Category: Europe

Dubrovnik Croatia
EuropeRegions

Jewels of the Adriatic: Croatia, Slovenia & Montenegro

Red-roofed medieval cities huddle on Adriatic shores. A thousand emerald islands unfurl along a sparkling coast like a shining necklace. A forested mountainside is awash in a mesmerising network of lakes and waterfalls. Croatia is overlooked by many travellers to Europe, and that’s a shame, because we think it’s one of the most wonderful countries. It’s also a gateway to even more Adriatic splendour that, when combined into one sweeping trip, introduce you to a vastly diverse range of culture and beauty.

Historic Cultural Capitals Glitter on a Magical Coast

Long the capital of the Ragusa Republic, which rivalled the Venetian Empire in power and influence, the glittering city of Dubrovnik (above) has been called the “Pearl of the Adriatic”. It’s easy to see how this historic city gained the nickname. Jutting into the Adriatic on a limestone promontory and protected by a fully intact medieval wall, it is a city like no other. Brimming with Gothic and Renaissance treasures – including the splendid Rector’s Palace, Sponza Palace and Franciscan Monastery – this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a delight to explore. One sure way to get a sense of its breadth is to climb the stairs to the ramparts that surround it; Dubrovnik’s 800-year old wall completely encircles the city and affords magnificent views over medieval rooftops and the azure waters of the Adriatic Sea.

Once you witness this magnificent setting, you’ll come to understand why one of the Roman Empire’s most powerful leaders wanted to live out his days here. Emperor Diocletian chose Split as his retirement destination in 305 AD, and had a grand palace built here to accommodate his post-imperial court. Today, the ancient Roman palace – another UNESCO World Heritage Site – serves as Split’s marketplace and its city centre. Understandably, the passing of the ages has taken its toll on some of its structures, but many residents of Split make their homes and run their businesses within its walls. It’s remarkable to think that 2,000 people still call the palace grounds home.

Croatia’s capital of Zagreb has long been a crossroads of culture and commerce, and remains so today. It is the nation’s most important hub, the point where Southeastern Europe and the Mediterranean are linked to Western and Northern Europe. Amidst its modern-day bustle, however, the past reigns supreme. The city’s historic Upper Town is dominated by the twin-spired Zagreb Cathedral on Kaptol Square, the most monumental ecclesiastic building southeast of the Alps. On Krvavi Most, St. Mark’s Church, with two coats of arms emblazoned on its roof, and the Jesuit St. Catherine’s Church, built when followers of that religion were invited here by the Croatian Parliament in the 17th century, are also impressive.

In the north, charming Opatija lavishly reclines along Adriatic shores near the tip of the Gulf of Kvarner. A stroll along its seaside promenade, the Lungo Mare, lets you soak in the small city’s ambiance and lovely setting. Like the Istrian Peninsula to which it leads, Opatija has held many allegiances over the centuries – Austro-Hungarian, Italian, Yugoslavian and Croatian – making for a fascinating cultural blend. A side trip along the peninsula hugs the Adriatic coast, revealing Pula’s remarkably preserved Roman amphitheatre, where performances are still held today, and Rovinj with its stunning Venetian bell towers and delightful cobbled streets. The historic Old Town of Zadar, too, has its robust share of history, dotted with an old Roman forum, medieval churches, Habsburg elegance and a picture-perfect seafront.

Plitvice Lakes Croatia

Stunning Plitvice Lakes – photo by @vagrantsoftheworld

Rustic Charms Amidst Spellbinding Beauty

The cultural and historic riches of these cities take centre stage amidst Croatia’s gorgeous coast and inland mountains. But in some corners of this spectacular country, it’s the natural beauty that gets all the attention, and rightly so. There are eight national parks in Croatia, and eleven locally designated nature parks.

Inland, the Plitvice Lakes are among the world’s most magnificent natural wonders. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, these 16 lakes terrace their way down a hillside high in the Dinaric Mountains, each one connected to the last via cascading waterfalls, caves, springs and chutes. The highest falls tumble some 230 feet. All told, the string of lakes is almost five miles long, and over their lush course the waters fall a total of 430 feet. Raised wooden footpaths lead you through this spectacular wonderland.

Just off Croatia, more than 1,200 islands line the Dalmatian Coast. Korcula is one of the most stunning. There is a lot to savour here, including Renaissance palaces and the resplendent St. Mark’s Cathedral. Stonemasons, shipbuilders and sea merchants all helped put this island on the map and injected money and glory into its buildings and institutions. Aside from its rich culture of architecture and maritime endeavours, Korcula and its surrounding islands also boast a proud musical heritage. Its Klape singers, who indulge in a style of a cappella singing, carry tunes that date back to the 1800s. You have to wonder – once you lay your eyes on this magnificent Adriatic setting – why Marco Polo would have wanted to leave his home island to embark upon a quarter-century of globe-trotting.

Hvar is another enchanting island outpost. The island once served as a crossroads for trade between the Adriatic and Mediterranean. Its Old Town and cozy marina are a delight to explore. Hvar has consistently been voted among the world’s Top 10 most beautiful islands by the readers of Conde Nast Traveler, thanks to its pristine beaches, dramatic karst landscape, vast vineyards, rocky shores and lavender fields.

Explore More of the Adriatic – from Slovenia to Albania – with Gate 1 Travel!

The beauty of travelling to the Adriatic with Gate 1 is the variety of itineraries you can choose from – all at the unmatched value you’d expect. With alpine Slovenia to the north and the rich traditional cultures of Albania to the south, this is one of the most diverse corners of Europe.

Beyond the Tuscan-like landscapes of the Istrian Peninsula, Croatia’s terrain rises into Slovenia. Here, the intimately sized capital of Ljubljana offers endless architectural splendour from its Austro-Hungarian era and an open-air market selling huckleberry syrup and flavoured honeys. Its famed Triple Bridge, three side-by-side spans, arches across the Ljubljanica River, connecting the medieval city to its more modern half.

Nearby, the dramatic heights of the magnificent, snow-capped Julian Alps pierce the skies. Here lies what is perhaps Slovenia’s most splendid vista: Lake Bled. This alpine lake with a glass-like, azure surface enchants. A tiny island rests at its centre, crowned by the lovely Assumption of Mary church with its wonderful collection of frescoes and its belfry tower. On the lake’s shores, the 11th-century Bled Castle overlooks the waters from a dramatic rocky perch, as moody and stunning as any fairytale abode.

To the south, historic Albania and Montenegro beg to be explored. The crowds are thin and the history is rich in these fascinating countries.

Albania’s capital, Tirana, is a treasure trove of culture and monuments. Its Et’hem Bey Mosque is a symbol of the people’s courage; closed during communist rule, it reopened in 1991 without endorsement from the government. Ten thousand worshippers attended services that day … with no interference. With its fresco-like depictions of trees, waterfalls and nature, it is a rarity in Islamic art. The Palace of Culture, a gathering place for the community, and the National History Museum, which traces Albania’s past, are also proud emblems.

A different vibe pulses in the Adriatic country of Montenegro. Here, legend says that the Moraca Monastery was built in 1252 using a mysterious yellow stone from some faraway place. But there’s no mystery to the beauty that unfolds in Durmitor National Park. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the deep gorges, babbling rivers, dense pine forests and pristine lakes are among the most breathtaking sites you’ll see. Podgorica, Montenegro’s capital, boasts gracious green spaces and modern, post-war buildings, and Cetinje is a gem of culture and heritage with beautiful architecture dating to the 1700s. And no visit to Montenegro is complete without witnessing the spectacle of medieval Kotor, tucked between mountains and its glorious bay. The UNESCO World Heritage Site at the end of southern Europe’s only fjord is surrounded by remarkably walls that date back to the Venetian Republic.

Throughout your Gate 1 trip to the Adriatic, local guides introduce you to the countries they love so much. And we work hard to ensure that you’ll end each discovery-rich day in accommodations whose comfort far surpasses our price tag.

We invite you to put Croatia and the Adriatic on your “must-see” list! Call or click to reserve your space today!

