Category: Europe

La Paz Bolivia
EuropeInspiration

Bolivia: A Wealth of Culture, History and Nature

Its isolated, land-locked locale lends it a cultural richness unparalleled in any other South American nation. It boasts one of the planet’s lowest population densities and most dramatic geographic extremes. The peaks of the Andes soar to some 19,000 feet. Glassy surreal salt flats shimmer under the sun. It is home to the highest navigable lake in the world. And that’s only part of the story.

You might ask why you would explore Bolivia with a Discovery Tours small group. But with its many-layered cultures, remarkable history, and astonishing natural wonders, the real question is, “Why wouldn’t you?”

La Paz: City of Peace

All three of Bolivia’s show-stopping qualities – culture, history, and nature – converge in its bustling capital. Its setting is truly breathtaking: nestled in a vast canyon carved out by the Choqueyapu River and spread at the foot of Mt. Illimani, one of the highest Andean peaks. To get a full view of the city’s splendid urban and mountain vistas, just board one of the Mi Teleférico aerial cable cars, said to be the longest and highest-altitude such system in the world. From its heights, the entire patchwork of La Paz unfurls below, from its red-roofed villages clinging on hillsides to its glittering glass skyscrapers, all encircled by a ring of spectacular mountains.

Where architectural treasures meet. Of course, to experience the city fully, you’ll need to come down from these lofty heights. A central place to begin exploring is the Plaza Murillo. This vast city square was named for national hero Pedro Domingo Murillo who, in 1809, likened the revolution against Spain to a growing flame that no one would be able to extinguish. He was right. A local uprising here in La Paz kickstarted the liberation of all of South America. 

Still, many monuments to Spanish colonialism remain as an important part of Bolivia’s past. On the square, the Presidential Palace (known to locals as the “Burnt Palace” for the number of times it has caught on fire) is home to the nation’s leader. Adjacent, the La Paz Cathedral is a stunning example of neoclassical and baroque ingenuity. The National Congress building, with its stately façade, was a convent and a university before it was transformed into a house of legislature. Nearby, the distinctive San Francisco Cathedral is a stunning blend of baroque and mestizo style—the epitome of indigenous-influenced colonialism. 

Where ancient and modern cultures converge. The cultural gems of La Paz are, in a word, spellbinding – especially at the Witches’ Market in the Cerro Cumbre district. Browsing its stalls, you might think Hogwarts of Harry Potter fame was transplanted right here in the Andes. If you wish, you may visit with the local yatiri, indigenous Aymara witch doctors with their tell-tale black hats. Perhaps you’ll purchase dried frogs, armadillos, or potions and talismans that promise good luck and long life. 

For an outing with a more modern flair, visit the many museums along the city’s famed Jaén Street. This historic neighborhood looks much as it did when the Spanish ruled here. Today, it boasts ten different cultural institutions. To glimpse ancient history, visit a replica of a semi-subterranean temple from the Tiwanaku culture that thrived in Bolivia from around 100 to 800 AD. And to feel the pulse of the city’s heart, head to El Prado, the main avenue where families stroll, merchants sell their wares, and cholitas don traditional bowler hats as they go about their daily errands.

Beyond La Paz, Astonishing Nature and a Long History

North of La Paz, the highest navigable lake in the world straddles the border with Peru. Lake Titicaca sits at 12,500 feet above sea level and has witnessed some of the region’s most stirring and pivotal history. On the Isla del Sol, or Island of the Sun—a short boat ride from the mainland town of Copacabana—Inca ruins date to the 1400s. The island is said to be the birthplace of Inca civilization; more than this, they believed it was also the birthplace of their sun god. Ample evidence of the Inca can be found among the island’s terraced gardens, ancient temples, and even a reputed fountain of youth. Much of the island’s pre-Columbian past is chronicled at the Inti Wata Cultural Complex. Here, you can witness a Kallawaya ceremony and the ancient craft of weaving the lake’s tortora reeds into water-tight boats. Today, the island’s rocky and hilly terrain hosts just 800 families who live off the land, the lake, and tourism. 

