Category: Regions

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.

Join Gate 1 Travel in Italy to Make the Most of Your Visit, and Your Budget

You’re coming this far…add another country! Italy’s neighbours each have their own story to tell, and savvy travellers know that combining trips makes the most of their travel dollars. Follow the route of Venetian tradesman to Croatia & Slovenia, taking in gems like seaside Opatija and Dubrovnik, the UNESCO World Heritage site. Add a fourth additional country, with Bosnia fleshing out your Balkans experience. Compare the best of Italy with the ancient gems of Greece or a kaleidoscope of cultural capitals in Spain or combined with France.

Gate 1 offers choice not just in where you explore—but how. Prefer the up-close access and intimate feeling of a small group trip? Join Italy, La Dolce Vita, a 12-day tour that opens doors that large groups just can’t access. Italy your way is always possible with Gate 1.

For the richest discoveries at the best value, join Gate 1 and discover the timeless appeal of Italy!

Asia & Pacific

India’s Impressive Royal Residences

Think palaces and your mind probably wanders to the most famous Buckingham Palace, or Europe’s iconic treasures such as Versaille and Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna. Yet in Asia you’ll also find many grand buildings that were once royal residences and today India’s Golden Triangle is still dripping in glorious mansions and Mughal retreats.

Agra Fort, India
A former imperial residence and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the red sandstone Agra Fort is more like a walled city, with its incredible maze of courtyards, mosques and lavish private chambers reflecting the grandeur of the Mughal Empire.

Agra Fort India

Visit Agra Fort on 11 Day Kaleidoscope of India

Hawa Mahal – Jaipur, India
Renowned ‘Palace of the Winds’, or Hawa Mahal, has become the famous symbol of Jaipur, the ‘Pink City’. This five-story palace was built in 1799 and its 953 windows were designed to give the royal women a view of everyday life without appearing in public. While in Jaipur you can also visit the opulent City Palace, that is now a grand museum with an extraordinary collection of miniature paintings, costumes and armoury.

Jaipur Palace by @awieyap

Hawa Mahal by @awieyap

Amber Fort – Jaipur, India
Spectacular Amber Fort is a stunning fusion of Mughal and Hindu styles with its gorgeous Palace of Mirrors. Ascend the hill to the ramparts and from here see the panoramic views of Jaipur’s original city walls and the lake below.

Amber Fort India

Visit Amber Fort on 8 Day Golden Triangle of India

These are just a small selection of India’s incredible residences that were once occupied by emperors and their households. More can be discovered on Gate 1 Travel’s 8 Day Golden Triangle of India, or travel further in the footsteps of royalty on our 13 Day Golden Triangle of India with Nepal.

 

Copenhagen
Europe

Scandinavia In A Word: Spectacular

Lovers of European history and culture can’t get enough of the continent. But many gravitate toward central and southern Europe. And as many Gate 1 travellers will tell you, they’re missing out.

In the continent’s northern reaches, sweeping vistas and rich cultures unlike anywhere else on Earth are begging to be explored: deep, dramatic fjords and colossal glaciers shimmer in untouched splendour. Charming farmhouses dwarfed by soaring peaks nestle in gently sloping valleys of green … cosmopolitan cities and quaint villages are married to the ebb and flow of the sea … a fascinating past stretches all the way to the Viking Age. What’s more, it’s all celebrated in some of the world’s most magnificent painting, music and literature borne from passionate national pride.

Norway’s Rich Culture and Magnificent Fjords

Norwegian Oslo exudes all the flair of any major European capital. The city takes full advantage of its seaside location, boasting a beautifully restored quay and a modern, world-class Opera House that slopes dramatically into the water. This innovative structure only hints at the city’s – and the nation’s – deep desire to stay connected to the natural world. You can witness the full expression of this desire at Vigeland Sculpture Park, a stunning outdoor installation of 212 bronze and granite sculptures depicting various stages of life. The artist behind these figures, Gustav Vigeland, is also beloved as the designer of the Nobel Peace Prize medal, which is awarded each year in Oslo’s City Hall. To glimpse Scandinavia’s Viking past, you can opt to visit three restored ships used by the explorers 1,200 years ago.

