Tag: Europe


Eastern Europe: Old-World Charm & Robust Histories

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

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

Lithuania: A Stunning Capital Emerges from the Forest

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

Poland: Risen from the Ashes

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

Castle Square, Warsaw
Castle Square, Warsaw

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

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

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

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

Romania: Beyond the Myth of Dracula

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bulgaria: Authentic and True

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

Serbia: Where Life’s Simple Pleasures Endure

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

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

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


Italy’s North: A Cornucopia for Food Lovers

If you think Tuscany has the last word on Italian cuisine, think again. The nation’s less-visited regions to the north—Lombardy, Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna—boast their own bounty of mouthwatering, fresh-from-the-earth specialties. Journey with us on our Cinque Terre, Parma, Bologna & Lakes small group tour and you can sample them to your heart’s—and your appetite’s—content.

Lake Maggiore straddles Italy’s Lombardy and Piedmont provinces. Ringed by alpine vistas, the country’s second largest lake enjoys a mild climate that is ideal for Mediterranean gardens that yield abundant crops. This comes as no surprise when you learn that many of Europe’s standard agricultural policies were formulated in 1958 in Stresa, the charming town situated on the lakeshore and your home for two nights.

Throughout your stay, one of the region’s most significant sources of food is spread out before your very eyes: Lake Maggiore itself. People have been living off its bounty for generations, and nowhere is this more pronounced than on Isola dei Pescatori, or Fisherman’s Island, the tiny island that is named after the vocation of its inhabitants. Here, the lake still provides. Fishermen still head out each day and deliver their catch to local restaurants. And restaurants still serve some of the freshest fish you will likely taste. It is a joy not only to sample simple yet special dishes for lunch here, but to witness a culture that seems to have been lost to the passage of time.

A bit farther west, the expansive farmlands and vineyards of Piedmont gently roll toward Switzerland to the north and France to the west. It took the rest of the world a while to catch up with this agrarian-focused region: it has been living the “slow food” movement for decades. This is the land of rice, vineyards and cattle. Water-soaked rice fields here might make you think you’ve stepped into an Asian nation but make no mistake. This is the stuff of risotto, Italy’s creamy and heavenly dish. The area’s farms also produce some of the finest cuts of beef, perfect for the boiled-meat dishes, bollito misto and vitello tonato.

Piedmont is also renowned as one of Italy greatest wine-growing regions, with more than half of its vineyard registered with a DOC designation. The legendary Nebbiolo grape is native to Piedmont and is said to be named for that which makes it so unique: Nebbia means “fog” in English and during harvest season a thick mist settles over the Langhe region where the grapes are grown. Famously, the Nebbiolo grape produces the revered Barolo wine. Cherasco, La Morra, Barbaresco, and Neive are also made here—each coming from an eponymous town.

In your small group, you have the chance to linger in local cellars to learn how some coveted wines are made. But none will be so impressive as one of the “cathedral cellars” of Canelli, birthplace of Italy’s famed sparkling wine, Asti. These cellars were designed to hold millions of fermenting bottles and are so central to the local culture that they are being considered for UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

Nearby in the region of Emilia-Romagna, one of Italy’s richest gastronomies flavors everyday life. Pasta dishes take center stage here and roll off the tongue as easily as they slide down the gullet: tortellini, lasagna, tagliatelle, garganelli, strozzapreti. In Modena and Reggio Emilia, the world’s finest balsamic vinegar is made to the strictest procedures bound by law. The beloved specialty is made from grape must and the most exquisite bottles are aged for 25 years or more. There is no more succulent way to enjoy it than with two other specialties of the area: Parmesan cheese from Parma and prosciutto from a local farm, which you will have the chance to do.

The center of Emilia-Romagna’s food scene is Bologna, the region’s capital. One visit and you will know one thing for certain: The Bolognesi people know how to eat. Aside from its vibrant arts and music scene—the city was the European Capital of Culture in 2000 and was named a UNESCO City of Music in 2006—its citizens enormously benefit from their city’s location in the fertile Po River Valley. Bolognese sauce was invented here and the custard-like torta di riso is a favorite way to end any meal. You can browse the fresh ingredients of one of Europe’s most celebrated cuisines at the Quadrilatero, Bologna’s oldest food market. Traditional shops abound here. As you explore you will be regaled with stories from the market’s rich history and culture and sample a delicious array of specialties. Among them, savor small plates known as cicchetti, the Venetian answer to Spanish tapas.

