There’s a reason why Sri Lanka has been named the number one destination to visit in 2019 by numerous travel experts and connoisseurs (most recently by Lonely Planet). Shrouded in mystery and beauty, this island packs a punch.
Rich with cultural experiences, join us on our 13 Day Treasures of Sri Lanka small group tour in 2019 and witness a surprising blend of timeless temples and edifices, wildlife reserves, and spectacular landscapes including the misty tea-covered hills of Nuwara Eliya. View the island’s wild elephants, gaze up at the ancient city of Sigiriya, and learn about one of history’s most thriving and vibrant ancient societies. Seek out Sri Lanka’s astonishing wildlife in Yala and Minneriya National Parks and along the Madu River. Plus, absorb the local culture in the cities of Kandy, Galle, and Negombo.
On tour, you’ll experience the heart of Sri Lanka with highlights including:
Immerse yourself in local culture during visits to the lively Negombo fish market and a Tea Estate Factory.
Search for the island’s magnificent elephants and other wildlife during tours and safaris in Minneriya and Yala National Parks and during a Madu River cruise.
Meet today’s Sri Lankans during home-hosted meals and sample local specialties.
Marvel at the UNESCO World Heritage Listed sits of Sigiriya, Kandy’s Temple of the Sacred Tooth and the Golden Temple of Dambulla.
With new dates just added to our 13 Day Treasures of Sri Lanka now’s the perfect time to start planning your visit to this alluring country. Plus, book by 31 January 2019 to save $300 per person on our published prices, including Book By rates. Enter or quote promo code: CNDSCV300A at the time of booking.
A great way to experience a destination when travelling is by food. Eating and dining out says so much about a country’s history and culture, and Vietnam is no exception. You’ll discover delicious dishes and a range of eating experiences, from street vendors through to fine dining restaurants.
If you’re planning a trip, be sure to add these five dishes to your gastronomic checklist:
1. Cà phê
While not a food, Australians are known for their love of coffee and the Vietnamese version is a must try. Drip-filtered, this strong coffee is sweetened with condensed milk and can be enjoyed either hot or cold. Indulging in a coffee from one of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh’s many cafes is a great way to soak up the bustling city atmosphere.
2. Bánh mì
There is a reason why Anthony Bourdain called it “the perfect sandwich”. Made with a warm, crusty baguette, bánh mì is typically filled with pickled vegetables, cucumber, coriander and either meat, egg or tofu. Finished with a spicy sauce and mayonnaise or pâté, this cheap and tasty dish can be enjoyed at any time of the day.
Perhaps the most celebrated Vietnamese dish – and rightly so – slurping down phở is a real treat. This wonderfully light and fragrant noodle soup is built around a flavoursome beef broth. Fresh herbs, lime, chillies, onions, sauces and bean sprouts are usually served on the side, allowing you to customise to your own liking.
4. Bánh xèo
Translating to “sizzling pancake” you cannot go wrong with an order of bánh xèo. This thin and crispy pancake is made from a rice flour batter, flavoured with turmeric and stuffed with bean sprouts, pork, prawns and fresh herbs. Be sure to dip in the sauce provided for a flavour explosion!
5. Spring rolls
The fan favourite; you cannot leave Vietnam without tasting spring rolls. Multiple times. Order these fresh (Gỏi cuốn) or fried (Chả giò) and filled with either meat, seafood, vegetables, tofu or a combination of various ingredients. These make a great light meal or are the perfect appetizer.
If you’d like to experience the flavours of Vietnam, join us on our 11 Day Classic Vietnam and sample all these specialties for yourself. Be sure to ask your local guide for some tips!
Imagine unpacking your bag just once and settling in to your river ship cabin with an ever-changing view. You indulge in a generous array of amenities as Europe’s most charming villages, lush vineyards, bucolic landscapes, and vibrant cities are delivered to your door. Along the way, you indulge in three mouthwatering meals a day, savuor local wine, and have a seasoned cruise director by your side to fill you in on the fascinating history and rich culture of thrilling ports. What’s more, city centres and fairy tale village squares are a delightful stroll from every dock.
It’s the most relaxing way to see Europe. And with Gate 1 Travel, you can choose from dozens of itineraries, from Germany to Russia, aboard our privately owned ship or on private charters, during springtime or over the holidays. You can even explore some of Europe’s most scintillating cultural capitals before or after your cruise. Read on to learn more!
Embark the Deluxe MS Monarch Empress –
Built by Gate 1, Controlled by Gate 1
The beautiful MS Monarch Empress is the very first European river ship built to Gate 1’s specifications for our travellers. Come aboard our deluxe vessel and you’ll enjoy some of the most spacious and comfortable accommodations on Europe’s rivers. Cabins range in size from 144 to 210 square feet and include large bathrooms. A full 80% of rooms offer French balconies, providing private views as the stunning riverbanks unfold. What’s more, rooms can be configured with one or two beds; when configured with one, you’ll sleep in comfort in a bed that is larger than a U.S. full-sized.