If the cosmopolitan beauty of Oslo takes your breath away, Norway’s natural beauty will send your spirit soaring. Lillehammer, situated at the northern end of Lake Mjosa, hosted the 1994 Winter Olympic Games and you’ll understand why when you witness its alpine setting. The town of Lom is home to one of the best preserved stave churches in the country, its wooden structure taking inspiration from its woodland surroundings. It was built without a single nail! But perhaps there is no more inspirational feature of Norway than its fjords.

Cruising the glacier-carved fjords is surely one of life’s most unforgettable and astonishing experiences. Depending on your itinerary, you’ll savour a leisurely cruise through Sognefjord, the longest and deepest of them all, and witness the magnificent natural splendour of these glacier-carved landscapes during a ride on the legendary Flam railway, passing flower-filled pastures, waterfalls and snow-covered peaks. This spectacular train journey, one of the world’s most scenic, climbs to 3,000 feet in 12 miles, delivering you to unbelievable vistas.

Nestled amidst it all is the historic coastal city of Bergen, capital of history’s Hanseatic League, the mercantile trade organisation that controlled much of northern Europe’s trade in the Middle Ages. Its neat and pretty wooden structures recall the heydays when cargo ships unloaded pelts, spice, bronze and countless other wares from distant lands, filling the coffers of local merchants with endless riches. Today’s fish market still bustles with shoppers and made-to-order lunch stalls. Visit the Bergen Museum to learn more about this influential city’s fascinating past.

There is no more breathtaking way to take in the pristine and remote beauty of Norway than on a coastal cruise. You’ll trace the routes of postal ships, stopping at culture-rich cities and charming villages tucked into stunning fjords along the way. Exact itineraries of our multiple-night cruises vary. You might disembark to admire the Art Nouveau architecture of Alesund, rebuilt in this style after a fire destroyed the city in the early 20th century. Explore Trondheim, Norway’s oldest city and original capital. Cross the Arctic Circle, where you might spot sea eagles amidst the dramatic vistas of Bodo. Visit the Lofoten and Vesteralen Islands, known for their soaring granite cliffs and tiny fishing villages. Stop in Tromso, historic gateway to the northerly polar reaches, and witness the northernmost points of Europe during a call to Honningsvag or Hammerfest. Take all these sites in, and so much more, as you cruise among magnificent fjords and past staggering coastal mountains.

Sweden’s Grand Historic Capital

Spread across a vast archipelago, Stockholm is Sweden’s scintillating capital. Three of the city’s historic buildings stand out. The Royal Palace, a vast Italian-Baroque wonder and home to the Swedish royal family, overlooks the water from its perch on the island of Stadsholmen. Riddarholm Church, with its tall spire pointing skyward from the island of Riddarholmen, was the royal burial place until 1950. And the Romanesque City Hall on the island of Kungsholmen, with architectural touches that mirror the great buildings of Venice, hosts the Nobel Prize banquet each year. The city’s Gamla Stan, or Old Town, is a delightful maze of cobbled streets that lead to inviting squares surrounded by gabled houses and grand public buildings.

Second only to Stockholm in size and cultural offerings, Gothenburg is a lively university town. Many call it the friendliest city in Sweden, if not all of Scandinavia. One thing is certain: Its youthful vibe is truly contagious. You can tour this vibrant city via its charming 17th-century canals.

Denmark’s Fairytale Splendour

South of Sweden across the five-mile Oresund Bridge lies the island of Zealand, part of the nation of Denmark and home to the Danish capital, Copenhagen. The city is a delightful amalgam of elegant palaces, fairytale streets and beautiful public spaces. But amidst all the city’s grandiosity, every visitor is drawn to the Little Mermaid statue in the quaint park of Langelinie. The charming sculpture is based on the fairy tale written by the city’s native son, Hans Christian Andersen. During your stay in this pretty city, try a traditional smorrebrod, the Danish version of an open-faced sandwich. And if you wish, venture out of town to visit some of the country’s famed castles, including Elsinor, made famous by Shakespeare when he penned Hamlet.

Iceland’s Primeval Beauty

It’s easy to forget that Iceland is part of Scandinavia. But once you visit, you’ll surely never forget the unspoiled natural beauty that seems to steer you back to the very beginning of Earth’s origins.

