin pub) that has now become more than just the top location in Budapest for nightlife. It has grown into a major attraction for tourists as well as locals with movie screenings, live music, modern art, a farmers market and a flea market.
What began as a need for a small local pub has grown into a rebirth for the Jewish quarter which is now filled with “ruin pubs”. Every pub provides its own experience and attracts a different crowd. The only similarity between them is that they start with an abandoned building. In most, the decor is not fancy or even modern, like you will find in other parts of Pest, but is built around decor sourced from local flea-markets and the buildings themselves, with the graffiti decor, a visit is 100% hipster and unique with non-conformity.
The most crowded ruin bars are the ones with DJ’s or live music and like Szimpla Kert may include other community based events like film premieres and art exhibitions or convert into daytime dining halls and may even offer accommodations in the form of a hostel.
Today there are many “ruin bars” within the Budapest region, many are transient moving from abandoned building to abandoned building setting up a bar, filling the space with eclectic furnishings and bringing in a band or DJ for music. Other’s may resemble the traditional nightclub or offer a more swanky experience.
But for the visiting tourist, we highly recommend the artsy and unique Szimpla Kert, the inventor of the ruin bar revolution. The largest of the ruin bars offers several rooms each with a different theme, an open-air courtyard central gathering area and a garden. You will find a full bar with wine, beer, spirits, a small dining menu and the popular Hungarian liquor Palinka. Some rooms may have a DJ or live music featuring lesser known and unusual bands in small rooms or large concerts as they can accommodate hundreds of people on any given night. As attractive as the draw to it’s nighttime activity, Szimpla Kert is also a popular locale for daytime activities. Offering a local Farmer’s Market every Sunday, flea market and a community living library.
When visiting Pest, for a night or a weekend, you will want to hit the top romkocsma. Depending on when you visit, will determine how busy, the size of the crowds and what activities are happening.
We visited Budapest while on a river cruise along the Danube river. No we are not the crowd that the Ruin bar was created for but stepping into the experience was a fun adult theme park experience that we will never forget and when times allow, we recommend stopping in day or night to see it for yourself.
If you too would like to visit Budapest by river, find more information at our website.
Visiting the continent of Africa is always top of bucket list for the amazing wildlife and outdoor experiences. Many times a visit to Africa will begin or end in Cape Town which is located in the African country of South Africa. Did you know that Cape Town offers beaches to relax at, forests and mountains to explore and lush winelands that produce some of the top new world vintages?
South Africa is a country on the southernmost tip of the African continent. Cape Town is located on the western coast of the African peninsula surrounded by the Indian Ocean. The wet winters and hot dry summers provide a Mediterranean climate, similar to the region of Bordeaux, in France and provides for ample wine production with major vineyards surrounding the city of Cape Town.
Considered a New World wine region, wine in South Africa actually dates back to 1659 when the first bottle of wine was produced in Constantia, a suburb of Cape Town. With time and transportation growth, availability to sell in international markets has put South African wine onto the Viticulture map.
Today you can find about 60 appellations throughout the South African wine system and production happens in production centers located around Cape Town.
Most popular today for red wine production specifically the Cabernet grape and another notable vintage, a cross breed of the hard to grow Pinot Noir grape and the sturdy Cinsaut grape, Pinotage, is the second most planted red grape in the country. Recognized by many growers as the grape of South Africa, Pinotage can be found as a single vintage and also in local blends plus created in many styles; barrel aged, rosé, fortified ports and red sparkling wines.
Chenin blanc (referred to as Steen) is the most widely planted white grape in South Africa and can be found in the western region of the Stellenbosch winelands.
The Cape Wineland district is located in the Boland region of the Western Cape that makes up over 10% of the total land of the Cape Town suburbs of Paarl, Worcester, Wellington and Stellenbosch.
Approximately 30 minutes from Cape Town is the oak-lined village of Stellenbosch, the second-oldest and best known of South Africa’s wine regions. One of the, if not the most, scenically attractive and historically preserved towns in South Africa that was planted in 1679. Today 14% of annual wine production in the country occurs at 17 cellars within the district. Stellenbosch is located 28 miles from Cape Town where the surrounding mountains and coastal False Bay provide an average temperature of 68°F during the summer growing season.
Two recommended cellars to visit while visiting Stellenbosch are Longridge and Glenelly Estates.
Longridge is known locally for their biodynamic and organic winemaking practices. Established in 1841 they have created a vintage of environmentally stable wines without the use of chemicals, pesticides and fertilizers using only natural methods. Their primary growths are Steen (Chenin Blanc), Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinotage. In addition to a Wine Lounge with tastings and vineyards tours, they also feature a restaurant with farm to table South African inspired dishes accompanied by scenic views of False Bay and Table Mountain to enjoy while sipping some of their award winning wines.
Glenelly, just a 10 minute drive from the historic town of Stellenbosch is also an environmentally driven wine estate. The French owned estate features South African wines produced with French growth inspiration with vintages of their flagship Cabernet Sauvignon, in addition to Cabernet Franc, Syrah and a Chardonnay Reserve. A tasting room is available daily (except Monday) with scenic views of the estate and local mountain regions plus a bistro offering a French inspired menu serving lunch daily and dinners on the weekends. The one of a kind privately owned wine museum offers another experience when visiting this lovely wineland estate.
In addition to its connection to wine, the Cape Winelands is a popular culinary center of South Africa where local growers produce olives, fruits and cheese. The Winelands also offers beautiful scenic drives with mountains and many miles of hiking and biking trails for the active adventurer.
The best time to visit the Winelands is between March and May during the South African autumn harvest when the weather is warm and sunny. Summer (November through January) is another popular time to visit the winelands while also enjoying the beaches of Cape Town with warm, longer days. Experience three days in Cape Town including the opportunity to spend the day in the Cape Winelands before a 10 day Africa wildlife adventure with Chobe river cruise. Learn more about this amazing bucket list experience in Africa.
I am as guilty as most, I believed the Basque region was Spanish and a Spanish experience. What I have come to learn is that Euskadi (land of the Basque) is the warm oceanic region located on Bay of Biscay along the western Pyrenees mountain range that straddles the northern coast of Spain but it also includes the eastern coast of France. The Euskadi is made up of seven provinces, three of which are in France and four that are in Spain (Basque Country and Navarre region), despite being in separate countries they are an autonomous community.
With their own language (Euskara), the culture is autonomous throughout the Basque region. The noticeable differences between the French and Spanish cities are related to the influences of the countries in which the regions are located. Spanish Euskaldunak (Basque speaking locals) mostly speak Euskara, as many Spanish Euskadi want autonomy from Spain and may also speak Spanish. Here you will find larger modern and industrial areas that are more centered on tourist and resort driven cities. Comparatively French Euskaldunak are loyal to France, will speak French, while some may also speak Euskara. In French tradition, they live in more relaxed rural environments and towns that sit among green pastures and farms.
Basque weather is typically maritime being warm, humid and rainy along the coast and the interior regions have a Mediterranean climate with temperature differences between seasons.
There are many reasons to explore both regions of Basque Country, we will highlight the uniqueness of the key towns and cities of both regions that you will want to visit.
Northern Basque Region
The Pays Basque Français is called Iparralde which means northern part in the basque language. The region lies in the Pyrenees – Atlantiques department of France. Within this region you will find attractive villages worth visiting for the uncrowded pastoral country-side, charming white-washed half-timbered houses and quaint colorful churches waiting to be explored.
Located just off the coast of France at the confluence of the Adour and Nive rivers makes the city not only scenic but also separates it out into 3 very distinct quarters. Most noticeable when visiting is the red, green and white colors that are almost uniformly seen throughout the town. A mix of Basque and French culture, you will want to head to the Grand Bayonne quarter on the westbank of the Nive river where you can wander the narrow cobblestoned pedestrian streets amongst the half-timbered houses, visit the 11th Century Chateau Vieux, the gothic Bayonne Cathedral and enjoy some local farm to table cuisine.
More of a tourist location than sister city Bayonne, The Cote de Basque is both a sophisticated and yet relaxing resort town of cliffside villas overlooking the coast and swanky oceanside hotels beachside. Being a coastal upscale resort town, you will find the large beaches popular during the summer. Biarritz is well known worldwide as a prominent location for its surfing which will also attract many daytime bohemian visitors to the seaside town during the warmer summer months. The town itself offers many trendy cafes to relax at and enjoy a local meal, great boutiques to visit and a lively beachside bar scene that offers a continuation of the daytime beach party to pair with your beachtime tan.
About 15 minutes south of Biarritz and close to the Spanish border is the small seaside town of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. The central town features the Grand Plage, a long stretch of sandy beach surrounded by three sea walls that is more family centric with a few small hotels with spas and nearby local campsites. Off the coast is the downtown region Donibane Lohizune to enjoy the local rustic cuisine, regional products and espadrilles. Yes, the region is best known for their array of comfy beach espadrille sandals which can be found throughout the shopping area. Don’t miss enjoying the coastal inspired gastronomy that blends the French influence with the New Basque inspired dishes from the nearby Spanish region.
Hidden at the base of the Pyrenees mountains is the beautifully scenic village of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. The walled capital of Basque is a small charming town on the Nive river just 5 miles from the Spanish border. Most known as the starting point for the christian pilgrimage to the Santiago de Compostela shrine in Galicia, Spain, it is also the perfect stop after taking one of the most beautiful hikes in the Pyrenees for the amazing panoramas from the mountains. Walk the small town that is surrounded by green countryside with a backdrop of mountains.
Southern Basque Country
The Pais Vasco Español is called Hegoalde which I am sure you can guess means southern part in the basque language. The majority of the Basque region lies within the Spanish side and is the most populated with two very distinct regions, the coastal Basque community and the inland Navarre region.
An hour and half southwest of French Basque and across the Spanish border from the Pyrenees is the Navarre region and its capital city, Pamplona. You most likely have heard of Pamplona from its annual weeklong San Fermín Festival. Better known as the “Running of the Bulls” that occurs along Estafeta street annually. It is one of the largest fiesta events in Spain attracting over 100,000 visitors. Iruña as Pamplona is called in Basque is a medieval town that also attracts visitors to explore her cobble-stoned pedestrian only streets that wind throughout the city to the historic palaces and churches. At the center of the town is the Plaza del Castillo (Palace Square) where you will find the locals as well as tourists who are visiting the best restaurants and cafes with the best people watching.
San Sebastián –
Donastia as it is known by the Basque in the region is a very popular resort town for its white sand beaches and New Basque cuisine. Often referred to as Paris by the sea for its sophistication that attracts the wealthy beach-goers who have beach mansions along La Concha beach. Here is considered by many Europeans to be the most beautiful beach in Europe. Notable is that many don’t just visit San Sebastian for the beach luxury, but also for the gastronomy. You can find the largest number of Michelin rated stars per capita than anywhere else in the world with 9 restaurants. The locally sourced pinxtos are partially responsible for the famed dining experiences. Pinxtos are the backbone of the Spanish Basque food culture, similar to a tapa (but don’t call it a tapa) the small plate offers uniquely crafted gastro-pub experiences. Parte Vieja, the old port region is the charming old town with the largest number of bars in the world, a big draw for visitors.
Considered the heart of the Basque region in Spain, Bilbao is a very modern city filled with cosmopolitan buildings, industry and is also the urban hub of Euskadi. The largest city in the region attracts visitors to its famed contemporary Guggenheim museum and offers a very modern metro system compared to other Basque regions. But the old medieval town, Casco Viejo, like in San Sebastian attracts visitors for its culture and historical experiences. Shopping is also a prime attraction at the “El Ensanche” across the river from the old town, which is home to Bilbao’s wealthy residents offering higher end shops, restaurants and bars along the Gran Via. Yes, pinxtas play an important role in local gastronomy here too and you will find many taverns offering the tasty treats to enjoy with a glass of local cider or wine.
Worth noting is the well known French region of Bordeaux is 3.5 hours from Bilbao, the most eastern city in the Basque Country and just 2 hours from Bayonne, the most northern city of the Basque region. This offers a unique travel experience to explore the beautiful Euskadi region of Spain and France and then head north to Bordeaux for a purely French wine experience.
Learn more about Bordeaux with a 7 night river cruise experience to fully immerse in both left and right banks of Bordeaux.
Israel is known for and also visited for its religious and historical sights, cosmopolitan cities, diverse beauty of desert, lush landscapes and beaches, culture and amazing people. What many come to learn is that street food provides visitors a blend of gastronomy experiences that provide a unique balance of both the Eastern and Western influences you will find here.
Locals enjoy strong flavors and fresh ingredients and the street food is no different, making the options healthy and offering a no pun “taste” of Israeli life.
Israel offers many restaurants and market stalls offering some of the best street food in the world. As you wander the cities these are 5 of the top dishes you will not want to miss.
No doubt you have heard of falafel which is unofficially the national dish of Israel and rightly so since it can be found everywhere you travel throughout the country. The tasty dish originated in Egypt and was brought to Israel by the Yemenite Jews in the 1950’s. Made from ground chickpeas mixed with a blend of spices and then deep fried, they are typically served stuffed into a housemade pita with salad, tomatoes, pickles and topped with a tahini or hummus sauce. As you are exploring the markets in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, this is the one food that is a “must try” while visiting Israel. Some of the more popular locations to get your falafel on are Shalom Falafel and Falafel Brothers.