South of La Paz, a surreal landscape unfolds in the Valle de la Luna, the Valley of the Moon. The land here is composed of clay, not rock, which has left it prone to dramatic erosion. Tall, craggy spires and countless canyons have been carved by strong winds and rains over millennia. Its mesmerizing palette of colours is explained by the varying minerals of the earth here.

The town of Colchani is our gateway to the magnificent Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat. Stretching some 4,000 square miles, the salar is covered with several feet of salt which covers a pool of brine below. Over the entire surface, its elevation only varies by a few feet; this means that rainfall leaves a thin layer of calm water, creating the world’s largest mirror. During your visit, head out to an “island” in the flat to see its thousands of giant cacti standing as high as 26 feet and stop to explore the remarkable Chiquini Cave, formed underwater before the lake that covers the salt flat dried up.

From the history and culture of La Paz to the beguiling beauty of the planet’s largest salt flat, we can’t think of a reason not to visit Bolivia with Discovery Tours. And you can, when you join our new Natural Wonders of Bolivia & Chile small group tour! Join us!

EuropeInspirationMediterranean

What if Westeros was Europe?

If you’re a Game of Thrones (GoT) fan, there’s a good chance you have dedicated a fair amount of time to comparing the fictional continent of Westeros to modern day Europe.

George R.R Martin based Westeros on ancient Europe so it’s tempting to start drawing comparisons around things like Hadrian’s Wall and The Wall, and the English Channel and The Narrow Sea (or is that the Strait of Gibraltar, George?).

We have popped on our thinking capes and researched what we believe each of the Seven Kingdoms (and outlying lands) equate to. Read on and have your mind blown.

1. The North is Scotland

The Northmen in Game of Thrones are most likely based on the Picts, a group who largely banded together to fight off the Romans or, in the case of GoT, the Southerners.

2. North of the Wall is Greenland

While this makes no sense geographically, it makes sense historically. The Vikings arrived in Greenland at the end of the 10th century. They were led by Erik Thorvaldsson, known as Erik the Red because of his red hair.

3. Norway is the Iron Islands

It’s a bit of a giveaway that the Iron Islanders behave very much like vikings: pillaging and destroying villages. They are master seamen and women, and the fact that one of the main captains in the books is a woman is also reflective of Viking society where gender equality was the norm.

4. London is Kings Landing

It’s not too much of a stretch to gather that King’s Landing – home of the Iron Throne – is based on London. Many of the events in the book are inspired by the Rose Wars. The houses mirror Lancaster (Lannister), York (Stark), Plantagenet (Baratheon) and Henry VI was Aerys Targaryen. Of course the city of Dubrovnik in Croatia has been the setting for the capital city of King’s Landing since the beginning of the show.

5. Spain is Dorne

The sunny mediterranean landscape featuring olive groves and palm trees is a hint. Also in the show the nobles of House Martell reside in the Alzacar in Seville which is the oldest palace still in use in Europe.

6. The Riverlands are Germany

Constantly being raided and ransacked, Germany has been bathed in blood for eons, eventually being split between the Prussians and the Bavarians.

7. The Vale is Switzerland

We’re not really sure why. It’s pretty, hilly and chilly?

8. The Reach is France

The Tyrells were a stylish, open-minded bunch. They also came up with a bloodless way to get rid of a certain prince, resulting in less dry-cleaning for everyone. A very French solution to a rather ugly problem.

9. The Stormlands is Wales

The weather is bad and people tend to avoid going there. While we’re not saying that Wales is unpopular, the weather can be a little tricky.

10. England is the Westerlands

Home of the Lannisters, Westerlands is a shrunken down England with a terrifyingly ruthless family at its head. While the modern day Windsors aren’t exactly scary, some of their ancestors loved a good beheading.