Of course, one cannot wrap up a foodie tour of northern Italy without sipping its famous sweet wine, prosecco. Though this lovely wine originated in its namesake village outside Trieste on the Slovenian border, it is enjoyed throughout northern Italy, either on its own or as part of a spritz cocktail. We’ll be sure you raise a glass of it as we toast the culinary treasures you’ve enjoyed during our new Cinque Terre, Parma, Bologna & Lakes tour!

Take a Companion for 50% Off any Italy or Spain escorted tour when you book by the 19th of February, 2019. Simply quote the promo code FBVAL19A at the time of booking to apply the discount to the tour.


Gaudi & Dali: Spain’s Modern Masters

Among the many pleasures of visiting Spain, art lovers especially revel in the ability to witness a millennium’s worth of the world’s greatest masterpieces. Two masters stand out—famed modernista Antoni Gaudi and surrealist Salvador Dali. The former was an architect and the latter a painter, and their work seems dissimilar at a glance. But Gaudi’s influence on Dali, and the fact that both created work that shattered conventional ideas of what art could be, link them in art history as Spain’s rebellious artists.

Gaudi: The Singular Saint

Gaudi was part of the modernistas, Catalan modernists who believed art played two roles: to defy bourgeois conformity and to create change in society. Gaudi created works that elevated the influence of nature in the man-made, reflected his faith, and resist rules of symmetry and restraint that had previously defined “good taste.”

Born in 1852, he studied architecture but never managed to impress his teachers. He had the last laugh, as he designed the otherworldly Sagrada Familia Cathedral (a work still in progress!), the vividly tiled Parc Guell, countless mansions, and even the ornate signature streetlamps of Barcelona. Seven of his creations are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Unfortunately, his face was not as easily recognized as his buildings. In 1926, after he was struck by a streetcar, he was mistaken for a beggar and couldn’t convince a taxi to take him to the hospital. When a policeman finally removed him from the scene, he was left at the pauper’s ward, and his friends couldn’t find him until the next day. But as a display of solidarity with the poor, he refused to be moved to better conditions.

He died there a few days later, and the outpouring of grief was profound: it was reported that half of Barcelona’s citizenry donned black and took to the streets on the day of his funeral.

Dali: The Surreal View

Salvador Dali was born a half-century after Gaudi, and by the time he was studying art, the influence of the modernistas was waning. Expelled from art school, he threw himself into experimenting with cubism and dadaism, and met kindred spirits in Miro and Picasso. It was in Surrealism, a movement which revived and reframed the values of the modernistas, that he found his visual language.

With the melting clocks of his most famous work, “The Persistence of Memory,” he put surrealism on the global map, joining the pantheon of Spanish masters. He was exhibited in Paris and New York and beyond, and held a special affinity for the US: The artist lived in the states during World War II, worked on a scene for Albert Hitchcock, and even appeared in a US film commercial.

His time away from his native Spain allowed him to escape controversy at home. Dali was a staunch supporter of fascist leader General Francisco Franco, who he said brought “clarity, truth and order” to Spain. Despite the limited success of his paintings in the final decades of his life, he was indeed seen as one of the most important artists of the century.

A few years before he died, Dali was asked to write the foreword to a biography of Gaudi. In doing so, he paid tribute not only to his predecessor but to his own work, and he wasn’t a bit modest in his assessment. He wrote, “Gaudi is a genius; so am I.”

Learn more about these fascinating artists during our new France & Spain: History, Culture & Wine small group trip.


The Cradle of Civilisation: As Magnificent as Ever

It is no secret that Greece has long danced to its own rhythm. One would expect nothing less from the place where western civilisation itself was born. From poetry to philosophy, from democracy to drama, all the major disciplines that formed the building blocks of how we live today were created here during an ancient renaissance of arts, science and critical thinking.