With room for just 144 passengers, the ship is designed with the view in mind, with large windows in the cabins, dining room, lounge, and other public space – and with few exterior visual obstructions on the outside decks. Throughout, you’ll find soothing blue and white interiors with cherry wood accents, top of the line furnishings and stylish décor. At mealtimes, you’ll have full outdoor views through floor-to-ceiling windows. Lounge on the sun deck and watch the passing scenery. Share a drink with fellow travellers in the lounge. Curl up with a book or surf the internet in our generously sized library. The MS Monarch Empress promises all the comforts and pleasures of a deluxe floating hotel.
What’s more, because we own the ship, we fully control the quality of your experience. The MS Monarch Empress is staffed by Gate 1, with Tour Managers, waitstaff, chefs, housekeepers and more all committed to ensuring you have the most memorable experience on Europe’s waterways.
More Gate 1 River Ships Mean More Discovery
You may also join one of our private charters aboard a First-Class river ship. These intimate ships feature spacious outside cabins, each fully air-conditioned with private bath facilities, shower, telephone and flat screen satellite TV. They are the ideal way to sail amidst the rainbow of colors along Holland’s waterways in springtime, cruise the romantic waters of the Danube, or explore the lilting waters of Germany’s Rhine River.
Now, here’s your guide to Gate 1’s river cruises:
A CLASSIC NEVER GETS OLD
Sail Through Five Countries on One Sweeping River Cruise
To take in the full sweep of Europe’s rivers, you can’t go wrong with our Classic European River Cruise. With the 1992 opening of the Main-Danube Canal, river ships could traverse the entire continent from Holland to Hungary. This favourite itinerary takes full advantage of the engineering triumph, spanning the entire continent in 16 days. We break down the journey section by section for you here.
THE RHINE: From Dutch Treats to Rich German Culture
Begin in Amsterdam, the charming canal-laced city of gabled houses and graceful bridges built on the wealth of the Dutch Golden Age. This cultural centre is rich in treasures, from the art collections of the Rijksmuseum to the bustling stalls of the Albert Cuyp market. As “old world” as Amsterdam feels, it’s Nijmegen that is Holland’s oldest city. And it enjoys a lovely setting on the Waal River. As you wander its charming streets, you are tracing 2,000 years of history.
Soon after entering Germany, the unmistakable twin spires of the Cologne Cathedral come into view. This stunning piece of architecture has watched over the city for centuries and it’s a thrill to tour the atmospheric Old Town, lined with timber-framed houses and distinctive brauhausen (pubs) in its towering shadow. Koblenz, nestled where the Rhine meets the Moselle River, enjoys a picturesque setting, dotted with stunning Romanesque architecture and imposing defensive towers that recall the town’s founding as a Roman stronghold that protected the rivers’ convergence.
THE MAIN: Into the Charms of Franconia
The beautiful medieval town of Miltenberg, with its 14th-century hilltop castle of the same name, is one of the Main River’s true treasures. Its narrow, crooked streets lead to half-timbered houses and are a pleasure to explore. Wertheim, too, boasts a hillside fortification, this one of stunning red sandstone. Taken together, these tiny riverside villages remind travelers of the depth of history that has unfolded on these riverbanks. Castles such as these once collected tolls from cargo ships and defended the sovereignty of kingdoms.
In Wurzburg, the “Pearl of the Romantic Road,” Germany’s scenic route that reveals the heart of Franconia, another castle looms large: the Marienberg fortress. But the scene stealer here may be the ornate Bishops’ Residenz Palace, a baroque masterpiece that boasts the largest ceiling fresco ever painted. More beauty greets you in Bamberg, set on the old Regnitz Island. This city suffered very little during World War II and so its buildings are remarkably preserved; more than 2,000 of them are listed as historical monuments.
THE DANUBE: Austro-Hungarian Treasures
History remembers Nuremberg most as the site of Hitler’s rallies and as the host of the post-war Nuremberg trials. But this historic and lovely city has a colorful side, too. Accented by half-timbered houses, cobbled streets and a history of crafting delightful toys, it rests on the Main-Danube Canal.
Downriver, Regensburg graces the river’s banks. This is a true European gem, one of the continent’s best-preserved medieval cities thanks to its escape from World War II bombing. As the Danube approaches the Inn and Ilz rivers, Passau emerges where the three rivers meet. Surrounded by tranquil waterways, it enjoys a singular and pretty setting. Passau also enjoys fame as the home of Europe’s largest pipe organ; its 17,774 pipes grace Passau with their musical grandeur from the baroque St. Stephan’s cathedral.
Austria’s Benedictine Melk Abbey perches like a confection on a bluff overlooking the Danube. Its imperial rooms house a library of 85,000 historic volumes. The views of the Wachau Valley from the abbey’s terrace are stunning. This architectural masterwork is the perfect prelude to the wonders of Vienna, elegance unparalleled. Its circular roadway, the Ringstrasse, is lined with some of the most graceful buildings you’re every likely to see, like the famed Opera House. And the city’s sprawling palace of Schonbrunn is a glittering monument to the Habsburg Dynasty that ruled the region for centuries.
But little compares to cruising into the heart of Budapest, the Danube’s grand dame. The fortress of Fisherman’s Bastion rises on one bank and the mighty Parliament watches over from the other while the iconic Chain Bridge arcs over the water like a crown.
If you prefer a shorter trip, you can browse our wide selection and enjoy just a segment or two of the above journey. Or explore one of the above rivers in more depth, adding time in a nearby city before or after your cruise.
