This spring, Covington vacation advisor Mary Atkinson enjoyed an educational tour of the Alpine countries of Austria, Germany, and Switzerland with Collette Tours. Gaining firsthand experiences in destinations and fostering personal relationships with travel suppliers is part of the “homework” of being a professional travel advisor. Most people laughingly say, “Oh sure, tough job!” But truth be told, it is indeed hard work. We are students of geography, history, logistics, and lifestyles, and our learning carries a weighty responsibility – that of our clients’ trust. So, in pursuit of knowledge, Mary set off on a nine-day Exploring the Alpine Countries escorted tour just for travel advisors. This is what she learned.
Since I am also an avid horsewoman, naturally I couldn’t miss the opportunity for a tour and performance at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna before the official Collette tour began. The school and stable are part of the stunning Schonnbrunn Palace complex, which is also a must. Mary’s tip: I recommend everyone go and at least do the tour, but this is definitely a must for horse enthusiasts!
The next day when I joined the group of travel advisors for the Collette tour, we did a relaxed-pace two-hour walking tour of the city with a very knowledgeable local guide. I found out that there is a LOT to see and do in Vienna and two days is not enough!
My first night, I stayed in the Hotel Imperial Vienna, a five-star luxury property that was once used as a royal summer house. It is palatial and opulent with superb service and extensive dining options, including a Michelin-starred restaurant. With Collette, we stayed in the much more moderate Mercure Grand Hotel Biedermeier Vienna. It was very cute but a solid 45-minute walk to the attractions of Old Town. There were plenty of restaurants and shopping nearby, but I wouldn’t recommend it for those who want to be close to the main historic sights.
On the way to Salzburg, we made a stop at the beautiful Melk Abbey, another must-see in the Alpine countries. Some tours get there by motorcoach and others arrive by way of an incredibly scenic day cruise on the Danube from Durnstein. Mary’s tip: This is one of those options I learned so I can help plan the best trip for my clients.
Salzburg was our next overnight stop. As in Vienna, Collette Tours included a half-day city walking tour with a local guide. We saw several Sound of Music sights as well as places important in Mozart’s life, so Salzburg is interesting to fans of both. The pace was leisurely, and the tour ended in the city center where we could explore on our own or take the motorcoach to the hotel. Collette also offers several optional afternoon tours in Salzburg, including to Eagles Nest and Sound of Music filming sights. Mary’s tip: This flexibility is nice when traveling with a group so you can pursue individual interests.
One highlight was a Mozart Dinner Concert in St. Peter’s Restaurant, which is the oldest restaurant in Europe, dating back to 803! In a palatial room lit by glimmering chandeliers, musicians and opera singers perform Mozart concertos between courses of a delicious four-hour, five-course meal.
Our hotel, Arcotel Castellani Salzburg, was very nice with A/C, modern bathrooms, and a restaurant on site – plus The Sound of Music played on one of the TV channels 24/7! They even have a pretty little chapel on the grounds for weddings. Again, the hotel was not close to the city center. It was right on the public bus line, so for 3 euro you could go straight downtown or walk there in 20 minutes. Mary’s tip: Hotel location is a hugely important factor when planning vacations, whether using an escorted tour or traveling independently.
When we left Salzburg, we made a whirlwind tour of Munich – including a driving tour of the city, a quick stop at the Marienplatz (the central square in Old Town), and watching the Glockenspiel at noon – then enough free time to visit the Hofbrauhaus (when in Rome… I mean Munich!).
What a beautiful little Alpine village! (See the image at the top of this post.) We walked through the frescoed town, past the many wood-carving shops and saw the open-air theater where the Passion Play takes place every 10 years. One of the Passion Play performers shared the story with us over dinner about why the village has performed the play since 1634. Mary’s tip: The next production will be May through October 2020. If this is on your bucket list, contact me to make your plans immediately. The play attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from all around the world and since the village is tiny, accommodations are extremely limited.
Our very charming hotel, Alte Post Hotel Oberammergau has an excellent location right in the middle of town. It just exudes Bavarian charm with a frescoed exterior and wood carvings throughout the interior. The rooms are not modernized but you should expect all accommodations in Oberammergau to be very basic. Mary’s tip: I can recommend Restaurant Zauberstub’n for its flavorful food, a beautiful view of the Alps, and the entertaining owner who does magic tricks throughout the evening.
Not far from Oberammergau, the famous Neuschwanstein Castle sits in the Alpine foothills of Bavaria. We only made a brief photo stop in the little village at the foot of the mountain. If you want to actually tour the castle, you’ll need to plan a half day into your itinerary. We also made a short stop in Liechtenstein. Mary’s tip: Country counters can get their passport stamped there for 3 euro.
Our last Alpine overnight was in Lucerne. A three-hour walking tour gave us an excellent overview of the city and we had plenty of time to explore on our own. My exploration included the Swiss delicacy fondue, of course! Collette offers optional tours of a lake cruise or riding the cable car up Mt Pilatus, but since our weather prevented the gorgeous views, I decided to “explore” some more fondue. Mary’s tip: One and a half to two days is a good length of stay to enjoy the sights of Lucerne.
Our hotel, Ameron Hotel Flora Lucerne was the most modern hotel of the tour. With a huge restaurant and plenty of seating in the large lobby, it felt a bit like a chain hotel, but the décor added some Swiss charm. The location at one end of Chapel Bridge and one block from the lake was a perfect point from which to explore the city.
Collette Transportation in the Alpine Countries
My Collette tour of the Alpine countries used a motorcoach throughout but some others include trains and boats, too. Our coach was very new and modernized with charging plugs, great temperature control, and a video system. The driver kept water for everyone in a cooler at the front and the ride was very smooth. Mary’s tip: Collette uses a seat rotation policy so everyone has an opportunity to experience a different part of the bus each day. This eliminates any “front seat bandits” among tour participants!
Six of us with later flights used a private transfer back to the airport at the end of the tour. The vehicle was a new Mercedes van and our pick up was prompt. Our courteous driver offered us water, candy, magazines, tissues, and hand sanitizer for the hour-long ride. Mary’s tip: For a stress-free and comfortable beginning and end to any trip, ask your travel advisor to arrange private airport transfers.
About Collette Tours
Collette provides quality, mid-price-point, guided vacations on all seven continents. It isn’t a luxury tour because the hotels they use are moderate and located a little outside of cities (but are clean, provide good service and local flavor). Our guide was PHENOMENAL. She did a very good job at not only giving information and details about the places we visited but also in handling every minute detail. Collette does a really good job of not keeping you on the motorcoach for extended periods of time. They also do a great job of accommodating people with limited mobility.
The Exploring the Alpine Countries itinerary is really interesting and hits a lot of the must-see places in the beautiful Alpine region. This particular trip is fairly fast-paced (with one- and two-night stays) and gives a super overview of the Alpine countries. Mary’s tip: For more in-depth tours to these cities, I can recommend longer or slower paced options.
Contact Mary to plan your own tour of the gorgeous Alpine region of Europe or beyond.