Different Strokes: Touring Castles or Exploring Faith on a European Tour

Travelers no longer want a typical European tour or city/stay. They want a vacation experience personalized “just for me.” Tour operators report that even popular kinds of tours—such as those with a heritage focus—have morphed into much more targeted trips. Why? Consumers desire to perfectly match a European tour or city/stay package with their “personal passion.”

While some travelers may indulge their heritage passion by visiting Tallinn, Estonia’s “Old Town,” others may prefer to dive into the culinary history and traditions in the area of Serbia from which their ancestors hailed. Some travelers desire to focus on the history of San Marino or Monte Carlo, while others can't get enough of fortifications such as those in Croatia or Denmark.

This week, though, Travel Agent explores two very different types of historically-focused vacations. Some travelers see the ultimate European history trip as exploring multiple castles and dreaming about knights and royalty. For others, though, it’s all about self-reflection or reconnecting with one’s faith—visiting sites with strong religious significance. These are very different "takes" on the heritage theme.

Castles and Knights

On the fairytale side, those dreaming of castles and knights have many multi-country options in Europe. Luxury Gold’s “Harmony of Central Europe Tour,” a Chairman’s Collection tour, delivers the goods on the royalty side. How so? Tour guests will meet Princess Anita von Hohenberg in an exclusive private reception with drinks at her family home, Artstetten Castle in Austria.

She’s a direct descendant of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, whose assassination in 1914 led to the outbreak of World War I. Princess Anita will share stories with Luxury Gold’s travelers, who’ll also family portraits and Habsburg family heirlooms.

Český Krumlov is a small city in the south of the Czech Republic that attracts a lot of tourists every year.

Fairytale-like Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic is one city where tour guests can explore a castle. // Photo by pierouge/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Also on this tour, guests will visit the courtyards of Prague Castle and Cesky Krumlov Castle, both in the Czech Republic. They also see the ninth century castle in Bratislava, Slovakia, and the Oravský Hrad Castle en route to Kraków, Poland. A September 14, 2021 tour is characterized by the tour operator as a "definite departure" and priced from $5,375 per person, double occupancy.

For travelers who want to drive and discover castles along the route, Avanti Destinations offers a five-night, self-drive  “Romantic Road” journey that includes Wurzburg, Rothenburg, Augsburg, Fussen and Munich, Germany. Guests pick up and drop off their rental car in either Frankfurt or Munich.

One journey will take vacationers southeast to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the crown jewel of the "Romantic Road." They’ll feel the history as they walk the ramparts of the town walls and by visiting the 12th-century castle. Drivers arriving in Fussen, just a few miles from the Austrian border in the Bavarian Alps, also will discover it's a good base for visiting Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau, two of the most popular castles in the region, both associated with King Ludwig of Bavaria.

And in a tour fit for royalty, Trafalgar’s eight-day “Castles and Manors” tour traverses such Irish destinations as Dublin, Galway, the Cliffs of Moher and the Ring of Kerry, with views of castles, manor homes and other historic sites, as well as some stays in the homes of Irish nobility.

Added bonuses? Guests will travel to Kildare and learn all about the racehorses of Ireland, visit the Ring of Kerry and watch how delicate marble is carved in Connemara.

Faith Heritage Focuses  

In a very different type of heritage tour focus, travelers can explore their faith in depth. For example, the history of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage dates back to the 9th century, when the tomb of the evangelical Apostle St. James was discovered in what is today Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

Over the centuries and continuing today, pilgrims from all over the world have walked St. James' Way, either seeking forgiveness or sins or just as a journey of personal growth. It’s a challenging, physical journey as the walking extends through forests and along busy roads for many miles each day. Participants must be in good shape.

Along the pilgrimage route, they’ll enjoy nature, meditation, the friendship of other “pilgrims” and northern Spain’s scenic beauty. Offered on multiple dates in 2021, 2022 and 2023, is Cosmos’  northern Spain tour, "The Camino: A Walking Journey for the Soul,” which operates roundtrip from Madrid in 2021, 2022 and 2023.

Prices for this Cosmos itinerary as a Small Group Discovery tour (24 or fewer guests) start at $2,639 per person, double occupancy, for the May 1 and May 15, 2022 departures.  

Other tour operators also offer faith-heritage focused tours, among them Collette, which has offered those to faith-focused sites within Spain as well as Ireland and Italy.

For example, its 10-night “Shrines of Italy” tour will likely appeal to devout Catholics. Tour guests will visit the Basilica of St. Francis at Assisi, St. Peter’s Basilica at Vatican City and the Cathedral of Salerno, which guards the relics of Saint Matthew, the Apostle.

Sistine Chapel ceiling

The Sistine Chapel is shown above. // Jupiterimages/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Travelers on this tour will also visit the burial sites of the Catacombs, where the early Christians hid and venerated their dead. They’ll also view Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and the famous “Last Judgment Mural.” Most notably, they’ll have the opportunity to attend the weekly Papal audience and receive the Pope’s blessing. Another deeply religious vacation experience is a visit to Scala Sancta, the "Holy Stairs," thought to be the steps that Jesus Christ climbed when he appeared before Pontius Pilate.

“Shrines of Italy” is available in 2021, 2022 and 2023. Some departures are guaranteed including September 28, 2021 and October 19, 2021, both of which start at $2,499 per person, double occupancy.

For those of Jewish heritage, Tauck offers a 14-day escorted tour “Warsaw, Budapest, Vienna & Prague – Honoring the Jewish Heritage,” priced from $7,990 per person double. Operating in May, July and October, this multi-country European tour visits Prague, the Czech Republic; Vienna, Austria; Auschwitz, Krakow and Warsaw, Poland; and Budapest, Hungary.

Emotionally stirring, the historic sites are inextricably linked to the tour guests’ Jewish heritage, offering a chance to learn, reflect on and remember the sacrifices made by past generations. Special experiences on this tour include prayer and a question-and-answer session with a rabbi during an exclusive, private-access visit to Budapest’s Frankel Synagogue.

Tour guests also visit the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews (POLIN) and the Plaszów concentration camp in Kraków, as well as Poland's poignant museum and memorial at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Other highlights include a walking tour of Budapest’s Jewish Quarter; a private piano recital of Chopin music in Warsaw; a stop at Oskar Schindler's factory; the Czech Republic's Memorial of National Martyrdom; Prague's historic Jewish Quarter; and a walking tour of Old Town Bratislava, Slovakia; as well as visit to the synagogue and Jewish Museum in Vienna.

And, certainly, the top trip for many religious-focused travelers in 2022 will be Oberammergau, the Passion Play. Many tour operators plan to include this within their offerings. For example, Insight Vacations’ 12-day “Country Roads of Bavaria, Switzerland, and Austria” with Oberammergau is a classic group journey in 2022. In Oberammergau, guests will witness a performance of the Passion Play, which tells the story of Christ’s last days on Earth.

Starting at $4,613 per person double, this tour travels through Prague, Czech Republic; St. Moritz, Zurich and Lucerne, Switzerland, and celebrates Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany.

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