ALL OF EUROPE IS AT YOUR FEET!
Gate 1 Travel’s river cruises not only put you at the front door of Europe’s great cities and charming villages. They are also a great launchpad for further exploration. Here’s how you can enhance your river cruise experience by exploring one of the above rivers in greater depth, adding city stays, or discovering another river entirely!
Tulip Time River Cruises: Witness the Low Countries in Bloom. Explore the waterways of Holland and Belgium in the springtime. There’s no better way to witness the vibrant colors of tulips, daffodils and countless other blooms than by river ship. Along the way, you’ll explore medieval cities, see the famed windmills of Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and breathe in the clean open air as you cruise through the vast Rhine delta system. If you wish, you may select our Tulip Time itineraries that include city stays in Amsterdam, Paris, or both.
Rhine River Cruises. Germany’s wine country comes to life as you drift along “Father Rhine,” lined with vineyard-laden sloping hills, welcoming wine-making villages and storybook hamlets. You’ll follow the Rhine where it forms the border of Germany and France, exploring French Strasbourg and its charming Old Town. Take in the canal-laced lanes of Amsterdam. Or add time in Lake Como, Lucerne, Bruges, or Paris.
Danube River Cruises. Experience the best of Bavaria, Austria and Hungary during a cruise into some of Europe’s most scenic corners. Visit all the Danube ports discussed above, plus have the chance to visit Salzburg, Austria’s alpine-ringed city where The Sound of Music was filmed, or Bucharest, the Romanian capital with an atmospheric Old Town. While you’re in this corner of Europe, you can elect to also spend time in France, Germany, or Poland … uncover the historic treasures of Budapest and Prague, and more.
Russian River Cruises. Gain invaluable insight into what really makes Russia tick: its welcoming people, rich traditions, and vast repositories of arts and culture. Cruise between historic Moscow and glittering St. Petersburg, passing tranquil countryside dotted with onion-domed churches, vibrant small cities, and tiny villages. Along the way, enjoy ample opportunity to experience Russian culture up close. If you wish, select the itinerary that gives you time to discover more of St. Petersburg and Moscow.
ENJOY A HOLIDAY GETAWAY IN 2019
There is no place like Europe for the holiday season, and no better way to experience long held traditions of yuletide than on a Gate 1 River Cruise to the continent’s festive Christmas Markets. Old Town squares come alive with local traditions that conjure Christmases past. Each year, cities in Germany and Austria offer a feast for the senses. Aromas of cinnamon, gingerbread, baked apples and roasting chestnuts waft through the air. Gaily decorated stalls brim with handmade ornaments, toys, and endless ideas for holiday gift-giving. Artisans are often on hand to demonstrate their crafts, carolers roam about the snowy squares, and stalls are decorated with the finest finery. It’s hard to find a more perfect place to ring in the holiday season than in Central Europe.
DISCOVER THE EASE OF EXPLORING EUROPE BY RIVER CRUISE –
AT AN UNMATCHED GATE 1 VALUE!
All the exciting corners of Europe are waiting to be explored by river ship with Gate 1 Travel! No matter which itinerary you select, you’ll enjoy an intimate experience that only a small ship allows … included city tours at all ports … the full services of a Cruise Director and/or Tour Manager … and an incredible all-inclusive value. All while unpacking your bags just once and letting Europe come to you!
The closest most Aussies have come to a white Christmas is buying ice for the Esky. That’s why the thought of a twinkly, snow-covered Christmas is like something from a fairytale. The good news is that many of the world’s best Christmas markets are included in November and December touring itineraries making them super easy to access.
Here are five the of the best Christmas markets in the world:
1. Nuremberg, Germany
Aldi shoppers will have probably noticed that Germans are big into Christmas. No other nation has quite so many kinds of Christmas biscuit.
Nuremberg – the second largest city in Bavaria – is home to two Christmas markets that run alongside each other in the medieval old town (Aldstadt). They are the Christmas market of the baby Jesus and the Christmas market of the child that features lots of rides and photo opportunities with Santa. This market is also the home of pyrography (the art of decorating wood with markings from a hot poker) and bricolage (a form of mixed media craft).
2. Salzburg, Austria
If you read lots of Northern European fiction as a child, you have probably wondered what a hot roasted chestnut smells likes. Now you can find out at one of the many Christmas markets held around Salzburg. Shop for toys, Christmas decorations and knitwear, enjoy the smell of baked apples, hot punch and roasted almonds and chestnuts, and listen the bells of the Cathedral or carollers on the church steps.
3. Prague, Czech Republic – Old Town
The Czech Republic does a lot of things well – namely Pilsner beers – but the locals also excel at Christmas fare. And let’s face it – wandering around in the snow is a lot more fun with a mulled wine, honey wine, hot chocolate or ‘grog’ – a mixture of rum, water, lemon and sugar – in your mittens. Popular food on offer includes large hams roasted on spits (Pražská Šunka), sausages (klobása), Hungarian flatbread topped with garlic, cheese and ketchup (langoš), pancakes (pala
inky), and a variety of sweets and cakes, such as spicy gingerbread and ‘Trdelník’, a hot sugar coated pastry.
