Mediterranean

Oh Oman! 9 Intriguing Facts About a Little Known Nation

The beauty of exploring Oman in a small group is the opportunity it affords to really get to know a place. Here’s just a sample of the kinds of things you’ll learn about this fascinating corner of Arabia:

  • Several cities in Oman were major stops along the Incense Route between the 7th and 2nd centuries BC. The route stretched between the Mediterranean and India and witnessed the trade of frankincense and myrrh, Indian spices, precious stones, pearls, silk, rare bird feathers and gold.
  • The mighty fortresses of Oman, beautifully restored to their former glory, once defended the nation from marauders. In all, 500 edifices still stand throughout the small country.
  • Oman’s colourful and bustling souks are a richly textured pastiche of perfume, livestock, freshly plucked dates, silver jewellery and khanjars, the silver daggers that have long symbolised manhood here.
  • Muscat’s Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is an enormous testament to the kind and giving Islamic faith. Its dazzling expanse of white marble is accented with wooden panels and fantastic stain-glass windows. Inside, its central carpet covers 45,000 square feet and its chandelier measures 46 feet tall!
  • The Portuguese ruled Oman from Muscat for 150 years. Two 16th-century forts – Al Jalali and Al Mirani – stand like guardians on either side of the Sultan’s Palace, adorned in turquoise and gold.
  • Muscat’s souk in the Muttrah district is called Al Dhalam, which means “darkness” in Arabic. This marketplace, one of the oldest in the Arab world, got its name from the constant shadows cast by its crowded stalls and narrow lanes. It can get so dark here, even during the day, that shoppers need lamps to find their destinations.
  • Oman enjoyed its own days as an imperial power. In the late 17th century, it actively vied for control of the region with Portugal and Britain. By the 19th century, its territories reached as far as Iran and Pakistan, and it relocated its capital to Zanzibar, the island off of today’s Tanzanian coast.
  • The tower of Nizwa Fort boasts many architectural deceptions and strategic secrets. Hidden shafts and false doors were meant to confuse anyone who breached the fort’s walls. A twisting narrow staircase led to the tower’s ramparts, but a heavy wooden door studded with spikes prevented entry once infiltrators reached that last step. Additionally, shafts above these doors allowed the defenders to pour boiling oil or the sticky syrup of dates onto their enemies.
  • Though football and basketball have recently entered Oman’s culture, traditional sports include horse racing, camel racing, bull fighting, falconry and the racing of dhows, the narrow wooden boats that have plied the country’s coast for centuries.

Click here to learn more about our new small group tour of Dubai & Oman!

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!

River Cruising with Gate 1 Travel
News

No More Dipping for Tipping

Fret no more about discreet envelopes or trying to work out your daily budget, tipping is now included on most Gate 1 escorted tours and river cruise packages.

For the convenience of our Australian travellers, gratuities are included for your Tour Manager, local guides, drivers and/or driver assistants, hotel porters and wait staff during included meals.

You may still hear references to tipping during your trip, since gratuities are not included for guests from other countries, but rest assured that your Tour Manager and other service providers will be correctly tipped on your behalf and continue to provide exemplary service.

For sea cruise customers, in many cases tips have also been included for your crew and Cruise Director. However, in some instances we are unable to include gratuities on your behalf and if that applies you will find recommended gratuities listed in the Trip Preparation section on our website, under the ‘At Your Destination’ tab. We are also unable to include tips on independent tours and will provide local guidelines on our website, but as always, tipping is a matter of personal discretion.

We’ve listened to your feedback and are very pleased to introduce this initiative for our travellers. And the good news is this applies as of now to all Aussie travellers, regardless of when you booked your 2017 tour.

For more information please don’t hesitate to call 1300 653 618 to speak with our Gate 1 travel specialists.

Gate 1 Connections

12 of the World’s Great Wonders

Ancient, Modern, Natural and the lists go on…remember when there was just the classic Seven Wonders of the World? We agree, it’s not easy to include all of our planet’s incredible places in any one list, but Gate 1 has narrowed it down to Twelve Wonders of the World that we think are worthy of being on your bucket list this year.

Machu Picchu, Peru

The ‘Lost City of the Incas’ was built in the 15th century, famously re-discovered in 1911 and today is the highlight of any tour to Peru. Dramatically positioned at over 2400 metres above sea level, the citadel’s scenic location is where the Peruvian Andes and the Amazon Basin meet. The World Heritage-listed site is described by UNESCO as “among the greatest artistic, architectural and land use achievements anywhere and the most significant tangible legacy of the Inca civilisation.”

Machu Picchu Peru

Great Wall, China

Okay, so we know that the Great Wall can’t really be seen from the moon, but it still feels out of this world to walk on this incredible man-made structure. Construction of individual walls started way back in the 7th century BC and gradually these linked together to create a formidable protector of China’s northern borders. There have been many reconstructions and repairs, but the main areas you can visit were built during the Ming Dynasty from the 14th to 17th centuries. A tip: do some stair training before you attempt the climb and wear study shoes with good grip to improve your chances of making it to one of the 25,000 watchtowers along the wall!

Eiffel Tower, France

Standing proud at 324 metres tall and celebrating its 128th birthday on 31 March, 2017, the Eiffel Tower is one of the most famous attractions in Paris. Each year the tower welcomes over seven million visitors and, not surprisingly, most people choose to take the lift to the top rather than walk the 1,665 steps! Did you know that the Eiffel Tower is also a smog metre? Paris has introduced many great environmental initiatives to improve air quality and on days when the iconic tower is barely visible due to pollution, the city provides free public transport to encourage commuters to leave the car at home.