Great Wall of China
Asia & PacificEuropeRiver Cruising

Historic Sites & Cultural Highlights While River Cruising

Cruising the world’s great river is a wonderful way to travel, but it’s not just about getting from A to B. Along the way you’ll see amazing archaeological sites and learn more about the people who have lived on the riverbanks for centuries.

The list of fascinating historic sites and cultural highlights is almost as long as the Yangtze River, so here are just a few that we recommend putting high on your bucket list.

Golden statues of the Peterhof, St.Petersburg

Russia

A cruise on the Volga and its tributaries introduces you to the diversity of Russia, from extravagant buildings and extraordinary Russian architecture, to quaint cities with a cultural heritage that dates back to the Viking era.

Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg –  the world-famous Hermitage Museum houses the largest collection of priceless masterpieces by Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, Rembrandt and many others. Boasting over 3 million items, the bulk of the collection is displayed in the impressive Winter Palace, formerly the official residence of the Romanov Tsars, and its several annexes. Founded by Catherine the Great in 1754 and open to the public since 1852, this is one of the world’s oldest museums.

Mandrogi, Svir River – On the left bank you’ll find Mandrogi, a reconstructed 18th century traditional Russian village set amongst a picturesque landscape. Walk through the town with its restored Russian houses (izba) and browse the shops for handmade Russian crafts, paintings or traditional clothes. Stop at the popular Museum of Russian Vodka, with a collection of over 2500 varieties of vodka from across Russia. Explore the craft workshops where painting, wood carving, weaving lacework and pottery are demonstrated, and then cap off the cultural visit with a traditional shashlik lunch, served in an open-air pavillion on the shore.

Church of Transfiguration, Kizhi – On the island of Kizhi you will stand in awe at the Church of Transfiguration, one of the most impressive wooden structures ever erected. This fairy tale architectural landmark is largely responsible for creating one of the most frequented tourist attractions in Russia. The church features 22 cupolas of striking intricacy, built without using a single nail. Wander through the open-air Architecture Museum with its collection of wooden houses, windmills and churches representing ancient Russian architecture. This entire area has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Kremlin, Moscow – The Kremlin is one of the best-known monuments in Russia. A guided walking tour takes you inside the former residence of the Russian Czars, where you’ll see the famous Czar Cannon, the 16th century Czar Bell and Cathedral Square, home to three of Moscow’s most elaborate cathedrals: the Cathedral of Assumption, the Cathedral of Annunciation and the Cathedral of the Archangel.

Bells of Bagan Temples, Myanmar

Myanmar (Burma)

“This is Burma, and it will be quite unlike any land you know about,” said Rudyard Kipling and he’s still right! The country has gone through monumental changes in recent recent years and today Myanmar (formerly Burma) is a nation of more than 100 ethnic groups that still display their traditional values.

Thayekhittaya (Sri-Ksetra) – Know as the ‘Fabulous City’, this UNESCO World Heritage Site was one of the ancient Pyu capitals of Myanmar and lies five miles south-east of Pyay on the left bank of the Ayeyarwady. Far less crowded than other archaeological sites is equal significance, you can wander this enormous Pyu city that ruled in the area from the 5th to 9th centuries AD.

Mud Volcanoes, Minbu – The small town of Minbu is famous for its legendary Mud Volcanoes, locally known as Naga Bwet Taung (Dragon’s breath) and home to two dragons with mystical powers. Upon entering, it’s customary to perform some offerings to the stone dragons, meant to tame the mythical beast. In reality, the volcanoes are formed by trapped methane gas trying to escape from deep below the surface. These gases then force their way through mud vents in this spectacular landscape that looks extremely lunar.

Salay – The Bagan-era village of Salay is an active religious centre founded in the 13th century with over 50 impressive teak monasteries and untouched British colonial buildings. Visit the huge Youqson Kyaung wooden monastery designed as a replica of the Crown Prince House in Mandalay, with its intricate exterior carvings depicting 19th century court life and scenes from Buddha’s past lives. Continue to an area of colonial buildings and the interesting monuments of Payathonzu and the Shinpinsarkyo Paya.

Bagan –  This is the country’s spiritual centre and one of the largest and most unforgettable archaeological sites in the world. Over 2,000 pagodas, stupas and temples dot the golden plains of the city. Visit the magnificent Ananda temple, a whitewashed masterpiece that houses four standing Buddhas. Continue to Dhammayangyi, Bagan’s largest temple, built during the reign of King Narathu.

Canals of Amsterdam, Netherlands

Europe

On the 16 Day Classic European River Cruise, as you sail between Amsterdam and Budapest you can expect to be wowed by opulent palaces, remarkable places of worship and incredible ancient monuments.

Bratislava, Slovakia – This capital city is among the youngest in Europe, yet has a mix of modern and Baroque architecture and retains a rich history dating back more than 2000 years. Walk along the cobblestone lanes of the historic town centre; view St. Martin’s Cathedral, coronation site of the Kings of Hungary, and visit the 13th century Old Town Hall and the Franciscan church.

Regensburg, Germany – One of Germany’s largest and best preserved medieval cities, Regensburg is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A guided walking tour highlights the city’s stunning architecture as you view the Old Town Hall, the Dom St Peter and the Porta Praetoria, gateway to an ancient Roman fort built in 179 AD. Marvel at beautiful churches and one of the oldest stone bridges crossing the Danube.

Nuremberg, Germany – Nuremberg, an energetic city with a visible history of almost one thousand years. Most famous for its historic Palace of Justice, where the War Crimes Tribunal met in 1946, today Nuremberg is an energetic city that still has a visible history of almost one thousand years. You can stroll through the shops that fill the Old Town, visit the vibrant Market Square or walk along the fortified walls of Nuremberg Castle.

Amsterdam, Netherlands – A panoramic tour of 700-year-old Amsterdam introduces you to both the old and the new sections of this city. View the Royal Palace on Amsterdam’s Dam Square, the Queen’s official home-away-from-home. On to the Dutch National Monument dedicated by Queen Juliana as a memorial to the victims of WWII and to the unusual Skinny Bridge, once so narrow that pedestrians could not pass each other. Then a must-do is a glass-top boat cruise through the winding canals for an up-close view of the stately historic homes, 16th-century warehouses and charming churches with striking bell towers.

Terracotta Warriors, China

China

Gate 1’s China tours combine four relaxing days on the Yangtze River with visiting the Middle Kingdom’s great cities and seeing the sights that you wouldn’t want to come all the way to China and miss out on!

The Great Wall of China – Number one on any list of iconic historic sites in China has to be the Great Wall. Travel to the extraordinary 2000-year-old Great Wall of China, one of the most spectacular structures ever built by man, spanning nearly 6,500 km of China’s northern frontier. Take time time to climb the ramparts of this ancient wonder to view breathtaking mountain passes, plateaus and grasslands from this 7th-century defensive fortification.

Forbidden City, Beijing – At the entrance to the Forbidden City you’ll find huge Tiananmen Square, the largest public plaza in the world built at the height of the Ming Dynasty. The square’s Gate of Heavenly Peace was once used as a staging ground for imperial edicts and by Mao Zedong himself to declare the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. From here, enter the Forbidden City, which served as the Imperial Palace until 1912. The extraordinary and immense walled complex is truly a masterpiece of Chinese architecture; its complex consists of 800 buildings with more than 9,000 rooms.

Terracotta Warriors, Xi’an – An unforgettable experience is visiting the archaeological site of the magnificent Terracotta Warriors, a vast collection of life-size soldiers, horses and chariots that were entombed with China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. This world-famous site, stumbled upon by local farmers in 1974, is still being discovered and excavated today, more than forty years since the time of its unearthing.

Three Gorges Dam, Yangtze River – The dam is the world’s largest and most ambitious hydroelectric project ever undertaken, nearly six times the size of the Hoover Dam. In addition to producing electricity, the dam was constructed to increase the Yangtze River’s shipping capacity and reduce the potential for floods. This project has forever changed the landscape surrounding the Yangtze River and has also forced the relocation of people who once lived along the river. Tour the massive site to see this impressive achievement of engineering.

