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Tuscany awaits you--you can bike, cook, or just enjoy the beauty. (photo: Peggy Markel's Cooking Adventures.Tuscany awaits you--you can bike, cook, or just enjoy the beauty. (photo: Peggy Markel's Cooking Adventures.

Top Picks for Touring In Europe


* Basque Pilgrimage

Let Dragon's Path Cultural Walking Tours guide you through the Basque Country, a single culture spanning portions of two countries: France and Spain. Dragon's Path's walking tour retraces El Camino de Santiago, perhaps the most famous European pilgrimage route, through picturesque villages tucked in the western Pyrenees and spread amongst the limestone towers of the Cantabrian Mountains.

The tour begins with a visit to the grandiose Guggenheim in Bilbao, and wanders amongst castle ruins, through private vineyards and into centuries-old forests and alpine meadows. Walk by day and dine on expertly aged cheeses, fruits of the sea, farm-raised meats, and regional confections by night. Dragon's Path Cultural Walking Tours are experts on keeping you far from the beaten path.

* Irish Horses

For the experienced horseback rider and adventurous spirit, Equitour's self-guided exploration of Ireland takes you back to times when people actually traveled by horse. You'll venture from pub stay to farmstay, feeling the harmony of man and beast as you trot through the fairytale woodlands and farmlands that inspired William Butler Yeats. A ride through the golden dunes of Culleenamore and Dornings Strand are one highlight of the trip. Other European destinations include Estonia, Finland and Iceland, as well as the UK, France, Spain and Italy.

If the idea of horsepacking is attractive, but you're not sure you have the experience to go alone, Cross-Country International Equestrian Vacations offers fabulous, all-inclusive guided horse tours and horseback training camps in Ireland, Scotland, England, France, Spain, and Greece. Meander country roads, stay in glorious inns and castles, and see the countryside the way it was meant to be seen... from the saddle.

* The Road Less Traveled in Eastern Europe

Cross-Culture Inc. takes you on the road less traveled in Slovenia, Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, the Czech Republic and the more traditional European destinations. Hike Bohemia or the French Dordogne, visit World Heritage Sites along the Danube, or discover the villages of Tuscany. All small-group tours are unique and focus on the rich cultural and natural heritage of the destination.

If you prefer independent travel and the ease of a FIT, MIR Corporation, a specialist in Russia, Central Asia and Eastern Europe, allows you to custom design your own independent itinerary in Russia, the Baltics, Ukraine and Eastern Europe. Homestays, in-country transportation and expert itinerary planning are all part of the price. Mir Corp. also offers "off-the-beaten-path" small groups tours to the same regions and beyond.

* Food is Poetry is Art in Italy

Visitors to Italy are equally drawn by the medieval mystique of stone villages and ruggedly exquisite countryside as by the region's delectable cuisine. Celebrate Italy with a course at the Ligurian School of Poetic Cooking, April 2-7, 2002 in Tellaro, Italy.

Peggy Markel's Culinary Adventures will make all the arrangements for you to study Seafood and Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Sauces with Chef/Poet Angelo Cabani. Guests stay in the family's seven-room inn in Tellaro, a tiny coastal fishing village. You can savor Angelo's delectable meals after learning the secrets of each. While the sauces are simmering, there'll be plenty of time for you to stroll the rocky coast, take in breathtaking views of the sea, relax, and explore the village.

Did that whet your appetite? If you want more Italian cooking and touring, check out Enoteca de' Giraldi's wine and food tours of Tuscany. Enjoy exclusive wine tastings, cooking lessons, visits to wineries and -- because you have to be able to talk about what you eat and drink -- Italian language classes. All tours can be customized to whatever flavors suit you!

Bike and Cook!

Or, bike and cook with Bike Rider's Tours unique cooking/biking tours through Umbria, Burgundy, Tuscany, Provence and Sicily. Award-winning US-based chefs offer hands-on classes, wine tastings, vineyard and market visits, in addition to riding each day. A great way to build up that appetite!

* Literary Europe

Explore the intim
ate world of Dickens, Keats, Vita Sackville-West, Chaucer, Jane Austen and others during Specialty World Travel's unique literary tour of London. 4-star accommodations are just the beginning of this detailed tour through the homes and haunts of London's most famous writers. Or you can tour the turrets of Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and MacBeth in Scotland; Simone de Beauvoir, Hemingway, Balzac, Sartre, Zola, Dumas, Beckett and Victor Hugo in Paris; Dostoevsky, the Brownings, Boccaccio and Lord Byron in Tuscany. Get out those old classics before you go!