Reykjavik is the nation’s gateway and the world’s northernmost capital city. You can get a good look at the city layout from Oskjuhlid Hill, where the lookout spot of Perlan provides excellent views. But you’ll want a closer look. As you explore the city, you’ll no doubt notice a charm reminiscent of smaller-scale buildings from the continent’s Old Towns. No grand palaces and enormous open squares here, just a delightful fully functioning city frozen in time that befits the nation’s small population. You’ll see the modest stone Parliament and the adjacent Cathedral, the National Museum, and the Hofdi House, where Reagan and Gorbachev famously met in 1986. Of course, a trip to the Reykjavik area isn’t complete without a soak in the geothermal waters of the famous Blue Lagoon.

Outside Reykjavik, the modern day seems to slip away as you step into an untouched, primitive world marked by volcanic slopes, glaciers, waterfalls and geysers in a starkly beautiful landscape free of trees. Traversing this barren terrain, you can’t help but feel that this is what the earth must have looked like in primeval days. And you wouldn’t be far from the truth: Geologically, Iceland is a young land and its location on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge makes it an active and ever-changing zone. You’ll hear more about this during a visit to Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located right on the ridge.

Witness all this breathtaking natural beauty when you stop to marvel at Dyrholaey Nature Reserve on the South Shore, admire the sheer magnificence of Skaftafell National Park, thrill to the famous Gullfoss waterfall, and explore the Snaefellsnes Peninsula with its colossal Snaefellsjokull Glacier. That’s only a fraction of the unforgettable natural sites you’ll view.

Throughout your exploration on our Classic Iceland tour, you’ll stop to witness Icelandic culture and history, whether at the Skogar Folk Museum, the Fridheimar Tomato Farm, the Bjanarhofn Farm or the Settlement Centre at Borgarnes, which chronicles the history of the Vikings here. Learn about the impact of global warming on the country’s glaciers, and hear how geothermal energy and a thriving greenhouse culture have helped Iceland harness energy in the most efficient manner.

To see even more of Iceland, choose the Kaleidoscope of Iceland tour, which circles the country on its world-famous ring road. See Akureyri, Iceland’s “cultural capital of the north”, and the exquisite Lake Myvatn and Dettifoss waterfall. Or you might wish to join the small group Discovery tour Iceland, Natural Force & Beauty, where you’ll have the chance to explore an ice cave inside Langjökull Glacier, and go on a whale watching boat trip in northern Iceland.

So Many Ways to Explore Scandinavia with Gate 1

The beauty of Gate 1 Travel is the many options you’ll enjoy as you decide how you’d best like to discover Scandinavia. If Russia is on your bucket list, for instance, then you’ll want to join our Scandinavia & Russia trip. In addition to exploring Copenhagen, Gothenburg and Stockholm, you’ll spend one night on a Baltic Sea ferry and two nights in Helsinki, Finland’s stylish and historic capital. Then board a high-speed train for a scenic journey to St. Petersburg, Peter the Great’s gilded city and home to the priceless collections of the Hermitage Museum. Continue by train to Moscow, Russia’s fascinating capital, where you can view the magnificent Faberge Eggs at the Armory Museum and explore the nation’s grandest gathering spot, Red Square, with its colourful onion-domed St. Basil’s Cathedral.

Get a closer look at Scandinavia when you explore with a small group on our Scandinavia, Naturally Charming itinerary. Immerse yourself in the glories of Stockholm, Bergen and Oslo. Plus, in Sweden, explore the architectural diversity of Falun and take in the alpine setting and Olympic venues of Lillehammer. In Norway, marvel at what many have called the most spectacular scenery in the world in Geiranger, nestled in a dramatic fjord, and visit Sogndal, home to a stunning stave church, one of the largest in Norway.

For More Natural Wonders, Look to the Sky

No one brings you this close to Scandinavia. And when you travel to these northern nations at the height of summer, you’ll enjoy them to their fullest, thanks to the near-constant Midnight Sun. Off season, too, has its advantages. The farther north you travel, the more likely you are to view the fantastical Northern Lights, a stunning celestial light show that illuminates the night sky in greens, blues and reds.  Of course, Gate 1 can never guarantee sightings, but should you join us at the right time of year, your Tour Manager will monitor conditions to increase your chances.

Discover Spectacular Scandinavia with Gate 1 Travel!

Join Gate 1 in Scandinavia and add its glorious cultural capitals, astonishing fjords, staggering mountains and dramatic landscapes to your favourite European destinations. And do so knowing that you’ll enjoy the best value in the travel industry, and the most rewarding experience. Join us!

