"We have climbed up above the River Danube west of Vienna to Melk Abbey, one of the most famous monasteries in the world. Situated high up on cliff, overlooking the calm waters of the Danube and the vineyards of the Wachau Valley, this Benedictine abbey was originally founded in 1089. For nearly a thousand years the monks have presided over this place of tranquility and learning, creating one of the greatest examples of Baroque architecture which is recognized as a UNESCO world Heritage Site. We enter a grand portico into an even grander courtyard. And the marvels keep on coming. The magnificent library is one of the greatest ecclesiastical treasures in the world, the frescoes, the paintings…but nothing prepares us for the sumptuousness of the Abbey Church in all its ornate Baroque splendor. As we stand in awe amidst the soaring columns and intricate works of art and devotion, it’s one of those moments when time stands still…"
The scene described in the magic moment touches upon many of the experiences awaiting you in Austria: the mighty Danube River, history dating back over two thousand years, stunning buildings full of artistic treasures and gorgeous scenery. Only in Europe will you find this heady combination.
Tours in Austria include wine tours and the ever popular Sound of Music tours - the hills are still alive when you travel through Austria's countryside! You can follow in the footsteps of the van Trapp family by visiting the movie locations.
See the Chris’ Travel Notes tab for more information on Austria.
Austrian have daily flights from Toronto to Vienna. If you fly to Munich this is also a convenient airport from which to cross the border into Austria.
Vienna is a beautiful city - once the centre of the Hapsburg Empire and the Kings and Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, this is reflected in its magnificent buildings and architecture. Schönbrunn Palace is comparable in grandeur to Versailles. The Palace Park offers a lot of attractions, such as the Privy Garden, the oldest zoo in the world, a maze and labyrinth, and a marble summerhouse situated on top of a 60 meter high hill. While Schönbrunn was the summer residence, the Hofburg Imperial Palace, also in Vienna, was the preferred winter quarters.
Vienna is alive with the music – no other city can celebrate so many famous composers. In Vienna you can walk in the footsteps of Mozart , Johann Strauss Ludwig van Beethoven , Joseph Haydn , Franz Schubert and Arnold Schönberg to name a few!
Vienna’s relaxed ambience is epitomized by its world renowned coffee shops where you will find excellent coffee and the unmatched chocolate cake - Sachertorte invented by Austrian Franz Sache.
"We boarded the Jungfrau Mountain Railway in the pretty mountain village of Grindelwald in the Swiss region called the Bernese Oberland. We paused at Kleine Scheidegg to wander the alpine pastures strewn with bright flowers and then on upwards, as the train tunnels through the North Face of the Eiger to arrive at the highest railway station in Europe at 3,454 metres above sea level. Here we are in a high-Alpine wonderland of ice, snow and rock, far, far removed from the green pastures of the valley. The 360-degree panoramic view takes in the neighbouring countries of France, Germany and Italy. The Aletsch glacier is directly below us. The longest glacier in the Alps, it sweeps in a blindingly white river of ice for 22kms between ranks of towering Alpine peaks and beneath a brilliant blue sky. It’s a very special place…"
The magic moment emphasizes one of the defining aspects of Switzerland – its breathtaking views. This is a country where you will find cable cars with views, hotels with views, trains with views …..
Switzerland is celebrating two special anniversaries this year that also relate back to those views – 150 years of Winter Tourism and 150 years since the first ascent of the Matterhorn made in 1865 by a party led by Edward Whymper. It ended disastrously when four of its members fell to their deaths on the descent, and the north face was not climbed until 1931.
See the Chris’ Travel Notes tab for more information on Switzerland.
Switzerland is very accessible from Canada. Year round you can fly from Toronto direct to Zurich on Air Canada. Montreal has direct flights to Zurich on SWISS and to Geneva on Air Canada.
There are also Seasonal services – flying from Montreal direct to Basel on Air Transat and from Vancouver direct to Zurich on Edelweiss
The best way to get around in Switzerland is by public transportation. This year is the 25th anniversary of the Swiss Pass – so you can get 25% off the 4 or 8 day first class Swiss Pass. The Swiss Pass entitles you to unlimited travel on consecutive days throughout the rail, bus and boat network of the Swiss Travel System. And it even better value for families, as accompanying children under 16 travel for free.
In conjunction with the Swiss Pass you can book the Swiss Peak Pass. Also available for 4 or 8 days, the Peak Pass gives access to some of Switzerland’s most majestic peaks via mountain trains and cable cars.
To take in those wonderful Swiss views there are a number of transportation highlights that get you up, close and personal with mountains and the Swiss culture.
The Chocolate Train combines two things that the Swiss do really well – chocolate and cheese! The tour visits the scenic medieval city of Montreaux as well as the Nestlé Factory and the Gruyères cheese factory.
Nestling between Lake Geneva and the steep mountains, Montreux enjoys a Mediterranean microclimate. In July it comes alive with the rhythm of the Montreux Jazz Festival: 20 days of concerts and some 250,000 visitors. From Montreux station, a cogwheel train takes visitors on a one hour journey to Rochers-de-Naye where they can enjoy 360° views of Lake Geneva and the Alps. During the Jazz Festival trains and boats both literally and figuratively transport you to musical discovery outdoors.