If you’d love to visit some of the filming locations featured in Game of Thrones check out Gate 1 Travel’s escorted Europe tours here.

Europe

Eastern Europe: Old-World Charm & Robust Histories

By its very geography, Eastern Europe has been at a cultural crossroads since the emergence of the first civilisations. Valuable goods from spices and amber to silver and gold have been traded here, cultural traditions from clothing to dance have been shared and religions from Eastern Orthodox to Judaism have been practised. It all converged here. Which is why these far reaches of Europe are among the most fascinating and enlightening places to explore. Gate 1 Travel gets you there in comfort and style, and our knowledgeable local guides reveal the secrets and mysteries that make this such a captivating region.

Explore our north-to-south guide to Eastern Europe’s proud nations and cities on Gate 1’s itineraries: 

Lithuania: A Stunning Capital Emerges from the Forest

Flat landscapes blanketed with forests and lakes greet you as you drive through Lithuania. Indeed, Mother Nature has blessed this small country with soft contours and stunning green expanses under wide-open skies. The capital, Vilnius, is covered in beauty of another sort. The city boasts one of the largest historic quarters in Europe, a dizzying blend of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture. Vilnius Upper Castle has lorded over the scene for centuries and its adjacent Gediminas Tower is a symbol of national pride. The city boasts more than 40 historic churches and former places of worship. Among them, the Gothic St. Anne’s captivated Napoleon so much that in 1812 he exclaimed he wanted to take it home to Paris “in the palm of his hand”.

Poland: Risen from the Ashes

For many, Poland stands out as one of Europe’s most resilient nations. Its beautiful capital Warsaw, straddling the Vistula River, plainly illustrates its beauty. The city saw dark times during World War II, as Jews were imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto. The city was completely destroyed by the war’s end. After the war, its citizens took to rebuilding their beloved Old Town exactly as it was constructed in the 14th century. Today, the restored cobbled lanes lead to Market Square, its heart, where the Royal Castle and Cathedral of St. John invite exploration.

Castle Square, Warsaw
Castle Square, Warsaw

Medieval Krakow dates back to the 7th century. Many consider this one of Europe’s most breathtaking cities. Its cultural and architectural heritage spans the centuries, leaving masterworks of the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque eras in the Wawel Royal Castle District, in St. Mary’s soaring basilica, in the Sukiennice Cloth Hall, and all along its vast medieval market square. A more sobering sight are the remaining walls of the Jewish Ghetto and the Ghetto Heroes Square. Oskar Schindler employed more than 1,000 Jews in his enamelware factory to save them from certain extermination at camps such as Auschwitz, located right outside the city. 

On Poland’s scenic northern coast lies Gdansk, one of the most powerful cities of the medieval-era Hanseatic League, the mercantile guild that ruled the Baltic region. Remnants of its prosperity are visible everywhere along the city’s Royal Route, the pedestrian-only street that once hosted processions for the Kings of Poland. Admire pretty gabled houses, the Gothic-Renaissance Main Town Hall with its soaring tower, and St. Mary’s, the third largest brick church in the world. Perhaps the most fascinating relic from Gdansk’s golden age is the medieval crane that once loaded and unloaded cargo from docked ships, long before the industrial age!

Remarkably, the city of Wroclaw is a vibrant blend of almost all of Europe’s religions and cultures. Its heritage stretches back more than 1,000 years and has been shaped by Germany, Prussia, the Habsburg Empire, and the kingdoms of Hungary, Bohemia, and Poland. Today, it is a bastion of a culture rich in theatre, art, literature, and more. It boasts one of Europe’s most stunning market squares, lovely waterways and parks, and the famed cycloramic painting of the Battle of Raclawice in which the citizenry rose up against Russia in 1794. The city is also renowned for the largest beer festival in Poland, held each June.