Phil and Nicole on Danube River Cruise
Europe

Danube River Cruise: His and Her Stories

Do men and women come away with different impressions when they travel?

We asked Phil Hawkes and Nicole Tujague to tell us about their recent Danube River Cruise and see whether the sexes have a varying view of river cruising…

His Story:

“Well I travel a lot, mainly in Asia and Europe and I write a few travel articles for print and online media. But I’d never been on a cruise… in fact avoided them because who knows what you’d expect with a large group stuck together on a ship!

Anyhow, I thought maybe a river cruise on a small ship would be a good test to start with, just to put a foot in the water so to speak [but not literally] and luckily my wife agreed.

We researched several cruise operators, went to Expos and a couple of travel agents and chose a 7-night Danube River cruise on Gate 1 Travel. They seemed to have a good track record, an excellent value proposition and moreover were about to launch a brand new ship in April 2016. To my mind this was a big attraction because of the prospect of enjoying everything shiny and new.

So we met the Gate 1 rep at Munich Airport, together with a large group of our prospective fellow passengers. They all appeared to be pretty normal, very chatty, mostly Americans, who always have a lot to say, especially about politics!

Danube River Cruise

Unfortunately there had been a lot of heavy rain in Germany leading to flooding just before our arrival, so our cruise started further down river at Passau, instead of at Regensburg as planned. The upside of this was that we spent 2 nights on the ship at Passau, and got to know this little town [including the laundromat] pretty well.

Gate 1 Travel put on a day tour of Regensburg for everyone, so we didn’t miss out on this charming historic city. In fact, all the cities we stopped at…Vienna, Bratislava and finally Budapest…were absolutely charming and there was a city tour included in each place. These were conducted by delightful local guides and although the “group flag” regime ruled, it was actually the most effective way to be “educated” in the history and culture of the region.

Chef's Night on MS Monarch Empress

Would I do another river cruise?  Probably yes, maybe the Rhine… or even the Volga from St. Pete to Moscow.  And unexpectedly, I enjoyed the company of the other cruisers as well as the excellent food which put us all together at meal times, making new friends over a glass of regional wine.” Phil Hawkes

Her Story:

“Exhausted by our trips of one to two nights in each place, the thought of unpacking for a week yet still visiting a new location each day was very appealing.  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 on board the MS Monarch Empress

There were many areas on the boat to escape the other passengers or to just sit and enjoy the sights. 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.

There is nothing so romantic as drifting into the cities such as Budapest.  You experience a stress-free encounter with time to soak up the sights from many viewpoints.  You sail under famous bridges and at every turn a new historical site catches your breath.  Swap traffic, congestion and arguments over maps and let the captain skilfully guide you to your next destination – priceless!

Yet, the cruise is not without excitement, there were locks to navigate, weather to accommodate and the thrill of the activities on the water.  River cruising in Europe is a special type of luxury travel that is in a class of its own.” Nicole Tujague

See Gate 1 Travel’s full range of Europe River Cruises here and take advantage of Book By savings.

Photos by Nicole Tujague

Tiwanaku ruins of Bolivia
Latin America

Bolivia: Straddling Past and Future

Deep in the historic centre of La Paz, Bolivia’s bustling and thriving capital, the Mercado de Brujas, or the Witchcraft Market, clings to centuries-old traditions. Its herbal tea infusions, coca leaves and colourful alpaca jumpers place it on par with many other Andean marketplace. But closer inspection reveals the more peculiar items that have helped to give this unusual emporium its name.

Dried toucan beaks and snake skins might help the buyer cast spells. And sullus, dried llama fetuses, can be purchased as traditional offerings to the earth goddess Pachamama. There’s a reason this most unusual of markets still thrives after centuries of calming the spirits. Bolivia, though moving ever-forward into the 21st century, holds fast to the history and traditions that have helped shape its cultural identity.

People of the Gods

Though Bolivia has been inhabited for at least 5,000 years, the first society emerged here with the arrival of the Aymara people in 1500 BC. By 300 AD, these settlers had grown into a regional powerhouse as the Tiwanaku Empire. Because they had cornered the llama market and controlled the flow of food trade, they were able to bring dozens of indigenous cultures under their rule. Its capital city, also named Tiwanaku, was home to 30,000 people at its peak.