If falafel is the national dish of Israel, hummus would hold second place. Considered by Americans as a dip, in Israel, hummus is a staple and a favorite meal because it is nutritious, inexpensive and quick and easy. Made from mashed chickpeas that are blended with tahini sauce, olive oil and spices like garlic, salt, cumin and lemon juice, topped with a garnish of pine-nuts or parsley and then served in a large bowl. Eaten scooped up with a piece of pita bread with or without hot sauce and other healthy accompaniments like pickles and onions, hummus is so popular here that you will find many local hummusia’s all vying for the right to be called the “best”. It is up to you to sample and decide for yourself.
Another well known Middle Eastern dish that is usually made using spiced chicken, lamb, veal or turkey that is thinly sliced and stacked in a cone shape and slow grilled until juicy on a rotating spit. Once the long cooking process completes, the meat is carved and served stuffed into a pita or on top of a salad with tahini or hummus and pickled vegetables. (Are you starting to see a theme here). Schwarm is a Turkish word for grilled it originated in the Ottoman Empire where it was made from lamb or mutton. We have been told that for the best Shawarma, there are a few standouts, Keter Hamizrach in Tel-Aviv or Massov in Jerusalem are best bets. Oh and come hungry!
Considered one of Israel’s best secrets, Bourekas, Burekas or Burke’s as they are locally called are stuffed flaky turnovers, created by the Turkish Jews and very very popular around Israel. Brought into Israel by Turkish and Balkan immigrants from Bulgaria and Slovenia in the 19th century, you will find them everywhere throughout Israel. Handmade with phyllo dough and served many different ways with savory fillings of cheese, potato, spinach, mushroom, roasted eggplant or even in a pizza style, they are best when enjoyed crisp and fresh out of the oven. You can also find sweet versions at some of the local bakeries to enjoy with a strong cup of popular “mud coffee”. Find them in the local markets and from cart stands throughout Israel.
Last but not least, is the very popular breakfast sandwich Sabich. Similar in namesake to the BLT, the name is from the letters of the main ingredients of the sandwich, S – salatim (salad), B- beitzim (hardboiled egg) H – hatzilim (eggplant). Created by Iraqi jews, this local staple is in the form of a pita stuffed with slices of deep fried eggplant, cooked overnight hard boiled eggs and Israeli salad (diced cucumbers, tomatoes, onion and peppers) and cabbage and then topped with traditional tahini and tangy amba (pickled mango) sauce. You can also find them made with optional add ons like vegetables, potatoes, onions and hot sauce. Made in a way that you get a burst of all flavors in every bite, it has become increasingly popular over the past few years.
To savor any of these delicious local favorites, stop in at one of the many open-air markets that are popular throughout Israel. Some of the more popular are the vibrant Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem and the Carmel Market in Jerusalem where you can enjoy the lively Israeli life. And while you are there, sample some of the local olives, goat cheese and sample the popular prickly cactus fruit, sabra.
Israel can be experienced on its own or as part of a Middle Eastern tour, combined with Egypt. Our favorite experience is a 11 night river cruise along the Nile river with a post stay visit to Israel for a real bucket list experience. Find out more about Egypt Nile cruising, from the link provided.
Portugal is often referred to as the garden that was planted next to the ocean. While it could be chalked up as quite a random saying, once you get to know the region you understand the meaning behind it. Portugal is like a garden of fresh offerings just waiting to be picked. Beautiful beaches, cosmopolitan cities, rural landscapes, mixed in with beautiful Mediterranean climate, culture, gastronomy, history and so much more.
The small country really only has 2 large cities, Lisbon, the largest of the two, which is the most known for its historic significance, and the smaller lesser known city of Porto. With 1.7 million residents, the old historic city of Porto holds a very intimate and unique travel experience and a must visit for any oenophile.
An elegant city, you will notice the difference from Lisbon in the narrow streets and manner homes and the overall sophisticated and friendly lifestyle of the locals. Centered around the wine industry, a visit to Porto is an experience in local gastronomy and culture that will have you wanting to see and do more.
Although the weather is good almost year round, the best time to visit is late spring, May to early June, when in addition to that great weather you will find fewer tourists then peak season in July and August.
Another reason to visit during the cooler mid season is the 600 year old annual Festos Santos (Saints festival) celebration that occurs annually June 13 – 24th. If you want to experience Porto in all her glory, be in town on June 23 for one of the most important and largest celebrations in the region, the Festa de Sao Joao do Porto. This large celebration starts in the afternoon (Saint John’s Eve) and goes into the night with street concerts, local celebration and rituals through-out the streets and neighborhoods and a midnight fireworks show. The celebrating goes well into the next day, June 24th, when revelers watch the sunrise over the ocean and further celebrate the Feast of St. John, the patron Saint of Porto, with an annual sailing Regatta.
If your schedule does not allow for a visit during the celebration, there are so many other reasons why Porto should be on your travel bucket list:
Stop in at the Igreja e Torre dos Clerigos –
A Baroque church that was built between 1735 and 1748, with its Clerigos tower, is the most symbolic monument in Porto. Tour the beautiful church with its unique architecture of goldsmithery, and the museum before the highlight of your visit, climbing the 250 steps to the top of the tower. Featuring a carillon made up of 49 bells that you pass as you reach your final destination for gorgeous panoramic views of the city of Porto. Good to know is – if you are lucky enough to be in the tower when the bells ring, the sound will offer a startling experience.
Tram to the Foz district –
A unique Porto experience is taking a ride on one of the vintage trams called “carros eléctricos”. A fantastic way to experience the city, the Linha1 is the best route from the Infante stop in the historic center of Porto and follows the banks of the Douro passing under the Ponte da Arrabida bridge to the serene tree-lined Passeio Alegre Park in the beautifully charming region of the Foz district.
Visit the Ribeira District –
The oldest section of Porto, located on the riverbanks of the Douro river, right under the iconic Ponte Luis 1 bridge. Here is where you will want to wander the winding medieval streets and small cobblestone alleyways to see the ancient Hotchpotch houses, visit the family run boutiques and enjoy a Francesinha (Portuguese sandwich) on the terrace of one of the lively restaurants. I bet once you are there you will find yourself indulging in a glass of local Port wine at one of the trendy Ribeira bars. The district has a great atmosphere that becomes even more colorful at night.
Spend a day at the local beaches –
A visit to the local beaches is definitely a must if you are a beach lover visiting Porto. The Costa Verde is a beautiful stretch of coastline with some amazing beaches easily accessed by one of the historic trams. Praia de Carneiro is the closest to the mouth of the Douro river, the resident lighthouse marks the southern point of the beach region. Located in the Foz district, Praia dos Ingleses is a large sandy beach with some rocky areas at the shore line. The local region offers many cafes and other sites to visit if you want to add to your beach day experience. Porto’s main beach, Matosinhos is your best bet for the true beach going experience of golden sand and great surf, beachside cafes and lots of locals to socialize with.
Port tasting is a must while visiting –
Port aka vinho do Porto, is a fortified wine (aguardiente is added to stop fermentation and preserve the sweetness of the grapes) that is produced specifically in the Douro region of Portugal. Although a sweeter red wine, it typically has a high alcohol content (sometimes up to 19%) and also comes in dry, semi-dry and white varieties. Stopping into one of Porto’s local wine lodges for a tour and tasting is usually a top travel experience for a Porto visitor. The majority of the wine production houses is in Gaia, the hub of the wine industry, which is located on the opposite side of the Douro river from Porto.
For a more immersive wine experience –
There are a few options to take your wine experience next level. A day trip by car or boat excursion for exploring the Douro wine region are good sample experiences. However these will only get you so far. Our recommendations for really exploring the Douro growing region is the Linha do Douro train or a fully immersive river cruise.
The Linha do Douro, considered one of the most scenic routes in Europe, runs along the Douro river offering expanded views of the river and river valleys. Passengers typically hop on the train at the São Bento station in Porto and ride the rails to the small village of Pocinho. Note this route can take anywhere from 3.5 to 4 hours without visiting any of the wine villages or stopping along the way.
With so much to do and see to fully explore the UNESCO designated Douro river, wineries and impressive villages, we recommend a river cruise from Porto to Vega de Terron, at the border of Portugal and Spain. Immerse in the region as you sample the wines from the old world villages, historic sites and enjoy the raw beauty of the Douro region. The itinerary offers 2 nights in Porto and additional time in Lisbon and Madrid, Spain for a full bucket list itinerary. Prime time to cruise the Douro is late Spring during growing season through Fall just after the fall growth harvest when the colors start changing.
To learn more about river cruising the Douro river, visit our website.
One of the tops on many bucket lists is visiting Africa. Getting close up encounters with animals in their natural environment is an experience that will be different for every guest based on time of year and how they choose to visit. The best way to experience wildlife in Africa is by safari but with many regions within Africa with wildlife, how do you narrow down your options of where and when to visit.
Two of the best countries within the continent of Africa to visit for a safari experience are Tanzania and Botswana:
The United Republic of Tanzania is an African country in East Africa that has coastline on the Indian Ocean, Bordering Uganda in the north, Kenya in the northeast, Mozambique in the east, Zambia to the southwest; and Rwanda to the west. Tanzania is most known for Mount Kilimanjaro, the largest mountain in Africa.
The best time to visit Tanzania to enjoy the wildlife is based around the rainfall. While the summer period is November to February and the cooler winter period is May to August, the rainiest periods are October – December. The ideal time is during the drier shoulder periods of March, April, August and September.
Approximately one-third of Tanzania’s land is dedicated as a protected conservation area featuring 16 national parks in addition to game and forest reserves. Featuring many biodiverse areas you will find a variety of animal habitats:
Serengeti – The Serengeti plain is where you will find the largest concentration of wildebeest and zebra who are known for their annual massive migrations when the herds move north from breeding locations to the grassy southern plains. For sure a not to miss experience, movement can be seen year round, but the massive movement will occur July – October when they can be seen crossing the Mara river in the Northern Serengeti. You will also find giraffe, gizelle, impala and many species of reptiles in the region like crocodiles who habitat in the Grumeti River.
Ngorongoro – the Manyara National park is where you can experience a game drive of animals including lions, cheetahs, monkeys, baboons and impalas. You will also want to visit the three million year old Ngorongoro crater which is the largest volcano caldera in the world and home to a gorgeous wildlife sanctuary filled with large mammals like hippopotamus who live in the lakes, bush and plains of the caldera. To experience the great migration that occurs here annually, you will want to visit between July and September.
Unlike Tanzania, Botswana is primarily flat with the majority (70%) of it belonging to the Kalahari Desert. Located in central Africa, it borders South Africa in the south, Zimbabwe in the northeast and to the west and north of Botswana is Namibia. Besides the large area of desert, you will find the Okavango Delta, one of the largest in the world in the northwestern portion of the country.
Why Botswana if it is mostly desert? Because of the diversity of the wildlife that you can find here. Besides desert and the delta, there are savannas and grassland regions where you will find wildebeest, antelope, the endangered African wild dog and the biggest concentration of African elephants in Africa which can be found along the rivers during the dry season. September is the peak time for experiencing wildlife as it is the end of the dry season.
Chobe National Park – Botswana’s original national park located in the Okavango Delta is biologically diverse making it a prime destination for experiencing wildlife. Taking a safari through the park has one of the largest concentrations of wildlife to observe when looking for the big 5 (lion, leopard, elephant, water buffalo and the rare rhinoceros). Specifically lions can be easily spotted who reside in the area for the presence of the large number of elephants and their young who track them as their primary predator.
The Chobe River – a key location for spotting the “Big Five” game during the dry months. Both sides of the river are protected wildlife management areas. During the dry season the Kalahari elephants, lions and buffalo reside at the river, especially during the end of the dry season when families can be spotted from boats as you travel along the river. A highlight is the daily elephant bathing ritual which offers amazing afternoon photo opportunities.
Safari Lodges are found throughout both Tanzania and Botswana. Unique experiences featuring luxury and modern tented camps that offer immersive wildlife experiences. Seeing nature free from human intervention is the highlight of staying at a safari lodge. You will never know what encounter awaits you as you relax in your tent or while relaxing within the grounds before or after your safari. All inclusive, a stay at a lodge includes meals, guided safari and wildlife spotting, night-time campfires with all the amenities you would expect at a five-star resort but with a rustic charm. With so many to choose from, there is one that fits every budget and travel style.
With so much to see, how do you explore these regions seamlessly and enjoyably? Imagine an experience that combines all of the experiences in a 10 – 21 day African experience. Start your journey on land combined with four nights on a small private luxury African boat drifting along the river all the while having an up-close wildlife experience before heading back on land for more time to explore the villages and highlights of the region.
Learn more about luxurious African river cruise experiences from our website.
Experiencing world class golf while on a vacation is usually a must do for the avid golf player and the travel itinerary is designed around the golf experience. But Imagine visiting Central Europe’s most glorious cities like Budapest in Hungary, Passau in Germany and Prague in the Czech Republic immersing in the cities whole also playing some of the world’s top courses.
A Danube river cruise itinerary will lead you up the river from Budapest to Vilshofen, cruising through the unforgettable Danube Bend in Hungary and the Wachau Valley in Austria with stops in historical Vienna & Salzburg to explore the Austrian cities of music and palaces.
Cruising at night allows for plenty of extra time during the day to enjoy the ports of visitation after a round of golf at one of the renowned local courses.
No matter your level or experience with golf, even if just starting your time on the links, following are 5 courses that can be enjoyed while traveling on a 12 day cruise on and along the Danube river:
Hungary’s capital city is actually two cities separated by the Danube river and accessed by the 19th Century Chain Bridge that connects the historic hilly Buda district to the modern flat Pest. You will spend 2 days immersing in Budapest’s many sites before boarding your floating hotel and enjoying your first morning of 18 holes.
