Germany

10 Unique City Tours Around the World

Posted May 5, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

(Photo: Magic Bus)

See a completely different side of a city when you break away from the mob of tourists following the guide with the red umbrella. On these 10 unique city tours, you'll venture into the Bronx with an old-school rapper, see abandoned buildings in Portugal's second city, and go longboarding through Amsterdam's most famous park. You're sure to come home with a camera full of authentic experiences that most visitors miss.

 

(Photo: Bats Over Congress Avenue Bridge via Shutterstock)

Never Unpack Your Travel Items

Crowds gather from March through October on the Congress Avenue Bridge to see a natural spectacle that has earned the resident bat colony celebrity status in Austin. Each night at dusk, 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from beneath the bridge, swirling like a black ribbon into the sky. For a unique perspective on the mass exodus, watch it from the water on a Congress Avenue Kayaks bat tour. With a small group of 10, you'll paddle under the bridge in sit-on-top kayaks. After encountering the bats, you can venture out on your own to see other sights on the water.

Details: The 90-minute kayak bat tour departs at sunset in season and is $30 for a two-person kayak.

Insider Tip: You can also watch the bats from the Four Seasons Hotel Austin's lobby lounge, which serves a "Batini" cocktail. Plan an August visit to coincide with the city's annual bat festival.

 

(Photo: Magic Bus San Francisco Tour)

1960s Summer of Love Tour, San Francisco, California

It's all peace, love, and bubble-spewing on this psychedelic hippie bus that takes you on a trip back to San Francisco's 1960s counterculture. The Magic Bus Tour stops at landmarks of the city's hippie movement; you can even join in a drum circle (this time without the purple haze). On the bus, a groovy guide/actor will share interesting stories and rock out with you to the music of the era. It's a multimedia adventure that evokes the decade's politics and attitudes through live action and video projections on the bus's retractable window screens. The tour hits Chinatown and the North Beach spot where Jack Kerouac hung out. You'll see Golden Gate Park and the crossroads of Haight and Ashbury streets, home of the Summer of Love, in a whole new light.

Details: The two-hour tour is $55 and starts at Union Square.

Insider Tip: Bring a jacket or sweater. It can be chilly at Golden Gate Park even if it's warm downtown at the tour's start.

 

(Photo: Rob Moody)

Downtown Yoga Tour, Asheville, North Carolina

Take your downward dog downtown in Asheville, North Carolina. On this Travelling Yogini Tour, you'll strike a pose and connect with your breath in several of the city's iconic spots. A yoga guide will start with beginner-level stretches and, as you move from Pritchard Park to the Flat Iron Building to the artsy Chicken Alley district, the poses will become more challenging. By the time you finish with a cooldown and meditation, you'll have heard about Asheville's history and architecture. Between flowing in and out of poses, you'll meet street performers, artists, and others who are out exploring the city.

Details: The 90-minute downtown tour is $20.

Insider Tip: Along the way, the yoga guide will point out funky boutiques and specialty shops, giving you interesting tidbits on the history and products so you can plan your apres-yoga shopping route.

 

(Photo: Berlinagenten)

Urban Home-Visit Tour, Berlin, Germany

Want an invitation to sit in a Berliner's flat and chat over coffee or beer? The Urban Living Tour, the ultimate insider's tour, will introduce you to three different Berliners in three different neighborhoods. You'll get to go inside their homes and spend an hour visiting and checking out their decor. The hosts you'll meet will depend on who is in town on the day you're visiting. It could be a set designer in an underground courtyard apartment or a photographer with an uber-luxe pad on a main thoroughfare built in the Stalin era. While you snoop around and see how they live, you'll hear about what drew them to the city and what they love about it.

Details: The 4.5-hour tour includes visits to three private apartments, drinks and sweets, sightseeing between the visits, transport, and a private guide. Prices vary based on how many people are taking the tour; see website for details.

Insider Tip: Keep an open mind and come with questions.

 

(Photo: Dominic Stevenson)

City Tour Led by Homeless Guide, London, England

See London through the eyes of someone who lives on the city's streets. Unseen Tours hires and professionally trains homeless and formerly homeless people to lead its walking tours of London Bridge, Camden, Shoreditch, and Convent Garden. See the stark contrast between historical landmarks and sites where the guides have slept, hear riveting personal stories, and discover tucked-away places few others ever experience. The tour ends at either a pub or a cafe, so you can carry on with your guide or group in a discussion that ebbs between the politics of street begging and the effects of gentrification on the East End.

