Creative Exploring in Europe: Ways to Transform the Overall Experience

Increasingly, “creativity” reigns as travelers head to Europe. The goal? It's not simply a tour or city stay, it's a "transformative" European experience.

For example, travelers seek to discover more about their family’s history through genealogy activities. Active travelers plan biking or hiking excursions through small villages while passing vineyards and gorgeous landscapes. Visitors also are seeking to mix and mingle with officials or specialists who can "add to the authenticity" of what they’re seeing or doing. And finally, they’re often now settling into one destination as a “base” and doing multiple day trips to add layers to their vacation.

Discovering Family Heritage

Between 1830 and 1974, more than seven million emigrants left Bremerhaven, Germany for a new life in America. Now, their descendants are seeking to go back and find “their roots,” according to Paul Barry, CEO, Avanti Destinations.

His company will set up customized arrangements for private parties or small groups to explore the region and to visit the German Emigration Center in Bremerhaven, once Germany’s largest port of emigration. In a sample three-day “Bremen and Bremerhaven Regional Highlight (by Rail)” itinerary, Avanti’s clients could spend one night in Bremen and two nights in Bremerhaven, with opportunities to see maritime and UNESCO World Heritage Sites, as well as visit the German Emigration Center.

Depending on guest desires, Avanti’s customizable inclusions could include private walking tours, entry to that center, a choice of hotels, daily breakfast and more. 

Or, in Spain, Avanti offers a customized “Spanish Heritage” journey. On this five-day, customizable, self-drive itinerary, travelers could spend three nights in Madrid, two nights in Toledo and one night in Segovia, all with daily breakfast.

Travelers can set out by private rental car to visit towns and places related to their family history. They can drive a compact rental car with manual transmission, or, if they so choose, upgrade to a larger, more luxurious vehicle with automatic transmission.

Joanne Gardner, vice president of worldwide operations, Tauck, explains that Jewish heritage is a popular option, too. Tauck’s 14-day, escorted “Warsaw, Budapest, Vienna and Prague – Honoring the Jewish Heritage” itinerary immerses guests in both the cultural legacies and poignant histories of the Jewish communities visited. 

Warsaw Poland - marchello74/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Warsaw Poland // Photo by marchello74/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

For example, in Poland, tour-goers will see such Warsaw sites as the Ghetto Memorial, the Jewish Historical Institute, Nozyk Synagogue and the Museum of the History of Polish Jews (POLIN). In Kazimierz, Poland, travelers explore the former Jewish Quarter, and will also visit the site of the Plaszów concentration camp in Krakow, with a stop at Oskar Schindler's factory. There is also time to honor the innocent victims at the poignant museum and memorial in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

During time in Budapest, Hungary, Tauck’s guests will visit the Jewish Quarter’s Dohány and Kazinczy synagogues, plus the Holocaust Memorial, with private access, prayer and a Q&A with the rabbi at the Frankel Synagogue. A walking tour of Old Town Bratislava offers insights on the Jewish Holocaust in Slovakia. Travelers also will explore the synagogue and Jewish Museum in Vienna, Austria.

In addition, during their stay in Prague, Czech Republic, guests will visit the former Terezin concentration camp and see the Czech Republic's Memorial of National Martyrdom, the Museum of the Ghetto and Josefov, Prague's historic Jewish Quarter.

Diving into Eco-Adventure 

Increasingly, travelers—those traveling independently, on a customized journey or even those taking an escorted tour—want to get out and feel a part of the great outdoors or to maintain an exercise regimen while exploring. Customization provides great opportunities for doing this. Avanti's Barry says that roughly 10 percent of his group's add-on sightseeing tours or activities are for some sort of outdoor of activity, such as hiking and biking.

Barry emphasizes that this is particularly evident when travelers are visiting destinations in the countryside, such as places in Switzerland, Iceland and Scandinavia.

Participatory activities are much desired by European travelers, and there are many unusual options. Guests traveling on Abercrombie & Kent’s Tailor-Made Greece – An Active Adventure” don’t just see Athens' Zappeion, the first modern, purpose-built Olympic facility, they'll get first-hand experience participating in such sports activities as discus, javelin and the long jump.