Located 45 minutes outside of the city of Budapest is the Pannonia Golf course. Designed for European and APGA Tour standards to offer a challenging and yet relaxing golfing opportunity. Sitting along a valley provides a hilled course featuring varied fairways, and eight water hazards to provide challenge to your game. Accommodating all levels of skill so players can enjoy the opportunity to experience the course at their own pace.
Leaving Budapest, you will head northwest along the Danube to your next stop Bratislava. The capital of Slovakia, at the border of Austria and Hungary, the 18th century pedestrian town is your next stop. From the port you catch views of the Bratislava Castle sitting on a hill above watching over the historic town.
Your private driver will take you on a scenic drive through the forested countryside of Slovakia to one of Europe’s top rated golf resorts, Penati, near the town of Sinica. A member of the World of Leading Golf organization, you will play 18 holes of the 36 hole course that sits on 536 acres of property. The Nicklaus designed courses are laid out among the pine forests to accommodate all levels of golfers and styles of play.
After your morning round and drive back to Bratislava, enjoy a beer or glass of local wine in one of the cozy cafes or pubs within the historic district.
After a full day in Vienna, your next stop is to the lower Austria region and the riverside town of historic Krems in the Wachau Valley.
A quick scenic drive along the Danube takes you to the Diamond Course. A European Tour destination, the 18 hole championship course is renowned as one of the world’s top public courses. Set around a 25 acre lake, also offering 12 and 9 hole courses provides the opportunity for a slower more relaxed golfing experience. Enjoy lunch before driving back to Krems to enjoy a glass of locally produced world class wine from the nearby sourced Wachau Valley region.
Having enjoyed a full day in Linz and a visit to the beautiful mountainous region of Salzburg, your next stop along the Danube is just past the Austrian border in Germany. Passau is known as the “Three Rivers City” for its location where the Danube, Inn and Ilz rivers meet. Arriving into the city you can’t miss the 13th century fortress sitting high above the Baroque historic city.
The Beckenbauer Golfplatz offers a world rated championship course, and is the host of the annual Porsche European Open each fall. Designed by a Masters champion, the meadow and river surrounding the hand-mowed course offer lush greens and enjoyable fairways.
Upon your arrival back into Passau, enjoy visiting the iconic St. Stephen’s Cathedral and her 17,974 pipe organ before the ship departs for your final port in Vilshofen.
Upon disembarking your ship, you will be transferred to Prague, stopping in the Rhine wine town of Rudesheim for an enjoyable visit and stop for lunch before continuing on to your Northern passage to glorious Prague.
The capital of the Czech Republic is called “the golden city of a hundred spires” for the number of beautiful cathedrals each featuring pointed spires. You will have plenty of time during your 3 day post cruise visit, to explore the historic area, the town square, as many of the Gothic churches as you care to visit, baroque buildings and Prague’s most notable location, the Charles Bridge before your relaxing day of world class golf.
Your final golf experience will be at the Albatross Golf Resort, a short 30 minute drive from your hotel in the historic old town to Prague’s European tournament golf destination for 18 holes. Considered one of the top 100 courses in Europe, Albatross has been named Golf Resort of the year in 2011 and 2012. Offering a full option of state of the art facilities, you will find this course the ultimate challenge for your final golf experience.
AmaWaterways Golf Program
The custom designed concierge golf program was created specifically for AmaWaterways newest and most innovative ship, the AmaMagna. The 12 day program features 2 nights in Budapest, with 7 nights onboard and 3 nights in Prague included in a custom designed golfing travel experience.
The program was designed to seamlessly provide a unique travel experience customized to the guest and a bucket list golfing experience. In addition to playing some of Europe’s most prestigious courses, inclusive in the experience is private transfer between your luxury accommodations and the courses by Mercedes, tee-time, practice balls, golf cart and lunch in the clubhouse once you complete your play time.
To learn more about the river cruise experience and how it can be a great fit for your next travel experience, visit our website.
A UNESCO World Heritage site for its eighteenth century city-scape that still looks as it did hundreds of years ago, Bordeaux presents many experiences for finding romance within the city and others within an hours drive of the city.
Just 2 hours by train outside Paris (the city of love), the capital city of the Nouvelle Aquitaine region of France, Bordeaux is most noted for its association to the highest quality French wines. One of the most important wine producers and exporters in the world with the largest number of AOC “controlled designation of origin” classification vineyards in France. She is often referred to as “la perle d’Aquitaine” (pearl of the Aquitaine) and “Petit (mini) Paris”. This port city along the Garonne river offers as much as other urban cultural centers provide, but also leaves a small village impression in her old city. A gorgeous well maintained medieval city is perfect for couples looking for or celebrating romance to indulge and lose themselves within her boundaries.
Here are 15 opportunities to find romance in Bordeaux and the Bordeaux region:
1. Fairytale Romance at Porte Cailhau
A must see stop when visiting Bordeaux, Porte Calihau will give you the best views of the city. The impressive castle-like architecture was built in Gothic-renaissance cross over styles with both decorative and defensive features in 1494. The building has not changed in its many hundreds of years in existence when it was re-created as the entrance to the city from the Garonne river. The triumphal arch stands at almost 115 feet, climbing the stairs to the top floor of this beautiful building is where you will find an exhibition of her existence and most importantly where you can enjoy the romantic river views with sightings of the oldest bridge in Bordeaux, the Pont de Pierre.
2. Cross the Pont de Pierre Bridge
Connecting the left and right banks of the Garonne river, Pont de Pierre means “mason bridge” which is the French translation for stone bridge. The 1600 foot bridge was designed by Napoleon so his troops could easily cross the Garonne. Not surprisingly, the bridge has 17 arches for the number of letters in the name Napoleon Bonaparte. To maintain the structure of the bridge, it is closed to automobiles and only accessible by foot, bicycle or tram. The perfect opportunity to take a romantic walk or bike ride along the footpath of the bridge to enjoy the scenery. Depending on the time of day and the tides the day that you cross the bridge, you will have different views of the river.
3. Have a Secular Experience at Bordeaux Cathedral
Even if you are not religious, a stop at the Cathedral Saint Andre is worth the visit especially the Tour Pey-Berland bell-tower. A UNESCO World Heritage site in the heart of the old city, the Notre Dame d’Aquitaine started as a Romanesque church originally built in 1096 AD and then modified in the Gothic style between the 12th and 16th centuries. Some highlights of the church are the exterior spires and the bell-tower that was built in the early 15th century. Separated from the rest of the cathedral, the bell-tower is a historic French monument. Tour Pey-Berland named after the archbishop who commissioned it, features three monumental bells, named Marie, Clémence and Marguerite that ring next to a larger 8 ton tenor bell named Ferdinand-André. A climb up the 231 step spiral staircase to the second terrace at the top offers romantic picture-worthy panoramic city views.
4. Journey into Wine together at La Cite du Vin
Before embarking into Bordeaux’s wines and local vineyards, immerse yourself in the fun and educational wine experience of Bordeaux’s Wine museum. The highly sensory experience starts as you enter the contemporary design of the building and continues with a one of a kind complete wine experience. Taking you into the world of wines from their creation in 6000BC to the modern day mechanics and innovation that makes up the wine industry with exhibitions, wine tasting workshops and pairings, seminars and events held throughout the year. Located on the West bank of Bordeaux between the historic districts for local vintage production and wine manufacturing, the museum was designed to focus on the worldwide wine culture instead of the local wine experience. On the romance side, there is a fantastic wine bar called Belvedere on the top floor, with a wide selection of wines from around the world to be enjoyed with a panoramic view of Bordeaux.
5. Visit one of the Most Romantic Restaurants in Bordeaux
Centrally located in the old town of Bordeaux, La Tupina is a small country inn style restaurant that will offer you a romantic and intimate dining experience. Centered around the fireplace within the dining establishment, in the fireplace sits a cauldron (La Tupina in French) that is used daily to create their signature soups, roasted meats and other traditional hearty dishes from the region. Offering both Prix Fixe menus including wine and mineral waters or a la carte options, the farm to table experience is traditional South-West French cuisine at its best. Michelin rated, reservations are highly recommended.
6. Shop the Marche des Chartrons
A highlight of a French experience is the local markets. Happening each Sunday The quay Market is located along the Garonne river. An outdoor market has sixty+ stands with a variety of local specialties, meats, cheeses, olives, breads, pastries, plates of local seafood’s in addition to crafts, flowers and other products that are not found anywhere else. If you are not in Bordeaux for the popular Sunday market, head to Marché des Capucins which is Bordeaux’s main market hall noted as one of the largest halls in the southwest region of France.
7. Relax at the Bordeaux Public Garden
If you have visited France before you know the parks and gardens offer an experience unlike any other. Providing your usual park amenities like walking paths and playgrounds, it’s the additional amenities that make this experience the perfect venue for a romantic outing. Located in the center of the city of Bordeaux and made up of 2700 acres with a central pond and many open spaces with trees and beautiful landscaping. Here is where you can take cue from the locals and stop to enjoy a bottle of wine and plate of local cheese from the market while relaxing on a romantic Bordelais kind of day. You can also find within the park a botanical garden, 19th century carousel, cafe/bar terrace and the Museum of Natural History.
8. Take Selfies at the Place de la Bourse et Miroir d’Eau
Bordeaux’s most iconic symbol is the Place Royale and Water Mirror reflecting pool. Built over 20 years in the mid 1700’s, facing the Garonne river, the classical French architecture of the Place Royal was built as a town square. She played a major role in the city’s development, trade, and reputation throughout its years of existence. Originally built as hotels, the buildings today are used as government offices and event venues. Across from the palace along the quay of the river is the iconic Water Mirror the world’s largest reflecting pool. Built in the early 2000’s locals will tell you that the pool with the Place Royal in the background at dusk is the perfect photo spot to commemorate your romantic visit to Bordeaux.
9. Enjoy a Concert at the Bordeaux Grand Theatre
The Bordeaux Opera House was built by wooden-frame in the 1780’s as a opera house but also became the home to the origin of the ballet in the region. One of the oldest opera houses in Europe, she was designed in the neoclassical style. The building exterior features Corinthian columns and statues representing the nine muses and three Greek goddesses, Juno, Venus and Minerva. A highlight of the interior is the grand staircase and fresco painted on the ceiling of the auditorium that pays tribute to the city of Bordeaux in a neoclassical style. Still in use today you too can enjoy a sophisticated and romantic adult evening of opera, ballet, symphony or musical concert while visiting. With a tram stop just out front, you can easily get to/from other parts of the city for an early dinner, late bite or a night cap.
10. Cycle the Vineyard Countryside
Bordeaux is famous for the dry, sweet red wines and sparkling whites grown here. Grab an e bike and head out on your own at your own pace or jump onto a half day or full day tour and cycle through Bordeaux’s famous wine region with an English speaking guide. Did you know 22 bottles of wine from Bordeaux are sold every second all over the world? A must do Bordeaux tour will have you riding romantic country roads, enjoying tasting wines from the vineyards and visiting some of the historic chateaus along the way. Purchase a bottle of wine and find an intimate spot to enjoy it before riding back to Bordeaux.
11. Pamper your Senses at Chateau Margaux.
Located on the left bank of the Garonne river in the Medoc region, Chateau Margaux holds the highest classification of Bordeaux wine classifications as a Premier Cru vineyard for its historic wine-making and growth innovations. Sampling the wines themselves is a real treat since the Premier vintages grown and sold are some of the most expensive in the industry. A highlight of a visit is walking the romantic property which is one of the most beautiful chateaux in the Bordeaux region. If you decide you would like to purchase wine, there are other lower cost vintages, note they don’t adhere to the high appellation directives as the Premier Cru but are still highly respectable and enjoyable.
12. Get Lost in Saint-Emilion
A medieval town 45 minutes from Bordeaux in the wine hills is the center of wine making in the region. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the town offers romantically picturesque “cultural landscape” and equally romantic experiences. Saint-Emilion is made up of 8 villages each notable for its vineyards but also offering impressive historical sites and local gastronomy from recipes passed down from generation to generation. Here is the perfect location to explore and sneak into a small local restaurant or cafe for a romantic meal with some local vin.
13. Launch your Relationship to New Heights in the Arcachon Basin
Just under an hours drive southwest from Bordeaux is the Dune of Pilat. A popular attraction for visitors as the tallest sand dune in Europe, it sits along the Arcachon Bay. The dune runs parallel to the shoreline behind the beach and blue Atlantic waters. Add some adventure into your vacation, due to the steepness of the dune, paragliding is a popular activity here and a way for you both to check it off of your bucket lists.
After gliding high above the dunes or taking a dip in the bay, head on to some of the local towns along the bay to enjoy sampling the amazing Arcachon Oysters. The bay has almost 30 oyster farms and produces upwards of 8,000 tons of oysters annually. There are four growing regions and each region produces its own oyster to sample the various local flavors and enjoy a romantic aphrodisiac with some local wine.
14. Take a Personal Spa Day
The Vinothérapie Spa at the Les Sources de Caudalie hotel offers unique spa rituals in a beautiful and rustic setting. Featuring a natural hot spring, the same minerals that help create the best wines in France are the ones that offer properties for an invigorating spa experience. Featuring treatments that include grape and vine extracts for relaxing baths and purifying wraps, scrubs, facial, hand and foot treatments and grape seed massages to indulge in every moment. Located just 20 minutes outside of Bordeaux’s city center, the hotel offers a perfect and romantic balance of exploration and relaxation for a day or as your base for your Bordeaux experience.
