Italian Süd Tyrol & the Dolomites – A Passenger's View

The Dolomites

Amazing, Beautiful, Spectacular, Wonderful, Fantastic, Stunning…. You really do run out of words to describe some of the places you visit and sights you see on this Dolomites tour, but I think the coach crew would sum it up in their own word ‘Amazeballs’ as that’s just what this tour was.

Day One – Outbound to Liege

We were lucky enough to join our tour coach at our pick-up point and were able to sit in our allocated seats from the start. Once on board, Mum had a lovely surprise as her seat had been decorated by our drivers, Paul & Lisa, to celebrate her birthday. This was a lovely gesture and Paul & Lisa also made sure that they presented each passenger who celebrated a birthday on tour with a personal card & gift. This made the tour extra special for those 3 passengers who celebrated their birthdays on this tour of the Dolomites with us.

Following the usual efficient service at the interchange, we re-joined our tour coach and continued on to our overnight hotel in Liege. We arrived at a reasonable hour and were able to enjoy a drink at the bar and the chance to get to know our fellow travellers. One thing we love about Leger tours is the opportunity to make new friends and discover wonderful new places. This tour was no exception!

Day Two – Liege to Uttenheim

It’s an early start and a long day, but travelling through some wonderful scenery, as we did, it’s a very enjoyable journey. There were plenty of refreshments available on board, regular stops to stretch your legs and the lounge on board is a great place to spend some time getting to know the new friends you meet on board. During the journey, Paul explained the itinerary and provided additional information & interesting facts about the planned excursions and places we passed during the day. His knowledge of the area and enjoyment of the tour was obvious and both he & Lisa were more than happy to answer any questions about the tour, or indeed any other tour we were thinking of booking after perusing the brochures on board.

At the end of the day, we arrived at the lovely Zum Schlossl hotel in Uttenheim to find a warm welcome from our hosts Anna & Peter along with a lovely 3-course dinner waiting for us.

Day Three – Dolomites

I think this Dolomites tour has to be one of the highlights of the holiday. Stunning scenery around every bend, and plenty of stops for that perfect picture postcard photo opportunity. Our lunch stop on the Pordoi Pass, in the Dolomites, was fantastic with more than enough time for those who wanted to take the cable car to the top. I can thoroughly recommend doing this if you get the chance as the views were stunning…. snow, ice, blue skies and amazing vistas. The first of many lunches with a view this week….

After dinner, those who didn’t want to watch the football tonight had a fun evening of Bingo provided by Lisa & Paul …. It did get a bit competitive but was a great end to our day. There were a lot of laughs and everyone really enjoyed the fun end to a wonderful day exploring the mighty Dolomites.

Pordoi Pass, Dolomites
Pordoi Pass, Dolomites

Day Four – Lake Garda

This optional excursion was well worth booking. We travelled to Lake Garda and had time to explore Riva before catching our first boat of the day to Limone. Once there, we had plenty of time to explore this lovely town and enjoy lunch in one of the many cafes offering views of the lake. Our last boat ride of the day took us to Malcesine where there was time to visit the castle, browse the local shops and of course enjoy the obligatory ice cream in the Italian sunshine before re-joining the coach for our journey back to the hotel. On board the coach for our return journey we enjoyed our first taste of Meloncello which was lovely and the perfect end to the excursion.

Riva, Lake Garda

Day Five – Brunico & Lake Misurina

In our opinion, this was the best day of the tour and is an optional which really should not be missed. Our first stop of the day was Brunico, where we were given plenty of time to explore both the new and old parts of town and enjoy coffee & cake in one of the many cafes.

Some of us climbed up to the Woodland Soldier Cemetery which Paul had suggested we visit and the castle and I can recommend both on a visit to this beautiful town.

Brunico Soldier Cemetery is a forest cemetery and is unlike any other war cemetery I’ve seen. Set amongst the woodland, overlooking the town, all of the graves are carved from trees. Amongst them, you can find Hungarian-Austrian & German army next to Russian & Serbian Prisoner of War graves. Every one of them, whether Catholic or Orthodoxy, Mohammedan or Jewish, were buried according to their religious rites, and all of the graves are equally cared for and decorated all year round by the town. When visiting Brunico it is well worth the walk up to visit this woodland cemetery and we were so glad Paul told us about it.