Asia & PacificEuropeRiver Cruising

Where The World Goes By: Life On Board A River Cruise

There are fascinating cities, historic villages and stunning landscapes to see as you cruise along any great waterway, but one of the highlights of the journey is also enjoying your time on board the ship. It’s your home-away-from-home and not unlike a floating hotel, so here we share with you some of the features of Gate 1’s different ships around the world and help you learn more about life on board.

Regal Cruising in Europe

In 2018, Gate 1 will have four ships operating in Europe on the Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers. On each of the vessels you’ll find spacious outside cabins with individual climate control, flat screen TV, direct dial telephone, built-in safe, hairdryer, private bathroom with modern facilities.

Ship amenities include bar-lounge, restaurant, sun deck, fitness centre, complimentary wifi and a 24-hour coffee & tea station.

MS Monarch Empress, built and owned by Gate 1 Travel

MS Monarch Empress – the pride of the fleet, this 5-star ship was built by Gate 1 and debuted in 2016. She carries a maximum of 144 passengers in 72 outside cabins, 58 with French balcony and floor-to-ceiling windows. The Empress also has a putting green on the sun deck and there is an elevator for easy access to upper decks.

MS Monarch Queen & MS Monarch Baroness – first class sister ships

MS Monarch Queen & MS Monarch Baroness – these first class sister ships joined our exclusive charter in 2017. They were built in 2006 and 2007 and since then have been refurbished with new decor, updated bedding and soft furnishings. On the sun deck you will find a jacuzzi and the Queen and Baroness also have an exclusive Backlounge Steakhouse. The additional restaurant serves prime cuts of meat and fish in a relaxed open-kitchen dining room, that can only be booked on board for an supplementary charge of 10 Euro per person.

MS Monarch Princess – Outside cabin with French balcony, Sapphire Deck or Royal Deck

MS Monarch Princess – the newest addition to the Gate 1 river cruising family and is the most intimate with a maximum capacity of 138 passengers. She was built in 2009 and has all the conveniences of a modern, first class ship, with recent soft refurbishments like the Queen and Baroness. There is also a jacuzzi on the sun deck to enjoy relaxing after your full day of sightseeing.

Gate 1 tip: the lead price category E cabins are on the water level with a window. They offer great value, but if you want to upgrade your experience, from only $280 pp more on a 7-night cruise you can enjoy the comfort of a French balcony cabin in categories A, B, C and D. But hurry, category D cabins fill up fast!

Russian Waterways

There’s no better way to experience the enchantment of Russia than on a river cruise. Sail between St Petersburg to Moscow, stopping along the way to explore Uglich, Yaroslavl, one of Russia’s oldest cities, the culturally and historically rich town of Goritsy, the small island of Kizhi and the romantic village of Mandrogi. You’ll also have the opportunity to enjoy city tours of both Moscow and St Petersburg, highlighting the Kremlin and Hermitage museums.

Russian ships are generally older than the ones you’ll find cruising the Danube, but what they lack in modern facilities they more than make up for in atmosphere. All your meals are included, with a selection of Continental and Russian cuisine. Bottled water is provided at lunch and with dinner you can choose from wine, beer or soft drink. There’s also Russian vodka tastings on board, so you can get a real taste of the local culture!

MS Kronshtadt – cruising St Petersburg to Moscow or v.v

MS Kronshtadt – has 90 outside cabins, 24 Junior Suites and 2 suites. All cabins are air-conditioned with simple furnishings, basic bath facilities and a window. The ship’s amenities include two bars, a lounge and sauna.

MS Zosima Shashkov – look for Book By savings!

MS Zosima Shashkov – the larger of the two ships, Zosima Shashkov has 140 cabins and 2 suites. Each is an outside cabin with a window, simple furnishings, basic private bathroom and air-conditioning. The ship’s amenities include two bars, a lounge and sauna.

Cruising Majestic Myanmar

The Irrawaddy River is the lifeline of Myanmar (Burma) and with Gate 1 you can cruise in style between Mandalay and Pyay aboard the deluxe RV Irrawaddy Explorer. It’s an experience designed to give you a greater appreciation of Burmese life and culture, while discovering the country’s hidden beauty as you cruise it’s largest river.

On board you’ll enjoy cultural performances, educational talks, cooking classes and nightly entertainment in the lounge. Food is also a feature, with delicious breakfast and lunch buffets and locally-inspired dishes at table-served dinners. Plus you’ll receive complimentary bottled water, coffee, tea, soft drink and with dinner, local beer and wine.

Irrawaddy Explorer – visit 17 cities on a 10-day cruise

RV Irrawaddy Explorer – this boutique ship has 28 outside cabins, each tastefully furnished and with floor-to-ceiling windows. In your spacious cabin you will find full sized beds (twin or queen) with premium mattresses and linen, private bathroom, hair dryer and other modern conveniences. Ship amenities include bar-lounge, dining room, outside lounge, sun deck, jacuzzi and salon.

China’s Middle Kingdom Magic

They don’t come much bigger than the Yangtze River. It’s the longest river in Asia and the third-longest in the world, but the longest to flow from source to sea in one country. While there’s 1000’s of years of history to uncover on its banks, the Yangtze is also famously the site of the Three Gorges Dam, which is the biggest dam project and hydropower station in the world.

Cruising the Yangtze on Gate 1’s most popular 13 Day China with 4 Day Yangtze River Cruise, or one of our other China cruise options, will take you upstream from Yichang, sailing through Wu Gorge, with its magnificent Twelve Peaks, before docking at Shibaozhai to see the impressive Ming Dynasty pagoda.

Gate 1 use a selection of 4-star ships on our 3 or 4-day river cruises. These include ships operated by Victoria Cruises, a leader in luxury river cruising, and deluxe cruise vessel, MV Century Sun.

Victoria Cruises – modern European-Asian design

Victoria Cruises – these modern ships are either newly-built or structurally re-built and have a European-Asian design. The cabins are all outside with private balcony, bathtubs and cable TV. In addition to the regular inclusions, Gate 1 travellers also receive an Amenity Package with morning coffee and tea service, wifi public areas and access to the Executive Lounge, where ‘happy hour’ is served an hour before dinner with house wine and beer. You can click here to find more information on the individual ships.

Century Sun – complete with Sun Deck for maximum viewing!

Century Sun – this deluxe ship meets world class standards. There are 153 cabins and a maximum of 306 passengers. Each cabin has private balcony with full-length window, along with TV, safe, mini bar, hair dryer, individual climate control and a European style bathroom. The amenities on board include bar, restaurant, lounge, library, sun deck and fitness centre.

Gate 1 tip: From the China tour page, when you click on an itinerary and your preferred departure to start the reservation process, it will show you which cruise company is used on that date.

If you like the idea of being in a new place each day, while being able to enjoy the comforts of a river ship, and love the appeal of only having to unpack once and travelling at a more relaxed pace, then peruse our website for more information on our amazing river cruises, or call our reservations specialists on 1300 653 618 for assistance.

Asia & PacificEuropeRiver Cruising

River Cruise Highlights: From Bagan to Budapest

River cruising let’s you relax while the world comes to you. From the sun deck or your cabin French balcony, you can watch it all go by. Then when it’s time to disembark, you’re right at the riverside, ready to wander through picturesque villages, explore fascinating cities or discover ancient sites.

Here are just some of the shore excursions that are offered with Gate 1 Travel and are bound to be a highlight on your river cruise journey.

Irrawaddy River – Myanmar (Burma)

On the luxurious 9-night cruise on Myanmar’s longest river you can look forward to visions of golden pagodas, emerald rice fields and welcoming villages. There are many included shore excursions and here are just a few of the highlights.

Amarapura: Walk across the famous teak U-Bein bridge before boarding a sampan for a memorable sunset ride on the river.

Monywa: A major trade centre for agricultural products from the surrounding valley. Visit the amazing 12th century Hpowindaung and Shwebadaung Caves, adorned with hundreds of Buddha statues placed inside niches decorated with wonderful mural paintings.

Shwe Pyi Thar Village: Walking tour through this typical nomadic village where you learn about collecting and processing palm sap into palm sugar, sweets and liquors.