15. Cruise the Rivers around Bordeaux
The best way to experience the Garonne and Dordogne rivers and admire Bordeaux’s waterfront is during a seven night scenic river cruise round-trip from Bordeaux. A romantic cruise tour offers boutique accommodations with the opportunity to explore the sights, enjoy the tastes and immerse in the culture of the region while traveling. Inclusive in your experience are many of the experiences and others that have been mentioned above.
For more information on river cruising and to find out if it is the right fit for your luxury travel experience, take our quiz.
The country of Portugal is one of the oldest civilizations in European history dating back to prehistoric time and before its documented occupation by the Roman Empire in the early BC era.
Its location on the Iberian Peninsula where it meets the Atlantic Ocean has influenced the culture and the architecture of the region which can be seen in the many castles and palaces that still reside here.
Because of her location, Portugal was easily conquered and established by many empires each with its own military and purpose. The Portuguese people learned early to build strong and reliable fortifications from the Romans, how to create with elaborate stonework from the Moors who came from nearby Africa, and later used these principles to re-purpose some of these original castles for the Christians who conquered the land during the crusades and eventually designed the glorious palaces that were built by the royals who ruled the lands.
When you think of castles and palaces you think of storybooks and romance. Although storybook castles are fiction, real castles each have a story and much can be learned about the culture and history of the region from them.
Despite its small size as a country, Portugal has over 150 castles and palaces with the oldest in existence dating back to the eighth century. Today travelers looking for romantic castles and grandiose palaces travel to Portugal to castle-hop and explore some of her many picture-worthy candidates.
Sintra, a small Portuguese town, approximately 25km (15 miles), within the hills outside of Lisbon is filled with ancient castles and beautiful summer palaces that will take you through Portugal’s history from Ottoman rule in the 8th century to the end of the Portuguese monarchy in the early 1900’s.
The Castle of the Moors(Castelo dos Mouros)
Built during the eighth and ninth centuries, spanning across mountain ridges is one Portugal’s oldest preserved fortresses. You can’t help but think of the Great Wall of China when you see her large granite walls that snake along the hilltops to defend her from approaching enemies by land and by sea.
Designed by the Moors under Islamic rule, this castle and fortress was built with a strategic position for defending the territory and access routes to Lisbon. The Moors lived here until 1147, when Sintra was taken over by the first King of Portugal, Afonso Henriques.
While little remains of the Islamic Quarter and Castle outside the walls, the views from the top of the Atlantic and the surrounding area including the nearby Pena Palace makes the climb to the top worth the visit.
The National Palace of Sintra (Palácio Nacional de Sintra)
The Palace of Sintra, is also referred to as Town Palace because of her location within the center of the town of Sintra.
First constructed around the 10th or 11th century under Moorish rule, Sintra was reconstructed many times as she was passed along from monarch to monarch and housed almost all of Portugal’s royalty throughout her history. The cooler climate in the summer, abundance of wildlife and remote area for protection from plague and unrest in Lisbon made her a preferred location for the monarchs who spent quite a bit of time here.
With all the royal influence, the palace reflects many different styles and trends from various periods. She is best identified by her two cone-shaped chimneys that sit above the royal kitchen. Although no longer used as residence, today is a historical museum with many stories to tell of Portugal’s long history.
Pena National Palace (Palacio Nacional Da Pena)
Considered the most beautiful of all the palaces within Portugal, the Pena National Palace is the most popular site for a visit.
Built in 1836 and designed by King Manuel I as a Monastery formerly named the Royal Monastery of Our Lady of Pena it was later redesigned by Ferdinand II as a summer residence for the royal family.
The palace was designed in the Romanticism style with various colors. The interior of the palace has many shades of green to match the trees that surround the grounds she sits on. Pena Palace is the closest you will get to a “fairytale” castle in Portugal with her beauty and palatial magnificence.
The views from where she sits high above the city, the beautiful grounds and park surrounding her and the opulent interior make this a must see when visiting Sintra.
Queluz National Palace (Palácio Nacional de Queluz)
Queluz Palace is an 18th-century Royal palace within the Sintra municipality on the Portuguese Riviera. Built in 1746 she was primarily used as a showpiece for nobility’s parties and banquets.
Designed in the Rococo style, as a summer home, the exquisite beauty and design were built upon in more neoclassic designs when she later housed three generations of Portuguese Royals as the main royal palace until their exile in the early 1900’s.
A highlight of the palace is its surrounding gardens designed for the many court organized parties and events with waterfalls and statues as background for the entertainment that took place during royal occupancy.
Regaleira House (Quinta da Regaleira)
Quinta da Regaleira is a 20th century country house and a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is located on the outskirts of the town of Sintra. It was purchased in 1904, just prior to the exile of the Portuguese monarchy to Brazil.
The main house which sits within the almost 10 acres of land, is five stories and features a decorative Gothic design with turrets and gargoyles. The enchanting gardens were designed to pay homage to the former Portuguese existence of the Knights of Templar with hidden tunnels, secret passages and symbolism in the designs from the order.
Only a 36 minute drive or 1 hour train ride from Lisbon, a visit to Sintra is recommended for exploring the history and romance of the Portuguese monarchy.
While a day trip will give you the highlights of the region, if you want to see all of the above castles and palaces, at least two days are recommended or three or four if you also want to fully immerse in the area and enjoy the nearby wine region of Colares.
A lesser known region of Western Asia is the United Arab Emirates. Made up of 200 exotic but accessible islands off the Arabian Peninsula in the Persian Gulf is an island known as Abu Dhabi.
Historically the region is best known for its connection to the Gulf War of the early 1990’s and the war on terror. But today, the capital of the United Arab Emirates is safe and enticing, offering its visitors luxury and numerous exotic experiences.
The capital of Emirates, Abu Dhabi is a modern city, reflected by skyscrapers throughout the skyline and high end shopping megacenters, but Abu Dhabi also offers parks, traditional gardens and miles and miles of coastline and beaches. Its rise in popularity and attraction to visitors in the past ten years, Abu Dhabi has become a spot for both Hollywood and Bollywood film production as well as a popular destination for the elite.
As a cosmopolitan city you will find a large diversity of cuisine’s. Of course Arab food is popular offering small simple shawarma places and also very luxurious upscale restaurants. What is even more popular is American branding which can now be found throughout the city and Southern Asian cuisine is also very widely available.
So what draws visitors to Abu Dhabi? There are many experiences that attract visitors but here are five highlight reasons to visit:
1. See the Sheikh Zayed Mosque
The modern and beyond grand (241,000 square ft.) mosque is the largest in the country and one is considered a top global attraction. Its design and construction uses the most precious and expensive stones, marble, gold, crystals, and ceramics. The carpet in the main prayer hall was custom designed and is the largest in the world. The building is large enough to safely welcome approximately 41,000 people.
An active mosque, it is a daily place of worship and closed for tourists during normal worship periods. Guided tours are available, good to know is there are dress codes for both men and women when visiting so review requirements in advance.
2. Visit the “New Louvre”
Yes, you read that correctly, Louvre, like the world’s largest art museum in Paris. But this Louvre is found on Abu Dhabi’s adjacent Saadiyat Island in the Cultural District of the Abu Dhabi region. At 260,000 sq ft. it is the largest museum on the Arabian peninsula.
In 2007, an agreement between the city of Abu Dhabi and the French Parliament granted the Arabian city approval to build a completely unrelated arabic version of the mega museum. Part of the agreement included design of the new museum by a French architect.
The museum’s collection includes important works loaned from popular French museums under agreements from Agence France-Muséums and the Musée du Louvre. These include Leonardo Da Vinci’s La Belle Ferronnière, works by Henri Matisse, a self-portrait by Vincent Van Gogh, Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps and Claude Monet’s Gare Saint-Lazare, to name a few.
3. Experience Being a Race Car Driver
Abu Dhabi has been hosting Formula One racing at the Yas Marina Circuit annually in the winter since 2009. So motorsports has become a very popular sport throughout the country.
Home of the Marina Circuit, Yas Island is about 30 minutes from Abu Dhabi. One of the most advanced Formula 1 circuits available, the course races through several long straights and winding tight corners (twenty one to be exact) passing the Yas marina and traveling through the adjacent Yas Hotel.
If racing a Formula 1 vehicle is on your bucket list, you can take on the course for yourself with a driving or passenger experience. Reserve a Ferrari 458 GT, Mercedes AMC GMT, Aston Martin G24 or you can try the real thing in the cockpit of a FormulaYAS 3000. They also offer courses so you can earn your own racing license.
And if you’re more of the racing fan then fanatic, the marina development next to the track has a theme park, a water park, hotels and beaches to enjoy all the area has to offer.
4. Take a Wildlife Safari
Between Abu Dhabi and Qatar on Sir BaniYas Island within a protected nature reserve is almost 3500 acres that is the Arabian Wildlife Park. Reached by car and ferry, boat or plane, this remote island is home to more than 10,000 free roaming animals including giraffes, cheetahs and gazelles.
While on the island there are a number of safari experiences available.
Interact with giraffes from a viewing platform, or take a wildlife drive farther into the park on a desert safari. A five-star luxury hotel and villas on the island allow guests to schedule 4-wheel drive safaris and extended tours to spot Arabian oryx, hyenas and ostriches.
There are also many archaeological religious sites including a Christian monastery. But a highlight of visiting Sir BaniYas island is the desert island geology that meets the coast is the opportunity to take a horseback ride and then rent a kayak to follow one of the shipwreck routes or snorkel among the diverse marine life that surrounds the island.
5. Do an overnight in the Desert
Enjoy the amazing scenery of the inland Al Dhafra region where you will find the largest sand mass in the world. The Rub al Khali or “Empty Quarter” as it is referred to for the amount of desert that it accommodates within the Arabian Peninsula.
Located within the middle of the Empty Quarter desert region is the Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort where you can spend the night and set out to explore some of the biggest dunes outside the Sahara.
Take an off-road adventure to enjoy the scenery that makes up two-thirds of the Abu Dhabi region or take advantage of the opportunity for camel trekking which can also be found here.
One of the best sites of the desert region is the historic town, Liwa at the entrance to the Empty Quarter desert. You will be amazed at the colorful dunes amongst an oasis of approximately 100,000 date palm trees. The town and surrounding desert has been the site for production of some top hollywood blockbuster movies.
Besides the highlighted experiences in Abu Dhabi, the region has become a popular vacation spot for its location, number of activities and modern amenities.
Being a desert area, Abu Dhabi sees year-round sunshine and the summer months can get very hot and humid. For the best temperatures, visit between October and May.
A very bucket list experience, we invite you to explore additional bucket list experiences, from our exotic adventures page.
Spanning central and eastern Europe, the Danube is Europe’s second-longest river at 1,770 miles flowing through or bordering the countries of Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine before draining into the Black Sea.
The Danube flows along the heritage route of Emperors and Kings and some of Europe’s most magnificent cities like, Nuremberg, Regensburg and Passau in Germany, plus four capital cities; Vienna in Austria, Bratislava in Slovakia, Budapest in Hungary and Belgrade in Serbia, making it a popular river for cruising itineraries.
Each country along the Danube has a different culture and different stories related to the river and yet something they all have in common are beautiful cathedrals dating back hundreds of years.
While visiting Europe coincidentally 3 of the most amazing cathedrals are all named St. Stephen’s. But this is where the similarity ends because each offers a very different and unique experience that makes them all worth visiting.
Dom St. Stephen, Passau – Germany
Located where the German border meets the Austrian border is the city of Passau in the lower Bavaria region of Germany.
Within the larger city of Passau is the old town which is popular with visitors for its gothic and baroque architecture.
In the old town is St. Stephen’s Cathedral, built in 1688, today a Catholic church (the diocese of Passau) was created in the baroque style. She is home to the largest cathedral organ in Europe boasting 5 separate organ sections that plays still today from one console.
A gilded pulpit and ten side altars painted by important German artists of the 17th and 18th century.Not to be missed are the church bells of the north and south towers, the dome frescos that run the central nave and the choir and of course the daily organ concert at noon. Note: get there early as tickets tend to sell out during busy tourism periods.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna – Austria
In eastern Austria along the Danube is Austria’s capital city Vienna. One of the most beautiful cities in Europe with many Imperial palaces from influences of a long history of royalty, and the music of some of her famous local residents including Mozart and Beethoven.
Also dedicated to the same bishop as in Passau, St. Stephen, within the central part of historic Vienna is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, commonly known as Stephansdom. Originally built in 1187, the Romanesque and Gothic cathedral that can be seen today from the square outside the front of the cathedral (Stephansplatz) is considered to be the most important religious building and most recognizable symbol in Vienna having stood through many historical events and survived World War II.
From the moment you enter the giant doors at the front of the cathedral, the 18 beautiful alters along the nave and high altar at the opposite end draws you in to view the artistry of the chapels within the north and south towers and to explore the crypt and catacombs on the basement level.
Worth noting, this was the parish of Amadeus Mozart who was an adjunct music director for the church, he was married in the church, baptized his children here and his funeral was held here in the Chapel of the Cross. Mozart is buried at nearby St. Marx cemetery.
St. Stephen Basilica, Budapest – Hungary
Budapest the capital of Hungary, is separated into the old and new by the Danube river and the modern Chain Bridge that connects the historic and hilly Buda with the flat Pest. In the Pest district is landmark cathedral Szent Istvan Bazilika (St. Stephen’s Basilica).
One of the most beautiful churches in the country is a Roman Catholic cathedral built in 1851. Designed in a Neoclassic style, she is most identified by her Neo-Renaissance dome and is also one of the most visited sites in Hungary for her beauty.