4. Strasbourg, France
The Christmas markets in Strasbourg – arguably the Christmas capital of France – date back to the 16th Century. The centrepiece of this famous market is a whopping great tree that is a tourist attraction in itself. Why? Because it’s one of the few real Christmas trees of its size. A forestry representative starts searching for this special tree in March every year. Come December, the 30 metre tree is craned into position and wrapped in seven kilometres of Christmas lights.
5. Helsinki, Finland
Everyone who thinks Santa lives at the North Pole are wrong – he lives in Finland. The Finnish capital of Helsinki puts on a great show for its annual Christmas markets and also hosts a number of wacky celebrations such as Tiernapojat, a uniquely Finnish ritual where boys dress up as soldiers and kings and run around the streets singing. The good news? If you get really cold outside, you can always head back to your sauna to defrost.
If you’d love to experience a white Christmas in Europe Gate 1 Travel can take you there. Click here to find out more about our Christmas Markets escorted tours or learn more about our Christmas Markets River Cruise here.
Click here to find out how you can save up to $700 per person on our 2019 Christmas Tours & Cruises!
It is no secret that Greece has long danced to its own rhythm. One would expect nothing less from the place where western civilisation itself was born. From poetry to philosophy, from democracy to drama, all the major disciplines that formed the building blocks of how we live today were created here during an ancient renaissance of arts, science and critical thinking.
Greece remains one of the most beautiful and sought-after places on earth. How could it not? Its intense mountain and coastal beauty, dotted with colonnaded temples and awash in Aegean sun, are the stuff of every traveller’s dreams. Its lively culture, punctuated with dance and fabulous Mediterranean cuisine, engages the most stoic visitor. And its ancient monuments, proudly perched amidst cities, mountains and island vistas, have endured millennia of change. Dare we say, they will continue to do so.
Just as Athens is the Cradle of Civilisation, it is also the central focus of many trips to Greece. Its Acropolis stands gloriously atop its hill like a beacon in the Greek sun, as if shining down upon the modern-day city that it shaped. So many elements of civilisation were born here—democracy, philosophy, arts—that it’s impossible to not be moved when you are surrounded by its temples and admiring its masterfully preserved Parthenon. Much of the site and its relics (as well as artefacts from Greek antiquity worldwide) are beautifully illuminated by a visit to the National Archaeological Museum. Indeed, it is considered one of the great museums of the world.
The legacy of the ancients lives far and wide, of course. But it’s especially poignant to witness modern-day houses of democracy in the city of its birth, from the President’s residence to Constitution Square. And when it’s time for a relaxing stroll, the intimate streets of the shop-lined Plaka district at the base of Acropolis Hill invite you to explore.
The Pleasures of the Peloponnese
A 19th-century engineering marvel separates the mainland from the Peloponnese Peninsula. The Corinth Canal, which opened in 1893, was literally carved out of solid rock. It had long been a dream of the ancients to connect the Gulf of Corinth and the Saronic Gulf; construction efforts date as far back as the 1st century AD. Today, the sculpted gorge is sheer-faced and dramatic.
The rustic Peloponnese Peninsula—to the west of metropolitan Athens—boasts a rich past of its own. Perhaps most famously, the first Olympic Games were held here, in Olympia. They were first staged in honour of the god Zeus, whose temple is still impressive despite that it lies in ruins. Nearby, the hillside city of Nauplion, with its stunning setting on the azure waters of the Argolic Gulf, was the capital of the First Hellenic Republic and a coveted city of many royal houses. Its cobbled streets and stone buildings with multi-hued shutters date back centuries. Two castles add to its scenic splendour: The Venetian Bourtzi sits in the middle of the harbor and the hilltop Palamidi offers dramatic views of the town. In the second millennium BC, however, it was Mycenae that held sway over southern Greece. This major centre of ancient civilisation was defended by a solid stone fortress whose ruins whisper of sieges past.
Stunning Places of Worship and Wonder
North of the Peloponnese, Delphi attracted countless devout worshippers in ancient times. Legend recalls that a high priestess delivered prophecies here in a highly agitated state. It was believed that the gods were speaking through her, but today scientists suspect it was the vapours rising from a chasm below the temple that put her in an altered state. Today, Delphi still inspires awe, albeit more from its natural setting than from its incantations. This vast complex includes the Temple of Apollo, the Delphi and Tholos temples and a huge amphitheatre—all of it surrounded by soaring mountain slopes.
More sources of inspiration are perched high on sandstone pillars in the town of Kalambaka in Greece’s central plains. Here, the six Eastern Orthodox monasteries of Meteora (translated as “in the heavens above”) are perched atop naturally formed rock towers averaging 1,000 feet above sea level. When they were originally built starting in the 14th century, they could only be reached by a harrowing climb up a rope ladder. These incredible structures must be seen to be believed.
The Aegean of Your Dreams
The Greek Islands find their way into every traveller’s dreams. Blue church domes and rustic windmills rise from a cluster of whitewashed villages that cling to hillsides. Sleepy cobbled streets lead to inviting squares and cafés where you can while away an afternoon over stuffed grape leaves and ouzo. Time slows down in the Aegean, and Gate 1’s island itineraries help you do the same in a magnificent setting, from the glittering Cyclades to the historic Dodecanese archipelagos.