That beer may go well with pierniki, the delicious gingerbread of Torun. This city was proclaimed one of the Seven Wonders of Poland for its incredibly preserved Old Town. Astronomy buffs can gaze upon one of its shining stars: the birthplace of Nicolaus Copernicus, the first to suggest that the sun, not the earth, was the centre of the universe. Less scientific, but no less enduring, are the miraculous powers attributed to the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, housed in the Jasna Gora Monastery. Millions flock here each year just to be in her presence.

Romania: Beyond the Myth of Dracula

There is much more to Romania than its legendary vampire stories. Stunning vistas at every turn, soaring Carpathian Mountains, deeply held folkloric traditions, and beautifully preserved Orthodox churches housed within medieval walled cities combine to make it one of travel’s best-kept secrets.

The nation’s capital, Bucharest, has been compared to Paris for its emerging elegance, wide boulevards, and intentional 1935 replica of the Arc de Triomphe. Neoclassical buildings and Orthodox churches dominate the cityscape of this former communist enclave. Today, museums, opera, and theatre set the tone for an increasingly creative cultural centre. The most imposing building of Bucharest is the Parliament Palace. Even its enormity could not satisfy the ego of former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. It is the second largest administrative building in the world after the US Pentagon.

Amidst the bucolic landscapes of Transylvania—the land “beyond the forest” as translated from Latin—the charms of medieval Saxon villages beckon. BrasovSibiuand Sighisoara have been lovingly preserved and each evokes the seductive splendour of Old Romania. Narrow streets wind past steeply roofed 17thcentury houses. Intricately decorated buildings bring fairy tales to mind. Wooden dancing figurines within chiming clocks, rare book collections, gingerbread houses, tranquil monasteries, and museums filled with period furniture paint a rich picture of a pastoral past. Of course, in every fairy tale, a wolf lurks; Transylvania is home to the legendary Dracula, Bram Stoker’s vampire inspired by the towers and turrets of Bran Castle. Fortunately, you will also visit castles considerably less malicious: the 19th-century Peles Castle, the romantic summer home of King Carol I, and the 14th-century Hunedoara, with its soaring towers and dramatic drawbridge.

Farther north, two hidden gems of Romania await. Immerse yourself in Transylvanian culture in Targu Mures, once a rural hamlet and today a small city rich in local tradition. The Palace of Culture is the centrepiece, a magnificent Hungarian Art Nouveau treasure built in 1913. Mahogany woodwork, stained glass masterworks, marble staircases, and a hall of mirrors make this one of Romania’s most beloved buildings. The city’s library, founded in the late 18th century, is one of the country’s oldest and houses an astounding collection of manuscripts and artifacts.

And speaking of astounding collections, during your stay in Piatra Neamt, we’re giving you the option to visit Moldavia province’s renowned painted monasteries. Here, local princes and nobles employed painters to adorn ecclesiastical building from top to bottom with bright frescoes. These fully imagined canvases told stories of warfare and redemption to local villagers who were mostly illiterate.

Explore another side of Romania in Timisoara, the cultural centre of the West. This winsome city on the Bega River boasts many buildings from the Austrian Empire, earning it the nickname, “Little Vienna.” Opera, philharmonic, theatre, museums, and more cultural institutions line its gracious streets. There seems to be a performance every night in Timisoara, which might make you think everyone is still celebrating the Romanian Revolution, which started here in 1989. It’s no surprise that Timisoara has been declared the European Capital of Culture for 2021.

Bulgaria: Authentic and True

Perhaps it is because so few travellers visit Bulgaria that it remains one of Eastern Europe’s most authentic nations. Its capital, Sofia, lies scenically at the foot of Vitosha Mountain and is at the geographic centre of the Balkan peninsula. The city has been inhabited since 7000 BC and is rich in Roman and Thracian ruins. Remarkably, many of its Bulgarian Orthodox monasteries survived centuries of iron-fisted Ottoman rule. Today, the National Museum of History chronicles its long past while the gold-domed Alexander Nevsky Church stands proudly as a neo-Byzantine symbol of the city’s enduring spiritual heart.

