There are parts of central and southern Europe that have largely avoided the mass tourist radar – but they harbour unspoilt rural villages and medieval cities along with magnificent farmlands – and all (relatively) sparsely populated by welcoming and friendly locals. This itinerary ‘goes bush’ in Europe and introduces us to many sights, landscapes, farms and cultures not too many travelers get to see.
Prague, the 1000 year old Bohemian capital, is a beautiful city to start any tour. With its rich history and deep culture, exploring the medieval streets and squares is a great way to take in Prague’s character. Then we are off into the Czech countryside with farm visits along the way. We enter southeastern Germany and the beautiful Bavarian region complete with state-of-the-art farm engineering plants and the majesty of the Danube.
We continue south and into the awe-inspiring Alps. The Alps are the highest and most extensive mountain range in Europe. They stretch for 1200 km across eight Alpine countries and contain about a hundred peaks higher than 4000 metres. The altitude and size of the range affects the climate – and farming – across a large area of Europe. We visit farms and mountain villages in the unhurried and unforgettable Dolomite region.
Slovenia is simply a secret gem of central Europe. With it’s diverse and spectacular landscapes, unspoilt cities and rural villages all populated by friendly locals, Slovenia creates a lasting impression on the visitors let in on the secret. Then it's on to Italy – there are few places in the world with its depth of history and culture. Our travels will take in the signature destinations of Venice, Florence and ultimately Rome. But we will also visit farms and explore some off-the-beaten-track areas of northern Italy and Tuscany.
Depart various Australian capitals for Prague, capital of the Czech Republic (a country now officially – but rarely – called Czechia). Meals on the plane.
We arrive in Prague, where we are met by our local guide and transferred to our downtown hotel for check in. After a rest and freshen up, we enjoy a guided city tour to help get our bearings.
Prague is the capital and largest city in the Czech Republic. Situated in the north-west of the country on the Vltava river, the city is home to about 1.3 million people. The city has a temperate climate, with warm summers and chilly winters. Prague has been a political, cultural and economic centre of central Europe. Founded around 1000 years ago during the Romanesque era, Prague was the capital of the kingdom of Bohemia.
The city flourished over the centuries to become an important cultural and trading centre.
Prague had a particularly golden period during the 14th-century reign (1346–1378) of Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor and the king of Bohemia. He transformed Prague into an imperial capital and it was at that time the third-largest city in Europe after Rome and Constantinople (now Istanbul). Charles IV ordered the building of the New Town adjacent to the Old Town and laid out the design himself.
During the reign of Charles IV’s son, King Wenceslaus IV (1378–1419), a period of intense turmoil ensued. During Easter 1389, members of the Prague clergy announced that Jews had desecrated the host (Eucharistic wafer) and the clergy encouraged mobs to pillage, ransack and burn the Jewish quarter. Nearly the entire Jewish population of Prague (3,000 people) perished.
Activities in and around Prague and then a free afternoon and evening.
World War I ended with the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the creation of the republic of Czechoslovakia. Prague was chosen as its capital and Prague Castle as the seat of the president. At this time Prague was a true European capital with highly developed industry. By 1930, the population had risen to 850,000. During World War II, the country was occupied by Nazi Germany. At the end of the war, the Red Army took
Prague, with fierce fighting until 11th May 1945. The majority (about 50,000 people) of the German population of Prague either fled or were expelled by the Beneš decrees in the aftermath of the war.
Prague was a city in the territory of military and political control of the Soviet Union. In June 1967 student protests spurred the short-lived season of ‘socialism with a human face’. It was the Prague Spring. Warsaw Pact member countries, except Romania and Albania, reacted with the invasion of Czechoslovakia and the capital in August 1968.
In 1989 and the break up of the Soviet Union, a largely peaceful ‘Velvet Revolution’ crowded the streets of Prague, and the Czechoslovak capital benefited greatly from the new mood. In 1993, after the split of Czechoslovakia, Prague became the capital city of the new Czech Republic.
Depart Prague to the southwest and into the Pilsen Region. We visit an arable farm along the way. We also call in on a hop production enterprise and of course, a Pilsen brewery where we inspect the hops and barley being put to good use.
The Pilsen Region is the second least densely populated in the country. The north of the region is highly industrialised but in the south-west, where we will travel through, farming dominates the landscape. The climate of the region is influenced by the western and south-western winds from the Atlantic Ocean. Average annual rainfall is around 660 mm (26 inches) spread reasonably evenly throughout the year.