Greece remains one of the most beautiful and sought-after places on earth. How could it not? Its intense mountain and coastal beauty, dotted with colonnaded temples and awash in Aegean sun, are the stuff of every traveller’s dreams. Its lively culture, punctuated with dance and fabulous Mediterranean cuisine, engages the most stoic visitor. And its ancient monuments, proudly perched amidst cities, mountains and island vistas, have endured millennia of change. Dare we say, they will continue to do so.

Civilisation’s Cradle

Just as Athens is the Cradle of Civilisation, it is also the central focus of many trips to Greece. Its Acropolis stands gloriously atop its hill like a beacon in the Greek sun, as if shining down upon the modern-day city that it shaped. So many elements of civilisation were born here—democracy, philosophy, arts—that it’s impossible to not be moved when you are surrounded by its temples and admiring its masterfully preserved Parthenon. Much of the site and its relics (as well as artefacts from Greek antiquity worldwide) are beautifully illuminated by a visit to the National Archaeological Museum. Indeed, it is considered one of the great museums of the world.

The legacy of the ancients lives far and wide, of course. But it’s especially poignant to witness modern-day houses of democracy in the city of its birth, from the President’s residence to Constitution Square. And when it’s time for a relaxing stroll, the intimate streets of the shop-lined Plaka district at the base of Acropolis Hill invite you to explore.

The Pleasures of the Peloponnese

A 19th-century engineering marvel separates the mainland from the Peloponnese Peninsula. The Corinth Canal, which opened in 1893, was literally carved out of solid rock. It had long been a dream of the ancients to connect the Gulf of Corinth and the Saronic Gulf; construction efforts date as far back as the 1st century AD. Today, the sculpted gorge is sheer-faced and dramatic.

The rustic Peloponnese Peninsula—to the west of metropolitan Athens—boasts a rich past of its own. Perhaps most famously, the first Olympic Games were held here, in Olympia. They were first staged in honour of the god Zeus, whose temple is still impressive despite that it lies in ruins. Nearby, the hillside city of Nauplion, with its stunning setting on the azure waters of the Argolic Gulf, was the capital of the First Hellenic Republic and a coveted city of many royal houses. Its cobbled streets and stone buildings with multi-hued shutters date back centuries. Two castles add to its scenic splendour: The Venetian Bourtzi sits in the middle of the harbor and the hilltop Palamidi offers dramatic views of the town. In the second millennium BC, however, it was Mycenae that held sway over southern Greece. This major centre of ancient civilisation was defended by a solid stone fortress whose ruins whisper of sieges past.

Stunning Places of Worship and Wonder

North of the Peloponnese, Delphi attracted countless devout worshippers in ancient times. Legend recalls that a high priestess delivered prophecies here in a highly agitated state. It was believed that the gods were speaking through her, but today scientists suspect it was the vapours rising from a chasm below the temple that put her in an altered state. Today, Delphi still inspires awe, albeit more from its natural setting than from its incantations. This vast complex includes the Temple of Apollo, the Delphi and Tholos temples and a huge amphitheatre—all of it surrounded by soaring mountain slopes.

More sources of inspiration are perched high on sandstone pillars in the town of Kalambaka in Greece’s central plains. Here, the six Eastern Orthodox monasteries of Meteora (translated as “in the heavens above”) are perched atop naturally formed rock towers averaging 1,000 feet above sea level. When they were originally built starting in the 14th century, they could only be reached by a harrowing climb up a rope ladder. These incredible structures must be seen to be believed.

The Aegean of Your Dreams

The Greek Islands find their way into every traveller’s dreams. Blue church domes and rustic windmills rise from a cluster of whitewashed villages that cling to hillsides. Sleepy cobbled streets lead to inviting squares and cafés where you can while away an afternoon over stuffed grape leaves and ouzo. Time slows down in the Aegean, and Gate 1’s island itineraries help you do the same in a magnificent setting, from the glittering Cyclades to the historic Dodecanese archipelagos.

The small island of Mykonos could be the most famed of the Greek Islands. Along the coast and amidst its hilly interior, white villages with blue doorways and rounded, thatched-roof windmills dot the landscape. Its labyrinthine tiny streets are a delight to explore and its sandy white beaches were surely made for basking.