Details: The tour runs $9 to $14 per hour and usually lasts about 90 minutes.

Insider Tip: On each tour, the company reserves two free spots for those who are either unable to pay or are accompanying someone as a caregiver. Wondering how much of the ticket sales goes back to the guide? About 80 percent. Unseen Tours was the winner for best tour operator for local experiences in the World Responsible Tourism Awards 2011.

 

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

'Worst' Walking Tour, Porto, Portugal

This tour in Portugal's second-largest city is the antithesis of a tourist trap. Avoiding all of Porto's polished postcard-perfect sites, it takes visitors past decrepit homes and crumbling shops. Started by three out-of-work architects who stuck around after the country was hit hard by the recession, The Worst Tours will show you the not-for-tourists sites and guides will tell stories about the old markets and abandoned buildings, helping you understand what's behind Europe's economic crisis. Learn about Porto's architecture, history, politics, and urbanism from a few people who are "OK with not being popular or cool or the best in anything, least of all touring."

Details: Tours are two to three hours and are free.

Insider Tip: Let your guide know which parts of the city you've already visited and what your interests are, and he or she will create a route that shows you things you haven't seen.

 

(Photo: Urban Adventures)

Gwana Music Tour, Essaouira, Morocco

New this spring, the Gnawa Music Experience tour gives you a unique encounter with one of Morocco's off-the-charts popular trends: trance-like Gnawa music and its acrobatic dance moves. You'll be introduced to the addictive music's Afro-Moroccan culture and customs in the medina, where musicians will be jamming. Then, you'll step inside hidden domains typically inaccessible to visitors: You'll go into the home of a dancer to see him perform, watch a troupe master play a traditional lute-like instrument in his private quarters, and visit a temple where sacred rituals drive out evil spirits.

Details: The evening tour costs around $100 and lasts two to three hours.

Insider Tip: Both men and women should dress with respect, covering everything from the shoulders to the knees. At the end of the tour, your guide can recommend places to go dancing where you'll hear Gnawa music fused with Western and Latin music.

 

(Photo: TripAdvisor LLC)

Hip-Hop Tour, New York, New York

With a legendary hip-hop artist as your guide, Hush Tours will give you a truly entertaining experience in the Bronx and Harlem, the birthplace of the culture. Here, people on the street might recognize and give shout-outs to the Hush Tours guides—Grandmaster Caz, Kurtis Blow, and others—as they delve into four aspects of hip-hop culture: DJing, MCing, B-boy and B-girl dancing, and graffiti artistry. You'll see the important landmarks and check out where Biggie, Nas, and Jay-Z grew up on this fun tour.

Details: Tours range from two hours ($32) to four hours ($75).

Insider Tip: Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. At one point on the tour, you'll learn hip-hop moves and try them out on the streets.

 

(Photo: LiveToronto)

Date-Night City Tour with a Photographer, Toronto, Canada

Nothing against snapping a selfie with your iPhone, but on LiveToronto's Date Night Tour, you'll get enviable pics (without your arm) for posting on Facebook or printing in a photo book. Depending on your interests (sports, architecture, music, etc.), your personal paparazzo will plan a walking route to hit Toronto's key sites and set up photo ops. As you explore downtown's icons and hidden gems, your photographer guide will share interesting details about each landmark while capturing everything from classic poses to silly shots. Choose your own adventure: You can include the Harbourfront, the base of the CN Tower, Osgoode Hall, Roundhouse Park, and others.

Details: The 60-minute private tour is $100 to $200 per couple and includes 50 fully edited digital photos, which will be delivered within 24 hours.

Insider Tip: Don't surprise your significant other with this date-night tour—there are too many things to consider beforehand (including hair, nails, and a second outfit or pair of shoes for another look). The company runs tours for families and corporate groups, too.