Named after the first King of Hungary, St. Stephen I, whose right hand is kept in a reliquary of the church, you can best see the greek cross layout of the basilica from the large square outside of her main entrance.
The beauty of her architecture and artistry within the building, you will want to explore the interior of the church, climb the 364 stairs to the top of the dome (an elevator is available) and stop at the top to overlook the views of the city.
Tip: St. Stephen’s is one of the most photographed buildings in the world, when we visited, we stopped by as the sun was setting, the reflections of the sun onto the buildings created a breathtaking vision.
Beyond the amazingly beautiful cathedrals, there are many reasons to visit each of these beautiful central European cities. To explore these and a few other towns and villages along the way, a river cruise is recommended for the most enjoyment with the least travel time.
The beautiful and modern Basque (translated Euskadi in Spanish and Basque) Country is an autonomous small Spanish community located in the northern region of Spain. Popular to visit for the small villages among the Pyrenees mountains, beautiful coastal cities, beaches, neo-modern architectural landmarks and friendly culture, one of the best reasons to visit is to enjoy the culinary experience.
Basque dining is based in traditional cooking created with detailed preparation that has been preserved and passed on from its origins from the original Basque people. Gastronomy has always been the most important aspect of the region’s culture dating back to the tastes and techniques of the original Basque people.
During the late 20th century a group of young local chefs innovated traditional Basque cooking, merging it with recipes from their popular neighbors in the northeast, France creating a new foodie movement known as New Basque Cuisine.
Today despite the small area of the Basque country, you will find one of the highest number of Michelin rated restaurants per capita (almost 40) throughout the region. Because some of the best chef’s in Spain originate here, Euskadi has grown into a popular destination and developed a reputation for some of the best dining in the world.
The kitchen is the canvas and the local ingredients are the paint that make the cuisine into a gastronomic experience. Seafood is a key component but with wonderful options like lamb and Iberian cured meats, farm grown products and locally produced cheese and wines from the villages and mountains of the region, the primary component in every dish is quality. The key indulgences enjoyed while visiting go beyond the traditional Spanish Tapas and include inventive dining experiences that are found everywhere from the highest rated restaurants to the small cafe and even the local bar.
Still based around the traditional small portion size of tapas, the design and presentation of the offerings have changed. The most popular item, Pintxos (pronounced peen-chose) are finger sized snacks that are created in varying shapes using ingredients from both the sea and the land with primary focus on presentation. Enjoyed with a locally produced cider, fruity sparkling white wine called Txakoli or a local vintage from one of Euskadi’s premiere wine vineyards in Samaniego, Laguardia, Elciego or Labastida the experience is a journey from start to finish.
The three primary cities of the Basque country that are best known for their gastronomic experiences and have received the highest awards for them are Bilbao, San Sebastian and Pamplona.
Bilbao, a port town and the capital of the Basque Country is popular for its famed art and architecture but is also a prime location for finding a large offering of Pintxos whose presentation match the artistry seen within the city’s local experience.
The beautiful seaside resort town of San Sebastian on the Bay of Biscay offers nine Michelin starred restaurants including many within the old quarter – Donostia making it one of the best places for food driven travelers in the world. Here you will also find locally inspired Pintxos called “Gilda” created with locally sourced green olives, spicy pickled peppers, anchovies in addition to more traditional menu options like Salt Cod and local daily fish dishes.
Perhaps you have heard of the city Pamplona which is best known for its annual Running of the Bulls festival every July. Pamplona is also home to four Michelin starred restaurants serving their local version of pintxos and popular stew dishes.
As Pablo Picasso once said, “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction”. The story of gastronomy in the Basque Country is a tale of tradition and re-creation, an expression of the skills and the imaginations here that continue to expand the practice of cooking and eating amazing food.
Learn more about Food and Wine travel experiences from our here.
When you think of Egypt, your mind immediately goes to pyramids, desert and the cradle of civilization. Egypt is a bucket list venue, it is exploration, archaeology, archaic monuments and more or less venturing into a world embraced by Indiana Jones.
Traveling to Egypt as one of the most luxurious places in the world like Rome, Dubai or New York city it is hard to imagine that Egypt would rise to the level of modern amenities and opulence that you would find in one of these other locations. But it does, with many options for high-end accommodations, spas, golf, sun and sea and even diving to make your bucket list experience a well rounded luxury experience.
A country that is part of the continent of Africa, Egypt’s culture is more associated with the middle east. And yes while it does date back to ancient civilization to the time of Pharaohs, millennia old monuments, tombs and ancient historical relics, all were centered around the luxuries of the time. Even during the Greek and Roman Empire, Egypt was the playground of the rich and powerful. So as Egypt has become a modern city, it is not unexpected that it is to this day filled with luxuries and affluence just as it was many thousands of years ago.
In fact Egypt in 2019, was a top spot for visiting elite (billionaires) who were flocking to the many locales that make Egypt so alluring:
The capital city of Egypt, set on the Nile river has a history that dates back to the 26th Century BC. But today’s Cairo is a modern city with over 9 million residents. It is the largest city in Egypt and the largest within the middle east.
Cairo boasts some of the most beautiful and luxurious hotels in the middle east. The Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton, Sofitel and St. Regis to name a few are all present. Additionally there are many options for boutique brands with postcard-like amenities for the ultimate experience.
Travelers also have many unique options, like a stay at luxury hotels centered around archeology, dating back to the colonial era offering acres of landscaped gardens and the splendors of the old-world providing views off your balcony of the ancient Pyramids.
Today’s Cairo is a food destination, offering high end dining experiences with fine dining and Michelin rated to local standouts for superior dining experience. Le Pacha 1901, once a floating palace, is today a dining and entertainment facility on the Nile in Cairo offering 8 award winning restaurants.
Explore Cairo on private tours with English-speaking Egyptologists to the pyramids and many other historical sites that draw visitors with exclusive VIP experiences escorting you to the highlights of the area in luxury and based on your travel style.
Luxor to Aswan along the Nile River
Travel the Nile river as the Pharaohs once did between Luxor and Aswan visiting archeological sites and temples with breathtaking ancient views that still reflect a time when the eastern banks of the Nile were the place of birth and growth and the west bank was reserved for the eternal rest of royalty as their place of death.
The best way to experience this part of the Nile is on a luxury river cruise from Luxor, the original Egyptian capital, to Aswan. Enjoy the bucket list panoramic views as you travel the waters from your luxury ship’s balcony. If you prefer to stay on land near Luxor, today a modern day city, travelers can find refuge in luxury boutique hotels featuring inspirations of ancient Egyptian history and architecture.
When visiting Aswan you will also find a luxurious five star private resort on Elephantine Island located in the middle of the Nile river. The hotel is completely surrounded by elegant gardens with modern rooms offering amazing views of Aswan across the Nile. Explore Aswan and her islands as the ancients did, by felucca, an oar driven boat with sails, symbolic of the region.
Alexandria is a port city in Northern Egypt on the Mediterranean sea. The second largest city in Egypt and the largest city on the Mediterranean, her history has influences of Greek, roman and Cleopatra’s Egypt. Today Alexandria is referred to as the “Pearl of the Mediterranean” for her cooler weather, location on the sea and modern amenities, making her a popular locale for resident summer visitors.
The city, founded in 331 BC, by Alexander the Great, is home to the Alexandria Lighthouse one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the great library and the necropolis catacombs both considered seven wonders of the middle ages among many other Roman ruins that still stand scattered throughout the city today.
With its rich history, Alexandria is historic yet also contemporary with modern skyscrapers, and experiences throughout the culturally-rich city. At two miles wide and 12 miles long it is often compared to Nice in France. As one of the lesser visited Egyptian cities, there is a strong attraction for high end visitors looking for less touristy yet high luxury regions to visit.
You will find multiple 5 star hotels along the coast offering luxury accommodations, dining, entertainment, spa services and may also offer private beaches.
The Red Sea Riviera
A lesser known destination on the Northeastern African continent, along the Red sea in Egypt connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea. The region offers a relaxing and luxurious cosmopolitan beach resort experience.
Enjoyable climate, warm sea, many miles of shore and multiple underwater parks make this a popular scuba diving and surfing destination.
Made up of resort cities along the western shore of the Gulf of Aqaba and the eastern coast of mainland Egypt offering inclusive luxury resorts providing pampering spa treatments, championship golf, beautiful beaches, high end dining, local entertainment, snorkeling and diving all are strategically placed along the coast for intimate relaxation and fun.
For anyone wanting a more private beach destination away from the popular Red Sea resorts, Agiba Beach in Marsa Matrouh offers a remote beach and the Fjord hole a small bay outside Taba is another option for its spectacular diving and amazing display of marine life.
Egypt can be so much more then adventure but a truly luxurious bucket list experience. If you would like to discover the culture of old and modern Egypt spending a few days in Cairo and then traveling from Luxor on a 7 day river journey, discover more about river cruising with the option of some additional time in historical Alexandria or the resorts of the Red Sea.
On the Danube river, is the capital, largest city and cultural center of Slovakia – Bratislava.
Found in the southwestern part of Slovakia along the middle Danube where Slovakia borders Austria and Hungary, this southern country was once part of the former communist Czechoslovakia. The Eastern Bloc remnants can still be seen today surrounding the small historic downtown that is today the seat of power for Slovakian government.
A popular stop for tourists coming in on river cruises, Bratislava on average will receive close to a million visitors a year. The main attraction is the Braslav Castle which sits high over the city dating back to the Hapsburg influence of the mid 1500’s.
Other popular sites to visit are concentrated within the medieval old town including the Town Hall that surrounds the main square, many Gothic cathedrals and baroque palaces built in the 18th century during the reign of Maria Theresa that today house the President and the current Slovakian government.
The small town can easily be explored in just a few hours which leaves plenty of time to enjoy some of Bratislava’s best dining.
Here is a list of 5 locations to eat like a local when visiting Bratislava:
Bistro SOHO (Dunajská):
A small storefront Bistro located in Old Town Bratislava in the Old Market Hall.
Asian inspired freshly prepared large portions and freshly curated desserts, plus a coffee bar, large offering of asian teas, botanically brewed soft drinks, rotating local beers and local wines makes this popular for its food and service.
All of their meals are gluten free and they cater to special dietary needs so it is perfect for the discerning diner.
This affordable and cozy bistro is very popular with both locals and tourists so reservations are recommended. Even with a reservation, the bistro is petite which is part of her charm so expect a wait. English menus are available.
A small hidden find located set down the street behind the President Garden in downtown Bratislava. This diamond in the rough is best known as the place to get local home style Slovakian crepes in Bratislava.
Don’t let the exterior of the creperie which is inexpensive sway you, the high quality desserts are worth the visit for a large variety of sweet and savory pancake choices.
Close to the Franza Liszta tram stop, she well frequented by locals and tourists who are recommended off reviews as one of the best dessert stops in Bratislava. At only .35 euro (less then .50 per pancake) you can sample many of their tasty options. It is also possible to combine flavors to create your own custom crepe.
English menu’s are available, there is no dining inside and expect a wait.
Sky Bar Restaurant Bratislava:
A 3 minute walk from the St. Martin’s Cathedral, sitting high above Bratislava the Sky Bar restaurant offers one of the best city views of Bratislava Castle and the old town.
A modern bar and restaurant lcoated on the 7th floor of the Lemontree restaurant building, for a real treat, head up to the 8th floor patio.
This experience is perfect for outdoor dining with drinks and views after exploring the downtown Bratislava area.
The menu is a combination of Thai and Slovakian fused recipes. Pricing is on the higher end for Slovakian dining, a la carte dining is approximately $20 per dish.
Also offering appetizers, crafted cocktails or a wine menu with popular Slovakian and European vintages. Reservations are recommended.
FABRIKA the beer pub:
Beer has been a favorite in Slovakia since the 15th century and here you can enjoy house made brews at this pub, restaurant, coffee, rum and wine bar.
The pub brews its trademark pilsner which can be found on draught along with crafted lagers, weizens, APA’s and seasonals to try individually or in a flight.
The full menu is filled with tasty pub fare from their popular burger to more locally based menu items, soups and salads that span every type of food.
Also offering a full bar in addition to the extensive wine list and rums from around the globe. This lively spot is attached to a trendy hotel just a 10 minute walk outside Michael’s Gate in the old city.
Easily accessible to visit with relaxing outdoor seating and community tables for larger groups.
Reservations are recommended for larger groups and can be made online from their website.
The top rated restaurant in the area is located outside the historic area and is all about burgers and beer.
This eco friendly farm to table restaurant offers house ground burgers, cooked to order, and homemade fries served with custom made sauces to accompany your rosemary or garlic herb fries.
The burgers are priced under $12.50, and are served along well priced local beers, cider, spirits and wine providing many options for anyone looking for a taste of the U.S.
There is always a wait due to the popularity of the restaurant and they are so sure that you will enjoy their burgers, listed on the menu is the option to buy the chef’s a round of beer in appreciation of your burger-gastronomy experience.
Offering English menu’s, reservations are accepted for dinner. Stop by for lunch and grab a seat.
Bratislava is an old city that is today influenced by its current seat of government offering many modern options to enjoy both the old and new.
As a small town, the best way to experience Bratislava is by river cruise. Learn more about cruising the Danube river from our websiteand enjoy Slovakia among some of central Europe’s best and most beautiful medieval cities.
On the southern tip of South Africa along the Atlantic is Cape Town. Known as the “Mother City” as the original city established in S. Africa by Europeans in 1652.