Santorini is one of the most romantic islands. Its volcanic origins have given it beaches of white, red, and black sand. It is truly an otherworldly landscape of dramatic rock formations and lunar-like terrain. Its fascinating Bronze Age archaeological site of Akrotiri opened recently, giving fascinating insight into primitive life here. Surprisingly, Santorini is one of Greece’s most prolific wine producers, as you’ll learn if you visit a local winery.

Crete stands as the largest and most diverse of the Greek Islands. In addition to endless beauty and stunning beaches, tiny villages and agrarian settlements hold fast to tradition here. Medieval fortresses lord over the coast. Snow-covered peaks spill toward dramatic gorges that pour mountain-fed water into the sea. Crete is also home to large cities brimming with rich culture. But its historic touch-point is Knossos, an ancient palace complex dating to 1900 BC. This remarkable site is considered the oldest city in all of Europe. According to legend, King Minos kept his mythical son Minotaur in a labyrinth here.

These three islands offer just a taste of the Aegean’s magnificence. Select Gate 1 itineraries also call on the Cyclades Island of Milos and the Dodecanese Islands of Patmos and Rhodes, where a beautifully preserved medieval city and the sprawling Grand Masters Palace overlook the glimmering sea.

So Many Ways to Experience Greece with Gate 1 Travel

A country as diverse as Greece opens itself up to limitless exploration. Gate 1 offers an array of travel styles so you can take in the rich and colourful Aegean culture your way. Our classic Escorted Tours showcase the best of the country for you, with a generous array of inclusions and the services of a local Greek Tour Manager. For the free-spirited, choose one of our Independent Vacations, which provide your basic necessities like flights and hotels and leave you to follow your own whims.

If the magical Greek Islands call to you, choose an itinerary that combines land touring with overnight accommodations on a small ship. And if you’d rather rub elbows with locals, some of our hotel-based trips let you island-hop on local ferries, for a truly authentic experience.

The Perfect Time to See Greece Is Now

The timeless antiquities, spectacular beauty and warm welcomes of Greece are to be savoured. And you can do just that in a relaxed and hospitable atmosphere, guided every step of the way by our Greek Tour Managers who know their country inside-out. Join us in 2019 and experience it all for yourself, at the value you’d expect, with Gate 1 Travel.

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

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9 of the Best New Tours for 2019

Are you working on your travel wish list for 2019? Dreaming of sleeping in a riad in Morocco or knocking back a schnapps in the Swiss alps? Learning Salsa in Colombia or surprising your friends by heading off to Uzbekistan?

So where to go and what to do?

Check out our new tours visiting hot destinations:

1. Italy and Croatia

Quote lines from Gladiator at The Colosseum in Rome, taste local wines in Tuscany, Florence, Venice and Pisa, and head off Croatia to bask in the azure beauty of the Adriatic sea.

Did you know that Marco Polo was born on the Croatian island of Korcula? Visit his birthplace, explore ‘King’s Landing’ aka Dubrovnik just in time for the last season of Game of Thrones, and take in the natural beauty of the famed blue cascades in Krka National Park.

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


2. Costa Rica

Do you know the way to San Jose? Not to be confused with San Jose in Northern California that The Carpenters sang out, San Jose is the capital of Costa Rica and is a perfectly preserved Spanish Colonial town.

From this starting point, head out to an artisan village to learn about local art and craft, visit a dormant conical volcano, knock back some Costa Rican coffee on a plantation tour and put your head in the clouds at Monteverde Clouds Forest.

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

Costa Rica

3. Colombia

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

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

More info about the 8 Day Affordable Colombia here.

4. Morocco

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

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

More info about the 18 Day Absolute Morocco here.

Sahara, Morocco

5. Switzerland and the Rhine River Cruise

The vantage point from a river or canal gives you a totally different aspect on a country. Glide under 14th Century medieval bridges in Lucerne, pass castles and cobbled streets straight out of fairytales, and enjoy a tipple in a quaint wine tavern in Rüdesheim. See the tiny storybook Principality of Liechtenstein from the bow of your ship and hop off for a close-up look at Marc Chagall’s stained glass window in the Fraumunster Church in Zurich.

