This tour will show you – in spectacular fashion – how innovative and hardy farmers are successfully growing crops and livestock in some of the world's most challenging (and stunningly beautiful) regions.
The Netherlands will show off its rich culture and hi-tech farming before we venture into Belgium/northern France and the evocative WWI Battlefields of the Somme. We then fly from Brussels into Bergen – the gateway to the stunning fjords of Norway. The breath-taking landscape and troll roads slowly give way to a very "orderly" Scandinavian farming scene as we explore the regional and highly productive areas of Norway and Denmark.
This tour ends in Copenhagen with the option of continuing on to other European attractions such as the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
Tour leader: Lloyd O’Connell 0428 724 615
The tour departs various Australian capitals for Amsterdam.
There is the option to leave a day or two earlier to break this long journey with a stopover on the way or to arrive in Amsterdam (or somewhere else in Europe) ahead of the main group.
On arrival in Amsterdam, you are met and transferred to our wonderful canal-side boutique hotel. After a well-earned freshen-up and a chance to stretch your legs with a walk around some very nearby sights, we will have a welcome reception to meet up with your fellow travellers.
This morning we are up early to visit the world's biggest flower auction at Aalsmeer, on Amsterdam's outskirts. The auction building is the fourth largest by footprint in the world, covering 518,000 square metres. The auction is a spectacular display of colour and precision logistics as millions of fresh flowers are sent on their way to buyers all over the world.
We will also visit a nearby and intensive horticultural glasshouse operation.
An astounding statistic is that at around US$95 billion per year, The Netherlands is the world's second-largest exporter (in US$ value) of food and agricultural products and services. This lofty ranking is because of the high value of both the production and international marketing of fresh flowers and live plants (supplying nearly half of the global total) and vegetables, particularly tomatoes and chilies. The US tops the list at about US$150 billion while Australia exports around $US40 billion a year worth of farm goods and services.
We will also travel through 'polders' – vast areas of land reclaimed from the North Sea – before returning to Amsterdam via the 32 km long Afsluitdijk – the dyke constructed in 1932 to cut-off the North Sea from the Dutch Southern Sea. Afsluitdijk created the 1100 sq km freshwater Lake IJsselmeer and has proved a great boon for agriculture in the central Netherlands.
This morning we enjoy a privately guided canal tour of Amsterdam, with an early light lunch on board. We disembark 100 metres from our hotel. We then have a free afternoon and evening to do your own exploration of some of the many museums and art galleries etc Amsterdam has to offer.
The Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the house where Jewish diarist Anne Frank hid during WWII are just some of the highlights. While strolling along some of Amsterdam's streets is an attraction in itself. You'll come across shops and homes taking on a decided lean as well as canal-side mansions (our hotel is one) – which remain from the city's 17th-century 'Golden Age'.
We leave Amsterdam this morning and travel southwest through intensive farming and light industrial areas and on to the mouth of the Rhine River at Hoek van Holland. Here we enjoy a magnificent lunch overlooking the mighty river as cargo ships of all sizes come and go. The river mouth is part of the 12,000 hectare Port of Rotterdam – the largest seaport in Europe. Its depth, width, minimal tides and lack of locks ensures the port is accessible 24/7 to all sized vessels.
We then cross the border into Belgium and continue on to the beautifully preserved medieval city of Bruges.
This is a canal-based city and is sometimes referred to as the 'Venice of the North'. For more than 1000 years Bruges has enjoyed significant economic importance, thanks to its port, and was once one of the world's chief commercial cities.
During Hanseatic trading times, its small tidal inlet was crucial to local commerce and was called the "Golden Inlet".
Our hotel tonight is the historic Grand Hotel Casselbergh located right beside the Burg, the prettiest of Bruges’ two main historic squares, containing the fairytale Town Hall and the Basilica of the Holy Blood.
This morning we have time to enjoy a guided walking tour of the famous old market square area of Bruges. We then have free time for your own exploration of this beautiful location. This is also a great shopping opportunity, particularly in the alleyways running off the squares, where you will find small shops selling quality local wares such as embroidered linen.
Lunch at your own arrangement before boarding our coach and continuing south into the farmlands of Western Flanders. We will call into one of New Holland's farm machinery manufacturing plants at Zedelgem – one of the largest employers in West Flanders. Founded in 1906, New Holland made its breakthrough in 1952 with the launch of the first European self-propelled combine. Today, machines developed in Zedelgem harvest more than a quarter of the world’s grain. This is also where some very clever Aussie engineering designed for harvest weed-seed control – The Seed Terminator – is being incorporated into NH harvesters for the European market.
Then it's further south to Ypres (pronounced Ee-Prez). This town occupied a strategic position during WWI because it stood in the path of Germany’s planned sweep across the rest of Belgium and into France from the north. Ypres is also the home of The Menin Gate Memorial. We will arrive in Ypres in time for the Last Post Ceremony.
Every evening since 1928 (except for a period during WWII when Ypres was occupied by Germany), at precisely 8pm, traffic around the imposing arches of the Menin Gate Memorial has been stopped while The Last Post is sounded beneath the gate by the local fire brigade in honour of the memory of British Empire soldiers who fought and died there.