The location of Cape Town along the Atlantic coast is original for being a cosmopolitan city that sits among a beautiful landscape of mountains, ocean and also offering some of the best beaches in the world.
Visiting Cape Town for its history, culture, friendly people, wildlife or for her landscape, a beach visit is a must with many options:
Atlantic Seaboard – on Cape Town’s western coast, the suburbs of Clifton and Camp Bay have the top real estate in S. Africa and the area’s top beaches with its white sand beaches and crystal clear water. Sitting on the Atlantic side of the peninsula and facing west for amazing sunset views and views of Table Mountain are another reason for the popularity of the beaches in this region.
Clifton Beach and it’s 4 coves (Beaches 1 – 4)
Considered one of the top if not the best beaches in Cape Town, Clifton beach is located off the affluent Clifton neighborhood in the Cape Town region.
Composed of 4 beaches separated by Granite boulders, called coves, the area attracts many locals and visitors for its powdery white sand and easy access for water sports.
Uniquely due to the geography of the region, the warmest waters will be found in the winter months (May – August) when temperatures will reach 68 degrees as opposed to the summer months (November – February) when the water will reach maximum highs of 50 degrees.
Popular for wave and body surfing, plus boogie boarding the largest waves are found at 1st beach and the calmest are at 4th beach.
1st beach is a popular surfing destination and where you will find the majority of the serious water lovers.
2nd beach is popular with the teen and college crowd who spend their days playing volleyball, frisbee and other sand activities.
3rd beach is the smallest in area and is known as a destination for the LGBTQ crowd looking for a more intimate setting.
Families can be found at 4th beach where you will also find yachts that anchor near 4th beach due to its calm waters and easy shore access.
Camps Bay Beach
15 minutes from central Cape Town and also located on the Atlantic Ocean, at the base of the Twelve Apostles mountain range near Table Mountain is Camps Bay Beach.
The village of Camps Bay, like Clifton is an affluent neighborhood of South Africa. Camps Bay offers the largest white sand beach within a small bay off the western coast of the Cape Town peninsula.
The largest of the beaches in the Atlantic Seaboard area is located within a popular tourist area with hotels, bed and breakfasts and villa accommodations plus offering acclaimed restaurants, cafe’s, bars and nightclubs for a one stop visit location at the beach.
The beautiful views from the beach here has made it a popular wedding destination within South Africa for ceremonies on the beach or at one of the nearby resorts.
West Coast beaches – offering long, sandy beaches to the North of Cape Town. These beaches are popular for kite-surfing and windsurfing due to the wind and surf conditions.
On the shores of Table Bay is a small seaside town located about 15 miles North of Cape Town. A mostly residential area, it’s northern location with consistent winds and cooler waters attracts visitors as the ideal location for windsurfing and kite-surfing enthusiasts.
The Bloubergstrand beach region lies within a marine nature reserve protecting the endangered Cape Rock lobster and abalone.
Another popular reason to visit the beach at Bloubergstrand is for the views of Table Mountain across the bay making it a picturesque spot.
During the S. African winter, this is the place to come for sightings of killer whale, dolphin and fur seals. Otherwise beautiful views of Table Mountain across the bay and for its uncrowded pristine beach makes it worth the visit anytime.
False Bay – Just shy of an hours drive from central Cape Town, the “C” shaped coastline is a picturesque region of the S. Africa to the southeast of Table Mountain along the east side of the rocky Cape Peninsula.
Simon’s Town located just over the mountains from Cape Town has a sheltered beach that sits between 540 million year old boulders which is how it received its name. A popular location for visitors but not for its sand and sea but for its local residents.
Boulders beach is the home of the Africa penguin who can only be found along the South African coastline and are protected by the Cape Nature Preservation due to their current status of extinction.
Boulders is one of the only locations to get close enough to observe the birds in their natural habitat as they wander the beach.
Tip: Head over to nearby Foxy beach for an even better view of the feathered birds with boardwalks to view the birds from above.
One of the longest beaches in the area covers 20 kilometers (12 miles)
A beach side suburb of Cape Town, in the western Cape region, this beach town is the top surf destination. Due to it’s warmer waters (can hit up to 58 degrees) and consistent swell of waves, surfing here dates back over a hundred years accounting for it’s popular surf culture and where many come to learn to surf, or sample riding the S. African waters.
The beautiful wide beach is flanked with colorful beach cottages on the beachfront. Venture a little farther down the beach and you will find picturesque Victorian bath houses that date back to the heyday of the beach’s history in the 1800’s.
Like the historic beach huts, this beach is all about simple good old fashioned beach fun and is the perfect setting for swimming, gathering, learning to surf and sun-bathing.
Adjacent to the beach you will find cafe’s, restaurants, boutiques and surf shops for the full beach resort town experience.
Africa is a bucket list destination for wildlife and exploration. When planning an African experience, South Africa is a must see and a visit to beautiful Cape Town is highly recommended.
For more information on how to explore Africa, visit our webpage.
Do you enjoy drinking wine? Perhaps may be you are a wine enthusiast? When wine is your passion, or you would like it to be, the best place to start a wine experience is at the beginning…. The Old World of Viticulture (winegrowing).
The art of winemaking dates back thousands of years in Europe related to , geography, geography and even history. Some of the best and oldest vines can be experienced traveling some of todays most popular cities in Europe.
While there may be many wine regions accessible to these five cities, I chose to focus primarily on the key wine regions.
When you think of wine the first country that comes to mind is France. When you think of France, the first city that comes to mind is Paris. The “City of Lights” is a cosmopolitan city situated along the Seine river and is a global center for fashion, art, gastronomy, and culture. The city draws the attraction of visitors for its distinctive architecture, streets lined with patisserie shops, art movements, revolutions and culture.
But venture away from Paris and you can discover some equally amazing towns and villages that all have something in common, wine.
Burgundy & Rhone
Burgundy is a historical department in the eastern central part of France. The wine region of Burgundy is located within the department along the Saone river, a tributary of the Rhone, the largest river in France and one of the major rivers of Europe.
Just an hour and half from Paris by high speed train, Dijon is the capital of the department, a cultural center that today is represented by the historical past and the modern present. The old city of Dijon is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the beginning of the Burgundy wine trail that extends south from Dijon.
Burgundy wines are separated into four classifications with the wines being named after the district, village or vineyard that the grapes are grown in instead of classified by the grapes themselves.
The majority of wines in the Burgundy region will originate from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes.
Cote d’or is the heart of the Burgundy wine region with red wines specializing in Chablis in the northern Cote de nuit region and roses blending Pinot Noir with Chardonnay grapes in the southern Cote de Beaune.
Further south of the Burgundy regions you will find the Beaujolais region and the Rhone regions.
Beaujolais produces the most famous French wine appropriately named Beaujolais which is a lighter red wine made from the Gamay grape.
The Rhone Valley region is also worth a visit starting in the city of Lyon today still represented by its medieval and renaissance architecture with additional influences dating back to ancient Roman influence. Moving south from Lyon along the Rhone river is where you will find vineyards producing red wines from Syrah and Grenache grapes.
Champagne is not just the name of sparkling wine, it is also the region in France that is known for the creation and production of champagne.
Located about 2 hours northeast of Paris, in the cooler region of France half way to the Luxembourg border.
Although not exactly wine, Champagne is a blend of grapes primarily from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier grapes and sometimes blended with additional other grapes from other vineyards. The blends are double fermented and sugar is added to create the bubbly creation.
If you are looking for a day trip outside of Paris, Champagne is the perfect location to explore. Don’t miss the popular champagne house of Maison de Champagne Taittinger or Maison Mumm, stop by Tau Palace and of course your visit would not be complete without a visit to the Moet & Chandon Champagne cellars.
Bordeaux & Loire Valley
While not an easy day trip from Paris, the Bordeaux region is the top wine region in France and still easily accessible from the “City of Lights” deserves mention.
An 8 hour high speed train from Paris takes you to Bordeaux which is the most prominent center of the wine region in France with currently over 13,000 growers, the history of wine here dates back to the ancient Romans.
Located in Southwestern France, Bordeaux is both the name of the city and the region. The city of Bordeaux sits on the Garonne river and is a UNESCO world heritage site for her historical buildings and 18th century architecture.
The Bordeaux wine region is separated into 3 sub-regions;
The left bank where they primarily grow Cabernet Sauvignon but you can also find sweet whites blended from Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes called White Bordeaux.
The Right Bank offers smoother Merlot grapes and the Entre Deux Mers (between two seas) is where they grow many options of everyday table wines. Each location offers its own beautiful communes and vineyards to explore and appreciate the region in addition to the vintages they offer.
Good to know, the bulk of harvest takes place in mid-September, although picking can continue through October.
Before heading back to Paris spend a few days visiting Chateaus in the Loire Valley, another popular wine region in France.
The Loire Central valley is known for its white wines, the Sauvignon Blanc grapes which produce the lighter bodied Sancerre and fruitier, fuller bodied Pouilly Fume.
The home to the renaissance period in Italy, Florence in central Italy along with Rome and Venice are the most popular Italian destinations to visit. Spending time in Florence offers so much to do and see but escaping the city and crowds of Florence can offer an amazing journey into local food and wine. Top this all with a few days in the area that creates some of Italy’s most notable wines for the perfect Tuscan wine experience.
Italy has grown into one of the top wine regions and at the center of it all is the Tuscan region. Tuscano as it is known in Italian, is located in the central to western area of Italy. The capital is the historic city of Florence and the well known growing region, just outside the city, of Chianti is at the historic center of wine in Italy.
Pass beautiful rolling hills, cypress trees, forests and olive groves as you drive the windy roads with sites of historic hilltop castles that set the stage for the miles and miles of vineyards that surround them and attract travelers to explore the region and sample her wines.
The Tuscan sun makes it the perfect location for Sangiovese, the primary grape of Tuscany. Chianti is where you can find the well known varietal of Chanti Classico and Chianti Rufina. Further south visit the Montalcino growing region to indulge in Brunello di Montalcino also from the Sangiovese grape. Or head west to the warmer region of Bolgheri located between Chianti and the Tyrrhenian sea for the newer arrival to the Italian wine world, “Super Tuscan” wine.
Frankfurt, in central Germany, is one of her largest cities and is also a major financial center. With both historical and modern architecture there are many sites to visit including museums, cultural centers, gardens and nightlife. centered around an international airport that connects most of Europe and the United States. Frankfurt’s central location also makes it a key starting point for connecting by air or rail to most any city in Central Europe.
Germany is best known for its white wines that are grown in 13 regions throughout the country. However less than a 2 hour drive from Frankfurt is the key winemaking area, the Mosel wine region.
The Mosel river is a tributary of the Rhine river and is considered by many to be the most beautiful river in Germany. The Mosel wine route that runs along the river is 311km (194 miles) starting in France and goes down into Germany leading you to and past some 26,000 acres of key French and German vineyards and wineries.
The largest growth area along the Mosel and the most beautiful to see from the water is the middle Mosel where the best of the best for the region are grown along the sloped terraced vineyards.
Starting in the city of Bernkastel, a key wine center you will find timber-homes and a medieval village as you follow the river as it curves stopping along the way at some of the small romantic towns and villages each with its own personality and story as you head north to Koblenz.
A bicycle path runs along the middle region of the Mosel all the way to Koblenz. But unless you have a full day (10+ hours) with stops, ending in Cochem, will give you a full day’s experience.
There are so many reasons for visiting Barcelona. The regional capital of Catalonia offers beautiful beaches, historic sites, art, music, culture and is well known for it’s fine dining. With gastronomy being a central part of Spanish culture it is no surprise that wine would be part of the equation.
Easily reached within an hour’s drive from Barcelona, the Penedès wine growing region offers quaint villages, scenic mountain views and of course, wineries.
Penedès is considered the best wine in the Catalonia region and is also one of the best wine regions in Spain after the Rioja region in the Northeastern part of Spain. One of the oldest wine regions in Europe, Penedès has vines that date back to Phoenician occupation of the area in the 6th Century BC.
With its location near the Mediterranean and other micro-climates, the area is best recognized for it’s white and rose Cava (greek style) sparkling wine made from local Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel·lo grapes and red wines from the Spanish black grapes, Tempranillo and Grenache.
The Penedès region is the location of the most modern wines that are produced in Spain today with hundreds of vineyards that include both large growers and also family owned vineyards. The most well known in the region is family owned, Bodegas Torres for their still wines and large grower Freixenet, for Cava, as the largest producer in the world.
The capital of Portugal is a beautiful coastal city on the North Atlantic. Also popular for its beaches, the city’s pastel buildings, old historic regions, rich architecture (representing many periods), prominent museums, galleries and artistic influences offers many options for the traveler.
But, less than a 3 hours drive from Lisbon is the Upper (Alto) Douro wine region, a UNESCO World Heritage site for the wine complexes, villages, chapels and roads that were all constructed around the winemaking process that occurs here.
Portuguese wine of the Douro like many of the towns and cities of Portugal dates back to Roman occupation in the 3rd – 4th centuries AD. But the region itself really took form as a key wine region during the medieval period around the 12th century when Catholic Monks embraced the practice of winemaking creating table wines.
The 17th century brought an expansion of the wine industry along the Douro and the development of Port wine. Today Port is the most popular wines of the Douro region using a large number of grape varieties that are grown on terraced vineyards along the river. Each vineyards Port are unique blends of wines that are only found from the specific vineyard who produces it creating originality of the wines only to Portugal and the Douro region.