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

6. Southern Italy, Puglia and Campania

Get off the beaten track by heading for the heel of the boot. This is the lesser known part of Italy is the birthplace of pizza and the home of Pompeii. Enjoy long farmhouse lunches, stroll through UNESCO Heritage-listed cobblestone streets and visit medieval ruins. Round out your trip with a visit to the Amalfi coastline for a look at one of the world’s most loved views.

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

7. Central Europe

There is nowhere hotter than Central Europe for small group touring. With a burgeoning cafe culture and bohemian art scene, the Czech Republic is the place to hang out. On the flipside, take in Slovakia’s perfectly preserved town centres, castles and convents for a glimpse back in time at 13th century life.

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


8. Uzbekistan

Did you know that the oldest copy of the Koran in the world is held in Tashkent’s Muyi Muborak Madrasa? Visit this historic marvel before you head off down the Silk Road to explore the cultural treasures of this little known corner of the world. Learn how to make a traditional Pilav when you share dinner with a local family, relax in a yurt camp in the desert and take your credit card on an adventure at the ancient Siab Market.

More info about the Uzbekistan Discovery small group tour here.

9. Turkey

Wander through the back streets of Istanbul tasting regional specialities like stretchy icecream made from orchid roots, look up in awe at the dome of the Blue Mosque, and master the art of shopping in the Grand Bazaar. For a change of pace, spend a day cruising around Fethiye’s 12 Islands, explore an ancient underground city at Kaymakli and explore traditional Turkish Ottoman houses in Safranbolu on the coast of the Black Sea.

More info about Turkish Odyssey small group tour here.

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


Food & Wine of Greece

Greece is no stranger to cuisine. In fact, it was a Greek, Archestratos, who wrote the first cookbook in history, in 320 B.C. Today the Mediterranean diet consistently wins praise for its proven health benefits. Local dishes exude the steadfast character of their origins – fava in Santorini, masticha in Chios, amygdalota in Mykonos and cheese pie with honey in Crete. But no matter where you visit, you’ll encounter the pleasures of freshly baked breads and a bounty of vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and zucchinis. To Greeks, food is a celebration best served as saganaki, grilled lamb, moussaka and grilled octopus – all enhanced with that crisp Greek olive oil.

The diverse terroir of Greece has been producing wines for close to 6,500 years, longer than almost every other place in the world. The flavours and notes of Greek wines are so unique that 72% of its vintages entered into the Decanter World Wine Awards received an award.

Here’s what you can expect to find on the Greek table:

Food of Greece

Mezes – Like Spanish tapas, mezes is a small-plate approach to Greek dining. Items can vary from piquant olives to a pita bread with dips to more complicated dishes such as cold eggplant salad. Mezes should not be confused with the orektika that you might see on a menu, which is the formal name for appetisers that are intended to precede larger meals.

Olive oil – Like in many Mediterranean restaurants, olive oil is a central ingredient in Greek cooking, pressed from the olive trees that have graced the country’s landscape for centuries.

Cheese – Feta, kasseri & halloumi oh my! With a climate and landscape conducive to goats and sheep, a wide array of cheeses are common in the Greek diet.

Filo – Whether in large sheets or bite-sized triangles, various fillings might be wrapped in filo dough, from chicken to spinach and cheese to minced meat. One version of this, spanakopita is a savoury pastry filled with spinach and feta.

Tiganita – These deep-fried vegetables might be served as a side dish.

Dolmadakia – Cousins of the Turkish dolma, these grapes leaves are often stuffed with rice, vegetables or meat.

Fava –  This puree of yellow split peas or beans might be flavoured with olive oil, garlic or parsley and served as part of mezes with pita bread.

Greek Salad – The simple salad is made with tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, feta cheese and kalamata olives.

Gyro – A dish made from meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie. Although traditionally lamb it can also be pork or chicken.

Tzatziki – Served with warm pita bread, this is a yoghurt with cucumber and garlic puree.

Fasolada – Often called the national food of Greece, this white bean soup is made with tomatoes, carrot and celery.

Moussaka – Eaten warm or cold, this casserole is usually made with ground meat and either eggplant or potatoes.

Wines of Greece:

Agiorghitiko (red) – Also know as St George’s grape, this wine is mostly produced in the Peloponnese region. The soft, fruity red expresses itself in many styles with qualities that are similar to Beaujolais.