Eiffel Tower Paris

Chichen Itza, Mexico

So far the Wonders on our list are places you would have heard about and might have already been, but here’s a site that often flies under the radar yet deserves to be high on your bucket list! World Heritage-listed Chichen Itza is one of Mexico’s most spectacular Mayan sites. This magnificent metropolis was the principal ceremonial centre of the Yucatan and here you can learn about the unusual beliefs and rituals that defined the ancient Mayan civilisation. The site is dominated by the towering walls of the dramatic Temple of Kukulkan, also known as El Castillo with its 365 steps – one built for each day of the year.

Colosseum, Italy

The mighty Colosseum is the largest amphitheatre built in the Roman Empire that seated over 50,000 people. It’s where gladiatorial contests and public events were attended by the rich, the poor and by the Emperor himself. The venue was also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre because it was built during the Flavian dynasty, but the name Colosseum came about thanks to a nearby statue of ‘the colossus of Nero’. Discover more about this great feat of Roman architecture and engineering on Gate 1’s 12 Day Enchanting Italy with Amalfi

Colosseum Rome

Taj Mahal, India

In 2001 the Taj Mahal was officially crowned in the New7Wonders of the World, but of course long before that we’ve all been in awe of the majesty of this monument to love. Completed in 1648 after 22 years of painstaking work, the Taj was built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his beloved Queen. This is perhaps the most perfect architectural monument, built of white marble and precious stones; regarded as the finest example of Mughal design in the world.

Grand Canyon, USA

The Grand Canyon is more than a great chasm carved over millennia through the rocks of the Colorado plateau – it is truly a momentous and unforgettable experience. Almost 450 km long, the Grand Canyon varies in width up to 29 km, with the Colorado River winding below. With Gate 1 you get to stay in a lodge that’s less than a half hour walk from the South Rim of the canyon, so just imagine the sunrise that awaits!

Grand Canyon USA

Northern Lights, Norway

Maybe more of a thing or experience than a place, auroras, or the Northern Lights, are an incredible Natural Wonder of the World. Predominantly seen at high latitudes, auroras are caused by interactions between the solar wind and the Earth’s magnetic fields. The brilliant variations in colour that you see dancing across the night sky are due to the type of gas particles that are colliding. Norway has some of the best locations for viewing this spectacle and it’s worth braving the colder months from September to March to see this stunning celestial performance.

Christ the Redeemer, Brazil

Construction was completed 86 years ago in 1931, so that makes Christ the Redeemer the youngest member of the New7Wonders of the World. When in Rio de Janeiro you can ascend by a scenic cog railway to the summit of Corcovado Hill. Here, at 700 metres above the Rio’s favelas and beaches, stands the 38 metre tall statue of Christ the Redeemer with its arms outstretched to embrace the city below. See the thrilling 360 degree sweeping view and understand why Rio is known as one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Christ the Redeemer

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

UNESCO has set up a programme to safeguard Angkor, because they consider it to be “one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia.” This sprawling city, built by Khmer Kings, was once home to more than one million people at the height of the empire. Your visit can include the fortified city of Angkor Thom and its mysterious Bayon Temple, replete with beautifully preserved bas-reliefs and more than 172 giant smiling stone faces. Ta Prohm is famously where the jungle was left untouched, but the most dramatic is stunning Angkor Wat, a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. Renowned for its beauty and splendour, Angkor Wat has the longest continuous bas-relief in the world, which runs along the entire outer gallery walls, narrating stories from Hindu mythology. Gate 1 travellers get to top off an incredible day at Angkor Wat with an unforgettable sunset!

Lake Louise, Canada

Canada conducted its own poll in 2007 to find their Seven Wonders and everyone agreed, the Rockies had to be on the list. The famous mountain range spans the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta. National Parks in the region include Jasper, with the massive Athabasca Glacier, and Banff, site of the glacier-fed Lake Louise. Known for its sparkling blue waters and nestled at the base of impressive Victoria glacier, the Lake Louise area is one of the national park’s most picturesque and a symbol of the quintessential Canadian mountain scene.

Canada

St Basil’s Cathedral, Russia

The Church of Intercession, better known now as St Basil’s Cathedral, is Moscow’s most famous tourist attraction. Commissioned by Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century to commemorate a military victory, legend has it that the ruthless ruler had the architect of the cathedral blinded so that he couldn’t create anything more beautiful (even though this myth has been busted, if you knew Ivan, it’s totally believable!). St Basil’s has survived centuries of war, fire and revolution, and even escaped a demolition order from Stalin. Thankfully the ornate building with its onion domes and circus-like decoration still stands at the southern end of Red Square and today is a must see on any tour of Russia!

Gate 1’s 12 Wonders of the World are on SALE NOW – Save $500 per person until 28 January, 2017. Click here for the full details.

Which Wonders of the World will be on your bucket list this year?

Gate 1 Travel group in United States
News

And the winners are…

We are excited to announce the winners of our latest Gate 1 Travel Subscriber Competition!

First prize $4000 voucher: B. Beech

1st Runner-Up $500 voucher: S. Silva-Frost

2nd Runner-Up $500 voucher: R. Simpson

The prizes can be used towards any Gate 1 Travel tour or travel package*.

The random draw from eligible subscribers who signed up between 1 July – 1 December, 2016, was conducted at Gate 1 Travel at 10am on 8 December, 2016.

Thanks to everyone who entered and we hope you are enjoying receiving The Deal e-newsletter each week, with it’s huge travel savings and exclusive offers!

The Promoter is Gate 1 Travel Australia Pty Ltd of Suite 6, 10 Hoddle Street, Abbotsford VIC 3067 Australia. A.B.N. 74 169 034 575. NSW permit number LTPS/16/05060

*Terms & Conditions apply.

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.