We cross into south-eastern Germany this morning and Bavaria – the largest federal state of Germany. Bavaria extends from the North German Plain to the Alps in the south. Much of southern Bavaria where we are travelling has more in common culturally with neighbouring Austria and Switzerland than with the rest of Germany.
This includes lederhosen (leather trousers), sausages and lots of beer.
We travel to the village of Schwandorf and a visit to the family-owned and state of the art agricultural machinery manufacturer – Horsch. We will meet designers and engineers and see the latest in farm equipment from this innovative company owned by a farming family.
We also visit Bintec – an innovative company specialising in grain storage and handling – before calling in to a nearby arable farm.
We then continue on to the beautiful medieval town of Regensburg, located majestically on the Danube River. As one of the few cities in Germany largely undamaged during the Second World War, Regensburg boasts the largest and best preserved medieval city centre (Old Town) in Germany.
We enjoy a guided city tour this evening to learn more about the town’s history and stunning architecture. Dinner and overnight at our historic and beautiful hotel – The Orphee.
We continue south today and enter the awe-inspiring Alps. The Alps are the highest and most extensive mountain range system that lies entirely in Europe. They stretch for 1200 km across eight Alpine countries (France, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany and Slovenia). The Alpine region contains about a hundred peaks higher than 4000 metres (13,000 feet). The altitude and size of the range affects the climate – and farming – across a large area of Europe.
We have a lunchtime arrival into Innsbruck, the ‘Capital of the Alps’. Magnificent and imperial historic buildings in the city centre meet attractive and groundbreaking modern landmarks. Several of Innsbruck’s buildings are world famous, for example the Bergisel Ski Jump, the Golden Roof and the Imperial Palace. We enjoy a guided tour of the main sights and then take a cable car ride from the centre of town to the stunning Nordkette mountain range overlooking Innsbruck.
Our hotel tonight is in the centre of the Old Town with its rich 800 year history.
Time this morning to do your own exploration of Innsbruck’s Old Town before
boarding our coach and continuing further south into the Alps. We cross into northern Italy and onto the rural village of Dobbacio. We are in the stunning Dolomite region. We enjoy lunch and farm visits around Dobbacio before crossing back into Austria and continuing onto the picturesque town of Lienz (East Tyrol) located at the confluence of the rivers Isel and Drava in the Eastern Alps.
Lienz has a strong agricultural base, and being surrounded by the Lienz Dolomites, the region lays claim to some of the more scenic farmlands in Europe. The area has relatively warm (20–25° max) summers and cold winters. Average annual precipitation (including snow) is around 900 mm (36 inches) with the summer period averaging around 100 mm per month rainfall.
Farm, scenic and cultural visits in the Lienz region before a free evening in Lienz.
We board our coach this morning and continue southeast into Slovenia – our
destination is the magnificent Lake Bled.
Slovenia is a hidden gem of Europe, flying under the mass tourism radar. The country is located at the crossroads of main European cultural and trade routesand is bordered by Italy to the west, Austria to the north, Hungary to the northeast, Croatia to the south and southeast, and the Adriatic Sea to the southwest. With this geographic location and mixture of Slavic, Germanic, Roman and Hungarian languages and cultures, Slovenia has a fascinating, complex and turbulent history.
At the end of World War I the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was eventually established and included Slovenes, Croats and Serbs. The main territory of Slovenia was in the north of Yugoslavia and was more industrialised and westernised compared to Croatia and Serbia.
With the advent of World War II, Slovenia was the only present-day European nation that was trisected and completely annexed into both Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy (the Axis forces).
In April 1941 a resistance movement emerged – the Yugoslav Partisans – led by the Communist leader Josip Broz Tito. The partisan resistance mainly took place in northern Slovenia around Lake Bled.
In 1945, Yugoslavia was liberated by the partisan resistance and soon became a socialist federation known as the People’s Federal Republic of Yugoslavia under the leadership of Tito. Slovenia joined the federation and had its own pro-Communist leadership with links to Stalinist Russia.
In 1948 there was a Tito–Stalin split resulting in more economic and personal freedoms in Yugoslavia than in the rest of the Eastern Bloc.
Today we have farm and scenic visits around the Lake Bled region before a free evening.
Some more on the complex history of Yugoslavia and Slovenia ...
After the failure of forced collectivisation that was attempted throughout Yugoslavia from 1949 through 1953, a policy of gradual economic liberalisation – known as workers self-management – was introduced. The architect of this policy was the Slovene Marxist theoretician and Communist leader Edvard Kardelj, the main ideologue of the Titoist path to socialism.