Xinomavro (red) – This “sour black” grape ages well and has flavour notes that actually bring tomatoes and olives.

Assyrtiko (white) – This grape is mostly grown on the island of Santorini whose old vines were resistant to the phylloxera virus that wiped out other European vineyards. It has characteristics similar to Riesling.

Savatiano (white) – Known as the “Saturday” grape, this is the major white grape of Attica. It has a distinct floral, fruity aroma and if fermented without cooling, its wine matches well with Mediterranean dishes.

Roditis (rose) – Very popular in the Peloponnese, this elegant and light wine has lovely citrus flavours.

If this post has you salivating at the thought of regional Greek food check out our escorted tours of Greece where you can feast on delicious local delicacies.


9 Interesting Facts About La Sagrada Familia Cathedral

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

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

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



Romania’s Remarkable Storybook Castle

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

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

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

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

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

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


Paella cooking class in Barcelona

The Best Recipe for Spain’s Most Famous Dish

One of the joys of travel is coming home with a greater appreciation of other cultures, their traditions and their food – and where better to throw yourself into the gastronomic delights of a region than in Spain!

Gate 1 Travel’s Discovery small group tour, 14 Day France & Spain: History, Culture & Wine, offers an intoxicating blend of these two delicious countries and in Barcelona you get to enjoy a truly memory foodie exeperience – you get to take part in a step-by-step paella cooking class to prepare a meal in a relaxed and enjoyable environment. Then for lunch, savour your own creation!

This photo by Tom Regner was his Gate 1 group in action and in his words “It was so much fun!”

Paella cooking class in Barcelona

This internationally-renowned Spanish dish could also be considered an equality trail blazer in the kitchen, because traditionally it was prepared by men. The male of the household would often cook up this dish on a Sunday to give his wife a day off from cooking!

If you can’t wait until you get to Spain for an authentic cooking class, then here’s a traditional receipe that you might want to try this weekend and imagine yourself eating it in Barcelona, or Valencia, where it originated.

Paella a la Maestre – from Australia’s favourite adopted Spaniard, Miguel Maestre:
​Serves 3-4

500g marinara mix (mussels, fish, calamari, prawns, scallops)
Splash of extra virgin olive oil
500ml chicken stock
220g Bomba rice (short grain Spanish rice)
50g fresh or frozen peas
1 lemon, cut into wedges, to serve
½ bunch chives, garnish
Aioli and Sangria, to serve

For the sofrito:
2 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
6 piquillo peppers
4 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed
½ bunch parsley
1 bunch chives
25ml extra virgin olive oil
1 pinch saffron threads
1 tbsp smoked paprika

To make the sofrito, place all the sofrito ingredients in a food processor and process until chunky. If you don’t have a food processor, roughly chop the tomatoes and piquillo peppers and finely chop the garlic, parsley and chives then combine with other sofrito ingredients in a mixing bowl.

Place a 30-centimetre-wide frying pan or paella pan over a high heat. Add the marinara mix with a splash of extra virgin olive oil and cook for one minute. Add sofrito and cook for a further three minutes. Add chicken stock and bring to the boil. Stir in rice and bring to a simmer on medium to low heat for 15 minutes until stock has absorbed.

Add peas and cook for a further two minutes to achieve “soccarrada” (crust on the bottom of the pan).

Season to taste with salt and garnish with chives. Squeeze over lemon juice just before serving. Serve with aioli and sangria, the Spanish way. Ole!


Our 12 Most Popular Tours in 2018

Finally, Gate 1 Travel gives you an answer to the question so many of you keep asking – what are our most popular tours? Today we are sharing the 12 best selling tours thus far in 2018 because you deserve to know!

These tours vary greatly in destination, but they all excel in showing you must-see sites, beautiful cities, unique cultures and natural beauty all in one escorted tour! We are giving you a countdown of our top 12 tours that may offer some inspiration when it comes to planning your next unforgettable adventure. Journey with us from Ireland to Vietnam to the United States, with a whole world in between.