Bagan: The country’s spiritual centre and one of the largest and most unforgettable archaeological sites in the world. Over 2,000 pagodas, stupas and temples dot the golden plains of the city. Plus while you’re in Bagan, visit the bustling Nyaung-U morning market with its colourful stalls.

Yangtze River – China

The popular 4-day river cruise commences in Yichang and travels upstream to Chongqing (3-day cruises in reverse). The journey itself is spectacular, as you sail through Wu Gorge, famed for its magnificent Twelve Peaks and see century-old temples on the river banks.

Optional shore excursion package: this package makes it easy and includes a tour of Shibaozhai pagoda, enjoying a scenic small boat trip up Yangtze tributaries and visiting the Three Gorges Dam.

Danube River – Hungary, Austria & Germany

The Danube is Europe’s second-longest river, after the Volga, and travels 2860 km from Germany through ten countries in total. The most popular cruising section from Budapest, Hungary, to Regensburg, Germany, includes many great shore excursions and here are a notable few.

Budapest: City tour begins on the Pest side of the river; view Parliament, City Park, and Heroes Square. Cross to Buda to see the Royal Palace, Matthias Church and the graceful medieval architecture along the cobbled streets.

Bratislava: Tour the capital of Slovakia, a mix of modern and Baroque architecture with a rich history dating back more than 2000 years. Walk along the cobblestone lanes of the historic town center; view St Martin’s Cathedral, coronation site of the Kings of Hungary, the 13th century Old Town Hall and the Franciscan church.

Melk: Disembark for a guided tour of the historic Benedictine Abbey, considered one of the finest examples of Baroque architecture in Europe. View the Abbot’s chambers, the Kaiser’s walk, and the lavish library.

Salzburg optional tour: For those who haven’t been to Salzburg before, this is a great opportunity to see some of the city’s most historic sites on a walking tour, including Mirabell Palace, the Abbey, Salzburg Cathedral and St Peter’s Cemetery.

Rhine River – Netherlands, Germany & Switzerland

Flowing from the southeastern Swiss Alps, through the Rhineland and eventually to the North Sea in the Netherlands, the Rhine River is a vital navigable waterway. Its course has set many boundaries between countries or empires, hence the many castles and fortifications that we can still be seen on its banks.

Cologne: One of Germany’s largest cities and capital of the Rhineland, your walking tour is highlighted by the soaring, twin-steeple Gothic cathedral that is the geographical and spiritual heart of the city.

Koblenz: Located at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers, join an orientation walk and enjoy free time to explore the Romanesque architecture and imposing defensive towers of this 2000-year old city. Or, join the optional tour to the dramatic Marksburg Castle, the only hill castle on the Rhine that’s never been destroyed and has been continuously occupied for over 700 years.

Strasbourg: A lovely day awaits you in the Alsace capital of Strasbourg, situated on the border of France and Germany, blending the cultures of both countries. Discover Strasbourg on the tour highlighting the city’s centre, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Breisach: This small city dates back over 4000 years. On your walking tour along the cobbled streets lined with pastel-painted houses, it’s hard to believe this town was mostly destroyed in WWII and then totally restored to its original beauty. View the towering Romanesque and Gothic St Stephansmunster Cathedral.

Volga River – Russia

The legendary Volga an ideal passageway through Russia’s fascinating history and cultural traditions. The French writer Alexandre Dumas describes its significance well, “Every country has its national river and Russia has the Volga – the longest river in Europe, the Queen of rivers – and I was one of the many who went to bow to her Majesty River Volga.”

St Petersburg: Begin on the stunning Nevsky Prospekt, the main avenue of the city, planned by Peter the Great. Continue to view the Palace Square, Peter and Paul Fortress, St Isaac’s Cathedral with its huge golden dome and the magnificent Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, a superb example of Russian architecture. Visit the world-famous Hermitage Museum, housing the largest collection of priceless masterpieces by Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, Rembrandt and many others.

Goritsy: Visit the old Russian town with a rich historical and cultural heritage. Stroll the grounds of the 14th century Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery, also known as the Monastery of St Cyril of the White Lake, one of the largest and best preserved medieval Abbeys in Russia.

Uglich: This town played an important role in Russian history when Prince Dmitry used it as a hiding place from the bloody reign of his father Ivan the Terrible. Today’s walking tour will visit the Church of St Dimitry-on-Blood built in honour of the Prince on the exact spot where he was killed by his father’s forces, and the Transfiguration Cathedral impressively decorated with painted icons and frescoes.

Moscow: Begin your panoramic city tour at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, St Basil’s Cathedral and the former headquarters of the KGB. Explore storied Red Square, and visit GUM, a large department store that could easily be confused with a palace. Visit the Kremlin on a guided walking tour that takes you inside the former residence of the Russian Czars.

Find out more about included and optional shore excursions on each of our river cruise tours.

River Cruising with Gate 1 Travel
Europe

What’s It Like On A River Cruise?

In the last decade we’ve seen a huge growth in river cruising and it’s now one of the most popular ways to explore Europe. But what’s the appeal? Here we share more information about the cruises and Gate 1 travellers tell you what it’s like when you’re on board.

A Floating Hotel

Gate 1 Travel’s ships have been designed with the view in mind, with large windows in the cabins, dining rooms, lounges and other public spaces – and with few exterior visual obstructions on the outside decks. Throughout, you’ll find soothing interiors, top of the line furnishings and stylish décor.

From the restaurants, you’ll enjoy full outdoor views while dining and during the day you can relax on the sun deck and watch the passing scenery. In the evenings the top deck becomes the spot for star gazers, or you can share a drink with fellow travellers in the comfortable lounge. Take time out and curl up with a book or surf the internet in our generously-sized library and you can get yourself a cuppa whenever you wish from the 24-hour tea & coffee station.

But it’s not entirely like a hotel – because imagine unpacking your bag once and settling in to a room with an ever-changing view!

“What was unexpected for me about the Gate 1 Danube cruise was the standard of luxury we experienced.  A seriously divine bed, great cabin lighting, huge TV screen, large mirrors and a bathroom that ticked all the boxes for the travelling woman. Occasionally I just lay in bed watching the amazing scenery pass by.” Nicole T. from QLD, Australia, travelled on 9 Day Danube River Cruise

French Balcony Cabin on Monarch Empress

MS Monarch Empress – Spacious French Balcony Suite.

Food, Glorious Food

There’s a reason why the walking tours are so popular, because you need to work off all the delicious meals!

Each day begins with a hearty buffet breakfast, or if you want to get a head start we also offer an ‘early risers’ meal. Lunch is an international buffet with hot and cold selections, then dinner is a 5-course indulgence with a choice of wonderful dishes, accompanied by unlimited wine and beer. And for the night owls there’s also late snacks, so not only are our chefs are happy to cater for all dietary needs, but they never want to see you go hungry.

“I was on a lactose-free diet but the food I had was delicious, usually the same as the others but made without the lactose so I never felt I was missing out. The food was always great. In the two weeks we never had a bad meal and so many courses – how they do such a good job in such a small space is a credit to the staff and those poor waiters up and down the stairs and still smiles on their faces. The cheese waiter at the end of the meal was great entertainment value.” Sandra F. from NSW, Australia, travelled on 16 Day Classic European River Cruise

“The food and wine were exceptional as one would expect, but again the standard of the dining experience did not let us down.  My biggest concern was not eating too much, but it was easy to choose wisely from the huge variety of fresh and local dishes.  I just love the fact that each evening meal offered à la carte dining with beautiful wines included.” Nicole T., QLD Australia

So Much To See

While it’s tempting to stay on board and enjoy all the facilities, delivered right to your doorstep are exciting new experiences and wonderful places to explore.

Shore excursions are included to give you more information about the history and culture of the region. Sightseeing of different stops along the way include Vienna, with its legendary opulence and elegance, the historic Benedictine Abbey in Melk and see the beautiful churches and stone bridges of Regensburg. You can also walk in Bamberg’s medieval centre and take a glass-top boat cruise through the canals of Amsterdam.

