Best Tours in Europe
Photograph by Cotton Coulson & Sisse Brimberg, Keenpress
By Margaret Loftus
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Rafting Trifecta
Home to the rugged Dinaric Alps, one of the last primeval forests in Europe, and white water galore, Bosnia is heaven for adrenaline junkies. This adventure combines Class 2 to 4 runs on three rivers—the Tara, known as the Grand Canyon of the Balkans; the emerald green Neretva; and the Vrbas, host of the 2009 World Rafting Championships—with cultural forays into Sarajevo, Banja Luka, and Mostar. O.A.R.S.: “Bosnia: Three Rivers,” 9 days; $2,990.
Bulgaria: Land of Dionysus and Orpheus
This trip digs into the cultural heritage of Bulgaria, from the era of the Thracians, who venerated Dionysus and originated the legend of the musician Orpheus, to the present day. Listen to a chamber concert at the ancient Serdica amphitheater in Sofia. Tour the tenth-century mountaintop Rila Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Make banitza—phyllo filled with cheese—in the riverbank village of Gabrovo, and taste the fruit of thousands of years of winemaking. Cultural Crossroads: “Cultural Splendors of Bulgaria: Art, Wine, and Traditions,” 12 days; $4,695.
France: A Week in Provence
Kathy and Charley Wood were inspired to show off the Provence they got to know after their own six-month sabbatical here. You’ll have one base for this weeklong immersion: a guesthouse in the hilltop village of Bonnieux. Take lunch at the family-owned winery, Domaine Faverot, sample cheese at a goat farm near Saignon, and explore ancient caves that were once quarters of the Knights Templar, none of which are usually open to the public. European Experiences: “Luberon Experience,” 8 days; $2,800.
Iceland: Family Romp
Icebergs the size of semis, simmering volcanoes, gray lava flats, and white ice fields: Tiny Iceland is jam-packed with topographic wonders ideal for family adventures. This one has you hiking, biking, horseback riding, rafting, and bird-watching through some of the island’s otherworldly land- and seascapes, including Skaftafell National Park and the Haukadalur Valley. Backroads: “Iceland Family Multisport,” 6 days; from $4,358.
Italy: Tuscan Leisure Cruise
Inspired by Italy’s “slow food” movement, the notion of “slow paddling” draws on the participants’ natural abilities rather than kayaking dogma, which makes for a more relaxed exploration of Tuscany’s Elba Island by sea. But first, get your bearings on land at a family-owned inn in the Tuscan hill town of Impruneta, where you’ll cook from the garden; elsewhere, get tips on capturing the region’s golden light in a photo workshop. H2Outfitters: “Slow Food, Slow Paddling: Sea Kayaking Italy’s Tuscan Islands,” 9 days; $4,950.
Poland: Culture Sampler
Wandering the museums and old towns of Warsaw and Krakow is like walking through the pages of a European history book. Tour the Gothic Wawel Cathedral, the coronation and burial site for Polish monarchs since the 14th century. See Bellotto’s paintings of the capital at the Royal Castle, which were used as a reference to reconstruct the city after its destruction in World War II. Sample nalweki—herbal-infused vodka—at an artisanal distillery in the countryside, and learn the trick to making pierogi during a private lesson. Exeter International: “Treasures of Poland,” 7 days; $4,675.
Portugal: Azores Walkabout
The maritime history of this Portuguese archipelago in the middle of the North Atlantic has long overshadowed the inland wonders of waterfalls, extinct volcanoes, elusive birds (like the Azorean bullfinch), and geysers and fumaroles. This trek through three of the nine volcanic islands does them justice. Country Walkers: “Portugal: The Azores,” 7 days; $3,998.
Romania: Dracula’s Backyard
This family-centric lap of Transylvania engages kids with geo-caching in the medieval city of Brasov, breadmaking with a local baker in the remote Saxon village of Viscri, and a visit to Dracula’s castle. KE Adventure Travel: “Treasures of Transylvania,” 8 days; $1,475.
Russia: Space Odyssey
If you truly, madly, deeply wanted to be an astronaut, this special itinerary lets you play the part. It kicks off with a tour of Star City, the country’s Cape Canaveral, and an opportunity to participate in cosmonaut training (at extra cost). Next it’s off to the Kazakh steppe to watch a launch and schmooze with luminaries of the space set. The trip culminates back in Moscow as you watch a live satellite feed at Mission Control of the Soyuz spacecraft docking with the International Space Station. MIR Corporation: “Inside the Russian Space Program,” 10 days; $13,995.
France, Italy, Switzerland: Europe’s White Mountain
With spectacular Sound of Music scenery, the camaraderie of fellow hikers, and the Alpine cultures of three different countries, this hiking circuit around western Europe’s highest peak, Mont Blanc (15,770 feet), has become a classic. The outfitter’s version includes stays in cozy auberges. Boundless Journeys: “Tour du Mont Blanc,” 9 days; $4,195.
These guided tours are part of National Geographic Traveler’s 50 Tours of a Lifetime for 2012 for the outfitters’ commitment to authenticity, immersion, sustainability, and connection.