Families no longer just want to hopscotch across Europe’s top destinations. They, as much as any other group of vacationers, are seeking a fully immersive experience.
When it comes to European family vacations, Dawn MacRae, a travel consultant with VIP Vacations Inc, says that she is finding that “a lot of families are wanting to visit parts of the countries other than just the main cities. For example, Paris, but then continuing on to visit the shores of Normandy, Mont St. Michel, Loire Valley and then the Riviera.” In fact, she says that “over the past five years or so clients are becoming more adventurous and are looking for more customized tours. They want to have more unique experiences and have been willing to spend more time away to immerse themselves in a destination. They don’t expect to go to Europe for a week anymore; they spend more like 10 to 14 days and don’t want to feel like a tourist.”
On that note, we’ve rounded up a few immersive itineraries that are ideal for families wanting to do like the locals, so to speak.
while in spain…
Yes, Barcelona and Madrid are truly magnificent cities, but for families who know the beauty of these destinations well and want to explore beyond the beaten track, recommend Escapade Vacations’ 7-day Paradores of Andalucia Self-Drive Program. Ideal for kids 10 and up, this itinerary, says Richard Krieger, president, IsramWorld, “goes beyond visiting the obvious landmarks and monuments. The experience enables our travelers to immerse themselves in the local culture and lifestyle. The aim being to create an authentic experience.” Authentic indeed.
The main focus, of course, is the stays in the various paradores—historic buildings such as a former fortress (Parador de Carmona), town hall (Parador de Ronda) and palace (Parador de Granada). These grand accommodations will have kids, as well as mom and dad, feeling like royalty from a bygone time, and they can let their imagination wander as they step back into the past while visiting The Alhambra in Granada, located on a hill overlooking the city; taking in the charm of the Jewish quarter in Cordoba with its colorful patios decorated with plants, flower pots, bird cages, fountains and wrought iron; marveling at the Plaza de España in Seville; and visiting a bullring in Ronda. This is a self-drive program, which is ideal with kids because the family can set their own pace and truly enjoy the beauty and uniqueness of the paradores that they’ll be calling home for a few days. As MacRae notes, families “want to make their own schedules, decide how much free time they do or don’t have, and spend their time doing the tours and sightseeing that is of interest to [them].”
But back to those paradores for a minute, because they truly are jaw-dropping and bring history to life. The 79-room Parador de Ronda, for example, is located on the cliff beside Ronda’s famous gorge and bridge, almost next to the ancient bullring, while the Parador de Granada is in The Alhambra, a series of palaces started in 1238. The parador itself is part of a palace and mosque built between 1332 and 1354 that was later converted into a Franciscan convent. And according to MacRae, families are indeed asking for distinctive accommodations. “They usually ask for at least one unique accommodation that will have the children feeling like they are in a fairytale story.” Tour rates November through February are $2,769 pp dbl; March through October, $2,897, and include meet/greet at Malaga airport; 7-day car rental; 6-night accommodations; six full breakfasts; local private English-speaking guide for sightseeing per itinerary; and entrance fees per itinerary.
while in scotland…
Scotland, says MacRae, is “really popular” with families right now, and what better tour operator to show your clients the sights—and then some—than one that earlier this year won Scotland’s Heritage “International Tour Operator of the Year” award—CIE Tours International. It won this in recognition of CIE Tours’ “significant contribution in developing exciting programs for travelers to discover, explore and enjoy the breathtaking beauty and charm of Scotland.”
The company’s 9-day Scottish Dream tour, which, of course, visits Glasgow and Edinburgh, also delves into Scotland’s famous Isles, and includes a 1-night stay in Nairn’s 56-room Newton Hotel, a Scottish baronial-style mansion built as a family home in 1872 and set on 21 acres of mature parkland and gardens, as well as a 2-night stay at the Atholl Palace Hotel, a former grand country house located in Pitlochry in the Highlands. There’s also tea and scones at Falls of Feugh, a picturesque family-run restaurant located by the banks of the River Feugh near Banchory in Royal Deeside, as well as castle visits (your clients will walk the very same halls in which the Queen Mother grew up) and cruises on those enigmatic lochs. Rates in March start at $1,998 twin sharing and include 14 meals and eight nights of accommodations, as well as other items.
while in italy…
With scavenger hunts in Venice, a visit to the off-the-beaten-path historic town of Artimino, an after-hours visit to the 16th century Medici Villa, a cooking class in Rome, and walking in the footsteps of gladiators, Collette’s 9-day Italy Family Discovery itinerary gives families a taste of Italy with educational and family-friendly activities, always delving into the country’s heritage.
MacRae points out that a great heritage, or culturally immersive tour, includes the “main highlights of the destination as well as interaction with local people, some sort of educational activity that is native to that country, and you have to have a really good guide. You want [clients] to come home feeling like they know what it would be like to live in that country; what the local people are like; and with an understanding of the history of the country.”
The tour, which visits Venice, Florence, Pisa, and Rome, also includes a ride on the Eurostar train, a traditional dinner at a Tuscan winery, and visits to churches, including Florence’s Church of Santa Croce, where Michelangelo and Galileo are buried. Rates for the April 12 departure are $2,499 pp dbl and include 12 meals, among other things.
a grand tour of europe with Tauck
Tauck has added the Grand European Family Holiday to its 2015 Tauck Bridges collection. According to Tom Armstrong, Tauck’s corporate communications manager, it made perfect sense to create this tour, which takes in London, Paris and Rome, because “our Bridges itinerary to London and Paris does incredibly well for us each year, and our two Bridges trips to Italy are also very popular, so it made complete sense to craft a slightly longer itinerary that includes London, Paris, Rome and the Italian countryside all in one trip.”
But it’s the activities presented in this itinerary that makes it extra special for families. It all begins in London with a 3-night stay at The Langham, London, where kids enjoy a tea party. While in the city, travelers visit sites associated with the Harry Potter tales, traveling by “special arrangement aboard the Hogwarts’ Knight Bus,” according to Tauck, and joining in on a sleuthing adventure that involves fictional characters from Sherlock Holmes as well as the “Dr. Who” TV series. In Paris, families hang with a chocolatier and while touring the Chateau Vaux le Vicomte, younger guests don 17th century costumes. In Rome, meanwhile, participants take part in a sightseeing safari in the city’s main piazzas searching for animals on carved fountains, buildings and monuments, and then dine in a villa outside the city.
“Our tour architects,” points out Armstrong, “are experts at searching out these kinds of fun opportunities and combining them into a seamlessly choreographed experience.”
Rates are $7,417 pp triple and include airport transfers, 23 meals and flight from Paris to Rome, among other things.
CIE Tours International: (800) 243-8687; cietours.com or travelagent.cietours.com
Collette: (800) 340-5158; gocollette.com
Escapade Vacations: (800) 356-2405; escapadevacations.com or isram.com/iw_travel/index.htm (travel agent login)
Tauck: (800) 468-2825; tauck.com or tauck.com/Agent/agentservices.aspx