In September a group of Greenmount farm study tourists travelled by luxury coach some 3000 kilometres from Frankfurt in Germany across Eastern Europe to Istanbul in Turkey. At that same time thousands of Syrian refugees began moving largely on foot across the same countryside but in the opposite direction. This made for some interesting border crossings!
In Germany, Switzerland and Austria we visited well managed and very productive operations.
As we moved through Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria the well managed farms were far less frequent and the operations we visited tended to be large amalgamations covering several thousand hectares. These were often integrated with grain and forage production for associated dairies. The general feeling from our group was that there was still huge potential and a massive amount of currently unrealised production across Eastern Europe. When they get their act together – and they will with the assistance of the European Union (EU) – there is going to be a lot more of everything coming on to the world commodity market.
“Climate change” was a term on every farmer’s lips. They are seeing hotter and dryer seasons and we were made very aware of some of the problems that are already being encountered – you could say we were “well grounded” in the issue when our Danube cruise came to a grinding halt mid-stream! This saw the donning of life jackets and an orderly transfer to a conveniently handy and shallow drafted rescue vessel – a passing pleasure cruiser.
Seems that river levels are not what they have been and many a scenic river cruise has by necessity become a bus tour.
Much of the arable land across Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria looks neglected. What is not neglected is hospitality towards visiting Australian farmers. We were wined and dined on a regular basis and often to an overwhelming degree. Despite our best efforts there was no way we could do justice to the amount of food provided. A small treat often turned out to be a four or five course meal.
Whether climate change or not, we saw very little rain in Europe – until we arrived in the late afternoon at Gallipoli. The landscape was softened by the rain and it added another dimension to an already surreal location
Depart Australia on September 4 from various Australian capitals and arrive into Frankfurt the morning of the 5th.
(Some people may choose to depart Australia several days earlier to do some of their own Asian or European travel.)
Meeting us in Frankfurt will be Soenke Rabe who will be our farm guide, finder of amazing hotels, sights and activities – not to mention a great travelling companion. Also meeting us is our preferred owner/driver and good friend, Burkhard Sommer, who will be our expert bus maestro all the way through to Istanbul.
We are transferred to a nearby hotel for a freshen up and a light lunch before continuing south to Freiburg, the gateway to Germany’s fabled Black Forest. This is a land of cuckoo clocks and cherry gâteaux, great scenery and slow-paced villages.
Today we enjoy a guided tour of the Black Forest region before some free time later this afternoon to check out the quaint town of Freiburg.
Time for some work today as we board Burkhard’s coach and head south towards Switzerland. We have a farm visit today as well as a meeting with Syngenta representatives at their world headquarters in Basel, just across the German border in Switzerland. We catch up on their latest herbicide research and find out what’s in the bio-tech pipeline before continuing towards Berne and into the Swiss Alps for overnight.
We visit a traditional Swiss Alpine farm today as we take in the postcard perfect scenery of the Alps. We journey through deeply carved valleys and along roads and railways cut improbably into (or through) mountains and around picturesque lakes. Weather permitting we will enjoy spectacular views of the Matterhorn and other iconic sights.
We continue northeast today – and still through spectacular scenery. We say goodbye to Switzerland and enter southeastern Germany – and the nation\'s biggest state, Bavaria. When we think of Bavaria most of us have images of lederhosen (leather trousers), sausages and lots of beer. Well, you’re right, but Bavaria has much more than that to offer. We visit a Bavarian farm today before arriving in Munich for overnight.
We have a city tour this morning before continuing north to the village of Schwandorf – and the headquarters of Horsch agricultural machinery. We have a tour of this hi-tech manufacturing plant and meet with some of their world-class ag engineers. We also meet with Bintec representatives – specialists in grain storage systems. Then it’s south to the historic and beautiful town of Regensburg, located majestically on the Danube River.
After a guided walking tour of the magnificent and medieval centre of Regensburg (a World Heritage Site) we travel southeast and into Austria. We have a farm visit before arriving in the historic city of Salzburg – or \"Salt Fortress\" – and you’ll find out why tomorrow. Salzburg’s Old Town is also World Heritage listed and is the birthplace of Mozart. The city was also the setting for parts of the film The Sound of Music.