The small island of Mykonos could be the most famed of the Greek Islands. Along the coast and amidst its hilly interior, white villages with blue doorways and rounded, thatched-roof windmills dot the landscape. Its labyrinthine tiny streets are a delight to explore and its sandy white beaches were surely made for basking.
Santorini is one of the most romantic islands. Its volcanic origins have given it beaches of white, red, and black sand. It is truly an otherworldly landscape of dramatic rock formations and lunar-like terrain. Its fascinating Bronze Age archaeological site of Akrotiri opened recently, giving fascinating insight into primitive life here. Surprisingly, Santorini is one of Greece’s most prolific wine producers, as you’ll learn if you visit a local winery.
Crete stands as the largest and most diverse of the Greek Islands. In addition to endless beauty and stunning beaches, tiny villages and agrarian settlements hold fast to tradition here. Medieval fortresses lord over the coast. Snow-covered peaks spill toward dramatic gorges that pour mountain-fed water into the sea. Crete is also home to large cities brimming with rich culture. But its historic touch-point is Knossos, an ancient palace complex dating to 1900 BC. This remarkable site is considered the oldest city in all of Europe. According to legend, King Minos kept his mythical son Minotaur in a labyrinth here.
These three islands offer just a taste of the Aegean’s magnificence. Select Gate 1 itineraries also call on the Cyclades Island of Milos and the Dodecanese Islands of Patmos and Rhodes, where a beautifully preserved medieval city and the sprawling Grand Masters Palace overlook the glimmering sea.
So Many Ways to Experience Greece with Gate 1 Travel
A country as diverse as Greece opens itself up to limitless exploration. Gate 1 offers an array of travel styles so you can take in the rich and colourful Aegean culture your way. Our classic Escorted Tours showcase the best of the country for you, with a generous array of inclusions and the services of a local Greek Tour Manager. For the free-spirited, choose one of our Independent Vacations, which provide your basic necessities like flights and hotels and leave you to follow your own whims.
If the magical Greek Islands call to you, choose an itinerary that combines land touring with overnight accommodations on a small ship. And if you’d rather rub elbows with locals, some of our hotel-based trips let you island-hop on local ferries, for a truly authentic experience.
The Perfect Time to See Greece Is Now
The timeless antiquities, spectacular beauty and warm welcomes of Greece are to be savoured. And you can do just that in a relaxed and hospitable atmosphere, guided every step of the way by our Greek Tour Managers who know their country inside-out. Join us in 2019 and experience it all for yourself, at the value you’d expect, with Gate 1 Travel.
China is a land of contrasts that offers both thriving modern metropolises such as Shanghai and Beijing as well as cities steeped in tradition and history such as the ancient city of Xian, the first capital city of China.
We spoke to Gate 1’s own Maria Metusela who recently returned from the 11 Day China with Chengdu tour and asked for the lowdown on her time in China.
What was it about China and this tour that made you want to go on the trip?
I am fascinated with ancient history and architecture so the thought of seeing the Terracotta Warriors and walking the Great wall of China was very attractive to me.
I also thought it would be interesting to see how a country of 1.4 billion people work, live and operate.
Add real life pandas to the mix and I was hooked and ready to go.
What was the highlight of the trip?
What stood out to me the most on this trip was our visits to the local parks in Xian and Chengdu.
The parks in China are quite different compared to Australia with regards to how they are used. The local park we went to in Xian was a park that many seniors/retirees would visit each morning. They go there to exercise, play games and for dance and singing rehearsals. We got to join in on all these things which was fun and gave us a glimpse of how their day starts off.
We even went to a park in Chengdu that had a matchmaking corner. Parents would write their child’s name, date of birth, occupation, education and such on a piece of paper and pin it on a board. The parents would then walk around looking at other resumes on the board, chatting with other parents to see if their children would make a good match.
I enjoyed these visits very much as it gave me the opportunity to interact with the locals and to get a true understanding of their way of life.
What was your favourite meal or what food did you have that you really enjoyed or felt was very authentic?
I thoroughly enjoyed the food in China. All the restaurants that we went to on this trip were local and authentic. There were no other tourists in there but us.
Most of the meals were Lazy Susan style with such a variety of dishes and so flavoursome that you couldn’t help but try them all.
The Peking Duck dinner for our orientation night in Beijing was amazing and was definitely my favourite meal. I also enjoyed the food in Xian especially one of their local dishes “biang biang noodles”.
What surprised you about China that made it different from other places you have visited?
What surprised me about China was that each city that we went to was different from the other. No two cities were the same which made it feel like a whole new experience.
Even the food we had in each city, although the dishes were the same, they were cooked in a slightly different way with different flavours.
You can see the influences from the different dynasties in the different cities. Xian had a more historical feel to it being the ancient capital of China. Beijing was a mix of old and new.
Chengdu had a very commercial and industrial feel to it whereas Shanghai was very modern and cosmopolitan.
What travel tips would you give to someone preparing to go on this trip?
Always carry tissues around with you as you will need it when touring during the day.
It can get crowded when visiting some historical sites so always keep your Gate 1 whispers on so that you are aware of where your guide is at all times.
What did you enjoy the most about the Gate 1 escorted tour?