Serbia: Where Life’s Simple Pleasures Endure

With rolling hills and enchanting villages, Serbia transports you back to the simpler times of the Balkans. There is much to endear you to its charms, particularly the three-kiss hello you will receive from the famously friendly locals. This is all despite the nation’s recent tumult, from which it has steadied itself with open-armed confidence. Nis, one of the oldest cities in Europe, resides in Serbia. Constantine the Great was born here before he went on to found Constantinople, today’s Istanbul. Today, this city on the Nisava River is rich in history, some of which you will witness at its Turkish fortress.

Skirting the Sava River, Belgrade is often thought of as the bohemian cousin to the continent’s more refined cities. It might have gotten this reputation in the Skadarlija quarter, which has often been compared to the artistic enclave of Montmartre in Paris. Soak it all in as you browse Republic Square and the café-lined pedestrian zone of Knez Mihajlova Street. To get a glimpse into the city’s long history and architectural treasures, visit the imposing Kalemegdan Fortress, erected strategically where the Sava meets the Danube. Equally impressive, Saint Sava Temple is one of the world’s largest Orthodox churches.

Uncover the countless wonders of Eastern Europe with Gate 1 Travel. When you do, you’ll close each remarkable day in comfortable accommodations, delight in local cuisine, and gain in-depth insight from local guides who call this destination home. Join us!

EuropeRiver CruisingTravel Tips

A Complete Guide to Gate 1’s River Cruise Experiences

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!

EuropeNewsRiver Cruising

Five of the best Christmas Markets in the World

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!

Europe

The Cradle of Civilisation: As Magnificent as Ever

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.

Civilisation’s Cradle

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.

Join Gate 1 Travel in Greece! Follow these links to our exciting Greece Tours and Greek Island Cruises.

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9 of the Best New Tours for 2019

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.

More info about the 17 Day Italy & Croatia with 7 Day Adriatic Cruise here.

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2. Costa Rica

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.

More info about the 14 Day Kaleidoscope of Costa Rica here.

Costa Rica

3. Colombia

Apart from having some of the most beautiful people and pumping salsa clubs in the world, Colombia is also one of South America’s undiscovered treasures.

Eat an empanada while you wander around Cartagena’s Colonial District, marvel at pre-Columbian gold at the Gold Museum, and view Fernando Botero’s famous paintings and sculptures.

More info about the 8 Day Affordable Colombia here.

4. Morocco

Enjoy a home-cooked meal in Fez, make like Bogey and Bacall in Casablanca, and wander through Chefchaouen, Morocca’s famous Blue City.

Connect with your nomadic spirit when you traverse the desert along an old caravan route, and marvel at the acrobats, performers, and snake charmers in Marrakesh’s Djemaa el Fna Square.

More info about the 18 Day Absolute Morocco here.

Sahara, Morocco

5. Switzerland and the Rhine River Cruise

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.

More info about the 17 Day Classic Switzerland with Rhine River Cruise here.

6. Southern Italy, Puglia and Campania

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.

More info about the 11 Day Southern Italy, Puglia & Campania here.

7. Central Europe

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.

More info about the Heart of Central Europe Discovery small group tour here.

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8. Uzbekistan

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.

More info about the Uzbekistan Discovery small group tour here.

9. Turkey

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.

More info about Turkish Odyssey small group tour here.

And the best thing? People who book any of the above 2019 tours by 2nd December and quote the promo code CNNEW2019A to receive a $300 discount per person.

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Food & Wine of Greece

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.

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9 Interesting Facts About La Sagrada Familia Cathedral

There is no other house of worship on Earth quite like Barcelona’s towering Sagrada Familia Cathedral, Antoni Gaudi’s masterwork. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has raised the eyebrows of art critics and inspired millions of visitors. Here are some fascinating facts about it that may surprise you.