Brunico Soldier Cemetery
Brunico Soldier Cemetery

Walking across the bridge from the Woodland Cemetery we found Brunico Castle, which overlooks the town. We had the time to go in and explore the castle and were glad we did. There is so much to see within it that we could have spent a lot longer there and would definitely go back again. The views from the castle over the town and surrounding area are worth climbing the stairs of the tower, although a lift is also available if the thought of the stairs is too daunting.

Brunico Castle
Brunico Castle

Lake Misurina

What a place for a lunch stop! There was the chance to walk around the lake if you wanted, which many of the group did. We chose to take our first chair lift ride and enjoyed a very nice lunch (& being at the top of the mountain we couldn’t not try the apple strudel for dessert!) with a spectacular view overlooking this beautiful lake and the surrounding snow-topped mountains.

Without a doubt we would recommend that you do this optional excursion if you get the chance….it’s just Wow!

Lake Misurina

Day Six – Venice

This is a long day with an early start and because of that, not all the passengers joined this optional excursion. Those of us who did had a lovely day in Venice with perfect weather. We enjoyed our first gondola ride and enjoyed wandering around the streets of Venice exploring before finding a lovely local restaurant for lunch. There was time after that to take photos at the Rialto Bridge and enjoy another ice cream while we walked back via St Mark’s Square to catch the boat for the optional Lagoon cruise.

Rialto Bridge, Venice
Rialto Bridge, Venice

Venice is a lovely place to visit and we enjoyed our day, but because of the long drive, it deters a lot of passengers from booking the excursion. It may be worth changing this day and including some of the other wonderful places in the Tyrol which are closer to the hotel. Some of the passengers who didn’t come to Venice had a lovely day exploring the local towns or going for walks from the hotel. Whether they joined the excursion or not, everyone enjoyed their day.

Day Seven – Bolzano

A nice short day after Venice but we still had plenty of time to explore this lovely town. The architecture of the buildings and the beautiful surrounding countryside provide some great photo opportunities. We took time to look around the local shops, visit the castle and enjoy lunch soaking up the sun with overlooking the Cathedral with its beautiful mosaic roof which stands at one end of the central square, Piazza Walther. In the centre of the square is a statue of the poet and bard, Walther von de Vogelweide and we found it was a wonderful place to sit and enjoy lunch whilst watching the world go by.

Bolzano
Bolzano

Hotel Zum Schlossl, Uttenheim

There is not one bad thing to say about this hotel. We had a room in the annexe which had a balcony with fantastic views over the mountains. The hotel is run by Anna, Peter and their son and is just across the quiet road from the annexe. The food is all fresh and homemade by Anna and, believe me, you will never leave the dinner table hungry. After dinner, there is a very nice terrace where we enjoyed a drink in the evening with our fellow passengers and I am being totally honest when I say we really can’t fault anything about this hotel or the wonderful staff. We only wish we could have stayed there longer!

Coach & Crew

There is not one negative thing to say about the coach or Paul & Lisa, our fantastic crew for this Italian Sud Tirol and the Dolomites tour.

The coach was always kept spotlessly clean inside & out, and with plentiful refreshments on board, there was no chance of spending any part of the tour thirsty or hungry.

Paul & Lisa are a wonderful team and they work extremely well together. Their obvious love of their work and knowledge of the tour and the places we visited was infectious and I don’t think one person left the tour without having a thoroughly enjoyable time.

Throughout the week, both Lisa & Paul were happy to answer any questions about any tours that we saw in the brochures on board the coach. Then, on the Friday night, they had the great idea of a ‘Booking Night’. This gave the whole group the chance to talk to each other and ask any questions of Paul & Lisa about future tours they were thinking of booking. We were lucky enough to make some wonderful new friends this tour and by the end of the night, we had booked another 3 tours to look forward to with our new friends.

To find out more about our Summer in the Italian Süd Tirol & the Dolomites tour, click here to find out more. 