In addition, they can test their speed during a race at Panathenaic Stadium, the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble. It’s on this hallowed track that the first modern Olympians competed in 1896.

On that A&K journey, active guests also can head out for sea kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, hiking or trekking during time in Nafplion, Greece. While in Crete, an off-road Jeep safari will take guests along the Katharo plateau, winding along dirt tracks and through the forest. The day also includes a short, but challenging hike along Havgas Gorge.

Settling Into a "Base," Then Exploring Beyond 

Travelers who book a United Vacations city-stay package in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, will receive flight tickets plus a stay in a hotel of their choice. United offers dozens of options including the Hyatt Regency Belgrade, the Crown Plaza Belgrade or the Metropole Palace, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Belgrade.

Belgrade Serbia

Belgrade makes a great base for exploring other areas of Yugoslavia. // Photo by mareandmare/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

During their time in Belgrade, travelers can explore the city’s top sights, but many staying multiple days will likely head out of the city, too. Increasingly, tour executives say travelers want to expand their scope in experiencing any country. For, example, only about 45 miles from Belgrade is Pozarevac, Serbia. Art buffs should head for the wonderful memorial gallery focusing on the late famed Serbian painter, Milena Pavlović Barili. Visitors can peruse her paintings, personal library, furniture and personal items.

For history-lovers, Pozarevac is home to the National Museum of Pozarevac, founded in 1895 and a wonderful treasure trove of historical artifacts from the prehistoric, ancient, medieval and more modern eras.

A highlight is seeing the museum’s Roman coins, pots and weapons from the ancient (and nearby) Roman city of Viminacium, located on the outskirts of Porzareva. While that ancient site is still being excavated, visitors can view such ruins as the amphitheater, a northern gate, bathhouse and mausoleum. 

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana is one base for exploring more of Slovenia. // Photo by katso80 iStock Getty Images Plus Getty Images

Alternatively, guests who travel with Pleasant Holidays to Ljubljana, Slovenia, using that city as a "base," can enjoy a hotel stay at the InterContinental Ljubljana, but then head out on day trips as the luxurious property is not only near the city’s Old Town but also near the Ljubljana train station.

Pleasant Holidays’ arrangements for Ljubljana will include such travel arrangements as air tickets, hotel stays and car rentals, depending on guest desires. Guests can arrange Slovenia day tours on site as desired. Among the local options is one local tour operator's 12-hour excursion (with hotel pick-up for guests) that will take visitors to Vintgar Gorge, Bled, Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle.

Adding Authenticity to Touring

Dubrovnik, Croatia

The fortifications of Dubrovnik are among the sites visited during Tauck's "Croatia to Venice" itinerary. 

Travelers are seeking more truly authentic experiences during their European trip: They don’t just want to see things, they want to meet the locals; they want to go "hands on" or chat face-to-face.

How about a chance to meet Croatia’s former tourism minister? Tauck’s Gardner points to that element within her company's 13-day, “Croatia to Venice” land program, which visits Croatia, Italy, Montenegro and Slovenia. She describes this itinerary as “unique and often-the-beaten-path” and “without crowds.”

Separately, Tauck’s guests have a chance to meet a noted Italian mountain climber, which definitely will allow tour guests on the 13-day “Ultimate Alps & Dolomites” itinerary to check off the “authenticity” box on their trip.

This escorted tour travels through Munich, Germany; Innsbruck and Salzburg, Austria; and Lucerne, Switzerland, as well as such Alpine villages and towns as Bolzano and Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, and Oberammergau, Germany. Guests will also sample “authentic tastes,” such as a Swiss cheese-making demonstration and lunch with a tour and schnapps tasting at a 400-year-old farm.

Or, on Luxury Gold’s 12-day “Ultimate Italy” escorted tour this summer, guests will spend Day Eight joining a professional chef and uncovering the secrets of Tuscan cooking during an authentic culinary master class. Yes, this one oozes authenticity not just for the chef but because it's set in the former hunting lodge of the Medici family.

Whether guests are traveling to the destinations mentioned above, or to Portugal, Iceland, Finland, Belgium, Estonia, Sweden or other European countries, experts say they're seeking these kinds of "threads" for "creative exploring" within their upcoming European vacation.

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