Blarney Castle Ireland
12. 9 Day Enchanting Ireland
Enchanting Ireland is right. Ireland is a beautiful country known for a warm culture, lush greenery and excellent sites to see. While on this tour of Ireland you will see some of the can’t miss spots including the city of Dublin, where you will enjoy a city tour, visit Trinity College to see the Book of Kells and have free time to explore. Also enjoy the Killarney area where you will drive through the world-famous Ring of Kerry and see sites on your way. On this tour you will also see Blarney Castle, Waterford, Bunratty Castle, Cliffs of Moher and Galway. If you have been wanting to visit Ireland, there is no better time than the present to go green.

11. 7 Day Essential Vietnam
Vietnam is a country that is so incredibly different from anywhere else that its popularity is no surprise. Your tour of Vietnam will begin with a visit to Ho Ch Minh City, formerly Saigon, where you will have the chance to take an optional excursion to Cu Chi Tunnels, enjoy a optional half day tour of the city or explore the city on your own at your leisure. You will also visit the incredible Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and see caves, grottos, islands, stalactites, stalagmites and waterfalls, to name a few! You will also have a full day in Hanoi to either leisurely explore the city or take optional tours that include the Museum of Ethnology and a Cyclo Ride/Water Puppet Show. This genuine country will win you over and you will enjoy every minute of it.

10. 8 Day Classic National Parks, Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone & Grand Teton
What better way to see what the world has to offer than by visiting some of the planet’s best national parks? Although the Unites States doesn’t have a history as old as some other countries, they do have amazing sites, national parks, natural phenomenon and plenty of great cities with their own special elegance. On this tour you will see 3 national parks, stay in 6 different locations and have the experience of a lifetime, all in 8 days! Visit Rapid City, the gateway to South Dakota’s Black Hills and iconic Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial. Experience the beauty of Yellowstone National Park, the first national park in the United States and home to “Old Faithful”, hot springs, thermal features, rock cliffs and more! You will also get to visit Grand Teton National Park, with its dense forests and rich wildlife and then continue to Salt Lake City, Utah. It’s time to see what the United States has to offer and explore some of our greatest treasures.

Halong Bay Vietnam
9. 14 Day Cambodia & Vietnam
This excellent tour gets you seeing two of the greatest countries of Southeast Asia and experiencing some of the greatest sites they have to offer. In just over two weeks you will experience 7 different cities and add two different countries to your list! While on tour, visit Siem Reap, home to some of the most famous sites in the world; Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat. Travel to Ho Chi Minh City and enjoy leisure time or take optional tours to get to know this fascinating city. During your Cambodia & Vietnam tour you will also see the city of Phnom Penh, Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia, the ancient town of Hoi An, Hue; home to a wealth of palaces, temples, museums and libraries, Halong Bay and Hanoi. This tour covers so much of these two amazing countries that it is a truly unmissable experience.

8. 13 Day Turkish Treasures
Welcome to the true crossroads of Europe and Asia; Turkey. This country has history that dates back to B.C. and has ancient sites to see that are some of the oldest on earth! On your journey to Turkey you will tour the city of Istanbul and see the Blue Mosque, Hippodrome, Topkapi Palace and the Spice Market. Traverse the ancient city of Cappadocia with its surreal rock formations, rock-cut temples and plenty of hot air balloons in the sky, with an option to have your own hot air balloon ride! This extensive tour also includes visits to the classical city of Troy, the port city of Izmir, the resort town of Antalya and Ankara the modern capital of Turkey. Learn about the country and sites you have read about in books like The Illiad and venture to this country today.

7. 13 Day Kaleidoscope of Central Europe
Central Europe has so much to offer in such a small area of the world. On this tour you will visit 5 major cities with a few stops along the way, and potentially add 5 new countries to your list. You will travel to the medieval city of Krakow, Poland, a city that was greatly affected by WWII and see the Jewish Quarter and Ghetto of the city as well as taking a solemn visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Experience the former centre of the Hapsburg Empire; Vienna, Austria, where you will view Schonbrunn Palace, Empress Maria Theresia Monument, Votive Church, City Hall, Parliament and more. This tour will also bring you to more unforgettable places such as Warsaw, Czestochowa, Budapest, Bratislava and Prague. If you enjoy history, culture, music and experiencing unforgettable places, this tour is perfect for you.