A wreath will be placed at the Menin Gate on behalf of our group.
Free evening in Ypres.
This morning we are joined by a specialist WWI historian who will expertly guide us through some of the major battlefield sites and memorials relevant to our Australian troops. Included will be a visit to Villers-Bretonneux, the town that was liberated by Australian troops on Anzac Day 1918. This is also the location of the Sir John Monash Centre. This wonderful exhibit is a very moving commemoration of the Australian men and women who served on the Western Front.
For group members with ancestors who fought on the Western Front, our historian can customise today's itinerary to include commentary and, if at all possible, a visit to battlefields where your relative/s were involved.
After our full-day tour, we say good-bye to our historian and continue on to Brussels – the capital of Belgium and the administrative centre of the European Union.
We transfer to the airport this morning for our flight to Bergen, on Norway's spectacular west coast. This beautiful port city occupies a sheltered position between a string of islands along the coast and steep sided mountains inland. With its distinctive brightly painted wooden houses and old fishing harbour, it is one of Norway’s most attractive cities.
On arrival we will have a guided city tour of Bergen including the World Heritage listed Bryggen (the wharf area). Bergen grew up around its colourful harbour – it was the hub of commerce, seafaring and craftsmanship. The city was a member of the powerful Hanseatic League which dominated trade across northern Europe for centuries.
This morning we will leave town and travel along a spectacular peninsula to the Oygarden Coastal Museum. Here we learn about the challenging environmental and economic conditions confronting the lives of the local coastal inhabitants dating back to the last Ice Age through to the present day.
We also visit a nearby floating fish farm. Trout and salmon farming are major industries in Norway. Aquaculture in Norway demands millions of tonnes of feedgrain every year – and most of it is imported. We enjoy a guided tour of this modern, full-scale commercial operation before heading back to Bergen for a free afternoon and evening.
We board our coach this morning and head into the magnificent fjordlands of Norway. This region has idyllic fertile river valleys, fringed by towering mountains, with quaint villages many with elaborately carved wooden stave churches.
We travel along spectacular waterways, through magnificent mountain passes and on to our mountain-top hotel at Stalheim.
The beautiful view over the Nærøy Valley, from Stalheim Hotel, has for nearly 200 years been one of the highlights for visitors to Western Norway. Many artists, painters and poets – both famous and not so famous – have found inspiration in this dramatic landscape.
The famed hospitality at Stalheim has its beginning in 1647 when the Danish/Norwegian king decided to open up a mail route between Bergen and Oslo and the Stalheim Farm became one of the many mail farms along the route. These mail farms quite soon became places where travellers would stop for a rest and something to eat. By 1750 there were so many travellers stopping at Stalheim asking for a bed and a meal that the farmer at Stalheim decided to build a separate inn to accommodate and dine the travellers – this inn is now one of attractions of the Stalheim Folk Museum.
The Tønneberg family, today’s hosts at Stalheim Hotel, continue this long tradition of hospitality and the preservation of local history. A wonderful example is the Stalheim Museum of Cultural History which we will visit after lunch. This open-air museum is a result of the remarkable dedication and enthusiasm of the previous owner of Stalheim Hotel, Kaare Tønneberg. It spans a time period from the late middle ages till pre-war Norway and is one of Norway's largest privately owned museums of its kind.
Dinner tonight at our hotel.
This morning we travel to nearby Flam and then onto Laerdal via a road built by the tunnel-loving Norwegians which created a ferry-free connection between Oslo and Bergen. At 24.5 km, the Lærdal tunnel is the world's longest road tunnel and links Aurland and Lærdal.
We continue onto the spectacular farming village of Fjærland which happens to be also home to the Norwegian Glacier Museum. This excellent interactive museum describes how flowing ice has sculpted the local landscape, the fjords and the mountains. There is also a multi-screen presentation about the nearby Jostedalsbreen glacier, the largest on the European mainland.
We enjoy lunch overlooking Boyabreen Glacier, part of the Jostedalsbreen ice-cap. And while in this beautiful region we will also visit the Mundal Farm where hay production and dairying is the order of the day.
We continue our northerly path onto the village of Skei for overnight.
The Skei district is the transition area between the great fjords and high mountains creating the barrier to eastern Norway. The region has deep valleys, towering mountain passes and includes the northern part of the Jostedalsbreen glacier. This morning we continue on through more unrelentingly beautiful and dramatic scenery to the village of Hellesylt where we (and our bus) board the ferry for Geiranger.
But this is no ordinary ferry. This is a magnificent cruise along Geirangerfjord – a jewel among the world’s fjords – as it cuts its way inland between snow-clad peaks, precipitous rock walls and cascading waterfalls before arriving at the village of Geiranger.
We board our coach again to ascend the range overlooking the village with unforgettable views back to Geiranger at the head of the fjord.
We continue on through the Valley of Gudbrandsdalen – a part of the Old King’s Road to Trondheim. The valley is encircled by mountains up to 1800 metres high and contains many small mountain farms with sheep and other livestock.
