Sometimes it pays to leave the driving -- and organizing -- to someone else, and it's worth paying for that expertise. As spring is not too far off in the distance, we are looking at escorted trips offered in the coming months -- generally by motor coach -- that feature scenic European landscapes and, in some cases, seascapes.
C.I.E. Tours International (tel. 800/243-8687; www.cietours.com) is offering some escorted trips to Ireland, including 2007 Irish Spirit, starting from $748 for land only or $1,046 for airfare inclusive. There are departures starting March 7 and running consistently throughout the month, although read carefully, some dates, such as the one that puts you there on St. Patrick's day, are sold out. The land-only price for March departures is $858 and with airfare, goes up to $1,248 (the cheapest price in the special represents fall travel). Highlights include an evening at the Old Jameson Distillery, a visit to St. Patrick's Cathedral and the Book of Kells, the Cliffs of Moher, a catamaran cruise of Killary Fjord, and a visit to Guinness Storehouse. You'll spend two nights in Dublin, two nights in Killarney (the gateway to the scenic drive around the Ring of Kerry) and two nights in Galway City. There will also be tours of the beautiful, mountainous windswept terrain of the Gaeltaecht (Irish-speaking) region of Connemara.
Friendly Planet (tel. 800/555-5765; www.friendlyplanet.com) is offering an Athens and three-day Greek Isles Cruise priced from $1,199 if you book by March 30. The first available departure is April 17, at the price of $1,499, which includes round-trip airfare from New York, three nights in a superior class hotel in Athens, three nights aboard Louis Cruise Lines in a standard cabin, buffet breakfast daily in Athens and all meals on your cruise, all transfers and a professional English-speaking tour host throughout the trip.
Insight Vacations (tel. 888/680-1241; www.insightvacations.com) runs tours that are limited to 40 people on comfy coaches with ample legroom. They're currently offering a 12-day "Country Roads of Portugal and Spain" priced from $1,775 per person. Much of the trip hugs the coast and takes smaller roads -- in particular it goes through the northern part of Spain, a less traveled part of the country but one that is full of green scenery. The trip begins in Lisbon and finishes in Madrid, with stops at Oporto, Santiago, Oviedo and Santander in between, as well as along the Costa Verde and Picos de Europa National Park. Services of a tour director, in-depth sightseeing tours, orientation tours, air-conditioned coach, first-class hotels and all taxes and service charges are all included. Airfare is not. There are guaranteed departures May 3, May 17, June 14 and August 9. You can opt to bundle in airfare; the May dates, with round-trip airfare, are priced at $2,445, based on New York departures.
Picasso Tours (tel. 800/995-7997; www.picassotours.com) has a "Highlights of Sicily Winter '07" trip for seven nights from $995 based on double occupancy. You'll receive a welcome cocktail, full board -- dinner on the first day through breakfast on your departure day are provided -- tour escort, ferry service and entrance fees. A motor coach will be your transportation to all sites, starting in Palermo and hitting Catania, Mt. Etna, Messina, Taormina and a drive along the Thyrrenian coast with stops along the way to the resort town of Cefalu. There are departures available February 10, 17 and March 3, 10, 17 and 24.
Sophisticated Traveler (www.s-traveler.com) has trips to central and eastern Europe, including "The Baltic Capitals" an eight-day, first-class tour. The trip, priced from $1,645 for round-trip airfare from New York-JFK or Newark (other departures are listed, too, with higher prices), has a packed itinerary, and airfare, hotels, buffet breakfast, airport-hotel transfers, services of an English speaking guide, and ground transportation in a motor coach, along with incurred excursion or entrance fees. The first destination is Vilnius, and then off to Riga, known for its remarkable architecture. The trip here includes a stop at a 14th-century castle along the way and another at Rundale Palace, a late baroque work. After time in Riga you'll head to Tallinn, with a stop in Parnu, a summer resort popular with Estonians.
Tauck (tel. 800/788-7885; www.tauck.com) offers some escorted tours in beautiful locations that are mostly inclusive, with expert guides who really know the best of what the location has to offer. (Airfare is not usually included.) For 2007, the company has a few new tours, such as one that combines Croatia and Slovenia. It's an 11-day jaunt starting from $3,990 that shows you the country in a truly scenic way, as the itinerary includes a drive down the Dalmatian Coast, with its rocky coastlines and beautiful beaches, and a ferry to the island Hvar, to explore the island's historic ruins. Then you'll take a ferry to the walled city of Split, and experience more scenic driving along the way to the gallery of Ivan Mestrovic, a famous Croatian sculptor. The price reflects most meals, gratuities (except those for Tauck director and driver), accommodations, land and sea transportation, sightseeing, admissions, luggage handling and the service of Tauck directors.
Vacation Europe (tel. 800/780-2202; www.vacationeurope.com) gives you the opportunity to choose your trip type, such as escorted, and then price point, from budget to luxury. Hopscotch all over central Europe with the "Bohemian Rhapsody" tour, which visits Munich and Nuremberg in Germany, Bratislava, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, and flies you out of London. The twelve-night trip includes round-trip airfare via British Airways to Munich returning via London, an escorted tour in an air-conditioned coach, sightseeing with local guides, 13 buffet breakfasts, and either first class or superior tourist class hotels, and hotel taxes, service charges and tips for baggage handling. The April 28 departure is priced at $1,951, and the cost slowly climbs as the high season approaches. Part of the trip includes a visit to Vienna Woods, Buda Castle, with plenty of time to plan your own activities in Vienna, Budapest, and Prague, or to partake in scheduled, optional activities. This tour is operated by Cosmos.
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