6. 11 Day Affordable Croatia & Slovenia
Croatia is a travel location that is increasingly popular for good reason! This seaside country has excellent cities by the water and a neighbouring country of Slovenia that you will not want to miss. This tour includes stops in 7 towns and cities with optional tours to see even more. This extraordinary tour takes you to Dubrovnik, the walled and cobbled-street city that you have probably seen on Game of Thrones, as King’s Landing, and in many pictures. Also explore the lake-side city of Bled, set among the Julian Alps and one of Slovenia’s most popular resort towns. Opatija, Zadar, Split, Krka National Park, Vodice, Zagreb and Ljubjana, Slovania are all included on this fully-packed tour. Come see why so many people are visiting this country and discover many of your own reasons!

5. 11 Day Enchanting Italy
Italy is always a great idea and this tour covers places you have always wanted to visit. If Venetian canals, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Michelangelo’s David, and Pompeii are things you have dreamed about, this tour covers it all and so much more. Visit and stay in the city of Florence, where David, the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio and Signoria Square await you. Take a tour of ancient Rome, home of the Colosseum, excellent food and a tiny country called Vatican City. This tour will also take you to Venice, Tuscany, Pisa, Assisi, Pompeii, Sorrento, Bay of Naples and more! If a friendly culture, excellent food and beautiful sites are on your travel list, you will surely cross them off with this tour of Italy.

4. 8 Day Essential Greece
This country, in the heart of the Mediterranean, is home to some of the most famous landmarks in the world; the Acropolis, Olympia and Delphi. This tour has an unbeatable price and gets you all around Greece in just over a week! You will likely arrive in Athens, the capital of Greece and home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Acropolis. Take a tour of the archaeological site of Olympia and see where the games were first held in 776 B.C. Visit the excavated site of Delphi, enjoy the coastal road to the mighty Corinth Canal and take an optional day tour to Hydra, Poros and Aegina Islands. Discover this ancient country that is the birthplace of democracy and the cradle of Western Civilisation on this unforgettable tour.

3. 12 Day Danube River Cruise with Prague
A river cruise through Europe is an excellent way to see many destinations while returning to the comfort of a ship between each. Being on a cruise means that while you are busy sleeping or enjoying the ship, you are being whisked away to a new and exciting destination. On your river cruise you will sail along the Danube river and visit Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, and Germany, you will also see the Czech Republic on this specific tour. Visit the essential Danube village town of Melk, Austria, where you will walk along medieval cobblestone streets leading to 16th century houses and wine taverns. You will also visit the city of Prague on this tour, where you will see the world-famous Astronomical Clock. The Town Hall, Jewish Quartre and many more sites. Other stops on this tour include Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, Durnstein, Linz, Passau, Vilshofen and Regensberg. It’s time to experience Europe in one of the most unique and special ways; on a European river cruise with Gate 1 Travel!

2. 10 Day Affordable Peru
Seeing Machu Picchu is on the bucket list of many travel enthusiasts. If you are one of these fanatic explorers, this tour was made for you. Visit the city of Lima, the capital of Peru, and its excellent landmarks including the Palace of the Archbishop, the Government Palace and the Cathedral of Lima. You will, of course, experience the ancient capital of the Incan Empire, Cuzco, which contains some ruins of its own and will be your gateway to touring the incredible Machu Picchu. This tour also visits Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo, Uros Islands, Puno and more! This exceptional tour brings you to some of the most photographed and visited places in the world and is affordable as well. Get out your comfortable walking shoes, because Peru awaits.

1. 13 Day Kaleidoscope of Morocco
If you have not been to Morocco yet, it is a must-visit! This up and coming country has been hugely popular this year thanks to its unique culture, vast array of things to do and excellent pricing! This tour offers many essential locations in Morocco including Fez, an ancient city with breathtaking views that you can decide to discover on your own or join the optional city tour. You will also visit Marrakesh where you will visit the Saadian Tombs, Koutoubia Minaret, the Medina and the Bahia Palace. On this Moroccan tour you will also visit Rabat, Erfoud, Rissani, Ouarzazate and Casablanca. There’s no better time than now to start seeing the world and all its beauty and culture. What better way to explore, than to enjoy our most popular tour of the year to beautiful Morocco?