Grand Explorer: Delights of the Costa Blanca, Valencia, Burgos & Cuenca

Our 2015 brochure has introduced some fantastic new tours for 2015, including Our Grand Explorer tour, Delights of the Costa Blanca, Valencia, Burgos and Cuenca. The tour combines a leisurely stay on Spain’s sun-drenched coast with an exploration of Spain’s slightly lesser known, historic towns. Here’s a rundown of some of our highlights from this spectacular tour.

The Costa Blanca, or the ‘White Coast’ in English, is a traveller’s hot spot. With over 2800 hours of sunshine every year and with 200km of coast line, it’s easy to see why it attracts 2 million tourists from the UK alone each year.
Although sounding quintessentially Spanish, the name ‘Costa Blanca’ was actually first introduced as a marketing gimmick by British European Airlines to promote their new flight route from London to Valencia in 1957.
Staying in the resort of Los Alcazares, you’ll take in the historic old town of Burgos with its stunning cathedral, a true masterpiece of Spanish Gothic architecture. Buried beneath the cathedral is Spain’s national hero, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar. Better known as El Cid, the lovable rogue was made a legend by his remarkable military ability whilst conquering Valencia. El Cid is still idolised to this day and has been immortalised in plays, film, folk tales and even video games.
City of Burgos and the CathedralBurgos is also home to the Baby Jumping festival and, yes, you would be forgiven for being intrigued about the title. Known as the El Colacho, it has taken place every year since the 1620’s. The festival is free to join for any new born baby. Swaddled in blankets, they are laid on the ground where grown men, dressed as the devil, jump over the babies to cleanse them of evil spirits. The slightly bizarre festival is part of celebrations held nationally for the Catholic festival of Corpus Christi.
Cliff Houses of Cuenca, SpainA visit to the extraordinary settings of Cuenca where buildings seemingly cling to the rock walls is next on the itinerary. As you will notice, the most popular attraction of this fortified city is the Hanging Houses. The houses were originally built as summer houses for the Royal Family but have also been used as individual and even council houses. Built into the walls of the gorge, the houses are now largely occupied, however, one has been converted into and abstract art gallery giving you the chance to head inside one of these spectacular buildings.
How about a day spent enjoying the many cafes and tree lined boulevards of Albir, the little gem of the Costa Blanca, before heading to the Cultural Capital of the Valencian region, Altea? From there you will have time to explore beautiful Guadelest, a little village overlooking the Guadelest reservoir.
Declared a Monument of Historical and Artistic Value, Guadelest is a major tourist attraction. Take a look up to the highest point on the cliff towering over the walled town, you will find the Castle of Saint Jose. The Castle has endured two earthquakes and a bomb attack in the Succession War which have all contributed to its destruction, however, its imposing presence is still a spectacular sight.Belltower in Guadalest, Spain
We head on to Alicante, a city with a true Spanish flavour, you will have the perfect opportunity to enjoy the clean Costa Blanca air. It is said that this is one of the healthiest areas in Europe. The warm temperature and low rainfall is said to be a perfect remedy for sufferers of asthma and arthritis, a much more enjoyable treatment, we’re sure you will agree.
iStock_000017785253_LargeWhilst in Alicante, you will be drawn to the Santa Barbara Castle.  One of Europe’s largest Fortresses. Perched on the top of Mount Benacantil, it has everything you’d imagine from a medieval castle from cannons, dungeons and even a moat. Best of all it offers fabulous views across the city. Or, of course, you could savour the moment and take advantage of the beautiful sandy beaches.
Possibly saving the best ‘til last, wrapping up our tour of the Costa Blanca region is the cosmopolitan city of Valencia, regarded as one of the most beautiful cities of Mediterranean Spain and we certainly won’t disagree. Birthplace of the famous Spanish dish, paella, Valencia also stakes the somewhat controversial claim of holding the Holy Grail. You can view the chalice in all its glory as it is on show in Valencia’s opulent cathedral.
iStock_000006049446_LargeThere is plenty to do in Valencia, you will be glad to know there is plenty of time to fit it all in as the tour accommodates a one night stay in beautiful Valencia.
To see our great value Grand Explorer Holidays, please head over to our website.

9 of the Spookiest Places in Europe – Happy Halloween

Ever wondered where the scariest, spookiest and most haunted places are in Europe? Does the idea of chasing ghost and ghouls sound like the perfect holiday? This Halloween let us take you around the continent to set the scene for the perfect ghost stories to share this All Hallows’ Eve.