Port was named after the city of Porto since this was the area that packaged and exported the popular wines created along the Upper Douro river. Porto is the second largest city in Portugal next to Lisbon, is also on the Iberian Peninsula and is where the Douro river meets the N. Atlantic Ocean. The region is a UNESCO World Heritage site as one of the oldest European cities dating back to the Roman Empire.
You can travel the Douro river from Porto by car, train or along the river itself for scenic day trips or for the best views of the region spend at least 2 – 3 days exploring the villages and wineries.
Where to next?
Old World wine holds a very special place in many key cities in Europe, making it an additional reason to visit and explore the cities and their surrounding regions.
Because the majority of the old world vineyards can be found along the river banks, one of the best ways to explore and experience these regions is by river cruise.
A seven day river cruise will not only immerse you in the areas, familiarizing you with the local towns, cultures and vineyards but also provide you a relaxing boutique experience while unpacking just once.
Are you curious about exploring some of these cities and would like to know if river cruising is for you and next steps? Take our quiz to receive an immediate match of your personality to river cruising as well as free information.
Stay tuned for our New World wine options coming soon!
At an uncertain time with so many unknowns, it is always exciting when there is some good news to share.
French Polynesia after a few months of being Covid-free has reopened for international travelers on July 15 and yes, that includes Americans.
French Polynesia is made up of islands in the South Pacific that include the Society Islands (Tahiti, Bora Bora & Moorea), Marquesas and Tuamotu’s islands and atolls.
Best known for its crystal blue waters the region is perfect for snorkeling, scuba diving and fishing among many other water based activities and its beautiful beaches.
Here romantic vacations in over-the-water bungalows in luxurious and tropical resorts is the paradise that travelers dream of.
When you feel its the right time, you too can get there. It is always recommended that you monitor the current situation on the Tahiti tourism site and track the requirements for travel before proceeding with planning.
Although this is great news for the weary traveler looking for adventure, the tasks required to travel are currently quite rigid so the French Polynesian government can maintain their zero level of cases.
Some of these current requirements include providing proof of negative results from a RT-PCR test before boarding a flight, receipt of health registration with the French Polynesian government, traceability form completion at arrival into the region and mandatory self – testing 4 days post arrival.
These are in addition to any requirements of the air, hotel and tour suppliers which also need to be verified before proceeding with travel.
But if escaping to a paradise to find your own piece of salty earth to relax mask free is on your agenda, you now have an option for a location that is on many’s bucket list.
Travel safe, stay healthy and protect yourself and others so together we can all enjoy paradise once again.
Travel has been on hiatus for months now leaving many with quarantine fatigue. Domestic vacations or weekend get-a ways may have taken visitors to a change of scenery, but the overall feeling is one of loss and disappointment.
The biggest question I have been getting is, I need a change of scenery, where can I go right now. The short answer is for right now, stay home!
Still many are currently reluctant to proceed especially internationally, if borders were to open up and according to recent studies over 50% of American’s need more time until they are ready for international journeys.
While 2020 is still uncertain with international travel bans, limited access to flights, slow down of state department facilities like passport offices and the overall unknown of the end of the pandemic, heading off into the sunset may be currently out of the question.
But tourism is not dead!!!! The opportunity will present itself and when it does, will you be prepared for it????
Having a plan, an itinerary and possibly even a soft commitment saves lots of time and maybe even more money as others are scrambling to figure it out and commit with increased costs, less availability and more competition.
Lack of current options leaves many dreaming about their next vacation. With pent up demand, why not commit to your dream and take the opportunity to have a plan to make it a reality, a long term goal that is set in motion?
I am not guaranteeing that 2021 will be problem free, but with vaccine’s predicted in the near future, it is expected that by summer of 2021 or later – 2022, we can once again experience more normal expectations for travel.
So how do you start to plan your dream vacation in a time of uncertainty? Here are 6 steps to get you on the road to your next “dream” vacation to make it all worth the wait.
Don’t miss the end for our tip on how to save yourself time, value and planning on Steps 3 – 5.
Step 1 – Pick a Location
There are many options for how to plan where. Do you have a bucket list? That was easy! You have a list of places to start reviewing to see if they are still list worthy.
Perhaps you love to search Pinterest, create a board of your favorite’s with pics. that you would like to visit.
Research the locations that are top of mind that you have always wanted to visit, talked about visiting, dreamed about visiting. Research is a much easier task today with the internet and Google to view the local destination visitor bureaus to research. Check google groups or tripadvisor for experts in the region(s) you want to visit to ask questions and get the information that you are searching for.
Step 2 – Pick a date or date range
View your destination on Google maps and get a feel for location.
The first question should be when is the best time to visit? Is it a coastal town or city that you want to visit in the warmer months, or is it a mountainous or a lake region that you can visit almost throughout the year, unless you are avoiding the cold and possible bad weather periods. If visiting a large city, when is the best and worst time to visit? You don’t want to be in Italy Easter week when all the shops, sites and many restaurants may be closed for celebration.
Is there a high season and a low season, when are those periods and what are the advantages and disadvantages of either options, ie. overcrowded with tourists, or minimal tourists but limited access to places you want to visit?
What is the weather during the time you want to visit? Rain, snow and extreme heat can affect your experience if you are not prepared or inclined to navigate through them.
Step 3 – Set a budget
Depending on how far out you are planning your vacation can affect the cost of your experience. The earlier you commit, usually the better availability and pricing you will find, when availability first opens. But not all options are available if planning a year or more out and costs may need to be estimated for the time period based on the current costs for the same dates in the current travel year or booking period (peak, standard, shoulder or off peak). Expect approximately a 10% – 15% price increase per calendar year.
Cruise and tour providers offer itineraries 1.5 – 3 years in advance and generally offer their best pricing when itineraries are released.
Hotel and land providers won’t have availability usually until a year or less prior when they renegotiate their contracts with groups and open space.
Air and Rail open their itineraries 11 months or less and depending on if they are international or intra-national in many cases rail may not become available until 90 days prior.
Sites and museums may require tickets for entry, most release them 60 – 90 days prior to the visit date and can sell out quickly for prime dates!
Don’t forget to budget for those things that you may need but have not planned for like insurance, passports, Visa’s (if needed) luggage, international phone plans…..
Step 4 – How will I travel
This can be the hardest part. Without knowing what the future holds, how do you know what may be in your best interest to meet your goals and have the assurances that you will be able to journey safely?
You do not have to pave your own path, the good news is there are many options;
Ocean cruising – starting with the obvious, despite the bad press that cruising is getting right now from the CDC, ships have been anchored since March and yet the numbers on land continue to rise. This shows us that cruising was not the problem. In preparation for the future, cruise lines are initiating safety protocols, limited capacity and they have protocols to protect crew and guests for an enjoyable experience in the future and provide an opportunity to transport guests to multiple countries for immersion with many experiences, unpacking once.
River cruising – although you are on a small ship, you are journeying through countries, on yacht style ships comparable to floating boutique hotels. With accommodations for less than 200 guests and further restrictions currently at 100 or less, in my opinion, this can not only provide a safe option but also offer the most normal experience once we can start traveling again. River cruising is also one of my favorite experiences for immersion, inclusion and experience.
Small group tours – accommodating 15 or less passengers exploring together using large motor coaches for social distancing, local guides, set planned out itineraries with a concierge companion guide, they have even incorporated contactless luggage transport, everything is thought out and pre-planned for a safe and yet immersive experience. There are small group tour options for all sorts of experiences and interests including biking, hiking, culinary, wine, less active…..
Independent travel – exploring on your own does not have to be 100% a solo adventure. Independent travel companies can guide you on the details of planning out an itinerary, arranging private transport and transfers, setting accommodations that meet your needs, planning for local guides and experiences and the best part is they are completely customizable to your wants. These companies will know how each of their local suppliers they work with have prepared for your arrival and safety and offer you an on the ground contact to assist with any requests or changes during your visit for a seamless experience.
Step 5 – Commit to your dates
When you feel comfortable and you know the “when”, “where”. “how” and “what”, you can lock into your plans when exactly what you want is available and early booking discounts and promotions are being offered. Which is generally when amenities are first made available.
Most suppliers require a small deposit and the bulk of the funds are not due until 90 – 120 days prior to the start of your journey. Confirm this when committing so you know all your options. Many suppliers also offer air options with protections should your plans change.
If committing with non-refundable deposits, confirm what all your options for moving or rebooking should any concerns or fears for your future dates arise.
Now you can sit back and know that you are one step from your dream experience. You can be comfortable with knowing where you stand and what your options are in the future. But most of all, you can now dream about your future experience knowing that it is waiting for you.
Step 6 – Prepare to travel
Preparation can be the longest process and may take 6 months or more in advance of the beginning of your journey. These may include getting or renewing passports, purchasing insurance to protect you and your investment from the unexpected, Visa’s that may be required to visit more exotic locales, health checks and inoculation requirements for countries that you will be visiting, purchasing luggage and/or other items like walking shoes, hats, updating your telephone plans for international travel…. All to prepare you for your nearing adventure.
Our Tip –
OK as promised, our tip on how to save yourself time, value and planning for your dream vacation.
….. Use a Travel Advisor!
I am not trying to be self-serving because I am a travel advisor. Based on what I have seen these past 5 months, since the pandemic arrived on our door steps, has assured me that working with not just an advisor but, one who specializes in the location(s) you want to visit and the suppliers you want to work with can provide you the most bang for your buck.
A specialist will know the information that you need inside and out, can be your best advocate for attaining your goals, should be 100% committed to your journey and if anything comes up, they have relationships with the vendors to guide and assist you. They can also keep you on track for all the milestones between your planning and your arrival home. Like myself, not all advisors charge a service fee, but regardless, the small fee is worth the cost of a seamless dream vacation.
In summary, when the time is right and you need to guide all the pent up travel energy into focus is the perfect time to start exploring your options, waiting may only offer limitations.
If you would like to know a little more about the “Best Way to Visit” your destination(s), check out our Personality Quiz that matches your personality to your travel style and the experience best suited for you.
“River cruising, that is for older less active people”. That is the common stereotype and based on the cruise line can be somewhat true.
But, what if I told you that the industry has evolved and river cruising is so much more then just a vehicle for transporting you to remote river towns so you can disembark for a bus ride and possibly a stop for lunch? Would you believe me?
Possibly not and until I experienced it for myself, I may have not believed me either.
Now I know how a river cruise can boost your travel experience;
Travel Through Countries
Arrive into a must see city that sits on or near a European river. Start in Paris, Amsterdam, Budapest, Vienna, Prague or Lisbon just to name a few. Imagine spending a few days engulfing yourself in a beautiful city taking in the sites, sounds and tastes of the local culture. Culture is one of the characteristics that makes these urban cities a must visit and perfect way to start your journey. Explore the beautiful gardens, historic locations, iconic buildings and enjoy the local gastronomy.
Then from that city you embark on a voyage that takes you through Europe’s beautiful countries. Experience them as they have been seen for hundreds of years from their waterways. This is truly the best reason to embark on a river cruise. Get to know the cities, countries and regions you are visiting intimately boosting your travel experience.
The travel experience takes you on a journey to explore the many beautiful landscapes of Europe on a single itinerary. Transporting you from the mountainous regions of southern Europe, along the hills of the uplands, the rolling plains and lowlands to the mouth of the rivers where they empty into greater and inland seas, lakes or urban cities.
Sight castles and monasteries as you glide past them, witness endless miles of vineyards as they seasonally change color, embrace the vision of medieval architecture and modern bridges. As you spot historic villages and approach cities that have been beautifully built and to this day flourish along the rivers offering fantastic views into the past and present before you even arrive into your destination for the day.
The changing scenery and beautiful views can only viewed from your private yacht as it transports you from point to point on a breathtaking journey and is another way a river cruise will boost your travel experience.
Your ship is not just your vehicle for moving you along the river banks. A “floating boutique hotel”, offering you mostly all-inclusive modern luxuries from arrival to departure is another way to boost your travel experience.
Arriving at the ship, a bellman collects your luggage so you can check into your cabin from the lobby desk and quickly transports you both to your stateroom so you can unpack and settle in with a quick nap or with time to relax on your private balcony.
Ready for some activity, head out to the fitness room or sun deck for some exercise or a dip in the pool. Need a beverage or a bite to eat, there is always something available for you when you need or want it. When it is time for your next meal, try regional favorites at the restaurant style dining room offering locally inspired menus and locally sourced cuisine to enjoy with a glass of regional wine or beer to accompany your meal.
After dinner you can sit back and enjoy local entertainment before you retire to your bed to awake the next morning in a new locale. When you awake, enjoy a cup of coffee on your balcony or take advantage of the many breakfast options available before heading out to venture your next destination.
Regardless if you are an early riser or prefer to sleep in, the extensive time you have for visiting your destination allows you to travel on your terms. When you return to the ship, relax with a local spirit or wine as you wind down and reflect on your day. Most ships offer spa and beauty services as well as laundry service to round out your “floating hotel” experience.
The small size of the ships, allowing for up to 200 passengers or less, provide unique opportunities to boost your travel experience.
With high staff to guest ratios, you get personalized service with staff who get to know your wants, needs and habits and are personally available to assist you if and when you need it. Having a room steward who has the extra towels available for you daily, the servers who know your name and drink of choice, or the chef who remembers how you like your eggs cooked, personal service is provided for you every step of the way.
With less people on board, that provides more space for you to enjoy the restaurants and lounges without waiting in lines or feeling crowded. It also offers an intimate experience among the other passengers who are traveling with you.
Travel styles like guests are unique but most travelers when visiting new destinations are looking for the opportunity to immerse in the places they are visiting.