 

(Photo: Vondelsurfing)

Longboarding Tour, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

You won't find this longboard tour through Vondelpark in your guidebook or officially operated by any local tour company. But check Vayable.com and there it is: Vondelsurfing, offered by a "semi-professional amateur" longboarder named Milan V. In the new sharing economy, websites like Vayable.com connect you with a vetted local guide. Here, Milan V. puts you on a long skateboard in the middle of Amsterdam's most popular park, hands you a rope, and pulls you behind a fixie bicycle for a couple of hours. It's a chance to see the park like a true hipster Amsterdammer, says Milan V., who has hosted beginners as well as seasoned longboarders.

Details: The two-hour tour is $24 and includes all gear, a drink, and photo/video of your ride.

Insider Tip: Vondelsurfing is fun in pairs of two, so you can switch and watch how the other is doing.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title 10 Truly Unique City Tours Around the World.

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Seven Scenic Roads Too Terrifying to Drive

Posted November 10, 2013 by SmarterTravel.com

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Forget about your seat belt: You might want to strap into a parachute for some of these dizzying and dangerous roads. We hear there are some killer views. (Literally!)

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North Yungas Road, Bolivia

Maybe it's the dizzying heights that will scare you. Or maybe it's the shocking lack of guardrails. Or maybe, just maybe, it's the 300 drivers who reportedly plummet to their deaths each year that will give you pause before you tackle this narrow death trap with a view. The careening adventure cyclists probably won't help, either. Toss in a healthy dose of wet weather and accompanying fog and you can see where "Death Road" got its nickname. Forget about wearing a seat belt—you might be better off with a parachute.

Find Your Way There: North Yungas Road connects Bolivia's Amazon region with La Paz.

Watch: Drive the North Yungas Road vicariously here.

 

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Irohazaka Road, Japan

A thing of hyper-winding beauty, Japan's Irohazaka Road features a staggering 120-degree bend and 48 frightful hairpin turns. To complicate matters, American drivers must also be prepared to navigate the drive on the opposite side of the car—and probably in a stick shift, to boot. But hey, at least there are guardrails!

Find Your Way There: Irohazaka Road is actually two roads, one going up and the other going down, on Route 120 near Nikko, Japan.

Watch: Drive the Irohazaka Road vicariously here.

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Spreuerhofstrasse, Germany

Squeezing in at a mere 12.2 inches at its narrowest, Germany's Spreuerhofstrasse is not for the broad-shouldered or wide-girthed set. Its claustrophobia-inducing measurements were established in the 18th century, and today it holds the title of narrowest street in the world. Sadly, this record-breaking street may soon cease to exist due to a water-seepage issue that has caused the already-constricted walls to bulge.

Find Your Way There: Spreuerhofstrasse is in Reutlingen, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany.

Watch: Walk the Spreuerhofstrasse vicariously here.

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Guoliang Tunnel, China

If Germany's Spreuerhofstrasse is anxiety inducing, China's Guoliang Tunnel is borderline hyperventilation worthy. This three-quarter-mile-long tunnel was literally carved along the side of and through a mountain. Speed, altitude, and incoming traffic don't help the hair-raising situation, either.

Find Your Way There: The Guoliang Tunnel is near Guoliang Village in the Henan province of China.

Watch: Drive the Guoliang Tunnel vicariously here.

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National Highway 110, China

What's scarier than rush-hour traffic? Try a 12-day traffic jam. Back in 2010, a two-mile-per-day pace on this highway was attributed to an influx of vehicles on a single road. Ironically enough, the main cause of the congestion was a large number of trucks transporting building materials to be used for highway expansion. Stranded drivers took to card playing and reading to keep entertained. For nearly two weeks. Traffic on National Highway 110 remains routinely congested to this day.

Find Your Way There: National Highway 110 runs from Beijing to Yinchuan, China.

Watch: Drive National Highway 110 vicariously here.

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James Dalton Highway, Alaska

Alaska's unforgiving landscape is for neither the weak nor the unprepared. In fact, the James Dalton Highway is so desolate that you'll come across just three towns (combined population: 60) over the length of this roughly 400-mile-long road. Expect minimal roadside assistance.

Find Your Way There: The James Dalton Highway is mostly a utility highway frequented by trucks serving the area's oil fields. It runs along the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, starting north of Fairbanks and ending just shy of the Arctic Ocean.

Watch: Drive the James Dalton Highway vicariously here.