1.

tower-of-london

The Tower of London

Regarded one of the most haunted places in Europe, the tower of London has a history going back 900 years of torture and execution. The most famous of spirits said to be wandering within the walls of this iconic building is the Ghost of Anne Boleyn. One of the fated wives of Henry the VIII, her headless body is said to have been spotted close the scene of her demise.
 

2.

chateau

Chateau de Brissac, France

Built in the 11th century, this castle has spooked many a visitor. A gruesome double murder in the 15th century has left a lasting spirit roaming the halls of this magnificent castle. ‘The Green Lady’ as she is known, is said to have terrified guests with her ghoulish groan echoing around the corridors in the early hours. More terrifyingly, the guests who claim to have seen her have said her corpse-like face features holes where her eyes and nose should be.
 

3.

baracks

Babenhausen Barracks, Germany

Used during multiple wars to house German soldiers whose spirits have never left. It has been claimed the ghosts of World War 2 soldiers in full military gear have been spotted as lights turn on and off by themselves and voices have been heard coming from the basement. Now a museum, soldiers that have visited have picked up a ringing telephone are said to have heard a lady talking backwards. In the town of Babenhausen rumours of a witch was burned at the stake are prominent with her ghost said to have seduced and killed several German Soldiers.
 

4.

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Poveglia Island, Italy

Sat in the Venetian lagoon is the small island of Poveglia. The island became populated when mainlanders fled to escape invaders. By the 14th Century the island was completely deserted, however, when the plague hit, the island was used as a quarantine colony with Venetians sent there to die. Their bodies were said to subsequently be burned on giant pyres. The site was also said to be used as a mental asylum in the 1800’s with stories of experimental procedures with stories of ill treatment and suicide rife in the city. Today, the island sits abandoned with locals daring not to set foot on the island for fear of being cursed. The ghosts of past patients are said to haunt the island with screams and voices often being heard, there has also been stories of violent possessions by evil spirits.
 

5.

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland, UK, illuminated at night in the winter snow

Edinburgh Castle

An outstanding landmark, situated overlooking the city of Edinburgh. Once again the scene of many battles and tortures, it is thought to be one of the most haunted castles in the world. Visitors claim to have been touched and pulled and sightings of ghoulish figures include a headless drummer boy and a piper who had apparently got lost in the tunnels below the castle and subsequently lost his life.
 

6.

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Corvin Castle, Transylvania

Best known to be the home of Count Dracula but also Vlad the Impaler. Vlad was known for his excessive cruelty and his nickname ‘The Impaler’ came about as he was notorious for his practice of impaling his enemies. The Corvin Castle is said to have been where historical figure was held in captivity as strange sightings have been reported of vampire-like figures appearing in flickering candle-light.
 

7.

Leap Castle

Leap Castle, Ireland

Widely regarded the most haunted castle in Ireland, it boasts a history of murders and massacres. It is said to be haunted by spirits seeking vengeance for their untimely murders. The castle is thought to have been built by the O’Carrol family who apparently had a habit of murdering people and dumping the bodies down a hole in the castle wall. Hauntings are said to take place in the ‘Bloody Chapel’ where it’s thought the murders took place.
 

8.

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Convent of St Agnes, Prague

Prague is said to be one of the most haunted cities in Europe and the Convent of St Agnes, situated in the world famous city, does not disappoint. Apparently haunted by the ‘Murdered Nun’, her legacy began when, as a girl, was said to be ordered to the convent by her noble father after falling in love with a poor knight. The night before she was due to leave she decided to follow her heart and met with her love. She was also met there by her father who, in a fit of rage, fatally stabbed her for shaming him. She is said to be seen in her ghostly form covered in blood and weeping bitterly.
 

9.

norway

Nidaros Cathedral, Norway

This imposing cathedral in the town of Trondheim is said to house the spirit of a Monk who has been described as a tall figure with a dark habit, a monks tonsure, glowing eyes and blood dripping from a cut in his throat. He reveals himself to church goers and is said to often sever his head from his body and walk straight through church goers.
Happy Halloween!
Fancy seeing some ghoulishly gorgeous scenery for yourself? Take a look through our European tours for a fangtastic time.