You may still see evidence of that era’s grandeur in La Paz, where an open-air museum reveals some of the highlights of the Tiwanaku. Chief among these is the 10-ton Gate of the Sun, an impressive arch carved from a single slab of stone and etched with condor heads and the mythic Lord of the Walking Sticks. Here, it’s easy to sense one of the earliest expressions of Bolivia’s belief in the spirit world. But even as Tiwanaku fell, otherworldly beings maintained their influence.

In the late 14th century, the Incas wrestled control of the region away from the Aymara and Bolivia became part of the Incan Empire. Copacabana on the shore of Lake Titicaca is perhaps the most memorable place to soak up the spell of that time. Crossing the shimmering water by boat to the Isla del Sol (the Island of the Sun), you can discover the spot where, according to Inca legend, the creator of the universe rose from the lake and threw the sun into the heavens. The island, unpaved and wild, remains dotted with mysterious pre-Columbian ruins to this day.

Colonial Highs & Lows

The Inca period didn’t last long. The arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century led to a European-style building boom, as salt and silver mining yielded great wealth. The epicentre of the Spanish heyday was Potosi, perched at 13,400 feet above sea level. At one point, Potosi produced 60% of the world’s silver, had its own mint and boasted 200,000 residents. A saying that spread across South America spoke to the growing city’s prosperity: “to be worth a Potosí” meant to really be worth something. Seeing its grand churches and ornate colonial architecture now, it’s easy to imagine the era. The same may be said of elegant Sucre, Bolivia’s original capital city. Here, all buildings are whitewashed by government decree and stone patios call to mind the architecture of Catalan.

Sadly, the wealth of Potosi and Sucre flowed only into the coffers of Spain and Spanish descendants. Indigenous people reaped no wealth from the fruits of their land. You might think the brujas from the Witchcraft Market would have cast an evil spell on the colonialists. Instead, the indigenous people turned to Simon Bolivar, the American revolutionary who led the battle for independence in 1825. Their sovereignty won, the people named the country for their national hero. In Sucre, the 17th-century Liberty House preserves the signed independence documents which you can still view today. As for Bolivar, he didn’t stay – the newly free people offered him the presidency, but he was already president of Colombia.

Bolivian Tradition Lives On

Today, Bolivia is a democratic republic, ruled by its first-ever indigenous President, Evo Morales. As you can tell from its Witchcraft Market, the nation continues to embrace its many cultures. Thirty-six languages are officially spoken here. Other traditional goods are on display in the village markets of Candelaria and Tarabuco.

In a small group, we can fully experience the singular story of Bolivia, from remote ruins and witches’ stalls to colonial-flavoured towns and modern cities. Explore the cultural and historic wonders of Bolivia during our Bolivia & Peru: Andean & Amazonian Culture trip.

Root Glacier Alaska
USA & Canada

A Gigantic Glacier Adventure in Alaska

As far as top travel experiences go, few can match hiking on the gleaming surface of a glacier. Crisp, clean air embraces you at every step. Snow-covered slopes rise for miles to dramatic peaks. And the only sound you hear is the crunch of your crampons digging into the snow and ice. It is tranquility and serenity at its most sublime.

Thanks to the small group size of our Alaskan adventure, you can do all of this along the breathtaking Wrangell range in Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park. One of America’s natural treasures, the park was established in 1978 by President Jimmy Carter. Remarkably, the park is larger than the nation of Switzerland.

Root Glacier is one of North America’s few accessible glaciers, and your journey leads you into a virtually untouched and pristine wilderness. Because this majestic mountain range is almost completed draped in white glaciers, geological studies have never been conducted of the rocky contours of its slopes. Despite this lack of in-depth surveys, it is believed that the mountain range has an ancient, eroded wall that once surrounded a volcano’s crater. In this primitive environment, it’s easy to imagine a time eons ago when lava and fire exploded into the sky and poured down the mountainsides.

Root Glacier is more than a mile wide and flows for 15 miles through the dramatic valleys. As you can imagine, this surely once played a part in the lives of the people of Kennecott, an abandoned mining camp where copper was once extracted. Today, the camp is a National Historic Landmark District, rich in history and lore. A fascinating walk among its preserved shacks and work houses will get you acquainted with this often overlooked corner of the United States.

Your glacier walk begins right from the old mining camp. With your guide, you will strap on crampons and venture onto the thick ice floe. All around you, a white wonderland of unforgettable beauty stretches upward and outward as your guide helps you understand the glacier’s minuscule movements and the ways it has carved out this magnificent landscape.