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Atlantic Ocean Road, Norway

Norway's Atlantic Ocean Road topped The Guardian's list of the Five Best Road Trips in 2006. The road features eight architecturally interesting bridges and viewpoints that will take your breath away, and it even passes by scuba-diving resorts. But the 5.2-mile-long stretch also has a dark side: storms—lots of 'em. When the fierce Norwegian Sea whips its fury upon windshields, visibility drops and danger rises. So file this one under "scenic but deadly."

Find Your Way There: The Atlantic Ocean Road runs across a partially inhabited archipelago and connects Averoy with the mainland at Eide.

Watch: Drive the Atlantic Ocean Road vicariously here.

 

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Seven Scenic Roads Too Terrifying to Drive. 

 Follow Patricia Magaña on Google+ or email her at at editor@smartertravel.com.

 

10 Best European Castles You Can Visit

Posted October 4, 2013 by SmarterTravel.com

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Sometimes romantic, sometimes sinister, Europe's best castles evoke a palpable sense of both melancholy and wonder. Their ancient stones brim with mystery and history—but not the stodgy old history of musty textbooks. Castles are the past brought to life, a visceral reminder that quests and battles and chivalry weren't always the exclusive province of fantasy novels. Go medieval on your next trip with a visit to one of these castles where ancient history is alive and well.


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Carreg Cenne Castle, Wales

Never trust any list of Europe's best castles that doesn't include at least one entry from Wales. Owing to its tumultuous history of war and rebellion, the Welsh countryside is home to more castles per square mile than anywhere else in the world. Our favorite is Carreg Cennen, the only ruined stronghold to make this list. Actually, we like that Carreg Cennen has been in a ruinous state since 1462. Perched on a lonely limestone hilltop in Brecon Beacons National Park and often shrouded in mist, Carreg Cennen is easily the most evocative castle in the land. And while it may not be quite as popular as the larger Caerphilly Castle, Carreg Cennen will always be first in our hearts. It's open daily between April and October.


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Hohenwerfen Castle, Austria

Brooding high above Austria's Salzachtal Valley amid the dramatic peaks of the Berchtesgaden Alps, this stronghold has served alternately as a home to kings, archbishops, and prisoners (it was a state prison for a period of time) for more than 900 years. Today, Hohenwerfen Castle is a popular tourist draw and the site of Austria's foremost falconry center, where the royal hunting art is on full display with daily demonstrations.


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Predjama Castle, Slovenia

Predjama Castle is an easy sell to castle lovers. Most famous for being built into the side of a 400-foot cliff, it may also call to mind visions of Tolkien's Helm's Deep. But this real-world stronghold has the requisite dungeons, secret tunnels, and bloody history to make it a must-see on its own merits. Visit Predjama Castle during the annual medieval tournament, held each July, for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.


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Guedelon Castle, France

Who says the age of castles is over? Take a trip back in time at Guedelon Castle in Burgundy, France, where a team of 50 craftspeople and laborers are currently using 13th-century building techniques and technology (think: horses) to construct an authentic castle from scratch, deep within a secluded forest. Visitors are welcomed from mid-March to early November each year. The project has been running since 1997 and hopes to reach completion in the 2020s.


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Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

It might be the most photographed castle in the world, but there's still nothing quite like seeing Germany's fairy-tale castle in person. The brainchild of "Mad King Ludwig" (or, more generously, "The Fairy-Tale King"), Neuschwanstein has influenced everything from Disney attractions (note the similarity to Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle) to books and computer games. Take a tour of the castle grounds, but leave time for an off-site walk along the myriad nearby trails. That's where you'll find the most stunning views for photographs.


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Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland

One of the most iconic castles in Europe, Scotland's Eilean Donan Castle is recognized the world over from its appearances on postcards and in movies like the original Highlander ("There can be only one!"). History buffs will appreciate Eilean Donan's rich past as a key site during the 1719 Jacobite Rising, and all will enjoy the stark beauty of its surroundings, where three great lochs meet at the foot of an impressive mountain range. Today nearly every part of the castle is accessible to the public for tours and exploration.


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Hohenzollern Castle, Germany

This ancestral home to a line of German emperors would fit in with the fantastical fortresses imagined by J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin. At 2,805 feet above sea level, Hohenzollern Castle really is a castle in the clouds. The current fortress is actually the third to be built on the site (the first was destroyed in battle and the second fell into disrepair). Today it is a popular tourist attraction.