The organisation of this tour was simply outstanding. Everything was taken care of so I did not have to worry. Joe our Tour manager was exceptional and called us his family. We were never too late or too early for anything on the itinerary so nothing was missed out and the day ran smoothly. I also learnt so much about the history of China, the people and the culture through Joe and our equally informative local guides.
If you’re thinking of touring China you can browse our website for a whole range of options to suit your preferred travel style and budget. If you book a Gate 1 China tour by the 31st of December you can save $200 per person when you quote the promo code FBCHINA200A. Simply quote the promo code at the time of booking to receive the discount. Call 1300 653 618 if you have any questions and we look forward to welcoming you to China soon!
When you think of Israel, a vast treasure trove of historic and religious sights undoubtedly comes to mind. But this small country is home to some of the world’s most stunning natural beauty, the likes of which you won’t see anywhere else.
Here, quiet villages are tucked away in fertile valleys. Mountains rise from plains and rocky cliffs soar to the heavens. Starkly beautiful deserts are dotted with Bedouin tents. And serene lakes stretch out like small seas. Throughout Discovery Tours’ Israel, Ancient & Modern Culture trip, you can witness this magnificence firsthand.
The Road to Galilee
The rocky terrain of Galilee seems to stretch into eternity. Dappled in wide swathes of green and soaring to summits of up to 3,800 feet, it’s a breathtaking canvas adorned with streams and flower-laden fields. The climate of this fertile region supports a large variety of flora and wildlife. The Hula Valley Nature Reserve especially thrives with life, including many birds that stop here to rest from their migration between Africa and cooler climates to the north. In one of nature’s most spectacular displays, tens of thousands of cranes pass through here as they make their way from Finland to Ethiopia every winter.
In the west of Galilee on the Mediterranean Coast, white chalk cliffs spill into the sea. Over millennia, the crashing surf has carved a network of spectacular grottoes dimly lit by the sparkle of azure waters. These Rosh HaNikra caves, Hebrew for “head of the grottoes,” are a mysterious and magical place, a maze of subterranean passageways untouched by humankind for ages until divers began exploring them. Today, a cable car lowers you to the grotto entrance, and it is well worth a visit.
From sea level to mountaintop, Mount Bental rises in the eastern region of the Golan Heights. In Arabic, it is sometimes known as the “Mountain of Lust,” so it might not surprise you that it was once an active volcano. Now dormant—as are the other peaks of this mountain chain—it provides incredible views of the Golan Heights and the surrounding region. The volcanic soils have made this a fertile pocket of Israel. Farming communities, kibbutzim, and wineries dot the landscape, and Discovery Tours visits one of them—the delightfully welcoming Golan Heights Winery—to sample some of the local vintages.
The tranquil Sea of Galilee is the focal point of this beautiful region. Contrary to its name, it is a freshwater lake fed by underground springs and by the Jordan River from the north. Aside from its beauty, it has a lot to boast about. It is Israel’s largest and the world’s lowest freshwater lake. What’s more, it is the site of several miracles of Jesus. He is said to have walked on these fabled waters, and to have transformed five loaves and fishes into a feast for thousands here on these shores.
A Sea Full of Salt and a Massive Mesa
Unlike the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea is very much full of salt. So much salt, in fact, that it is impossible to sink in its waters. This is the lowest point of land on earth—1,315 feet below sea. This fascinating body of water is more than nine times as salty as the ocean, creating an environment that cannot support animals, hence its name.
But it is a geographic curiosity for a host of other reasons. With the Jordan River its only significant source of water and with no outlet, tiny springs have formed underneath its shore, resulting in pools and quicksand pits. Further, with so much salt and relatively little water, intriguingly shaped salt deposits form on the shores as water evaporates, from thick multi-layered blankets to tiny pearl-like pebbles, all of them sculpted over millennia. If you’re not completely smitten with the geology of the Dead Sea, then its buoyancy is sure to put a smile on your face. Merely step in, lie back, and relax to enjoy nature’s only flotation device.
Nearby, a giant rocky plateau rises from the Judean Desert. This is Masada, and its magnificent setting helped to shape history. So commanding are the views from atop this mesa—some of its cliffs are 1,300 feet high—Herod the Great built his fortress here just a few decades before Christ. Who can blame him? The vistas of the Dead Sea and the Negev Desert are spectacular. But not everything was serene and beautiful in Herod’s day. When the Roman Empire attacked at the end of the first Jewish-Roman War, 960 Jewish rebels are said to have thrown themselves off the cliffs rather than surrender to Rome.
We invite you to surrender to the natural beauty and irresistible allure of Israel.
Are you working on your travel wish list for 2019? Dreaming of sleeping in a riad in Morocco or knocking back a schnapps in the Swiss alps? Learning Salsa in Colombia or surprising your friends by heading off to Uzbekistan?
So where to go and what to do?
Check out our new tours visiting hot destinations:
1. Italy and Croatia
Quote lines from Gladiator at The Colosseum in Rome, taste local wines in Tuscany, Florence, Venice and Pisa, and head off Croatia to bask in the azure beauty of the Adriatic sea.
Did you know that Marco Polo was born on the Croatian island of Korcula? Visit his birthplace, explore ‘King’s Landing’ aka Dubrovnik just in time for the last season of Game of Thrones, and take in the natural beauty of the famed blue cascades in Krka National Park.