“The shore excursions I expected would be just a walk around with one of the crew sharing whatever knowledge they had, but no – certainly not, we were always met by an experienced tour guide and our earphones where great, especially for the hard-of-hearing like my husband, so they didn’t miss anything. Even with the guide, our trusty tour director Peter was always there, usually bringing up the rear making sure the tour kept a pace every one could keep up with and always with a helping hand up and down steps and of course the cry of “watch out, bike coming”.

“During those excursions we always saw the tours from others ships, so they were doing the exact same thing as us only paying more. If we weren’t close to town a coach was always laid-on and we were given plenty of time to do our own thing if we wanted.” Sandra F., NSW Australia

Regensburg, Germany

Lounging Around & Being Entertained

There are many areas on the ships to sit, relax and escape for some quiet time if you wish. There are also comfortable places to enjoy the company of friends or mingle with your fellow travellers.

Each of the ships has a bar and lounge area, that’s ideal for socialising over a few drinks and taking advantage of the great happy hours. In the evenings our in-house musician will entertain you with world-class performances and many of our staff know how to put on a fun show.

One of the features of Gate 1’s ship is that they all have unobstructed viewing areas, so you can enjoy watching all the activity on the river or keep an eye out for the impressive landmarks as you cruise by.

Monarch Empress bar

Plenty of space to make new friends.

What Others Have to Say

“The trip was great. We were very happy with every aspect of the cruise – particularly the tour directors (specially Herbert – a real champion!) who were outstanding. Peter, the Executive Chef and his team also produced superb meals and all the service and housekeeping staff were terrific – unfailingly friendly and incredibly helpful. Amelia’s service and wine knowledge were impressive and Stefan’s bar service (especially his Bloody Mary) was legendary. The Master and crew did a great job getting us through without falling prey to shallow and obstructed waterways. We’d happily very strongly recommend this cruise to anyone.” James H, from ACT Australia, travelled on 16 Day Classic European River Cruise

“I must say that I had a wonderful time on my last cruise. The Gate 1 staff were wonderful, in particular Sabi our cruise coordinator. He has a lot of patience and he looked into all the finer details that would allow us to enjoy our cruise comfortably. He’s always there to help. I am impressed with the information we got prior to all events so we knew what’s going to happen the next day and all the important issues that we needed to be aware of. The local tour guides were all very good and knowledgeable. I’ll highly recommend Gate 1 travel to all my friends and relatives for sure whenever I have the chance!” Sim-Ha C., from NSW Australia, travelled on 14 Day Danube River Cruise with Budapest & Prague

Want to find out more about river cruising with Gate 1 Travel? Click here to see our full list of European River Cruises.

French cuisine
EuropeRegions

The Most Delicious Way to Discover The Real France

When you think of French cuisine, you might imagine elegantly trimmed plates with tiny portions served by stuffy white-gloved waiters. That image comes to mind quickly thanks to the haute cuisine movement (literally, “high cooking”) that has a firm grasp on luxury hotels and upmarket restaurants throughout Europe. But everyday French cuisine has its roots in a farming peasant culture. For centuries, simple ingredients have been drawn from the earth and prepared together in a kind of culinary alchemy. And every region has its specialty.

Champagne

The cuisine of the Champagne region is heavily influenced by that of Lorraine and Alsace to the east. Wild game such as boar is popular here, as is all manner of ham. You’re also likely to find the Breux potato on menus here, especially in towns that border Lorraine, as that region’s growing conditions for the root vegetable are considered among the best in the world. Smoked bacon is used in many dishes, including the famous quiche Lorraine. Alsatian influence can be sensed in the German-style cuisine, including choucroute, the French version of sauerkraut, and tarte flambee, a kind of white-cheese and bacon flatbread with onion.

But Champagne is best known, of course, for its sparkling wine. One of its most famous streets is in Epernay, the Avenue de Champagne. Residents call it the most expensive street in the world for the millions of champagne bottles stored in cellars beneath the buildings that belong to the likes of Moet et Chandon and Mercier. The region’s dedication to bubbly is visible during the most casual of drives into the province; more than 60% of Champagne’s terrain is used in agriculture. From this fertile land, hundreds of millions of bottles of champagne are produced.

Brittany

The peninsula-like Brittany is surrounded by the sea – the English Channel, the Celtic Sea and the Bay of Biscay. So as you can imagine, seafood is an important part of its cuisine, especially mussels and oysters. Fish stew, known locally as cotriade, is always popular, made with potatoes and often poured over a toasted baguette. By some accounts, the beurre blanc sauce, a hollandaise-like sauce made with butter and white wine, was invented here and is often served with fish as well. Farm-based dishes are also prevalent, from kig ha farz, a stewed pork or beef with buckwheat dumplings, to gallette, a crusty cake filled with savory fillings.

With its proximity to the sea, Brittany is also a large producer of salt. This may seem a small matter, but it is used to prepare much of the cuisine beloved by local Bretons. The mineral is used to make butter, which in turn is used to prepare the region’s famous pastries such as kouign amann, or butter cake, and far Breton, similar to a sweet Yorkshire pudding. And you cannot step into a shop in Brittany without being tempted by the quaint iron boxes that contain the area’s ubiquitous biscuits, prepared with – you guessed it – salted butter.

Loire Valley France

Chateau de Chenonceau, Loire Valley ~ photo courtesy of @tommie.larsen

Loire

It should come as no surprise that the Loire Valley, “the Garden of France,” offers up a huge variety of fruits and vegetables. Cherries are harvested here to satisfy a local appetite for Guignolet liqueur. Belle Angevine pears grow sweet and juicy. And the region’s strawberries and melons are hard to pass by. Like in Brittany, seafood is often served in beurre blanc sauce, a mixture of butter and white wine. Wild game, beef, and poultry are raised here. And it’s common to find young vegetables such as asparagus and artichoke served on your plate, perhaps alongside champignons de Paris, the region’s beloved mushrooms.

Loire wines lean toward the fruity side, with fresh flavours. Buttery white Vouvray, crisp Sauvignon Blanc with hints of grapefruit and gooseberry, smooth and light Pinot Noir, and sparkling Cremant are just four of the most popular grapes grown here along the meandering Loire River.

Normandy France

Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy ~ photo courtesy of @vando-300

Normandy

Seafood takes center stage in Normandy. Oysters, scallops, and mussels are cultivated on the coast in huge numbers and shipped to the rest of the country. Sea bass, monkfish and sole are common, served in sauces rich with butter. Apple trees grow in abundance here, too, and the fruit is used in many dishes, from mussels cooked in apples and cream to partridge flamed with apples.

For something with a kick, locals might sip kir normand, a shot or so of crème de cassis with apple cider. But Normandy might best be known for its Calvados, the apple brandy produced only in this part of the world. As for dessert, Normandy’s version of the apple tart, the Tarte Tatin, shouldn’t be missed – though even the locals often miss the correct pronunciation, calling it “tan tan tan tan” in local dialect.

If the thought of travelling to these delicious destinations has got your taste buds tingling, see Gate 1 Travel’s sumptuous selection of tours in France.

Ireland
Europe

Immerse Yourself In The Culture of Ireland

You raise a pint to the uplifting sound of traditional music and listen as your pub-mate recounts how he tried to conquer the croagh just across the lough. He and his bird made it halfway up and it started bucketing brutal. Now he’s bushed and happy to sit here and blather with his Black Stuff and colcannon.

If you know everyday Irish slang, you know that you’ve been listening to “trad”itional Irish music and your friend and his girlfriend made it only halfway up that mountain that’s on the other side of the lake before it started pouring rain. Exhausted, he’s content to chatter endlessly, drink his Guinness, and eat his mashed potatoes and cabbage.

Colourful language comprises just a fraction of the fun that makes up Irish culture. When you journey to the Emerald Isle with a Gate 1 Small Group Tour, you’re sure to uncover more. And rest assured, it’ll be craic! (That’s pronounced “crack” and it means — we promise — you’ll have a great time!)