Suspected opponents of this policy both from within and outside the Communist party were persecuted and thousands were sent to the Goli otok – a barren Adriatic island used as a political prison. The prison was in operation between 1949 and 1989 and more than 4000 dissidents perished on the island during that period.
The late 1950s saw the beginnings of more liberal policies with limited border crossing into neighboring Italy and Austria being allowed. Until the 1980s, Slovenia enjoyed relatively broad autonomy within the federation. With further economic decentralisation of Yugoslavia in 1965–66, Slovenia’s domestic product was 2.5 times larger than the average of Yugoslav republics.
After Tito’s death in 1980, the economic and political situation in Yugoslavia became very strained. Demands for democratisation and more Slovenian independence were building and in 1990, the first democratic election in Slovenia took place. In 1991, Slovenia gained independence.
In 2004 Slovenia joined both the European Union and NATO.
We travel eastwards today into the Pannonian Plain – the main grain producing region of Slovenia – for farm visits. Later in the afternoon we continue onto the country’s beautiful capital, Ljubljana, home to around 300,000 Slovenians. The city’s architecture is a mix of styles but Ljubljana’s historic and magnificent centre remains intact.
Although the oldest architecture has been preserved from the Roman period, a Baroque style dominates following Italian (particularly Venetian) models.
This is a city full of charm and surprises and we find out why during our city tour this morning. Free time this afternoon and this evening for your own exploration.
More farm visits and other activities in and around Ljubljana including a visit to the extensive cave complexes to the west of the capital. The caves are also home to the endemic olm – the largest troglodytic amphibian in the world.
We board our coach this morning and travel northwards and into Italy. We continue onto the important agricultural centre of Udine.
We are in the plains of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, between the Adriatic Sea and the Alps. The soils are generally difficult to manage but extensive irrigation and the adoption of modern intensive farming techniques have made this a productive agricultural region.
We enjoy farm visits and scenic stops on our way to Udine.
Today we travel to Venice with a dramatic entrance to this unique city via the Grand Canal. After checking-in to our canal-side hotel, we have a guided tour of Venice and then a free evening to enjoy your own exploration of the streets and sights of the city.
A free morning before we return to our bus (via the Grand Canal again) and travel westwards towards Florence with farm and scenic visits along the way.
Florence was a centre of medieval European trade and finance and one of the wealthiest cities of that era. It is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance.
A turbulent political history includes periods of rule by the powerful Medici family and numerous religious and republican revolutions.
This morning we have a guided city tour including The Duomo, the Ponte Vecchio and Michelangelo’s magnificent statue of David.
Then it’s a free afternoon and evening in this fantastic city.
A local guide joins us today as we travel south and into the heart of the famed Tuscany region. Our guide will introduce us to the local families and stories behind the production of the world famous foods and wines of the region.
Over the next few days visits and sights will include durum farms, pasta manufacturing, a sheep cheese (Pecorino) operation and of course a local vineyard near Montalcino producing the world-acclaimed Brunello wine.
We will also visit San Gimignano, a UNESCO-listed walled medieval hill town notable for its wonderfully preserved architecture as well as saffron production. Also UNESCO-listed is nearby Siena, famous for its cuisine, art, museums and the Palio – a horse race held twice a year around the city ‘square’.
Our accommodation for the next 2 nights is a spectacular Tuscan villa (agriturismo) located around 50 km south of Siena. It is in the heart of a beautiful farming valley (Val d’Orcia) between the towns of Pienza and San Quirico d’Orcia. The villa has been recently restored and dates back to 1700. The villa owners are grain farmers in Val d'Orcia.
More activities in beautiful Tuscany including a visit to the ancient and magnificent St Antimo Abbey which has been inhabited by Benedictine monks since the 9th century. Its origins date back to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne.
Lunch today will be an outdoors “al fresco” affair overlooking the Tuscan hills as we enjoy some locally grown and prepared delicacies. A free evening.
Continue south to Rome with scenic visits along the way.
On arrival in Rome we enjoy a guided city tour of just some of the many highlights. The history of Rome – the Eternal City – spans 28 centuries.
It is impossible to take everything in during a short visit, but we will be expertly introduced to the highlights of one of the world’s most fascinating and influential capitals.
More activities in Rome before a free afternoon. We enjoy our farewell dinner this
Flights home today (arrive back in Australia on Saturday, September 15) or you have the option of continuing with your adventure to other
European or Asian destinations.