Onboard concierge and cruise managers can guide you to the off the beaten path destinations or assist you with reaching some of the more popular not to be missed venues.
River cruises port for extended periods of time and it is not uncommon for them to overnight in the larger cities to allow you additional time to fully explore them. Leave the ship to enjoy dinner or attend a concert, hire a driver or jump on a train and explore further regions. Want to spend extra time in a city meet up with the ship in the next port. You have control over your experience and the opportunity to fully immerse in the areas you are visiting or want to visit to further boost your travel experience.
Small Group Excursions
Diversity of included excursions will accommodate travelers offering a more personalized experience that will enhance your visit and your travel experience.
Within each destination, you choose how you would like to spend your day. There are excursions included in your fare. Small group city tour options with 15 passengers or less guiding you to the highlights and landmarks.
You can also delve deeper into an immersive special interest tour to abbey’s, castles, historical sites, wineries and more all scheduled around your exploring pace and at a time that works with your daily schedule.
Local English-speaking guides lead the tours and they are not just knowledgeable but provide first hand experience and recommendations for connecting you with their local culture and understanding more about the locations you are visiting.
River cruising once was geared for the older less active crowd. With the increase of interest in visiting the many destinations that can be reached by river boat, amenities have become available to guests for a more active travel experience.
Many of today’s ships carry a fleet of bikes onboard to guide you through cities or to discover on your own seeing the sites as the locals do. One of the fondest memories of my time on the Danube was biking the Wachau Valley from Krem’s Austria to Melk Austria following the Danube through the vineyards and provincial towns at its banks.
Active goes beyond the biking option. Hiking, golfing and active wellness tours have become norms in the river experience. You can also find yoga, fitness classes and even private trainers available to round out your encounter and boost your travel experience.
With any well traveled globetrotter, relaxation can be an important part of the adventure to keep you going. The time spent onboard when you are not touring or actively engaging in your touring can be as enjoyable as the time spent touring.
Enjoy the sanctuary of your stateroom with beautiful balconies to provide serenity for relaxing, meditating, reading or enjoying a glass of wine or cup of coffee with fresh air and the calmness of the river.
The luxurious, but cozy uncrowded public spaces offer the opportunity to meet new faces, share experiences or observe entertainment provided in the lounges and bars. A cocktail at the pool, watching the world pass by from the sun deck or downtime on your own in the fitness center, enjoying a massage or with a salon appointment offer many opportunities to relax and further boost your travel experience.
Not like Ocean Cruising
A river cruise and ocean cruise both travel on water and will transport guests from destination to destination, but that is as far as the similarities go.
River cruising is boutique small hotel like ships. You will not find crowded spaces, lines for meals or assigned seats in the dining room or a different dining venue every night. You also don’t have large pools, kids activities, movie theaters, casino’s or Broadway shows. The small size of the ship allows the onboard staff to focus on safeguarding guests and crew with health and safety protocols also making it an easier path to sustainable travel.
River boat travel primarily occurs late night to early morning providing additional time in ports. No sea days or sea-sickness and land is seen throughout your journey.
Oceans take you to countries and rivers immerse you in the local experience as they take you through countries to boost your travel experience.
A river cruise can be one of the best ways to immerse in a destination and truly connect with the location you are visiting. From the rivers of Europe, to farther off less traveled rivers in Asia, Egypt and even Africa. The world can be yours to explore!
River travel is no longer solely focused on an older less active participant. Today’s traveler is sophisticated, active and many times even multi-generational which is why river cruising has refocused its customer. With active itineraries, routes specifically designed to the under 40 crowd, family focused and themed tours, there is an option to connect rivers with all ages and can easily be added to a travelbucket list.
These are our tops for how a river cruise can boost your travel experience. If you would like to know “How a River Cruise is for You” check out our site for additional information and some FAQ.
With mountains, forests, rivers and even beaches, the landscape of Germany is vast and offers many opportunities to explore.
Here are the reasons why Germany needs to be on your travel bucket list.
1. Perfectly Located for Exploring
Among the best of Europe’s countries, centrally located east of France, Belgium and the Netherlands, South of Denmark, West of the Czech Republic and Poland, Northwest of Austria and North of Switzerland and the Alps. Perfect for extensive travel throughout the Western and Central European region to immerse in the German experience or with visits to one of the various nearby countries. Germany is made up of 16 state regions, with open borders between its states and too adjacent countries. Many flights entering and leaving Europe will connect through Munich or Frankfurt airports. Ease of travel by auto, train, plane and ships on the waterways in and around Germany provide many reasons to add Germany to your Europe travel itinerary.
2. Cruise to and through Germany
Touching the shores of the Baltic and North Seas bring you access to Germany by ocean cruise on itineraries to the United Kingdom and/or the Scandinavia region. Germany has many rivers, the Rhine, Danube, Moselle, Main & Elbe that can transport you through her beautiful countryside and to some of her best cities which sit along the rivers. Not to be missed is Cologne on the Rhine, Regensburg on the Danube, Koblenz on the Mosel, Frankfurt on the Main and Dresden on the Elbe just to name a few. Cruising offers the opportunity to explore many regions with limited unpacking and numerous options for reaching even more of her amazing cities, towns and villages.
3. Experiences All Around You
One of the largest countries in Europe, the Federal Republic of Germany was originally part of the Holy Roman Empire. The center for Protestant Reformation in Europe, Germany grew in the 18th Century into a super power until its demise after World War II when it was split into Eastern and Western Germany until reunification in 1990. Quaint old villages and historic city centers, castles, cathedrals, religious, secular and historical landmarks, World War II sites, memorials and government buildings offer sites to explore and immerse in all around. Plus, numerous experiences await you, walk the Berlin Wall, follow one of the many hiking trails located throughout the country or visit one of the many picturesque villages in the Black Forest region. The variety of offerings to experience her beauty and culture that built her is why Germany is one of the most visited countries in the world.
4. Museum Island in Berlin
Well known for its paintings, German painters have been key players in the European art scene and important contributors to the development of the Western art movement in Europe. From the German Renaissance paintings of Albrecht Durer to the Baroque style of Johann Zimmerman or modern day Neo-expressionism, if art is your passion, you will want to visit Museum Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site located on a small island in the Spree river offering five world renowned museums of art, antiquities, artifacts, and a national gallery. Regional museums in Frankfurt, Cologne and Dresden also offer fantastic collections of art with German and world influences.
5. Live the Fairy Tale
German literature’s most familiar works are German Folklore ie Fairy Tales to us modern folks. If you love romance and the thought of fantasy land, the Deutsche Märchenstraße (German Fairy Tale Road) takes you on a scenic tour of the stories of Brother’s Grimm. Starting at the Grimm museum the route will have you exploring small medieval villages and picturesque towns like you would find in the stories themselves. Visit Sleeping Beauty’s Sababurg Castle (official, not the Disney inspired) and medieval Trendleburg castle and climb Rapunzel’s Tower. Both castle’s are hotel’s so you can extend your experience and live your own fairy tale. If seeing the Disney inspired castle is on your travel bucket list, visit Neuschwanstein castle about a 2 hour drive south west of Munich, Germany. Other recommendations for castle lovers, Hohenzollern Castle in in Baden-Württemberg provides spectacular views or if you are looking for something more palatial and in North Germany visit Schwerin Castle.
6. A Car Lovers Paradise
When you think of high performing vehicles, Germany is top of mind. Mercedes, BMW, Audi and of course Porsche are all top quality leaders and all happen to be located in Germany. Visit the BMW museum in Munich, the Volkswagen factory in Dresden or the Mercedes Benz and Porsche museums in Stuttgart. Also well known and on many bucket lists is driving the German Autobahn. Rent your preferred driving machine and head out onto a section of the 8000 mile roadway where the minimum driving speed is 80 miles per hour. Another unique bucket list option if purchasing a luxury vehicle or sports car is on the list, is the European delivery program. Tour the factory, pick your car off the line, test drive it on a private test track, drive it while on vacation and then drop it back off at the factory for shipment and delivery to your local dealership a few weeks later.
7. Traditional German Food
Gastronomy is a big part of the German experience. Within each region of Germany you have various influences that make up the popular cuisines of the distinct area. Bratwurst and Spatzle are popular options in the southwest region. White sausages and pretzels in the Bavarian region, more traditional comfort foods in the Berlin region, borscht variations in the eastern region and frankfurter’s in Frankfurt, of course. Regardless of which region you visit, bread is a big part of the culture and included in every meal. Some not to be missed dishes to try while visiting Germany are Schnitzel, Fischbrotchen (fish sandwich), Currywurst, potato pancakes or dumplings, sauerkraut, Stollen bread, apple cake, the many strudels and Black Forest cake which is made with cherry liquor that originated from the region .
8. German Wine & Cider
Riesling is grown along the mosel river and is the most popular wine produced however Germany also produces other white and red wine varieties. Mainly produced along the Rhine in the western region of Germany, white and sweet wine’s are most notable. In the Alsace region grape varieties range from lighter rose to grapes that produce wines comparable to Italian Pinot’s. The biggest difference between German wine’s and those from the nearby regions of France are the higher levels of acidity that are found in the cooler areas of the German wine region. Apfelwein (apple cider) made from pressed apples is popular in the region surrounding Frankfurt, Germany and can be enjoyed in some of the local Cider Taverns within its old center. Apple cider is popularly combined with dry white wines (like Riesling) to create Gluhmost – hot mulled cider that is served during the colder weather and throughout the holidays in Germany.
9. The Beer Culture
For some, this is the primary reason they want to visit Germany. Beer is a key part of the German culture and has very specific requirements (the German beer purity law) to qualify as “German Bier”. Most German beers range in alcohol by volume from 4.7 – 5.4% however the heavier German darks can reach percentages up to 16%. Options to enjoy are top fermented wheat beers, pale beers like the popular Kolsch and Pilsner’s, dark Bock and similiar heavy bodied beers and lighter cask ales. Although bier (as it is spelled in Germany) is popular throughout Germany, it is most popular in the Bavarian region which is also where most of the breweries will be found. The oldest brewery in Germany, and the world, is in a Benedictine Abbey called Weihenstephen in Munich. The most popular way to drink your tapped bier is in a stein or Weizen glass as it is referred locally which is larger then your average pint with extra room for foam from the taps. Beer is so popular in Germany they have annual festivals in the fall called Oktoberfest surrounding the beer culture in Germany.
10. A Festival for all Seasons
Germans love to celebrate which is why we have saved the best for last. With a holiday and/or festival for every occasion there is surely to be an opportunity to participate in some local celebrating, feasting and dancing no matter when you visit. Some of the more popular celebrations offering festivals and events are; Silvester (New Years), Three Kings Day (celebrating the 12 days of Christmas into early January), Karneval, Valentines, Easter, Maifest (one of their oldest) which includes bonfires, Oktoberfest, St. Martin’s Day (similar to All Saints Day) and Christkindlmarkt (the Christmas Markets) where local artisans & entertainers gather daily in the center of the towns spreading festivity and celebration.
The Smorgasbord of additional information;
Germany is a beautiful country filled with friendly and welcoming people who love life. They are also very strict rule followers, with laws for everything, which can seem daunting to the unsuspecting visitor. In reality, it makes Germany efficient and explains why their country is so clean and well managed.
From the marshy coast, central wetlands, green hilly countrysides, lakes, forests and mountainous alps, the diversity of Germany is in its land. The climate throughout the country only swings about 8 degrees between the northern and southern regions. With warm (not hot) summers and cooler (not terrible) winters, the weather is rarely extreme making it enjoyable to visit any time of year.
With many options for exploring and traveling that fit any lifestyle, no matter who you are, families traveling together, single travelers, couples looking for romance, exploration, active itineraries, groups traveling together or simply because it is on your travel bucket list Germany offers options that are safe, exciting and fun which are all reasons to plan a visit to Germany.
These are our top reasons to visit the Deutschland, so the next big question is what is the best way to see Germany? A river cruise along the rivers of Germany provides you with a one of a kind experience not just taking you to amazing places but through them. It is the most immersive way to experience a location with ease and comfort. Take our quiz to find out if River Cruising is a right fit for you.
As cities, regions and countries reopen in stages there is a new travel term that will become part of our planning process, namely referred to as a travel bubble.
A “travel bubble” is not a new form of transport to get you to a land away from home. Nor, is it a protective suit so you can social distance. A travel bubble is an agreed upon partnership between countries, like Israel with Greece and the Czech Republic with Slovakia and Croatia being developed to encourage safe travel and reignite tourism for summer travel and for the remainder of 2020 tourism.
A travel bubble, also being called “Corona corridors” will allow countries to experiment with allowing guests back into their countries knowing where they came from and providing a simpler option in closing borders should a resurgence appear in their countries, after tourists arrive. You can equate this to the metaphor of learning to walk before you can run. They don’t want to open their borders to everyone and have no idea who is bringing the virus with them.
How will this impact future travel? Well like a travel Visa that allows countries to decide who can visit them and for how long, a travel bubble will have strict guidelines and may include mandatory requirements so the countries can track tourists should they want them to leave.
Once countries feel comfortable with the guidelines and have had positive results, they will expand their bubble to include farther reaches. We are already seeing this form of restriction here in the U.S. where some states are restricting arrival of tourists from Covid-19 hot spots.
Expect the travel bubble to expand into the U.S. starting with Canada and some of our close neighbor countries before moving onto other regions. This could possibly have American’s able to wander the farther reaches of the world by the end of fall if resurgence does not occur.
As a travel advisor, I recomment that before traveling outside your state and/or the country you should verify restrictions and requirements from the areas you will be visiting on their tourism website(s).