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Hunyad Castle, Romania

The imposing Hunyad Castle, which once imprisoned Vlad the Impaler (Bram Stoker's inspiration for Dracula), offers plenty for castle aficionados to sink their teeth into. Marked by myriad towers, multicolored roofs, and exaggerated stone carvings, this Gothic-Renaissance castle was fully and fancifully restored after decades of neglect. What we see today may or may not be authentic (some suggest that modern architects projected their own "wistful interpretations" of a Gothic castle onto the reconstruction), but either way, the end result is memorable.


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Edinburgh Castle, Germany

One of the best examples of a fully restored medieval fortress, Edinburgh Castle towers over Scotland's capital city from atop an extinct volcano called Castle Rock. It was built in the 12th century and has passed hands between the English and the Scots numerous times over the course of its bloody history. Today, it's open to the public year-round for tours and events.


Versailles, France

From its origin as an unassuming hunting lodge to its height as the royal court of France under Louis XIV, the Sun King's Chateau de Versailles is arguably the grandest castle in the world. No visit to Paris is complete without at least a day trip to see the gardens, canals, and gilded halls of Versailles.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title 10 Best European Castles You Can Visit.

Follow Josh Roberts on Google+ or email her at at editor@smartertravel.com.

10 Amazing Wine Towns in Europe

Posted September 9, 2013 by SmarterTravel.com

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From medieval hilltops to breezy coastlines, European wine towns make for irresistible vacation spots. Local cuisines help form a food-wine symbiosis unique to each locale, and surrounding vineyards provide the perfect backdrop. Whether renowned or under the radar, these gastronomic playgrounds offer plenty to taste plus enough history and culture for days of exploration. So head down into the cellar, uncork a prized vintage or two, and toast to these 10 amazing European wine towns.

 


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Beaune, France

Within its ramparts and narrow cobblestone streets, Beaune has one major priority: the production—and consumption—of wine. Dubbed the wine capital of Burgundy—itself one of the most famous viticulture regions in all of France—the small town has been obsessed with the drink since the Middle Ages, thanks in part to the lavish lifestyles of the Dukes of Burgundy. Today, it remains the region's center for wine trade and tourism. As you walk through town, undoubtedly in search of prestigious Pinot Noir-based vintages, stop at the Wine Museum, the Dukes' former residence, for a quick study in oenology, then enter the cellars at Marche aux Vins for a free tour and tasting. Across the way, the Hotel-Dieu, a medieval charity-hospital museum that hosts an annual wine auction every November, offers a sobering look into the lives of the sick and poor in the 15th century.

Uncork: Biodynamic wines at Joseph Drouhin, best tasted in the winery's historical Duke's cellar, built on top of 4th-century Roman fortifications.

Pair: In the snazzy, red-cloaked dining room at Loiseau des Vignes, opened in 2007 by Dominique Loiseau (wife of late chef Bernard Loiseau), choose from among 70 different wines by the glass to accompany the regional prix-fixe menu.

 


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Bernkastel-Kues, Germany

Of the many wine villages on Germany's Mosel River, Bernkastel-Kues is one of the most well-known and oldest. Set in the Middle Mosel region, the town has the ideal terroir for growing prized Riesling grapes. Its steep, slate-covered hillsides are striped with vineyards and lead up to the ruins of Landshut Castle, a focal point for cruisers floating by in river boats below. In the town center, take time to admire the medieval market square lined with half-timbered houses, and stop to photograph the narrow and leaning Spitzhauschen ("Pointed House") that dates back to 1416. Continue on, strolling through small boutiques and breaking for a leisurely lunch at one of the many welcoming restaurants. Just be sure to open a bottle of the town's most legendary wine, Bernkasteler Doctor, which supposedly cured the 14th-century Archbishop of Trier of serious illness.

Uncork: More than 160 regional wines—including Riesling, sparkling Elbling, and fruity Kerner varietals—at the Mosel Wein Museum's Vinothek, housed in the cellars of the historical St. Nicholas Hospital.

Pair: Enjoy regional specialties complemented by a Riesling-focused wine list at Doctor Weinstube, a 17th-century hotel and tavern with an inviting, rustic dining room.