* Barging through France

Barge cruises may be the hottest European touring idea out there, and why not? Float in luxury from village to village, sampling the foods and wines of France, England, Scotland, Germany, Holland and Belgium. Unlike a cruise ship, a barge is more intimate and less tightly scheduled, giving you plenty of time to bike through the countryside or just sit on deck and watch it go by. The Barge Company offers special interest barge cruises for 2 - 50 people, so you can indulge your passion for history, art or food while cruising the waterways of Europe.

Don't want to barge through on a scheduled tour? Le Boat Inc. offers self-drive barges in England, France, Ireland, Italy, Germany and other locales. Stop where you want, when you want, and create your own waterway tour. Perfect for seeing Europe at your own pace.

* Pack and pedal

Run by a Dutch bicyclist and her daughter, Pack and Pedal offers self-guided biking tours through Holland, France, England, Belgium, Austria, Germany, Portugal, Greece and other European destinations. Tours include accommodations, bikes, maps, transfers and some meals. And if you want to combine biking with barge cruising, check out their bike and boat tours through Holland, Belgium and Austria.

Holland too flat? Try Sweden. US-based Backroad Travel in Sweden offers the unique opportunity to discover Viking history and outrageous scenery in the Land of the Midnight Sun. Backroad's 4 trips have varied itineraries: discover the Island of Gotland; bike and boat from castle to castle around Stockholm; cycle the gold coast of Denmark and Sweden; or walk the Baltic shores.

* Tour the British Isles by Motorcycle

OK, maybe foot-and-mouth has put a dent in your English walking plans, but you can still explore the UK's countryside on the back of a motorcycle. British Motorcycle Tours offers 13-day cultural motorcycle trips through the north of England, Scotland and Wales on the back of classic British bikes like Nortons and Enfields. (You can also choose a Japanese bike, on a separate tour). Discover pubs, abbeys, castles and more, "away from the tourist buses!"

* Around the Alps

The Alps are the heart of Europe and Mont Blanc is the heart of the Alps. Alpine Hikers takes trekkers on a tour of Mont Blanc beginning in Chamonix, France, and winding through over seven passes, through three countries back to Chamonix. Gear is transported for you, and accommodations are in local inns. Still this trip is for hikers in good physical condition; daily hikes are five to eight hours each day with significant elevation gain and loss. If you find reward in the challenge, join Alpine Hikers August 27-September 8. If you only have a week, you can join or leave the trip half way. It's the closest thing to mountaineering without the crampons.

* Holistic holidays in Greece

If you look for variety on a two-week vacation, and live a healthful life (or desire to), try one of Skyros Holistic Holidays' two-week programs. A new age Club Med on Greece's Skyros Island, you can study everything from yoga and shiatsu, to salsa, songwriting and sailing. Or you can be part of the Skyros Community and just relax.

Skyros Island is a centuries-old village. The Homerian Castle where Achilles was hidden by his mother perches over the town. If you're looking for peace and quiet on Skyros, the Atsitsa campus is nine miles from Skyros Village. Guests stay in bamboo huts tucked in the pine forest, and courses are held outside on stone terraces overlooking the sea. The Skyros Center campus is on the edge of village life, nightlife and beaches with opportunity to explore all at your leisure. Skyros Holistic Holidays gives travelers a chance to develop or hone new interests, make friends and explore an exceptionally beautiful and historic place.

* Un-tours

Take the best of independent travel in Europe and combine it with private lodgings, a support network and optional, affordable add-ons, and you have an Idyll Unlimited Untour, the most unique, affordable "tour" in Europe. Forget about the tour buses; Untours make you a "local" by providing a fully-furnished apartment in Austria, France (including Paris!), Holland, Hungary, Prague, Germany, Italy, Spain or Portugal, local support staff for travel assistance, optional flight and ground transport arrangements (inclusive package), guidebooks for excursion ideas, and more, so you can explore your destination at your own pace, but with support.

And the best part is you can take an Untour for one, two or four weeks or longer, so you can really get to know a place well. Be warned: Untourists like it so much, they come back again year after year.



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Tags: storySection: Tours
Location: Europe
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