A Song in Their Hearts

When the Irish dance the night away, they’re summoning a tradition that stretches back generations. In many cities it’s a nightly ritual to gather at rustic, relaxed pubs to catch up with neighbours over a pint or two. The purpose of these original gathering spots was more to socialise than to drink. Today, if the band’s in the house to play some trad music, or traditional Irish music, there’s no telling when last call will be.

Trad music’s main instruments are harps, timpans (small stringed instruments played with a bow), fifes, buinnes (oboe or flute) and other winds, bagpipes and fiddles. These ensembles and the folk music they play have survived into Ireland’s modern culture with more confidence than the traditional music of other European countries. For this, scholars thank Ireland’s remote location in relation to the European continent. Because it is situated so far west, it never became a battleground in the two world wars, so the oral traditions on which music thrives carried through the 20th century uninterrupted.

Irish dance has a similarly interesting background. This type of step-dancing has been influenced by the travelling performers of the 18th and 19th centuries. They showed up at fairgrounds or competitions and had to jockey for position in a crowded space, leaving them little room to perform. Some would hop onto a tabletop just to be seen. So it was by necessity that their dance style was so contained, with arms rigid at their sides. A more sedate dance is the ceili, in which up to eight couples form a square and dance in formation.

A Rich Literary Tradition

For such a small country, Ireland’s literary influence on the world has been huge. It is proudly home to four Nobel Prize Laureates: William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney. The first three were all born in Dublin, which earns that city bragging rights as the birthplace of the most literary laureates in the world. To some, this disproportionate literary surge makes sense; after all, Irish literature is the third oldest in history so it’s had a lot of time to achieve perfection!

Of course, many others also contributed to the Irish literary canon, and to the cultural pantheon of the world. Who has not heard of Dracula, whose legend was first penned by Bram Stoker? What child has not delighted to the stories of Narnia, C.S. Lewis’s creation? And what lover of wit and social satire has not loved the plays of Oscar Wilde? All these beloved authors were Irish, despite that they lived much of their lives in London.

But perhaps Ireland’s most famous book is one of its very first. In the library of Trinity College in Dublin, four bound volumes are kept in a protected case. Together, these books comprise the four Gospels of the New Testament. The Book of Kells, as it is named (after the Abbey in which it was kept for centuries) is thought to have been created in 800 A.D. Each of its pages is elaborately and intricately illuminated with calligraphy, illustration, and geographic designs painted with ink that was imported to the “author” monks from exotic lands. It is one of Ireland’s most prized possessions.

Irish Cuisine: Beyond the Potato

The food of Ireland hasn’t traditionally been thought of as exciting or innovative. But that is changing as modern-day culinary awareness bolsters menus all around the world.

On the most basic level, Irish cuisine springs from the farm culture that has long defined the country. For centuries, it was a meat and vegetable culture until the potato arrived in the 16th century. No one could know then that this modest root vegetable would have dramatic effects on the Irish, their culture and their politics. In fact, it’s fair to say that never before or since the Irish Potato Famine has a food altered the course of history so dramatically, instigating a mass exodus, changing the country’s birth rate and demographics for generations, and inciting political upheavals that would leave scars for decades.

Today, more than 150 years after the famine, the potato is plentiful. It appears in Irish stew, boxty (a kind of potato pancake), coddle (a stew of leftovers, which almost always includes potatoes), and colcannon (mashed potatoes with kale or cabbage).

A new Irish cuisine has taken hold in the last 30 years or so. Led largely by the graduating chefs from the Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork (which was founded by a local celebrity chef who embraces the slow food movement), new gastronomies — from pizza to curries to West African flavours — have been shaking things up in Irish kitchens. Salmon, trout, shellfish, fresh vegetables and an array of cheeses now being produced throughout Ireland are raising the culinary bar in restaurants from Dublin to Galway. Perhaps this shift is an echo from Giuseppe Cervi, an Italian immigrant who brought a new dish to Ireland in the 1880s: fish and chips. His creation is now, of course, synonymous with Ireland and its British neighbours.

From language and song to literature and cuisine, it’s easy to lose yourself in the lovely and lilting culture of Ireland. Reserve our Irish Culture trip today, and you’ll soon be greeted with a hearty “Failte!” — the warm Irish welcome.

Experience Ireland’s warm and wonderful culture for yourself during our Classic tours, Small Groups or Luxury collection. Click here for trip details!

Portugal, Lisbon
Europe

There’s A Lot To Like About Lisbon

Portugal is often overshadowed by its flamboyant Spanish neighbour, but don’t be fooled, this too is a destination rich in history and colourful culture. Lisbon is one of Europe’s best value capital cities and there’s so much to love about its attractions and outgoing personality!

You could spend weeks, or longer, getting to know Lisbon intimately, but if you need to pack all that into a few days, here’s our Top 3: Must See, Do and Eat in this captivating city.

High on a Hill:

To really get an appreciation for the landscape surrounding Portugal’s capital city, you should start walking up, and up! Climbing up to the Castlo de São Jorge will definitely get the heart pumping, but the views from the top are worth it. The hilltop castle dates back to the Moorish occupation of Portugal in the 11th and 12th centuries, but the existing citadel is mainly medieval and contains the ruins of the royal palace and the gardens. While exploring the shaded courtyards and visiting the galleries with ancient relics is well worth your time, the real star of the show here is the view!

Historic Belem:

Once where Lisbon’s elite lived to escape the less salubrious surrounds of the inner city, today Belem is open to everyone to enjoy the picturesque riverside district in Lisbon’s west. Located here are many of the capital’s most notable attractions, such as the 16th century Belem Tower and extravagant Jeronimos Monastery. There’s also the Museu Colecção Berardo, with an impressive collection of modern art including works by Warhol, Man Ray and Pollock. There are many other museums to discover or you can enjoy relaxing in Jardim da Praca do Imperio, Europe’s largest plaza filled with decorative gardens and water features.

Belem Tower Lisbon

Belem Tower, Lisbon – photo by @westcoasttamara

Food, Glorious Food:

From street stalls to fancy restaurants, you can enjoy so many wonderful local flavours in Lisbon. At Mercado da Ribeira you can choose from kiosks serving a delicious selection of snacks or more substantial meals and Mercado de Fusao also has great sidewalk food stalls. If you’re in Lisbon over winter, then November to January is when you MUST try castanhas – Portugal’s famous roasted chestnuts, found at mobile vendors on street corners around the city. Of course the other must-try treat is Pasteis de Nata, a creamy custard tart that originated at the Antiga Confeitaria de Belem. Entering this tile-decorated bakery is an experience to be savoured almost as much as the sweet pastries. Pasteis de Belem are made from a secret recipe that’s been carefully guarded for over 200 years. An oven-warm tart with a cup of coffee is the ideal way to start your day, but we dare you to try to stop at one!

Want to savour more of Portugal’s wonderful highlights? Click here to see Gate 1 Travel’s tantalising selection of escorted tours.

Hurry, until 31 March, 2017, you can get 20% OFF Gate 1 Travel tours in Portugal (and the rest of Europe this year!) – click here to find out more today!

Europe

Spain: Splendid Architecture, Sweeping History, Breathtaking Beauty

Spain long held a strategic role as a link between North Africa and Europe. For centuries, anyone who controlled the Iberian peninsula held great commercial and political power; variously throughout history, Moors, Arabs, Christians and countless others knew this and called Spain their own. Still today, Spanish hills and plains embrace richly adorned citadels and Moorish influences can be seen coast to coast.

But still … you have to wonder if they were all just in it for the gorgeous real estate. After all, Spain boasts a very singular beauty: central plateaus rise to the snow-capped splendour of the Pyrenees in the north and the Sierra Nevadas toward the south. Vineyards and olive groves blanket the famed ‘plains of Spain’. Mediterranean beaches invite long strolls and refreshing dips. One can only envy Don Quixote’s wanderings across such a rhapsodic land.

The masterpieces of those former kingdoms still stand – fortresses, cathedrals and citadels of staggering scale. And today Spain overflows with thrilling culture, colourful history, and a diverse natural beauty that takes your breath away. So we invite you to raise a glass of sangria, cava or rioja … to a spellbinding land lauded by Hemingway and immortalised by Cervantes … a land where a flamenco-fueled fiesta is sure to follow close on the heels of an afternoon siesta.