 


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Montepulciano, Italy

Perched above vineyards and cypress-tree groves in the Italian province of Siena, Montepulciano is the biggest and highest medieval hill town in southern Tuscany. Panoramic views of the Val d'Orcia countryside render it a perfect setting for movies like The English Patient and Under the Tuscan Sun, but it is most famous for its Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, a red wine made primarily from Sangiovese grapes. The town, lined with Renaissance palaces and churches, centers on Piazza Grande, where the Bravio delle Botti barrel race takes place every August. Food lovers will especially enjoy shopping in the Centro Commercial Naturale, visiting the olive mill, and learning how to make pici pasta with flour from local wheat at the Il Sasso school for language and culture.

Uncork: The celebrated reds at the Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, the local wine consortium made up of more than 70 producers, and its Enoteca Wine Shop in the historical Palazzo del Capitano on Piazza Grande.

Pair: Sample Pecorino cheese, meat, honey, and olive oil in the town's cantines (wine cellars), which are often linked by underground tunnels. Local favorite Cantine Contucci, in the 13th-century cellars of the Palazzo Contucci, is open for tastings every weekday.

 


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Borba, Portugal

When in Portugal, many wine lovers make a beeline to Porto and the Douro Valley. However, the lesser-known Alentejo region to the south has plenty to offer as well, especially when it comes to smaller towns devoted to wine. Though the historical UNESCO World Heritage city of Evora has a regional tasting room and is a natural starting point for the Alentejo wine route, it's nearby Borba that truly lives for wine. From adegas (wineries) in the heart of town to the annual Festa do Vinho e da Vinha (Festival of Wine and Vine) in November, visitors to Borba have plenty of opportunities to sample its robust reds. However, it's also worthwhile to check out the architectural details throughout town: Because of several nearby quarries, Borba is dressed in fine marble, particularly at sites like the Convento das Servas de Cristo and the ornate Fonte das Bicas fountain.

Uncork: Touriga Nacional (considered Portugal's finest grape) along with other regional varietals such as Trincadeira and Aragonez at Adega de Borba, a cooperative that offers different labels from 300 wine-growing associates.

Pair: Dine among giant terra-cotta talhas storing wine while eating local specialties—including ensopado de borrego, a lamb stew, and migas, a traditional dish usually made with breadcrumbs, garlic, and pork—at tasquinhas, or small taverns and restaurants, in town.

 


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Eger, Hungary

On the hills of the Bukk Mountains, nestled in one of Hungary's main viticulture regions, Eger is a popular wine town regarded for its whites and especially reds. Architecturally, the town presents a melange of Turkish, Baroque, and neoclassical styles, evident in well-touristed sites like the Eger Cathedral and the original Ottoman-period minaret. You can learn about the history of Eger's castle and its underground fortification system at the Istvan Dobo Castle Museum, then unwind (releasing any lingering anxiety from the museum's medieval-punishment exhibit) at the recently renovated thermal baths and Turkish spa. After climbing the 97 claustrophobic steps of the needle-shaped minaret, get a sweet fix at the Marzipan Museum and candy shop across the way. To taste wine, hop on the shuttle from the central Dobo Square to cellars in Szepasszony-volgy, or "Valley of the Beautiful Women," just south of town.

Uncork: The legendary Egri Bikaver, or "Bull's Blood of Eger," Hungary's best-known wine internationally. Blended with three or more red grapes—primarily Kekfrankos—the cuvee is matured in oak barrels for at least a year.

Pair: Taste dishes such as goulash soup, roasted pork tenderloin with creamy wild mushrooms, and smoked Hungarian sausage at Kodmon Tavern, an elegant spot that has been serving local cuisine since 1778.

 


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Haro, Spain

With clay soil ideal for growing grapes, multitudes of wine bodegas, and an organized vineyard route, Haro has earned the right to be called the wine capital of Spain's Rioja region. Not only does wine drive Haro's local economy, but it is also taken quite seriously as a way of life—so much so that on the feast of San Pedro (June 29), the town hosts a wine battle, during which opposing sides launch liters of wine at each other, then throws an after party in central Plaza de la Paz Square. Oenophiles and casual visitors alike can delve into the study of viticulture at the Rioja Wine Interpretation Centre, which serves as a research center and museum, or taste the area's fine red wines at the many vineyards and cellars open to the public.

Uncork: Wines from area bodegas, such as the generations-old Lopez de Heredia or the more modern Roda, which specializes in Tempranillo-based wines.

