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Escorted Tours in Europe

Written by  Barbara Radcliffe Rogers

Europe ToursTours with a knowledgeable guide are not just for first-time travelers. And they are not all alike. Escorted tours range from bus tours that show off the highlights, to trips where a local expert tailors the experience to the interests of one or two couples or a family.
Some advantages of an escorted trip are obvious: all arrangements, lodging, and transportation are taken care of without having to use a foreign language and unfamiliar currency. Prices are locked in and little is left to chance. Expert guides are another advantage. For most travelers, just seeing a famous sight is not enough. They want to know more about its history and artistic significance, and they want a taste of local culture that’s difficult to find on their own. And for those with special interests - art, music, ancestry - sharing a journey with like-minded companions not only enriches the trip but opens up new friendships.

For budget-conscious clients, group tours with well-respected companies might be the answer. Taking advantage of savings from large volume, these can offer an excellent value.  Gate 1 Discovery Tours (www.discovery-tours.com)offers an 11-day Irish Culture itinerary with a group of no more than 22 travelers that includes flights from the US, first-class hotels in Dublin, Waterford, Adare and Westport, 18 meals, transfers in air-conditioned vehicles, guided sightseeing and entrance fees, priced from about $2,000. Other destinations offered for 2016-2017 include Iceland, Italy, France, the Balkans and Spain.
Holidays with Downtown (www.holidayswithdowntown.com) has 8-day tours to Sicily, and to other Italian regions, beginning under $2,400, land only. The Sicily tour includes hotels in Palermo, Syracuse and Taormina, transfers by luxury coach, breakfasts, five other meals, guided food and wine tastings, guided tours and entrance fees. The 8-day Glimpse of Spain tour, priced from below $900 includes transfers, hotels in Madrid, Cordoba, Seville and Marbella, sightseeing tours, breakfasts and four other meals. Week-long tours of England and Wales are priced from under $1,400.
For more luxury-oriented clients, Abercrombie & Kent (www.abercrombiekent.com) small-group journeys (no more than 18 guests) offer a tour director and specialist local guides along with insider-access experiences. The new-for-2017 10-day Scandinavia: Stockholm, Copenhagen & Oslo includes a cooking class at Oslo’s Mathallen Food Hall. The 9-day Italian Treasures: Rome, Florence & Venice  includes an after-hours guided tour of St. Mark’s Basilica, a wine tasting in Tuscany and chef’s table dining at a farm-to-table restaurant. The 9-day Scotland: Edinburgh & the Highlands itinerary offers private access to Holyrood Palace, a whisky tasting and stay at Gleneagles Hotel. All these include luxury and landmark hotels.
A&K’s Connections Worldwide Group Journeys begin at lower prices and guarantee no more than 24 guests, still featuring a professional tour director, local experts and insider access. Some of these are specially designed for families, so children will have company close to their own age, and activities are planned with young travelers in mind. Tours cover Spain, Italy, Central Europe, Scotland and Ireland. 

Special Interests
Traveling with people who share the same passions or heritage can add a rewarding dimension to a trip. Those with relatives who served in World War II can tour sites of the invasion that brought the allied forces to victory. Globus (www.globusjourneys.com) offers a 5-day D-Day Landing Beaches & Battle of Normandy tour to the invasion beaches and to cemeteries and museums that pay tribute to the
Allied forces.
Clients can join others with a shared heritage to explore the roots of their culture. Several operators offer tours to sites important in the Jewish experience. Momentum Tours (www.momentumtours.com) provide insider access as they explore the fascinating story of Sephardic Jews in Portugal and Spain. Their From Roots to Revival tour of Germany and Poland includes visits to Holocaust sites and highlights the Jewish contributions to the local cultural life. The 10-day Jewish Tour of Sicily with Artisans of Leisure (www.artisansofleisure.com) features Agrigento, where a sizeable Jewish community was influential for 14 centuries.

Customized Tours
Escorted tours don’t need to be with a group; several specialty operators arrange complete expertly guided trips for individuals, families or groups of friends. A prime example is in Sardinia, where a local guide can make travel easier and bring your clients inside the culture as they could never do on their own. Maria Paola Loi (www.sardinia-tours.com) is a native Sardinian and professional tour guide with extensive knowledge of the island’s unique history and culture. On one-day or multi-day custom-designed tours she can help clients unravel the mysteries of Sardinia’s fascinating and enigmatic prehistoric sites and introduce them to the magnificent scenery and surprising culinary scene.
Inside Germany Tours (www.inside-germany.com) create one-of-a-kind custom journeys in Germany for affinity groups and families. Itineraries can revolve around whatever sparks your clients’ interests -- local food and drink, history, art - and emphasize discovering places not included in the usual tours. A 6-day October adventure in Bavaria for beer-lovers can feature behind-the-scenes brewery tours, talks with brew masters and celebrating traditional bierfests with locals. Personal experiences are paramount; itineraries in South West Germany, for example, can include learning to bake a traditional Black Forest Cake or building a cuckoo clock. Epicurean itineraries include hands-on lessons with chefs and home cooks, in addition to dining in Michelin-starred restaurants (one village in the Black Forest has a total of seven Michelin stars among its three restaurants).  
Don’t forget that clients who travel independently can enrich their trips with carefully selected shorter tours. Nothing brings travelers closer to the heart of rural England than a day’s guided walking. Foot Trails (www.foottrails.co.uk) offers gentle one-day walks that include access to Stonehenge, and to the historic city of Bath and the surrounding countryside. Both 7.5-mile small-group strolls follow local paths through pastures and villages as the guide adds history, nature notes and stories. Tours include transport from rail stations and a picnic lunch of local products.
Travelers in London will want to know about the East End Tour, focusing on British cuisine at eight tastings, and the Twilight Soho Tour, a “moving dinner” in the cafes, restaurants and shops that are shaping London’s culinary scene. Eating Europe Tours (www.eatingeuropetours.com) also has escorted food tours in Rome, Florence, Amsterdam and Prague. Walks of Italy (www.walksofitaly.com) explores the foods of Venice in tours that will take clients inside the Rialto food market and reveal the secrets of Venice’s historic wine bars and the cicchetti snacks they serve. Other itineraries include full-day tours with professional guides that engage visitors in a Venice most never see.
Choosing the right escorted tours for your clients can make all the difference in their vacation experience - and bring them back for your expert help with their next trip

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