European Group Tours

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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As a one-time inveterate solitary traveler, I am still convinced that while some exploring is best enjoyed alone, some is best enjoyed in company--and European group tours are a good example. Time is precious. Most of us work for a living, after all. We plan our holidays carefully, so we can truly enjoy every minute that we spend somewhere else. And what is more inviting to enjoy with friends than the warm sun, rich landscapes, and fine wine and cuisine of the European?

Not too long ago I picked up, on impulse, Margaret Drabble's The Seven Sisters--a fascinating little "memoir" of a middle-aged Englishwoman who struggles to adjust to life alone in London after a divorce. She takes off on a European tour with six female companions through Italy, Greece, and northern Africa. It is only then--amidst the ancient ruins, the discoveries, the red wines, the cuisines, and the small hotels--that the pieces begin to fall together.

European Group Tours: Destinations

The history of Greece goes back to the Stone Age, but the famous ruins date to the classical period, about 500 to 350 BC. It was then that Athens reached its greatest cultural and political heights, that Socrates and Plato lived, that the Parthenon, the oracle at Delphi, and the Acropolis in Athens were built. Greece evokes vision sof islands and European waters and lithe cats on white stone walls.

Italy, on the other hand, is the Renaissance, the Vatican, and the canals of Venice--a narrow boot that juts into the sea. European group tours might focus on the marvels of Tuscany, the art and architecture of the Medici, or perhaps the ruins of "the grandeur that was Rome." From the Baptistry doors in Florence to the ceiling of the Sistine chapel to the wines of the Tuscan hill country, Italy offers fine cuisine, endless cultural attractions, and a temperate climate.

At the gateway to the Atlantic lie Spain and Portugal, more rugged countries but no less rich in history, diverse regional attractions, and landscapes. From the bulls running in Pamplona to the Moorish Alhambra in Granada to the incredible array of artistic masterpieces in the Prado, it's no wonder that Spain is the third most popular tourist destination in the world. The Moorish occupation of Portugal lasted from the 700s to the 1100s, and left behind it--as European group tours will see--a glazed tile used ever since in both interior and exterior design.

European Group Tours: Food and Wine

The climate of the European countries, overall, is temperate. In Portugal and Spain three influences prevail over the weather, the Atlantic, the continental, and the Mediterranean. Only in the Italian Alps, the Pyrenees and the Basque region of Spain, and the Minho region of Portugal do the winters get fierce. For the rest of the year, however, European group tours will enjoy a marvelous Mediterranean sun, gentle breezes, and an easy daily tempo.

The varied and rich cuisines of Europe go far beyond home-made pasta and rich sauces, gazpacho, tapas, and grilled seafood. It was the Portuguese who introduced Europe to curry, pepper, ginger, saffron, and paprika--not to mention pineapples, tomatoes, potatoes, coffee, and peanuts. In Spain European group tours will find the cold garlic soups, gazpacho, and fresh seafood of Andalucia, the tender Galician beef and spicy peppers of the Basque, and the wild boar, pheasant, and venison of the massive central plain.

Not the least of the offerings in these diverse regions, terrains, and landscapes are the wines. It is a mistake, however, to compare the Spanish and Portuguese wines to the fine vintages of France and Germany. Nonetheless, the robust reds of Portugal, historic sherries and ports of Spain, and the finer white and reds of Italy are integral to the native cuisines. No matter the focus of individual European group tours, the gastronomy and wines are never ignored and always a delight.

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