Tonight's destination is Lom and the family-run Foshheim hotel. We enjoy dinner at the hotel.
Like much of the fjordlands, this is a region punctuated by idyllic river valleys, fringed by towering mountains and quaint villages – many with elaborately carved wooden stave churches. The village of Lom is no exception with one of the best preserved stave churches in Norway.
We travel south to Lillehammer, the site of the 1994 Winter Olympics.
Lillehammer also has a world-class open air museum (Maihaugen) where we will enjoy a glimpse into the rural and agricultural history of Norway. The many sunburned buildings were the homes of farmers, craftsmen and local officials. Their histories are preserved in the large and small farms, the vicarage and crofts. The founder of Maihaugen was of the opinion that it was important that the culture of the old villages was preserved for future generations.
Lunch is at your leisure while at Maihaugen.
We then continue south towards Hamar on the shores of Norway's largest lake, Mjosa. We enjoy an arable farm visit just to the north of Hamar before continuing on to Oslo, the beautiful capital of Norway.
Dinner is at a quaint restaurant popular with the locals and a 5 minute stroll from our hotel.
There is plenty to see and do in Oslo including the world-famous Viking Ships, the Polar exploration ship Fram (the ‘strongest ship in the world’) and the Holmenkollen Ski Jump with a panoramic view over the city and fjord.
A must-see for all visitors to Oslo is the magnificent Frogner Park where the world-famous Vigelandsparken is located. The park contains amazing fountains and sculptures created by Gustav Vigeland who worked on the sculpture park from 1924 until his death in 1943.
Then it's a free evening in Oslo.
We board our coach again this morning and travel south along the Oslo Fjord – and yet more spectacular waterways – and onto Risor. This relaxed town is one of the best-preserved 'white-towns' in Europe. Wooden houses are painted white and decorate parts of the southern Norway coastline like "pearls on a string" as the locals say. Risor is also known for its many art galleries and actively working artists. After lunch there will be some free time in Risor before continuing along the archipelago to Lillesand.
A stroll through Lillesand is a rare experience, with historic, white-painted houses, blooming gardens and charming alleys.
We overnight in the Lillesand/Kristiansand area.
This morning we board our 9am ferry bound for Denmark's Yutland Peninsula. This is a 2.5 hour crossing of the Skagerrak, the strait connecting the North and Baltic Seas and one of the busiest shipping routes in the world. We disembark at Hirtshals, on the northern tip of Yutland and some of Denmark’s best farming country.
About half an hour down the road, we visit the farm of Borglum Kloster. Privately owned by the Rottboell family, this 436 hectare farming operation happens to have an 800+ year-old, 85 room abbey as its ‘homestead’. Crops grown include wheat, barley, oats, canola and grass seed. Old Danish species of Emmer wheat and spelt are also grown.
After meeting with Hans Rottboell for a farm tour and lunch at Borglum Kloster, we continue further south into the Yutland and onto Kolding.
Today we have a chance to take in the beautiful and historic town of Kolding and its surrounds.
This morning we head to the east through picturesque scenery and villages, and cross onto the island of Funen. In southern Funen we enjoy a tour of a restored Egeskov flour mill before visiting the nearby 450 years old Egeskov Castle and Farming Estate. Egeskov is famous for being the best preserved moat castle in Europe.
For the past 135 years the Estate has been a model of agricultural innovation including the building of its own power station and railway track to nearby Kværndrup to deliver its produce.
Innovations such as these have formed the economic basis for the large, modern farm that Egeskov is to this day.
The castle grounds include a veteran car museum, as well as historic motor bike, aircraft and farm machinery exhibits.
We have a farm visit this afternoon before continuing on to the Naestved-Koje area for overnight.
We visit two farming estates in the Koge region this morning. These operations are excellent examples of the best of Danish innovation and farming techniques.
We then travel north and onto Roskilde, to visit the famous Roskilde Cathedral, before continuing on to Copenhagen, the fabulous capital of Denmark.
Copenhagen regularly tops world ‘liveability’ lists. This is a vibrant, modern city which has a fascinating past co-existing with the very latest trends in architecture, design and fashion. And it’s one of the globe’s greenest, cleanest and most sustainable urban centres with a beautiful and squeaky clean harbour. Urban planners over the centuries have maintained a compact and accessible design making it an easy place to explore.
Before checking in to our hotel we enjoy a city tour including the Queen’s Palace of Christiansborg (I wonder if 'our Mary' is home?), the Amelienborg Palace and of course, the famous Little Mermaid sculpture.
This morning we get acquainted with the city from the water. We will glide along picturesque canals and harbour waters soaking up wonderful views of many of Copenhagen's attractions. We will also meander through water-side neighborhoods with their colourful townhouses, cobbled lanes and houseboats.
It's then a free afternoon before a farewell dinner this evening.
Transfer to the airport for flights home today or you might choose to stay on in Denmark or somewhere else in Europe.
For those interested in travelling onto Scotland, we are holding some Edinburgh Military Tattoo tickets for the August 21 evening performance. Contact Greenmount Travel for further infomation.