When the story of Alpine Wonderland 2013 is told, it centres on an amazing group of truly wonderful, kind-hearted, cheerful and very upbeat people who came together for 16 days to see and experience much of what is- in my opinion- the very best of what Europe has to offer. With the most glorious weather one could ever wish for from beginning to end, and an itinerary of my own creation devised to showcase Europe at its best, the stage was set for one of those genuine “once in a lifetime” journeys of discovery.
Our itinerary called for 2 and 3 nights in every centre, with excellent quality and centrally located 4 star hotels. The central locations allowed for greatly enhanced free time following the included sightseeing, something the group greatly appreciated and enjoyed. The overall leisurely pace of the tour allowed everyone to relax and soak up the local atmosphere everywhere. The quality of the meals, many with some wine included, was a very pleasant surprise!
There were so many highlights, it is hard to know where to begin! High atop that list, for the tour members, had to be the arrival in Venice, which was a new destination for most of the group. Having waved goodbye to our motor coach and driver, we boarded 3 private taxi boats, and so entered this magical and unique city in the most elegant and practical way, which so few visitors get to do! The captivating beauty of the Grand Canal, followed by the colourful chaos of the small canals where motor boats, delivery boats and gondolas jostled for space all provided a memorable and amusing ride. To then arrive at an elegant old hotel in a former palazzo, just 2 minutes walk from San Marco and Rialto was the icing on the cake!
The second of our 3 nights in Florence was by general consensus the standout evening of the tour. Angela, our delightful and most considerate local guide, had arranged for the group to drive into the Chianti hills and have dinner at the famous Verrazzano winery. After a tour of the chateau and its cellars, set amid glorious Tuscan countryside, we were served an outstanding dinner, complete with generous helpings of the estate wine. The fact that it was Marlene’s birthday only heightened the sense of celebration we all experienced. People still talked about this evening at the end of the tour!
If one thing can be said to epitomize the Alps, it is the Matterhorn, symbol of Switzerland. This majestic mountain dominates the traffic-free ski resort of Zermatt and can only be reached by train. We had the good fortune to stay in a luxurious and very characteristic hotel in the centre of the village, with never a cloud in the sky for our 2 day visit. The legendary train ride to the Gornergrat, at over 10,000 ft, gave us all picture perfect views of the Matterhorn all the way up, with a jaw-dropping Alpine panorama from the top. We all enjoyed getting our photograph with the Saint Bernard dog! Many of the group chose to walk at least part of the way down and thoroughly enjoyed the experience!
Each destination we visited was so full of the charm, quaint architecture and ambience that we so associate with Europe in our minds! From Mad Ludwig’s fairytale castles in Bavaria to the exotic Italian Lakes; from a candlelight Mozart dinner and concert to scenery literally straight out of The Sound of Music; from amazing mediaeval San Gimignano to the moonlight shining on the Venetian lagoon on our return cruise from dinner in colourful Burano, Alpine Wonderland delivered a seemingly inexhaustible kaleidoscope of indelible memories that we will long cherish!!!