  1. They’ve been building it for 136 years. Its current completion date? 2026, the centenary of Gaudi’s death.
  2. When asked why the building was taking so long Gaudi replied, “My client isn’t in a hurry”.
  3. By the end of his life, when Gaudi worked on nothing else, he was dressing in rags instead of buying new clothes, so that all his income could go towards the project which was being funded entirely by donations.
  4. At the Paris Exhibition of 1910, crowds formed long lines to view the plaster model of the building in progress which included stone cherubim wind-propelled wings that would ring bells.
  5. The interior pillars start square at the base, then become octagonal, then circular before transforming into tree-like limbs interlaced at ceiling height. This design emphasises natures elevation over the handiwork of man.
  6. The existing completed towers each bear words that together spell out a Latin prayer.
  7. The cathedral has its critics and its fans: George Orwell called it hideous and Pablo Picasso said it was a monstrosity. Salvador Dali disagreed and declared it “as sensual as a woman’s skin”.
  8. Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War didn’t dare destroy the beloved building so they destroyed all the renderings and models to make it impossible to finish.
  9. A computer whiz in the 1980s took scraps of the remaining plans, handwritten notes by Gaudi and photos of the existing construction to solve the puzzle of what the rest was intended to look like, speeding up its completion.

Experience Gaudi’s masterpiece for yourself on an escorted tour of Spain!

 

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Romania’s Remarkable Storybook Castle

In the 1870s, when King Carol I of Romania travelled outside Sinaia and saw the rolling and rugged hills of the magnificent Carpathian Mountains, he knew this was the place to build his castle. His Majesty certainly had a good eye for settings; his remarkable home is nestled quietly on a gentle slope, yet it also strikes a commanding pose, seeming to lord over the sweeping cradle in which it is swaddled.

With its Neo-Renaissance and Gothic Revival beauty, Romania’s Peleş Castle is often compared to Germany’s famous Schloss Neuschwanstein, the fairytale wonder that inspired Cinderella’s Castle in Walt Disney World. The first thing you notice are its fanciful towers, one conical, another a sloping hexagon and another triangular. Wood frames outline windows, balconies, and sculpted flourishes. Timber changes color from one wing to the next and it’s all topped with a curvilinear roof. Amid this stunning asymmetry, the eye really isn’t really sure where to look. Yet somehow, it is grand and playful and perfect.

The diverse styles of Peleş Castle were surely influenced by its builders. Queen Elisabeth of the Romanians wrote of the many nationalities who contributed their craftsmanship: “… you could see hundreds of national costumes and [hear] fourteen languages in which they spoke, sang, cursed and quarreled ….” The castle was inaugurated in 1883, though construction continued through 1914.

Within its 34,000 square feet, more than 170 rooms and 30 bathrooms are graced with sculpted wood and stained-glass windows, many adorned with a theme from a different historical period. Lavish furnishings bring luster to the residence and some of the finest art and historical collections in Eastern and Central Europe are here: statuary, paintings, arms and armor, tapestries, and more. This is inarguably one of the world’s finest national monuments.

Today, Peleş Castle hosts a museum, but is also used for some functions organised by the Royal Family. Rooms open for viewing include the Imperial Suite, created in Austrian Baroque style for Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I and featuring a pristinely preserved 500-year-old Cordoban tooled leather wall cover. In the Grand Armory, 1,600 of the museum’s 4,000 pieces of weaponry are on display, including some used in Romania’s War of Independence. The Theatre is adorned in lavish Louis XIV style and boasts a mural signed by Gustav Klimt. In the Florentine Room, Italian Renaissance is the theme, accented with Michelangelo touches. The Moorish Salon exudes the decorative feel of North Africa and Spain and even has a marble fountain. And in the Turkish Parlour, izmir rugs, copperware, and silk-brocade wall coverings evoke a vibrant bazaar.

Peleş Castle is a true treasure from Romania’s past. We hope you will see it for yourself during our new Classic Romania itinerary!