"We are staying in a hotel that could only be in Italy… The Villa Pitiana is an imposing fortified farmstead of the Middle Ages transformed into a nobleman’s country home and finally to unique accommodations. It stands as a yellow painted confection of architectural styles amidst gardens, pools, olive groves and woods. We wander from a hearty breakfast of local fare through the echoing halls to the steps leading out to the garden terraces. And stop in wonder. For we are on an island in the clouds. Early morning mists completely shroud the slopes below and we appear to be floating in our palace in the sky. Distant sounds of valley farms filter through the mist and the scents of the garden complete the perfect start to another day in Tuscany… "
Tuscany is a microcosm of the larger Italy. Here you will find landscape, artistic heritage and stand-out cities plus that extra Italian something known as La Dolce Vita.
First among Tuscany’s cities is Florence. One of the most beautiful cities in Europe, Florence is filled with historical relics and artistic masterpieces by some of the greatest masters of Humanism and the Renaissance. These creative geniuses made an indelible mark on the world’s architecture and art: Giotto and Brunelleschi, Michelangelo and Vasari, Michelozzo and Leon Battista Alberti, just to mention a few.
The landscape of this region has many different facets, starting with a coastline that alternates long and sandy beaches with rocky cliffs and steep headlands. Tuscany’s countryside is littered with medieval villages, historical towns, castles and defence systems, country churches and beautiful abbeys.
Tuscany is also packed with UNESCO World Heritage sites – indeed Italy has 49 such sites in total, more than any other country in the world. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is perhaps Tuscany’s best known UNESCO site.
See the Chris’ Travel Notes tab for more information on Italy.
There are direct flights from Canada to Italy; Air Transat flies to Rome six days a week between April and October.
Getting around Italy is easy whether you drive or take the Eurostar Italy trains. Called the Frecciarossa, the high speed trains between Turin and Salerno can reach 300 kph.
Rome – The “Eternal City” has so many layers of history it is hard to know where to start your journey. The historic centre of the city contains no less than 25,000 environmental and archaeological points of interest. Archaeological remains of the Roman Empire are everywhere you go – above ground in monuments such as the Colosseum (which was completed in 80AD) to the Catacombs below.
During the Middle Ages, with the growth of Christian communities and the establishment of the power of the Pope, Rome became the central axis of the Christian world, as testified by the construction of several wonderful basilicas. Renaissance and Baroque mark the golden age for arts, protected and supported by the different popes.
The Vatican City is a landlocked sovereign city-state whose territory consists of a walled enclave within the city of Rome. The Pope resides in the Vatican City and there are cultural sites such as St. Peter's Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums. They feature some of the world's most famous paintings and sculptures.
"Mont Saint-Michel appears on the otherwise flat horizon as we approach the Atlantic coast. It grows in stature as the surrounding lands fall away to reveal a fortified abbey and town perched up to 300 feet above the tides, one kilometer off the coast. It looks more fairy-tale castle than real. As we cross the connecting causeway we see the reflection of the feudal society that constructed it. On top God, the abbey and monastery, below this the great halls, then stores and housing, and at the bottom, outside the walls, fishermen and farmers' housing. We share but a moment of its one and a half thousand years of history, but we are happy to have experienced this amazing place…"
Just as in the magic moment - France is made up of a blend of landscape and human history. This is a country that incorporates the stylish beaches of the South of France, the towering peaks of the Alps, the rich valleys of the wine growing regions and the wild Atlantic coasts of Normandy and Brittany.
And is has always been made up of a fascinating cross section of society. From the feudal times illustrated in the magic moment to the social upheaval of the French Revolution to modern times - French culture has been a complex and noisy mix of farmers, workers, aristocrats, poets, artists, philosophers, explorers, scientists and more.
See the Chris’ Travel Notes tab for more information on France.
Air France offers up to 3 daily flights from Montreal and daily flights from Toronto. New this year is a direct flight Montreal to Nice with Air Canada Rouge which adds to the flights offered by Air Transat from Montreal to Nice. Also new is a direct flight from Toronto to Marseilles this summer with Air Transat.
This year France commemorates the 100th anniversary of World War 1 (1914 – 1918). There remains a rich yet little-known First World War heritage in the Nord-Pas de Calais region. Military cemeteries, memorials and wartime remains bear poignant witness to the events that caused this conflict. The “Great War Remembrance Trails in Nord-Pas-de-Calais” offer visitors an opportunity to discover the sites, to understand these crucial times in European and world history - and to pay homage to the men and woman who lay down their lives in the region.
Regular events held at the battlefields of the Western Front (including Artois, French Flanders, Somme and Ainse) will be augmented this year by special commemorations.
For example between July 05 - 27, 2014 the Tour de France will honour the memory of winners who fell during First War. The peleton did not ride during the Great War, and a sizeable proportion of its members joined the front lines and the inferno of trench warfare. Many of them lost their lives, including three previous winners of Le Tour: François Faber, Octave Lapize and Lucien Petit-Breton.
Tour de France will pay homage their memory, and the memory of the millions of soldiers who fell. The 2014 route will visit many places where the war left its mark. After starting from Yorkshire, Le Tour will follow the front line and go through Flanders, Artois, Aisne, Champagne, Verdun and the Vosges mountains. Lille, Arras, Reims, Epernay, Nancy and Mulhouse will all host stages.
2014 will be also mark the 70th anniversary of the Landing and the Battle of Normandy that contributed to the final stages of World War 2. Besides the official ceremonies held on June 6, many events throughout the year will highlight this important page in history. In Norman cities and villages there will be events throughout the month of May, and from June 1 to 9, 2014 the annual D-Day Festival will pay tribute to the Landing troops.
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