In an amazing two-decade turnaround, Eastern European countries have now become trendy travel destinations, drawing seasoned and savvy visitors to enjoy a new Old World compelling history and culture, amidst landscapes of stunning natural beauty.
Nowadays, Europe has a new frontier: the splendid old Europe of Eastern Europe. Actually, those nations often prefer to refer to themselves as Central Europe, to avoid association with the harsh realities of a not-too-distant past, as it existed before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
As with any new travel frontier, escorted tours are the way to go. They let travelers sit back, explore new horizons and enjoy the trip without having to drive or worry about logistics and details. They also usually introduce the maximum number of sites in the minimum amount of time with the least amount of hassle, and for many travelers provide a taste of places they will want to revisit in the future. Escorted vacations for Eastern Europe are expanding, including travel options for niche market travelers such as hikers and bikers, cruise lovers and cultural heritage devotees.
odysseys unlimited Odysseys Unlimited is already a veteran of the Eastern European marketplace. Company v.p. of marketing, Sue Bonchi, tells us that, “Our 17-day Discovering Eastern Europe tour has been with us right from the start of our escorted tour operations, and even after more than a decade, it has been and continues to be one of our most popular programs. “In fact,” Bonchi adds, “bookings increase by leaps and bounds every year, I think, because Eastern Europe is Old World Europe, very medieval, and actually offering new and exotic sights and experiences to our travelers who are accustomed to thinking of Europe as Western Europe.”
Small group tours is an Odysseys Unlimited signature feature, hence between 12 and 24 guests on Discovering Eastern Europe will enjoy a generous overview of five distinctly different nations. Touring highlights include Warsaw, from the faithfully rebuilt Old Town to the former Jewish ghetto and cemetery, plus an evening’s private classical music recital; guided visits to Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps, Wieliczka Salt Mines, Old Town Krakow—a UNESCO World Heritage site—and Main Market Square (the largest medieval square in Europe); comprehensive Budapest touring, scenic Danube Bend; Vienna sightseeing and a classical music performance in this most musical of all cities; the Slovakia capital of Bratislava, with a walking tour of the historic Castle area and dinner in the homes of local families; touring in elegant, historic Prague and a farewell dinner in a palace in the Prague Castle complex.
The tour spends two or more nights in each destination (except Bratislava) for, “We are not running and touring 8 a.m. to 10 p.m,” says Bonchi, who stresses that, “this is an active, but not adventurous, cultural tour that appeals to mature travelers, and we find that many guests have family associations in this part of the world, and they like to pursue these connections on their own.”
Tour costs start at $3,495, including air from Boston, New York and Philadelphia; prices are slightly higher from 19 additional U.S. gateways. Land features include accommodations, 25 meals, extensive sightseeing, tour director services, private motorcoach, gratuities for local services, and a $100 frequent traveler credit toward the client’s next Odysseys Unlimited tour. If that tour is going to be further exploration of Eastern Europe, a 15-day Pearls of Dalmatia will be one choice.
insight vacations And indeed, the Dalmatian coast of Croatia is probably the “hottest” destination in Eastern Europe, according to Marc Kazlauskas, president of Insight Vacations. This year the company is introducing its 16-day Country Roads of Dalmatia and the Adriatic Riviera program, with weekly departures until Oct. 8. The tour—embracing elegant cities, coastal Dalmatia, pristine wilderness, Roman remains, fine food and wine—starts in Vienna, and continues to Budapest; then Split, Zagreb, Korcula Island and Dubrovnik along the Adriatic coast; Plitvice Lakes National Park and Ljubljana in Slovenia, before returning to Vienna. The all-inclusive land cost starts at $3,375.
Treasures of the Balkans is a second new tour from Insight Vacations, “one offering a unique itinerary that we feel fills a gap in the Eastern European travel products,” says Kazlauskas. “Eight years ago, we had three tours to this region, but in response to the demand from travelers who want to expand their European travel horizons, we now have 10, with some mixing land tours and cruises. Designed with the seasoned traveler in mind, our 17-day Treasures of the Balkans program covers a basically unknown area, one for which it is difficult to organize independent travel, even though roads and hotel infrastructure have improved dramatically in the last decade.”