The region surrounding Salzburg is locally termed the ‘Salzkammergut’ because of the extensive underground salt deposits – and just for something completely different, we have the opportunity to go underground and check out a salt mine. We will also visit Hitler’s Eagles Nest before continuing east to Vienna.
After a guided city tour this morning you have free time this afternoon to enjoy the cultural, musical and scenic charms of Vienna. A great option tonight is a musical recital at the magnificent Imperial Palace – works by Mozart and Strauss are often featured.
This morning we board our coach again and track eastwards along the Danube. We have a farm visit before crossing the border and arriving at the Hungarian town of Esztergom, located just upstream of the Danube River “Bend”. Here we leave the bus for the afternoon and board our private boat charter to cruise what is widely acclaimed as the most spectacular stretch of the entire Danube River. We dock in central Budapest in the early evening.
Budapest is often cited as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. It boasts extensive World Heritage Sites including the banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter, Andrássy Avenue, Heroes’ Square and the Millennium Underground Railway, the second-oldest metro line in the world. This is a city full of charm and surprises and we find out why during our city tour this morning. Free time this afternoon for your own exploration.
We continue southeast this morning through the Great Plain of Hungary. This is a very fertile tract of country continuing through to Romania. We enjoy a farm visit this morning and then cross the border into the Timisoara region of Romania. Timisoara was a city under Ottoman rule for nearly 160 years – and enjoyed a special status, similar to other cities in the region such as Budapest and Belgrade. After WWII the People\'s Republic of Romania was proclaimed, and Timisoara underwent ‘Sovietization’. The city’s population tripled between 1948 and 1992. In 1989, the city had a series of mass street protests in what was to become the Romanian Revolution of 1989.
Today we travel further east and into the heart of the Transylvanian region – Dracula country. Transylvania is the geographic centre of Romania and is surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains. Transylvania is also home for a diversity of people including Romanians, Hungarians, Germans, Armenians and Jews. The resulting architecture in this region is a mosaic of styles. We arrive at the magnificent city of Brasov. Fringed by
the peaks of the Southern Carpathian Mountains and resplendent with Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance architecture, Brasov is deservedly one of the most visited places in Romania. It is situated at the intersection of the trade routes linking the Ottoman Empire and western Europe. We enjoy a very special dinner this evening, including a symphonic program, in the old citadel.
We have a guided tour of Brasov this morning before heading south to Romania’s capital, Bucharest. We have a farm visit on the way.
With 2 million inhabitants, Bucharest is one of the largest cities in southeastern Europe. And it is a booming city with many large infrastructure projects underway. Known as the “The Little Paris,” Bucharest is an interesting mix of old and new.
After a guided city tour, you have free time for your own exploration and shopping – or just take it easy and recharge the batteries.
We board our coach again and head south into Bulgaria. We travel through farmlands on our way to Sofia – a dynamic Eastern European capital, distinguished by its unique combination of European and Communist- style architecture.
We continue south today through mountain ranges and fertile valleys towards Greece. We have a farm visit and scenic stops along the way.
We cross the border into Greece. Our destination is the port of Alexandroupolis. The is the capital of the Evros regional unit in East Macedonia and Thrace. It is an important port and commercial centre of northeastern Greece and is on the main Greece to Turkey highway. We have a city tour on arrival.
An early start to travel east to the Evros River Delta for a farm visit. Then we continue into Turkey and onto the Gallipoli Peninsula. This is one of the highlights of the tour. A specialist Gallipoli guide will take us on an emotion stirring journey through Anzac Cove, Lone Pine, The Nek and other Gallipoli sites where the young Australian nation came of age. Later this afternoon, we ferry across the Dardanelles to Canakkale for overnight.
We continue northeast towards the Sea of Marmara and a farm visit along the way. We board a ferry and enter Istanbul via the famous Bosphorus – the historic and strategic waterway linking the Black Sea with the Mediterranean.
This morning we have a guided tour of just some of the sights of this ancient and intriguing city. We will visit Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, Sancta Sophia, the Hippodrome area, the Roman Cistern, The Grand Bazaar and other historically significant sights. After lunch, time for a rest before a late afternoon cruise and farewell dinner on the Bosphorus – the strait separating European and Asian Istanbul.
A free morning before transfer to the airport for our flight/s home.
There are numerous options for some independent travelling at the end of the farm tour. Arrive various Australian airports Monday morning, Sep 28.