Do you know the way to San Jose? Not to be confused with San Jose in Northern California that The Carpenters sang out, San Jose is the capital of Costa Rica and is a perfectly preserved Spanish Colonial town.
From this starting point, head out to an artisan village to learn about local art and craft, visit a dormant conical volcano, knock back some Costa Rican coffee on a plantation tour and put your head in the clouds at Monteverde Clouds Forest.
The vantage point from a river or canal gives you a totally different aspect on a country. Glide under 14th Century medieval bridges in Lucerne, pass castles and cobbled streets straight out of fairytales, and enjoy a tipple in a quaint wine tavern in Rüdesheim. See the tiny storybook Principality of Liechtenstein from the bow of your ship and hop off for a close-up look at Marc Chagall’s stained glass window in the Fraumunster Church in Zurich.
Get off the beaten track by heading for the heel of the boot. This is the lesser known part of Italy is the birthplace of pizza and the home of Pompeii. Enjoy long farmhouse lunches, stroll through UNESCO Heritage-listed cobblestone streets and visit medieval ruins. Round out your trip with a visit to the Amalfi coastline for a look at one of the world’s most loved views.
There is nowhere hotter than Central Europe for small group touring. With a burgeoning cafe culture and bohemian art scene, the Czech Republic is the place to hang out. On the flipside, take in Slovakia’s perfectly preserved town centres, castles and convents for a glimpse back in time at 13th century life.
Did you know that the oldest copy of the Koran in the world is held in Tashkent’s Muyi Muborak Madrasa? Visit this historic marvel before you head off down the Silk Road to explore the cultural treasures of this little known corner of the world. Learn how to make a traditional Pilav when you share dinner with a local family, relax in a yurt camp in the desert and take your credit card on an adventure at the ancient Siab Market.
Wander through the back streets of Istanbul tasting regional specialities like stretchy icecream made from orchid roots, look up in awe at the dome of the Blue Mosque, and master the art of shopping in the Grand Bazaar. For a change of pace, spend a day cruising around Fethiye’s 12 Islands, explore an ancient underground city at Kaymakli and explore traditional Turkish Ottoman houses in Safranbolu on the coast of the Black Sea.
It’s been almost a month since my wife and I returned from our 9 Day National Parks of Canada with Lake Louise tour with Gate 1 Travel and we are still reliving it in our minds over and over again. We met and befriended many incredible fellow travellers on this tour. Here are the Top Ten reasons we will be back with Gate 1 very soon:
10) Bang for the buck.
And while we’re tossing out cliches, this wasn’t our first rodeo either. We are both ex-airline and travel agency employees. We are veterans of over 40 previous packaged tours throughout the world. All with competing tour operators. In our experience none of the other companies featured such value for the consumer. Unlike their competitors, Gate 1’s listed price was the price we paid. No hidden extras or misleading advertising. It was especially nice not having to put up with the up-selling of optional excursions during the actual trip. We’ve been on tours where one is made to feel uncomfortable because the side trips required everyone to sign-up and pay or no one goes.
Best of all, by paying with a cheque or bank transfer rather than credit card we saved another 5% off the advertised price. Who else does that?
9) So simple to arrange.
Gate 1’s website reservation process was straight forward and simple. Everything was easy to understand online and didn’t require numerous phone calls to put things into motion. When I did speak to a representative on the phone they were always patient and helpful.
8) Joining a new family.
Who would’ve thought that we’d return from vacation having made scores of new friends along the way? Not only did we share new experiences with folks from all over but we came home with lasting friendships with people that share our same love of world travel. It was impossible not to become buddies spending so much time having fun together.
7) First class accommodations.
Upon arrival in Edmonton we were treated like welcomed guests. This was a first. On our previous tours we often felt like the hotel we were staying in saw us as discount visitors not worthy of the same treatment as their paying guests. The hotels we stayed in were modern and well-equipped. WiFi worked well in all of them. Comfortable queen sized beds with clean bathrooms were the norm. Having hot water for the morning shower was never an issue. Most had indoor pools and hot tubs.
6) Knowing where you’d be staying each night.
With other tour operators we often found our hotel reservations changing multiple times before and even during the trip. Not only were the Gate 1 hotels the same establishments as advertised but they were all conveniently located. No hour long bus rides to get to the center of action. Each evening we could easily and safely leave our hotel to explore the nearby attractions.
5) Clean comfortable and modern transportation.
Our tour involved quite a bit of travel between stops in the Canadian National Parks. Our bus rides never became uncomfortable or felt too long. There was plenty of leg room even for this guy who was recuperating from recent knee surgery. We could hear every announcement made by our tour manager over the P.A. System. The ride was always smooth and comfortable. A rather unique and very efficient system of seat assignments on the bus had couples changing seats every day. No arguments over being up front or on the “good” side of the bus. I didn’t have to line up to be first on the bus every morning. Best of all, our bus had cup holders which were filled every morning with fresh bottles of spring water.
4) A courteous and cordial bus driver.
Charlotte was more than happy to satisfy the various needs of our tour group. She was always first off the bus in order to lend assistance to those needing a little help. She drove smoothly and professionally throughout the trip and always kept her smile. She never lost her cool even with some of the clueless rental RV drivers posing a threat on the parks’ roads. When someone on the bus spotted an elk, moose, long horn sheep or other wildlife she was willing to safely pull over so that we might get photos.
