Although ocean cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and Norwegian have been suffering some setbacks lately, the river cruise industry in Europe is booming. Instead of spending days traveling between islands with nothing to see but water, river cruises offer a never-ending, constantly changing scenery full of old-world wonders. Europe’s vast network of waterways is just waiting to be explored.
What’s so great about a riverboat?
- Fine dining
- Countless amenities
- Easy access to the heart of many cities
You might want to look into budget airlines because you’ll be shelling out more than $3,000 per person for any of Europe’s luxury river cruises. Relax from your cabin, the deck, a dining area, or the pool as you watch the fairytale countryside of Europe pass you by. You’ll see famous cities, vineyards, and majestic cathedrals all without buying tickets or standing in line. This is sightseeing at it’s best! DouroAzul, Avalon Waterways, and Viking River Cruises offer many different excursions including themed and holiday trips. We’ve picked our favorites.
#3 – DouroAzul: Douro River Valley
DouroAzul is Portugal’s largest river cruise operator. They just released two new ships, the AmaVida (holds 106) and the Queen Isabel (holds 118). Wine lovers will enjoy this cruise through the heart of Portugal’s wine country. Onboard the Queen Isabel you will find a spa, fitness center, heated pool, and gourmet restaurant. The cruise is seven days, departs from Porto, Portugal, and ends in Salamanca, Spain. The Douro River Valley excursion is available between the months of April and November. Excursions ashore expose guests to the region’s finest wines. The cruise takes guests to five UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Sites including Porto’s Ribeira district and the Alto Douro wine region. The price includes three nights in Lisbon, Portugal prior to embarkation.
#2 – Avalon Waterways: The Legendary Danube
Avalon Waterways announced the launch of their sixth ship in May 2013: the Avalon Expression. This 166-passenger luxury ship has all the amenities you’d expect from a five-star hotel. Floor-to-ceiling windows give guests a great view from practically anywhere on the ship. Cabins include open-air balconies from which guests can watch the landscape flow by. The Legendary Danube varies slightly each year. The 2014 trip departs from Nuremberg, Germany and ends in Budapest, Hungary. The price includes three nights in Prague prior to departure during which you can explore places like the Jewish Quarter, Hradcany Castle, and Wenceslaus Square. The seven-night cruise passes through the medieval cities Regensburg, Passau, and Vienna. Guests have the opportunity to attend events in each city.
#1 – Viking River Cruises: Rhine River
Viking River Cruises is consistently at the top of the charts. A cruise on one of their new Longships is like staying in a five-star hotel (not to mention the Longships are equipped with hybrid engines and solar panels). With a disciplined Swiss staff and a team of chefs that prepare meals onboard (they even have a herb garden on the ship), all your needs will be taken care of. The Rhine River cruise is the perfect romantic getaway. The trip takes up to 190 guests through five countries. Guests glide by the magical castles of Black Forest, Germany and are treated to a fun stop in Amsterdam. Without worrying about taxis or trains, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the view.
The Scots are credited with the invention of modern golf, but the origins of the game are widely debated. Most believe that the game was first played in Europe during the Middle Ages. Evidence unearthed in 2005 suggests that Mongolian travelers may have been the ones who brought the game (called “chuíwán”) to Europe. Either way, golf has been around for a long time.
Golf was banned several times throughout the 1400’s, but finally spread from Europe to the United States in the 18th century. It was firmly established in Europe by the end of the 19th century. In 1880 there were only 12 courses in England; by 1914 that number had risen to 1,000. Golf became incredibly popular in the US during the 1920’s. When an American won the British Open Championship in 1992, the US claimed dominance over the sport – a status they still hold today.
The history of golf is preserved worldwide in these famous museums:
- British Golf Museum (Fife, Scotland)
- US Golf Association Museum (New Jersey, US)
- World Golf Hall of Fame (Florida, US)
- Canadian Golf Hall of Fame (Ontario, Canada)
Today, Europe has become a destination for wealthy golfers. The rolling hills and mild climate are perfect for the sport. Luxury golf resorts aren’t just about golf; they focus on attitude, prestige, exclusivity, and landscape. Most important, they place guests in the very lap of luxury. Here are two of Europe’s best luxury golf resorts:
Verdura Golf & Spa Resort, Sicily
On Sicily’s south coast you’ll find a resort boasting discreet exclusivity (there are only 203 rooms). The grounds contain a private beach and every room has a view of the ocean with a private terrace. The resort’s two golf courses were designed by Kyle Phillips, a leading golf architect. When playing The East Course, golfers will travel along a meandering route that brings them to the sea twice. The 18th hole is located alongside the cliffs and the end of the course brings you to an elevated, tumbling landscape. The West Course is less diverse but touches the Mediterranean in the middle and is capped with a magnificent seaside finale. Both The East Course and The West Course make ingenious use of the natural terrain and make for a fulfilling experience.