Pair: In Haro's Herradura neighborhood, known for tapas bars and restaurants, seek out dishes like pepitos (steak sandwiches) or pincho moruno (skewered diced pork). For traditional cuisine, mixed vegetable stew, chorizo, and lamb cutlets with vine shoots go nicely with the local wines.

 


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Saint-Emilion, France

If the scent of freshly baked macarons wafting through medieval streets isn't enough to lure you into Saint-Emilion, the wine certainly will. One of the most famed villages on the right bank of France's Bordeaux region, Saint-Emilion is built as much on Merlot and Cabernet Franc as it is on ancient limestone. After visiting the many wine shops in town, take a tour of the 800-year-old Monolithic Church and go underground to the cave where Breton monk—and hermit—Emilion once lived. Come back up to admire the eye-catching 173-foot-high bell tower before following the winding road that leads out to wine-tasting chateaux and rows of vineyards in a World Heritage landscape that span as far as the eye can see.

Uncork: Wines by innovative—but controversial—garagiste winemakers, such as Chateau Valandraud and the appropriately-named Bad Boy label by Jean-Luc Thunevin.

Pair: Decant a bottle of Grand Cru Classe then toast to seasonal market cuisine either indoors or on the shaded terrace at L'Envers du Decor.

 


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Orebic, Croatia

On the southwestern tip of Peljesac, a peninsula on Croatia's Dalmatian coast, Orebic is a maritime town that attracts tourists looking to relax on its sandy beaches, dine on the local catch, and drink wine from the surrounding vineyards. Explore the Maritime Museum—and its collection of models and paintings of boats—at the foot of Mount Elijah, and find sea captain's homes (which you can often stay in) throughout town. The Franciscan monastery's observation towers afford views of the Adriatic, the old town below, and the fruit trees, cypresses, and olive groves that dot the landscape. Winemaking on Peljesac dates back to Roman times, and the Plavac Mali grape, called "the blood of the soil" in Dalmatia, thrives in the Mediterranean climate and takes center stage on the peninsula's pebbled hills.

Uncork: Dry, ruby-red wines such as Dingac, which is deeply rooted in the region's winemaking tradition and became Croatia's first protected wine, and Postup, the country's second protected wine.

Pair: In Orebic's taverns and cafes, seafood reigns supreme. The highlight is the local shellfish, in particular crab, squid, and octopus, but make room for the region's handmade cured ham and cheeses, local olive oil, and fresh citrus fruits and vegetables.

 


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Barolo, Italy

Barolo, famous for its garnet-colored wines made from the Nebbiolo grape, is a low-lying town tucked into a valley in Italy's hilly Piedmont region. While the town has produced wine since at least Roman times, we can thank the last Marchessa of Barolo, French-born Giulia Colbert Falletti di Maulevrier, for realizing the potential of the noble grape in the mid-19th century and getting the town on the map. Visit her former home, the recently renovated Castello Falletti, which houses the WineMuseum (or WiMu) and tasting room, or head next door to the Corkscrew Museum in a former wine cellar. Stay in the neighboring countryside and use your rented villa or farmhouse as a home base for taking walks through the vast vineyards of Barolo and the rest of Piedmont's Langhe wine region.

Uncork: Wine from the 11 communes that produce Barolo at Enoteca Regionale del Barolo, located in the basement of the Falletti castle.

Pair: Choose dishes that can stand up to—and are often cooked in—the region's wine, such as mushroom risotto, braised beef, and gamey stews like bollito misto. Find similar items on the menu at Locanda nel Borgo Antico, a modern farmhouse restaurant tucked away in the vineyards.

 


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Pico (Madalena), Portugal

It's one thing to be a wine town, but it's quite another to be a wine island. On the Azorean isle of Pico, coastal vineyards grow along the sloped edges of an enormous volcano, with their gnarled grapevines creeping up basalt stone walls that protect the plots, or currais, from whipping sea winds and saltwater. Get an introduction to this unusual World Heritage vineyard landscape at the wine museum in Lajido, then trail the coastline in search of clay-roofed wine cellars built with black lava rock, old stone ramps (rola-pipas) that barrels would roll down and onto waiting boats, and tracks (rilheiras) carved by ox carts hauling grapes over the rugged landscape. At the cooperative in the main town of Madalena, learn how the basaltic wines are crafted and, of course, taste them too.