The Beating Heart of Spain

You might call Madrid “el corazón de España” – the heart of Spain – the central point and capital from which Spanish life and culture flow. Its colossal Royal Palace, on the vast Plaza Oriente, was built on the site of a former Alcazar, or castle, in the mid-1700s by Philip V and Carlos III. Paired with the adjacent Almudena Cathedral, it is a spectacular site. The Plaza de España – with its skyscrapers and towering memorial to Cervantes – is no less impressive. Art lovers flock to El Prado, the huge repository of Spanish art featuring the works of Goya, Velazquez, Picasso, El Greco, and countless others.

History is palpable in the UNESCO World Heritage City of Segovia, north of Madrid. The Romanesque city has gone untouched for six centuries, but its most amazing site predates even that. The remarkably preserved Roman aqueduct stretches 2,700 feet long and – at its highest – 90 feet tall; it is a remarkable feat of ancient engineering, built without a dash of mortar. The city’s Jewish Quarter, or aljama as it was historically known, stands as testament to the city’s diverse past. The enormous Alcazar watches over it all from the city’s edge.

Toledo is considered by lovers of Spanish history and art a national monument, a rich canvas of all the elements that have shaped today’s Spain. Both Moorish and Christian architecture survive here, having had little influence on one another, a rarity in Spain. Steep, cobbled streets offer endless (though strenuous!) strolls. Its St Tome Church evokes the romance of the high-style Gothic era, and the city’s many museums have earned it the moniker, ‘The Museum City’.

Farther west, historic Salamanca rises on the plains like a medieval crown. This breathtaking city is home to one of Europe’s oldest universities, founded in 1134, and was long a major intellectual centre of Europe. Still today, it exudes a lively student vibe and café scene. But the city’s most impressive sight is its massive cathedral that dominates the skyline. You could consider it two cathedrals in one: the Old Cathedral was built in the 12th century and the “New” four centuries later. Together, they are an imposing echo of the power of Christianity in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

To the North, Sample World-Class Art and Wine

The Mediterranean climate of the province of Rioja – on par with southern France and Italy’s Tuscany – creates a prime wine-growing environment. Vineyards and bodegas, or tasting rooms, dot a landscape of rolling valleys and towering mountain ranges. We find it the perfect northern idyll for its wine-tasting opportunities.

Perhaps the north’s most famous city is Bilbao, linked to the Bay of Biscay by the Nervion River. Frank Gehry’s 1997 Guggenheim Museum might have put this city on the international map – a wondrous work of glass, titanium and limestone – but Bilbao’s Old Quarter, or Casco Viejo, is a fantastic preservation of the medieval city’s original seven parallel streets.

Live the Spain of Your Dreams in Andalusia

For many, Andalusia – the sun-kissed southern province on the Mediterranean – is the real Spain: flamenco dancers, matadors, bougainvillea spilling over wrought-iron balconies in white villages, and the Alhambra. The truth is, Andalusia is only a slice of this scintillating country – but a glorious, historic, and festive one.

Perhaps no other city conveys Spain’s diverse past as powerfully as Córdoba, once the most populous city in the world and the intellectual centre of medieval Europe. Its Jewish Quarter and synagogue are marvellously authentic pockets of history that were once strolled by the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides. The marriage of Muslim and Christian is poignant in the massive mosque-cathedral of La Mezquita – also known as the Mosque of the Caliphs. Its forest of 856 columns of jasper, onyx, marble and granite is an unforgettable sight. Predating all of this is the still-standing first-century Roman bridge over the Guadalquivir River.

Seville, home of the flamenco, is arguably one of Spain’s great cities. Its cathedral is the largest Gothic building on earth. Christopher Columbus, one of the country’s heroes, is entombed here. This too was once a mosque; when Spaniards razed it, they couldn’t bring themselves to tear down its lovely minaret. So they topped it with a five-story bell tower that shifts in the breeze and called it La Giralda, roughly translated as “something that turns.” Nearby, the Santa Cruz Quarter – the Jewish Quarter in medieval times – is a labyrinthine network of intimate warrens. A more recent symbol of the city, the Plaza de España, is a graceful, tile-adorned work of perfection, built for the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition.

Any visitor to Granada will understand why Boabdil, its last Moorish king, wept when he lost his city to Ferdinand and Isabella. Indeed, its magnificent setting and palatial fortress brings a tear to the eye of many a visitor. The palace overlooks today’s modern city, but within its walls kings and caliphs savoured a world of their own: cavernous rooms, ornate courtyards and extensive gardens overlooking snow-capped peaks.

Catch Spain’s Mediterranean Breezes

The resort town of Torremolinos provides a taste of Spanish beach life. Mediterranean sands and the city’s delightful beachside promenade are right across the street from your hotel, and the town’s shops in the upper town invite an afternoon of browsing. It all makes for a relaxed stay, but truth be told, relaxing may be the last thing on your mind when you’re tempted with a day trip Morocco, right across the Strait of Gibraltar. If you opt for our tour including a three-night stay on the Costa del Sol, there’ll be time to embark on a ferry and explore the intoxicating streets of Tangier, touring its colourful medina and perusing the treasures and trinkets of the Grand Bazaar.

Farther east lies the city where the famous Spanish dish of paella was invented by fishermen. Fed by Mediterranean moisture and the waters of the Turia River, Valencia is Spain’s Garden City. Its most historic buildings – aside from its ornate City Hall – huddle around a 14th-century cathedral. But perhaps its most incredibly preserved structure is the Torres Serranos, or City Gates, that have greeted travellers for thousands of years. A decidedly more modern addition is the Arts and Science City, a massive and futuristic complex of entertainment and museums.

Barcelona stands as Spain’s jewel on the Mediterranean – though residents of this Catalonia capital have long advocated for secession. No matter your opinion on the local issue, the city is a vibrant metropolis of long boulevards, hopping cafes, ocean breezes and surreal echoes of its native son Antoni Gaudí. For a true taste of Catalan culture, there’s no place like Las Ramblas, the pedestrian zone lined with cafes, tapas bars and shops. Even more of a draw, is La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s perennially unfinished cathedral. This soaring masterpiece – and the charming structures within his vast Parc Guell – look torn from the pages of a storybook. Outside of town, Montjuic Hill overlooks the city. The hill saw intense competition at the 1992 Summer Olympics in the Olympic Stadium, still in use today.

Take in All of Iberia – Add Portugal!

You’ve long heard of Portugal as the launching pad for the Age of Discoveries. You can discover this beautiful nation rich in tradition for yourself when you choose a Gate 1 itinerary that helps you explore beyond Spain’s borders.

From Portugals’ shores, courageous mariners set sail to claim new lands, map the world, and develop global trade. Much of Lisbon’s wealth was built on these endeavors, as its palaces, monasteries and monuments show. And in the city’s Alfama district, strains of Fado music spill into narrow lanes. Farther north, on the Douro River, the city of Porto has witnessed a long history of wine making – beginning with the ports produced in the nearby Douro River Valley, the world’s first demarcated wine zone.

There are so many reasons to visit Spain with Gate 1 Travel. Rich history, magnificent landscapes, stunning architecture and opulent palaces might top your list. Gate 1 Travel gives you another reason – a value that you simply won’t find anywhere else. Join us!

Follow this link to our exciting Spain Tours. Or call 1300 653 618 to speak to our travel specialists!

Europe

Italy and its Wonders from Top to Toe

Towering mountain peaks that plunge through emerald forests. Culture-steeped cities perched over glittering, cobalt seas. Cathedrals that soar, artwork that inspires, and cuisine that tempts the palate and then lingers on the memory—Italy is all of these things and more.

To truly immerse yourself in la dolce vita of Italy, you need to know the local people and what they love about their land; at Gate 1 Travel, we do. Our Tour Managers unveil to you their country’s most thrilling and fascinating sights, and are eager to enlighten you about Italy’s most beloved treasures. And as you arrive at some of Italy’s most visited museums and landmarks, you’ll bypass the long lines, thanks to our pre-purchased entry—offering more time for discoveries.