Vidago Palace, Portugal
A long ago destination for those seeking Vidago’s legendary mineral waters, Vidago Palace is a resort fit for kings. With Belle Epoque charm, the resort combines the grandeur of a palace with the coziness of a cottage. There are only 70 rooms in the palace. The resort is nestled in the mountains and surrounded by woodlands. The lush atmosphere, mineral water, and tranquil setting make for a magical, restorative vacation.
Vidago Palace’s championship golf course was built in 1936 (a Mackenzie Ross original). Redesigned by Cameron and Powell according to USGA specifications, the course will remind you of the sport’s inherent beauty and is an exhilarating challenge even for experienced golfers. Great contrasts in landscape evoke a respect for the palace’s natural surroundings. The course is located in Centennial Park, presenting players with magnificent views of rolling hills and small villages. The middle of the course dips into the historic Oura Valley. The course also includes a driving range, chipping area, two putting greens, and a golf school.
Nestled amongst the snow-capped mountains in Lombardy, Italy you will find a Y-shaped body of water called Lake Como. Its quiet waves cover over 90 square miles, making it the third largest lake in Italy. Formed by a long-ago glacier, Lake Como has been an oasis for the wealthy since Roman times. Today, it is a popular tourist attraction famous for its elegant old villas, breathtaking vistas, spas, palaces, historic churches, and wildlife. And don’t forget water-based activities like sailing, windsurfing, or simply taking a ride on the ferry. You’ll want somewhere peaceful to stay in which to enjoy the beautiful surroundings. Here is a list of the top three bed and breakfasts in the Lake Como area:
#3 – Le Eriche (“The Heathers”)
Located less than two miles from Lake Como’s tourist center, Menaggio, Le Eriche presents visitors with magnificent views of the surrounding mountains. If you’re looking for a peaceful way to enjoy the outdoors, Le Eriche is for you. Upon your arrival, you will be greeted warmly by the hosts. Guests have two types of rooms to choose from, each with a private garden in which free breakfast is served each morning. The room comes with a fridge, free Wi-Fi, a parking space, and a crib (if requested). The rooms are well furnished and clean. Guests staying at Le Eriche most often comment about the spectacular views, excellent breakfasts, and warm service. At Le Eriche, you are treated like friends.
#2 – Nest on the Lake
A few minutes drive from the famous Bellagio resort in the charming village of Lezzeno lies what was once a simple fisherman’s house. Today the structure is a casual bed and breakfast called Nest on the Lake. All bedrooms look out upon Isola Comacina, Lake Como’s only island. This inn can be hard to find, but once you get there you won’t want to leave. Guests are treated to spacious rooms and a private beach. Make sure to book a room with a balcony to enjoy stunning sunsets over the lake! The inn has a peaceful, antiquated feel that will make you feel like you’re staying at grandma’s house. Start your morning with a delicious outdoor breakfast as you watch for swans and other wildlife. Explore the many restaurants within walking distance, take advantage of the free Wi-Fi, relax on a raft in the lake, and make sure to ask your host about the bus and ferry services.
#1 – Villa Tres Jolie
Our number one pick is Villa Tres Jolie, a luxurious bed and breakfast located above the lake at its top end. Surrounded by mountains, Villa Tres Jolie was designed for relaxation. Inside you will find a generous breakfast room, a library in mountain chalet style, a “salone” (bar), and a room full of information about things to do in the Lake Como area. Outside is a sun terrace with a hot tub. During the summer, breakfast is served outside on the terrace. Organic, homegrown produce is used as much as possible. Villa Tres Jolie offers “special weeks” in which guests can learn about Italian topics such as wine, language, culture, and cooking. Make sure to contact the villa in advance if you are interested in staying during a special week.
More and more people are combining the fun of a well earned vacation, with much needed medical or beauty treatments. This is a money saver and has the added benefit of leaving you with cherished memories. Hence, medical and beauty tourism in Europe is becoming increasingly popular.