Uncork: Regional whites and reds from Frei Gigante and Terras de Lava, plus aperitif wines and firewater, which will knock you clear off your axis if you're not careful.

Pair: At Restaurante Ancoradouro in Madalena, start by drizzling corn bread and Pico cheese with honey, then pair a glass of vinho branco with any one of the seafood specialties. Grab a table on the breezy terrace for views of the sea and the nearby island of Faial.

 

Read the Entire Story: 10 Amazing Wine Towns in Europe

Follow Anne Banas on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

 

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Munich's Affordable Biergartens and Currywurst

Posted February 10, 2010 by Jamie Moore

Munich Prost is what Germans say before downing a krug (stein) of beer. If you visit Munich during Oktoberfest, it's a word you'll learn well and repeat often. But there's beer a-plenty at all times of the year, especially in the largest biergarten in town. Afterward, satisfy your munchies with traditional German fast food and then sleep it off at an affordable and funky city-center hotel.

Drink
Koniglicher Hirschgarten
: Every city in Germany has its own special brew, and Munich's is Augustiner. The best Augustiner in Munich, according to connoisseurs, is served from the 200-liter (52-gallon) wooden barrels at the Hirschgarten, the largest biergarten in Germany. During Oktoberfest (Wiesn to the locals) you may have to fight for one of the 8,000 seats. But that's all part of the fun, as is the local tradition of washing out krugs with a toilet bowl brush. Yes, the krugs of beer are that big, one liter (1/4 gallon) to be precise.

Eat
Bergwolf: You can't drink beer without craving fast food, and in Munich that means currywurst from Bergwolf. This traditional Bavarian food is at its best in this late-night cafe. What is it? Simply a spicy German sausage smothered in rich tomato-curry sauce. It's best accompanied by fries and mayonnaise, the European way, and washed down with … another beer, of course.

Stay
Arthotel
: There's only one thing a belly full of beer, currywurst, and fries needs—a bed. If it can be found in a modern, tastefully decorated room, in a central location, at a reasonable rate, all the better. Arthotel has all of the above and one more thing: It's only a hop, skip, and a jump from the main train station and Oktoberfest festivities. Double rooms start at &eur;79 (about $108, see xe.com for current conversion rates.

You can use our tool to compare airfares to Munich from multiple travel providers.

(Photo: iStockphoto/Tom Gufler)

OpenSkies to Mix Business (Class) With Pleasure

Posted June 18, 2008 by Zak Patten

OpenskiesbizWhat's in a name? In the case of OpenSkies—the new mostly-business-class subsidiary of British Airways—a whole lot. When first announced, the airline's name was inspired by the new deregulating treaty that allows airlines to operate on any routes they choose between the U.S. and E.U. Today, OpenSkies might also be taken as a comment on the lack of competition in the air, particularly since the demise of all-business-class carriers Eos, Maxjet, and Silverjet.

Sure, OpenSkies only has one airplane, a 757 that holds 82 passengers, but the Little Airline That Could has big plans for that one plane. We're talking three classes of service, with the top of the line being Biz, which boasts "truly lie-flat seats." Don't want to sleep that well? No worries. OpenSkies has Prem+, which must denote its premium-economy class, because I doubt it’s a typo (unless OpenSkies is planning on professionally curling its passengers' hair en route). Last but not least (well, actually it is the least, but OpenSkies swears it's not too bad at all), is the economy cabin. There are only 30 seats (genuine leather ones) there, so you should get plenty of attention, assuming there's also a designated flight attendant (kidding!). And everyone, regardless of class, will have access to the 50-plus hours of audio and video programming on their personal entertainment systems, so that's a step up from my favorite in-flight game: staring at the back of the seat in front of me.

So where exactly will OpenSkies fly? Let's just say it doesn't have a massive worldwide route network. In fact, there are just two cities involved, but they're pretty decent ones: Paris and New York. The plan is to scale up by adding new destinations as business results allow for it. Currently on the list of potentials are Amsterdam, Brussels, Frankfurt, and Milan.

In these days of cutbacks and fee increases, any airline looking hopefully toward the future should cheer us all up. No matter what it's called.

(Photo: AirFlights.to)


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