Above you, Mt. Blackburn soars into the sky, the highest peak in the park. As you explore, you’ll walk past the stunning, mile-high Stairway Icefall, a 7,000-foot vertical wall of ice alongside the shores of Erie Lake. This is just one spectacular natural feature you’ll marvel at during your walk. Turquoise blue pools and massive formations of ice sculpted by the elements mark your progress during this truly incredible outing.

Join Gate 1 Travel as we show you the side of Alaska that large tourist groups miss and immerse yourself in the astonishing beauty of an adventurous walk on Root Glacier. Follow this link to learn more about our new 11-day Alaska’s Natural Beauty tour.

Europe

Is a Gate 1 Travel River Cruise Too Good To Be True?

“People say that when a deal sounds too good to be true, it usually is, so avoid it. I’m glad to say we ignored that and you well and truly proved them wrong.”

Sandra F. from NSW, Australia, shares this advice and feedback from her recent 16 Day Classic European River Cruise

“We approached the trip with much trepidation, thinking that as Gate 1 Travel was so much cheaper than other companies – not just by a few hundred dollars, but thousands – that we were going to be missing out somewhere, but I can honestly say I don’t know of anything that anyone could have done better.

From the beginning with our Qatar flight (again another bargain which Gate 1 booked) 23 hours on a plane is never going to be fantastic, but the airline did everything to make it a good experience. We were met at Amsterdam airport by a really luxury car, compliments of Gate 1, even though our flight from London was an hour late our friendly driver was there waiting. At the ship, the driver and crew didn’t let us lift a finger and we were escorted to the lounge as we had 3 hours before check in. A lovely light lunch was waiting and we soon got chatting to another 2 couples, who were to become our new best friends and we will remain in contact with them and I’m sure have many reunions.

Once we got to the cabin another nice surprise – it was roomy, loads of cupboard space, light, airy and big windows to enjoy the view later.

Dinner that night we added another couple to increase our Aussie gang to 8 and met our favourite waiter, Sevann, who was always happy and with a few tricks to make us laugh.

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 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.

With only 100 on board you soon got to know everyone, which is really good. You’re never short of someone to talk to. We did swap around tables, as is encouraged, so we got to experience all the lovely waiters and fellow passengers.

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 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.

Evenings were always great entertainment with Peter on the Piano, fun games with our cruise directors, Mick Adrien and Peter, and we even won some prizes. Our bar staff Adriana and her husband were always there and they both had a really good sense of humour – we had a few half-price happy hours which went down
well with our Aussie group!

I was fortunate to celebrate my 70th birthday on board and received a lovely bottle of champagne in our room from Gate 1 and a wonderful happy birthday – complete with delicious cake – at dinner. I was lucky it was half-price drinks too that night. I couldn’t think of a better place to celebrate my birthday and of course everyone on board knew, so I had so many good wishes.

Afternoons laying on the bed resting your feet, watching the beautiful scenery, is a great experience and when there was lots to see there was always an excellent commentary on the sundeck or lounge. Truly on a river cruise the world comes to you, you just sit and enjoy.

Every member of the cruise was so friendly, the guy who tied the ship up at locks always gave us a wave when finished (couldn’t be easy, all those people watching to see if he managed to get the rope over), the reception staff who returned all for lost property (I always leave something on my chair), the lovely Charmaine who looked after our room, the cool drinks when we got back on board after excursions and all the staff in the background who made everything go so smoothly.

Thank you so much Gate 1 for a wonderful trip. I never heard one bad comment from anyone, we all agreed it was a top class experience at a cut price rate. I am busy recommending you to any one who will listen, especially those who are wasting money on those expensive cruises.

Thank you for the experience, Sandra”

Click here to find out how you can afford a European River Cruise and see more of the world for less with Gate 1 Travel.

USA & Canada

Celebrating America’s National Parks Centennial

This year, August 25 marked the 100th birthday of the US National Parks Service and we thought we’d celebrate the historic milestone by sharing some National Park Service facts and honouring many of the world’s most impressive parks.

Did you know?