A common destination is Hungary. Well known for it’s very distinct and beautiful architecture, it has long been a destination for tourists wishing to partake of it’s rich historical heritage and culture. Hungary also has the largest thermal lake in all of Europe, Lake Heviz.. State of the art health care facilities and beauty rejuvenation centers, have made Hungary one of the top choices for travellers from all parts of the world. One of the first attractions for international tourists are the thermal spas, bath pools supplied naturally with warm soothing waters containing health improving minerals and salts. Cosmetic treatments are hugely popular, as many seek a safe and more affordable country for elective surgery. Basically every kind of beauty treatment is offered, from liposuction to face lift surgery and everything in between. As with most medical practitioners, a cosmetic surgeon must be board certified to practice, which demands rigorous training.Also attractive are the high quality health care available at a fraction of the cost in say, the United States. Other treatments offered include:
- chemical peels
- radio frequency facials
- tummy tucks
- vericose vein surgery
Many visit this central European nation for dental work, especially cosmetic procedures. The trend started in the eighties when patients from Austria would visit clinics in Hungary for high quality dental work at a very affordable price. Mostly limited to border towns at the onset of this trend, the focus has now shifted to bigger, well known cities like Budapest. The huge popularity of dental specialists in this country is due to the application of highly sophisticated dental techniques, thorough and comprehensive dental training schools as well as strict enforcement of credential verification. Hungarian regulatory bodies are widely accepted as being among the most demanding across the globe. Also, most clinics make use of the latest equipment and procedures in the their treatment. And coupled with many years of professional experience will assure the dental tourist that his experience will be a pleasant one.
If medical and beauty tourism in Europe sounds good to you, consider the beautiful country of Hungary. Low cost, high quality medical and beauty care is readily available, and you might make some time out for sightseeing. It is well worth it. On the other hand, just as beauty tourism is taking off, more and more individuals are also opting for at home beauty treatments like microdermabrasion and high frequency facial therapy. Take the specific example of radio or high frequency facials for example. It used to be that a session of this type of treatment cost upwards of a $100 when done in a beauty spa or at the dermatologist’s. Nowadays, at home DIY versions of this treatment is accessible via handheld devices. Other popular treatments that have been brought to the home include microdermabrasion and chemical peels. There are a variety of chemical peels – the most popular ones include lactic acid
and glycolic acid peels. Compared to chemical peels conducted at spas and dermatologist offices, home chemical peels are typically milder. For example, while you may receive a 70% glycolic acid peel at your local spa, it is recommended not to use a solution that exceeds 50% when doing it yourself at home.
The last treatment we will cover is microdemabrasion. Nowadays, there are many handheld microdermabrasion devices and microdermabrasion machines that allow you to access this treatment without having to pay exorbitant prices at a spa or dermatologist office. Just like chemical peels, do not expect home treatments to match the strength you receive at a professional office. Generally, home machines operate at about 70% or less of the strength of professional machines.
One of the top luxury spas in Europe is in Germany at Baden-Baden, situated on the edge of the Black Forest in a lush green valley on the Oos River, it has been a popular spa destination since Roman times. Being close to both Switzerland and France it is the perfect location for those who maybe taking a tour of Europe and want to have some time out for relaxation and regenerating.
The Brenners Park Spa Resort a five star complex which provides everything that today’s demanding traveler could possibly want. With a full medical spa and a team of experts on hand they will put together the perfect wellness plan for you. The center specializes in dentistry, gynecology and physio for those who require medical treatments at a fraction of North American prices. For those travelers seeking total peace and solace then why not consider booking one of the exclusive spa suites which include a Japanese blossom baths and personal Finnish sauna with a large secluded private terrace overlooking the mountains and forest it is the perfect location to unwind. There are lots of treatments on offer the massage menu is extensive and includes Thai massage which will help boost your energy levels. Shiatsu which concentrates on pressure points. Lomi which is also known as a Hawaiian massage and is a mixture of grip and deep tissue. You can also indulge in sports and aromatherapy massage.
Other treatments on offer include facials, again there is a large menu and there are now facial therapies for men. For those seeking a complete spa package you could opt for one of the specialist programs which includes various treatments tailored to your needs. For example, you could opt for a microdermabrasion or high frequency facial treatments sell at home microdermabrasion machines that you can bring back for DIY treatment) Fitness along with diet are all part of the packages. The head chef works along side the nutritionist to provide delicious organic meals which will suit all dietary requirements.
Baden-Baden could easily be combined with one of the spa resorts in Switzerland, France, Italy or Austria who all have their own unique spa towns. Or you could consider one of the stunning spa resorts that can be found in the UK, one of the most luxurious being in Bath, England. People have been bathing and enjoy the spa since Roman times and this could be combined with a visit to Stonehenge and is very close to London. There are so many possibilities and options available for anyone searching for the perfect spa vacations in Europe.