Welcome to Gate 1’s Italy!

Capitals of Culture: Rome, Venice, Florence & Milan

Rome really is an Eternal City, where past and present intermingle. On streets 2,000 years old, Vespas scoot by visitors soaking in the loveliness of the city’s charming piazzas. These open plazas embody public art at its finest, adorned with finely sculpted fountains carved by some of history’s greatest artists, from Bernini to della Porta.

Piazza to piazza, the architecture astounds—the Romans didn’t do anything by halves. Here, the Pantheon, built to honour the gods, soars to the skies. Its revolutionary crown – still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome – is a masterwork of Roman engineering that has never been duplicated. And the ancient Colosseum still dazzles: Once able to host 80,000 spectators, this was where Romans gathered to witness gladiatorial combat and contests between men and beasts.

Art and architecture come together in inspiring fashion in Vatican City. Surely, St. Peter’s Basilica and its sprawling square is one of the most moving pilgrimage sites in all of Christendom. Whether it is faith or art history that beckons you, the Vatican Museum rewards with one of the world’s undisputed treasures: Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment, painstakingly painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. In total, the artist painted more than 5,000 square feet of frescoes here. Today, they remain a wonder of rich colour and sumptuous detail.

Rome might think of itself as the pinnacle of Italian culture, but citizens of Venice would firmly disagree. The glories of the Venetian Empire, which ruled much of the Adriatic region for over 1,000 years, are on full display. The glittering domes of St. Mark’s Basilica watch over its namesake square, which Napoleon once called “the drawing room of Europe” for its grace and beauty. The nearby Doge’s Palace was the empire’s centre. Here, opulent chambers recall the lifestyles of the rich and regal. And the Bridge of Sighs, which connects the palace to the prison, afforded the final view that convicted criminals enjoyed (and “sighed” over) before they were locked away. And you can still find Murano glass, a true Venetian treasure, being shaped on the neighbouring island by descendants of the finest glass blowers in history.

It didn’t take a kingdom to elevate Florence—just a family. The politically powerful and deep-pocketed Medicis made the city the epicentre of art and intrigue alike, a powerful draw for the greatest minds and talents of Europe. No wonder Florence gave birth to the Renaissance. With its grand buildings, sculptures, gardens and the astonishing Duomo of the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore, the city is an open-air museum of the period that defined it. And visitors have two chances here to see its most iconic work, Michelangelo’s David: The original is in the Accademia of Fine Arts and a replica stands in the Piazza della Signoria.

Milan may not have given rise to an entire movement, but it made a name for itself as the heart of fashion in a nation that puts other countries to shame when it comes to style. You might never strut the catwalks of Fashion Week here, but you can always make your own runway with a stroll through the glamorous Victor Emmanuel Galleria, a 19th century pedestrian mall beneath a large arched glass ceiling. It’s the perfect distillation of Italian city life—stylish, historic, and aesthetically beautiful all in one.

Splendour of the Hills

When you leave the bustle of metropolitan centres for lush valleys and romantic hill towns, Italy’s astonishing natural beauty comes into view. At the medieval fortified town of Montecatini, spectacular vistas of emerald-hued slopes await—if you can tear yourself away from a soak in the city’s extensive thermal-fed spas. Travellers have long come here to “take the waters,” and you may do the same during your free time. 

Italy’s hill towns each boast a unique flavour and a distinct character. Lucca is a gem of medieval architecture. Its spectacularly preserved 17th-century wall is still fully intact and today is home to a public park that’s ideal for strolling and taking in amazing countryside views of olive and fig groves. Within its walls, the original Roman street layout reveals layer upon layer of history. Umbrian Assisi straddles a hilltop, appearing more like a fortress than a major centre of the Franciscan Order, though the view from the city is indeed heavenly. Historic Verona is more focused on earthly pursuits, from the remarkably preserved amphitheatre to the charming balcony on which Shakespeare’s Juliet is said to have swooned over her famous suitor.

Verdant green hillsides spill down to the sparkling waters of Lago di Como, or Lake Como, in Lombardy. Playground of jet-setters and celebrities, this vast and glistening lake is surrounded by cypress trees, earth-toned villas, lush gardens and spectacular mountain views. It is pure pleasure simply to be here and stroll the scenic lakeside promenade, and it’s hard to resist a cruise to nearby Bellagio, “The Pearl of Lake Como.” The gentle waves lapping at the shores of this lyrical red-roofed village whisper, “Come again…”

The Glittering Sea

As lovely a backdrop as Lake Como might be, it is easily rivalled by the stunning sweep of Italy’s jaw-dropping coastline. On the Italian Riviera, Cinque Terre, a necklace of five villages clinging to cliff sides, is one of the world’s most enchanting destinations. Largely untouched by the congestion of the modern world, the villages can only be accessed by foot or animal trail or by a 19th-century railway.

The Amalfi Coast tempts with one of the world’s most scenic drives, tracing dramatic and rocky shores to quaint seaside villages and colourful houses that seem to spill into the sea, from Positano to Ravello. Its gateway is Sorrento – famed for its limoncello lemon liqueur and its sweeping views of the Gulf of Naples.

On the Ligurian coast, romance and glamour infuse the route from Portofino to Chiavari with palm-fringed beaches and pastel-coloured villas. At the heart of the beauty lies Rapallo, home to the 16th century Castello sul Mare (Castle-on-the-Sea), built to keep out pirates (though it’s understandable why they’d be attracted to such a pretty port).

Sicilian Wonders

Sicily knows a thing or two about pirates, having launched its own in the Roman era (including a crew which kidnapped Julius Caesar) and coming under attack from Barbary pirates for years after. An island of fierce individualism and cultural pride, its heritage nonetheless reflects the influences of the many empires which have tried to tame it.

The island has been a crossroads of civilisations for centuries and countless cultures left their mark here – from the hilltop Norman Cathedral in Monreale to the 12th-century Byzantine mosaics within. The island’s heart is Palermo, its Old Town a stunning blend of architectural styles, many of them represented in the Palermo Cathedral, which was built and enhanced over centuries.

A spectacular sampling of Greek culture defines Agrigento. Here, in the Valley of the Temples, are the best preserved worship sites outside mainland Greece, including the Temple of Juno and incredibly intact Temple of Concordia. Remarkably restored Roman villas are nearby, providing unique insight into the lives of that era.

The most active volcano in Europe, Mt. Etna is the island’s true conqueror, outlasting all other regimes. It watches over Taormina and Catania alike. Perched on a rocky plateau, Taormina overlooks the Bay of Naxos and the Ionian Sea. The meticulous preservation of its Greek stadium and its walls is equaled only by the coastal vista from its hillside setting. To the south, Catania stood on par with Florence for its cultural and artistic contributions during the Renaissance. Much of the town was destroyed during a 1693 earthquake, and so today it boasts a more baroque flavor, with wide-open piazzas and colourful markets.

Undiscovered Beauty

Perhaps less well known to outsiders than Sicily—and thus seldom as crowded—the Puglia region spreads across the heel of Italy’s boot. Surrounded by turquoise sea, the port city of Bari has been welcoming home sailors and fishermen for more than two millennia. At the open-air market, locals buy the day’s catch, often brought ashore by their own friends and loved ones. The Bari Cathedral and the grand Romanesque Basilica of San Nicola show that Italy’s penchant for artistry didn’t miss Puglia. The same is true in Lecce, where baroque gems outline 300 year-old cobblestone streets. From its Piazza del Duomo to its 2nd century Roman amphitheatre, it’s easy to see why Lecce is fondly named the “Florence of the South.

Like in the rest of Italy, history stretches back across the centuries in Puglia, as a visit to a pair of UNESCO World Heritage Sites reveals. Alberobello is home to 14th-century dry stone huts known as trulli, small conical structures based on prehistoric building techniques. And in Matera, the Paleolithic Age is revealed by the mysterious Sassi, ancient stone dwellings carved into rock, believed to be the first human settlements in Italy.

Truly, the full sweep of human history awaits you here, from boot to heel and mountain to sea.

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