  • Over 400 National Parks, monuments and historic sites are managed by the National Park Service
  • California has the most National Parks with 9 & Alaska has the most parks & sites
  • Alaska is also home to the largest National Park – Wrangell-St.Elias
  • The most visited National Park, with over 10.5 million visitors a year, is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina & Tennessee
  • Yellowstone was the first National Park in the world created in 1872

Ways to Celebrate:

  • Free entrance days – there are just two remaining Free Entrance Days of the 16 that were offered in 2016, so get out your hiking boots now for September 24 and November 11!
  • Google Arts & Culture has released a collection of videos & 360 degree tours highlighting 5 different parks
  • The National Park Service is encouraging users to post to social media with the hashtag #findyourpark
  • Explore the National Parks with Gate 1 Travel on one of our 15 packages that visit US National Parks!

Gate 1 Tours highlighting National Parks:

For more information on all of our Gate 1 USA & Canada Tours click here, check out a few of our National Parks Videos here.

Seen any of these incredible National Parks for yourself? Tag your photos with #gate1travel on Instagram and share your photos on our site.

Rhine River Cruise
Europe

Explore Europe with the Ease & Convenience of a River Cruise

Imagine unpacking your bag and settling in to a room with an ever-changing view. Your ship offers a generous array of amenities and 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, savour 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.

We’re sure you’ll agree it’s the most relaxing way to see Europe. And because Gate 1 now owns and operates our own river ship, it’s also the most value-packed way: With no middleman to consider, we can pass our savings directly to you.

Embark Gate 1 Travel’s MS Monarch Empress

Built by Gate 1, Controlled by Gate 1

In 2016, we introduced the MS Monarch Empress, the very first European river ship built by Gate 1 specifically to suit our travellers.  Come aboard and you’ll enjoy some of the most spacious and comfortable accommodations on Europe’s rivers. Cabins range in size from 140 to 210 square feet and include large bathrooms. A full 80% of rooms offer French balconies, providing private views as the stunning riverbanks unfold, and rooms can be configured with one or two beds.

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 or share a drink with fellow travellers in the lounge. Curl up with a book or surf the internet in our generously sized library. Indulge in a massage or spa treatment. Plus, an elevator will whisk you between decks. 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 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

For 2017, the Monarch Empress will be joined by our two privately chartered ships, the first class MS Monarch Queen and MS Monarch Baroness. Built in 2006, with a maximum capacity of 144 passengers, these intimate sister ships features 68 spacious outside cabins and 4 suites (170-255 sq ft) each fully air-conditioned with private bath facilities, shower, telephone and flat screen satellite TV.

These two ships will sail amidst the rainbow of colours along Holland’s waterways in Spring 2017. After the height of the tulip season, both the Monarch Empress and Monarch Queen will introduce travellers to the romantic waters of the Danube, sailing between Regensburg and Budapest. For her part, the Monarch Baroness will explore the lilting waters of Germany’s Rhine River between Basel and Amsterdam. She will also be joined by the Monarch Queen with our 14-night sailings along the Rhine, Main & Danube Rivers between Amsterdam and Budapest.

CLASSIC EUROPEAN RIVER CRUISE

Sail Through Five Countries on One Sweeping River Cruise

With the 1992 opening of the Main-Danube Canal, a 106-mile wonder that links two of Europe’s most fabled rivers, river ships could traverse the entire continent from Holland to Hungary. Our Classic European River Cruise takes full advantage of this engineering triumph, delivering you from sea to sea in 16 days, spanning the entire continent of Europe in the process.

THE RHINE: From Dutch Treats to Rich German Culture

Begin among the waters that fan out from the Rhine River into the North Sea. Amsterdam, the charming canal-laced city of gabled houses and graceful bridges, was 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 travellers 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 best as the site of Hitler’s rallies and as the host city of the post-war Nuremberg trials. But this historic and lovely city has a colourful 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, and 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.

Soon, the Danube forms Austria’s border with Slovakia. The latter’s capital city, Bratislava, is the only European capital to share a border with two other countries, Hungary being the third. Its hilltop 16th-century castle is a sight to behold. 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.

Tailor your river cruise to your liking: Choose from shorter itineraries.

If a shorter itinerary is more to your liking, Gate 1 Travel has the itinerary for you.

Tulip Time River Cruises. Explore the waterways of the Low Countries, Holland and Belgium, in the springtime. There’s no better way to witness the vibrant colours 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 air of the North Sea 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 and explore French Strasbourg and its charming Old Town.  Add time in Lucerne and you’ll experience more of the allure of Swiss culture.