3) Great dining options.
Unlike other tour companies that provide you with minuscule Continental breakfasts, our Gate 1 tour offered us a sumptuous full breakfast each morning serving real orange juice and not Tang. My cholesterol level rose on this vacation because of all the bacon and eggs I was able to enjoy each morning. Instead of packaged low cost dinners reminiscent of a college dining hall we were free to eat where and what we wanted for dinner. Our extremely knowledgeable tour manager seemed to know every eating establishment along our route and kindly offered suggestions. She directed us to many of the local specialty dishes and adult beverages.
2) A smooth comfortable pace.
As I mentioned, my mobility was somewhat hampered by my meniscus repair surgery yet for the most part I was able to enjoy all the highlights of the trip. For those that wanted to walk more there were ample opportunities to hike up a ridge or descend into a canyon or even circle a lake. Meanwhile others in the group could visit a shop or just relax on a bench soaking up the beauty of the Canadian Rockies. When my wobbly knee began to fail me near the end of the trip I was able to take a seat on the bus while the group hiked down to a waterfall.
1) The most incredible tour manager imaginable.
Whether you call them a “tour guide”, “group leader”, “travel coordinator” or “local expert” we have never met anyone more helpful, exuberant, knowledgeable, proud of her heritage or as professional as our tour manager, Karen Frey. The woman never stopped working at keeping us happy throughout the tour. Her organisation was immaculate. She was never frazzled despite a couple of minor hiccups beyond her or Gate 1’s control (temporary power outage in one town and snowy weather elsewhere). She taught us, made us laugh, and kept us safe throughout the trek. Karen’s contributions toward our enjoyment of this tour convinced us to sign-up for five more Gate 1 tours over the next year and a half.
Greece is no stranger to cuisine. In fact, it was a Greek, Archestratos, who wrote the first cookbook in history, in 320 B.C. Today the Mediterranean diet consistently wins praise for its proven health benefits. Local dishes exude the steadfast character of their origins – fava in Santorini, masticha in Chios, amygdalota in Mykonos and cheese pie with honey in Crete. But no matter where you visit, you’ll encounter the pleasures of freshly baked breads and a bounty of vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and zucchinis. To Greeks, food is a celebration best served as saganaki, grilled lamb, moussaka and grilled octopus – all enhanced with that crisp Greek olive oil.
The diverse terroir of Greece has been producing wines for close to 6,500 years, longer than almost every other place in the world. The flavours and notes of Greek wines are so unique that 72% of its vintages entered into the Decanter World Wine Awards received an award.
Here’s what you can expect to find on the Greek table:
Food of Greece
Mezes – Like Spanish tapas, mezes is a small-plate approach to Greek dining. Items can vary from piquant olives to a pita bread with dips to more complicated dishes such as cold eggplant salad. Mezes should not be confused with the orektika that you might see on a menu, which is the formal name for appetisers that are intended to precede larger meals.
Olive oil – Like in many Mediterranean restaurants, olive oil is a central ingredient in Greek cooking, pressed from the olive trees that have graced the country’s landscape for centuries.
Cheese – Feta, kasseri & halloumi oh my! With a climate and landscape conducive to goats and sheep, a wide array of cheeses are common in the Greek diet.
Filo – Whether in large sheets or bite-sized triangles, various fillings might be wrapped in filo dough, from chicken to spinach and cheese to minced meat. One version of this, spanakopita is a savoury pastry filled with spinach and feta.
Tiganita – These deep-fried vegetables might be served as a side dish.
Dolmadakia – Cousins of the Turkish dolma, these grapes leaves are often stuffed with rice, vegetables or meat.
Fava – This puree of yellow split peas or beans might be flavoured with olive oil, garlic or parsley and served as part of mezes with pita bread.
Greek Salad – The simple salad is made with tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, feta cheese and kalamata olives.
Gyro – A dish made from meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie. Although traditionally lamb it can also be pork or chicken.
Tzatziki – Served with warm pita bread, this is a yoghurt with cucumber and garlic puree.
Fasolada – Often called the national food of Greece, this white bean soup is made with tomatoes, carrot and celery.
Moussaka – Eaten warm or cold, this casserole is usually made with ground meat and either eggplant or potatoes.
Wines of Greece:
Agiorghitiko (red) – Also know as St George’s grape, this wine is mostly produced in the Peloponnese region. The soft, fruity red expresses itself in many styles with qualities that are similar to Beaujolais.
Xinomavro (red) – This “sour black” grape ages well and has flavour notes that actually bring tomatoes and olives.
Assyrtiko (white) – This grape is mostly grown on the island of Santorini whose old vines were resistant to the phylloxera virus that wiped out other European vineyards. It has characteristics similar to Riesling.
Savatiano (white) – Known as the “Saturday” grape, this is the major white grape of Attica. It has a distinct floral, fruity aroma and if fermented without cooling, its wine matches well with Mediterranean dishes.
Roditis (rose) – Very popular in the Peloponnese, this elegant and light wine has lovely citrus flavours.
If this post has you salivating at the thought of regional Greek food check out our escorted tours of Greece where you can feast on delicious local delicacies.