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; Cesky Krumlov, an inviting Czech artists’ colony in a beautiful setting; and Bratislava, the Slovakian capital with an atmospheric Old Town. While you’re in this corner of Europe, you can elect to also spend time in Budapest, Prague, or both.

Join us … and discover the ease of exploring Europe by river cruise!

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 Tour Manager … and an incredible all-inclusive value. All while unpacking your bags just once and letting Europe come to you!

Vietnna Townhall Christmas Decorations
Europe

Always Wanted to See Europe’s Christmas Markets?

We might be longing for the arrival of Spring right now, but soon Christmas will be here in the blink of an eye. So this is the ideal time for Gate 1 travellers to book your visits to Europe’s festive and colourful Christkindlmarkts!

It’s been said that the off-season for tourists is the on-season for some of Europe’s most intimate and delightful cultural festivals. Christmas markets are just one example of this adage, as Central Europe’s old squares come alive with local traditions that conjure Christmases past. Each year, the cities of Germany and Austria offer a feast for the senses. Aromas of cinnamon, gingerbread, baked apples and roasting chestnuts waft through Old Town squares. Gaily decorated stalls brim with handmade ornaments, toys and endless ideas for Christmas gift-giving. Artisans are often on hand to demonstrate their crafts, carollers roam about the snowy squares and stalls are decorated with the finest trimmings. It’s hard to find a more perfect place to ring in the festive season than in Central Europe.

Christmas Markets Steeped in German Tradition

Two of Gate 1’s Christmas Market itineraries feature time to experience the city in which the market tradition began: Nuremberg, Germany. Blanketing the squares of the old walled city, this market dates back to the 1600s. Here, almost 200 stalls illuminated by candlelight cluster in the Haupmarkt competing for the “Plum Person,” a prize for the most breathtaking display. And everywhere, you’ll marvel at the gingerbread houses and Zwetschgenmannle, or dried plum statuettes, for which Nuremberg is known.

The spirit of Nuremberg echoes in cities throughout Germany. Munich’s Marienplatz in the Old Town hosts one of the world’s largest Christmas markets. Its twinkling lights and draperies of garlands vie for your attention amidst a sea of ornament-filled stalls. Under a canopy of festive lights in Berlin, you may discover the perfect hand-blown glass ornament, meticulously painted wooden nutcracker, or an intricately designed Weihnachtspyramide keepsake, a captivating multi-level carousel powered by the rising heat of candles; these precious treasures were first carved in Germany’s Ore Mountains. Dresden, too, boasts its own Striezelmarkt, named for the beloved Stollen Christmas cake. And in neighbouring Leipzig, more than 250 stalls offer a profusion of seasonal delights in the shadow of St. Nicholas Church, final resting place of Johann Sebastian Bach. If you listen closely, you might hear echoes of his celebrated Christmas cantata floating from within.

Smaller German cities also take part in the holiday cheer. In Heidelberg, delight in the treats of the city’s elegant market square in the Old Quarter, including lebkuchen, a tasty cookie. The millennium-old Cathedral of St. Martin in Mainz adds a hallowed air to the brightly decorated stands brimming with wooden toys, straw stars, colourful ceramics and more.

The Magic of Austria

Vienna is one of Europe’s grandest capitals any time of year. But during the Christmas season, it is illuminated and festooned unlike anywhere else. The city’s markets date back to 1298, when Albrecht I allowed his people to hold a Krippenmarkt in December. Today, 20 markets spread out across this elegant city, from the platz in front of City Hall, where international choirs sing carols, to the makeshift village at Belvedere Palace. As you browse, you’ll want to have a delicious vanillekipferl in hand, a crescent-shaped biscuit dusted with sugar.

In Salzburg, city of The Sound of Music set amidst Austria’s stunning alpine landscapes, the brass sounds of a turmblasen band echo among richly adorned stalls. As you peruse the countless crafts in beautiful Cathedral Square, you just might spot wandering among the stalls the fabled Christkind, dreamy figures in white and gold robes donning feathered wings. And you’ll no doubt want to avoid the Krampus, mythical creatures who accompany St. Nicholas in case the children behave badly.

Deck the halls with Gate 1 Travel this year during one of our three festive itineraries that bring the joy and fun of the Christmas season to vivid life in November and December. Don’t miss out! Just select from one of the trips below!

8 Day Christmas Markets of Germany & Austria

9 Day Alpine Christmas Markets

10 Day Christmas Markets of Germany