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Day by Day Itinerary

Tucked in the valleys of the Alps lie some of Europe’s most charming villages, which you can discover on our comprehensive Alpine Europe tour. Each has a style all its own—you can unwind in graceful Stresa, Italy’s garden-filled resort on the shores of Lake Maggiore. Relax in Interlaken, a Swiss vacation spot set amid two picturesque lakes and surrounded by stunning Alpine peaks. Enjoy the Mittel-European charm of Seefeld, in Austrian Tyrol. As you journey across international and cultural borders, our exclusive Discovery Series events will enhance your explorations, with discussions about food, heritage, and history.

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    Depart today on your flight to Italy.

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    Arrival times vary throughout the day, depending on your city of departure. You'll be met at the Milan airport and driven to your hotel in Stresa to begin your Alpine vacation. Take an orientation walk of your neighborhood, and this evening, join your Program Director and fellow travelers, including those who took our Lake Como & Milan, Italy pre-trip extension, for a Welcome Drink and introduction before a dinner at your hotel.

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    After breakfast and an orientation briefing at your hotel, you'll have the opportunity to sign up for optional tours that interest you.

    Then set off on a walking tour of scenic Stresa, your home base for the next three nights. This township of roughly 5,000 residents is one of Italy's jewels, sitting on the shores of sparkling Lake Maggiore. A fishing village since the 15th century, Stresa has always been a beloved resort town for the region's well-to-do.

    During your walk, you'll learn about the Taste of Italy during an exclusive Discovery Series event. Some of the world's most beloved cuisines comes from Italy, from wines to olive oils, breads and pastas. The rest of the day is yours at leisure before you gather this evening for a Welcome Dinner in a local restaurant.

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    After breakfast, depart for a private boat cruise to explore the Borromean Islands. Your first destination is Isola Bella, where you'll spend the morning discovering the fairy-talelike Palazzo Borromeo, renowned since construction began in the 1600s for its Neoclassical ballroom, gardens, and artificial grottoes, with both an included tour and time to stroll the grounds your own.

    Your next stop is Isola Pescatori, a charming fishing village where you'll enjoy a light lunch at a local restaurant as well as a discovery walk with your Program Director before cruising to Isola Madre. The largest of the islands, Isola Madre features a magnificent, English-style botanical garden.

    Return to Stresa this afternoon for dinner and the evening on your own.

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    Spend today at leisure, or join an optional tour to discover the Treasures of Lake Orta.

    Take in this picturesque sub-Alpine lake during a panoramic drive. In Orta, the lake's namesake village, you'll find a hidden gem that many visitors have yet to discover. Visit the Sacro Monte, one of nine northern Italian churches intended as pilgrimage sites, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Your optional tour also includes a private boat ride to San Giulio Island, and a discovery walk there before gathering for a light lunch at a local restaurant. You'll return to Stresa in the late afternoon, and have the balance of the day to spend as you choose. Dinner is on your own tonight.

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    This morning, you'll say goodbye to Stresa—and Italy—as you depart for Interlaken, Switzerland. You'll stop at the Simplon Mountain Pass for a chance to take photographs—one of the most famous mountain routes in the world, this pass offers commanding views of the snow-capped Swiss Alps and the many villages that dot the valleys below.

    Then, board a train for a short ride to Zermatt, a high-altitude (about 5,300 feet) town perched on the Alpine mountainside. A beloved ski resort town, Zermatt has been attracting outdoorsy travelers and athletes since British mountaineers hiked here in the 19th century. Its name derived from the same root as the nearby Matterhorn—Matten being German for “meadows,” of which Zermatt has optimal views.

    Explore Zermatt on a walk with your Program Director before lunch on your own. In the early afternoon, you'll continue on your scenic journey to Interlaken.

    Arrive in the early evening, with dinner tonight at your hotel.

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    After breakfast, learn about modern life in Switzerland Today during an exclusive Discovery Series discussion.

    You'll then embark on a walking tour of Interlaken, an idyllic Swiss Alpine town, with your Program Director. You'll explore the Flower Clock, a flat garden shaped into the figure of an iconic Swiss clock, as well as the local promenade and 35-acre park.

    This afternoon, visit Lake Brienz for an exclusive Discovery Series tour of a local woodcarving workshop. Woodcarving is one of Switzerland's heritage crafts, and this region is the heart of production for these works of art. Learn how woodcarving (and in particular, the local specialty of chip carving) became emblematic of Swiss craftwork, and meet the artisans still producing such pieces today.

    Tonight, visit a local Swiss family for a Home-Hosted Dinner. Always a memorable experience, these evenings provide you with an opportunity to visit a typical home and sample home-cooked food of the region. Your Swiss hosts will be delighted to tell you about their culture, and introduce you to family traditions and foods.

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    This morning you will discover Swiss bucolic life. A local family will welcome you to their farm in the Brienzerland countryside, one of the most traditional areas in central Switzerland. In the surrounding pastures, where cow graze in the high green meadows, you will get an insight of the everyday life of a real Swiss farmer. Your hosts will also offer you a taste of local cheese.

    After lunch on your own, the remainder of the day is yours to discover more of Interlaken. Located on the Bodeli, a strip of land on the Aar River connecting Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, Interlaken has an abundance of green mountain views and, at an altitude of approximately 1,800 feet, a crisp Alpine climate. Take in the stunning scenes that abound, sample regional specialties, spot Alpine creatures like the marmot or ibex, or perhaps venture up to Harder Kulm for a dramatic summit panorama.

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    Take today at your leisure to explore more of Interlaken, or join our optional Bernese Oberland tour. 

    The Bernese Oberland encompasses the German-speaking highlands of the region of Bern. Tour the Trummelbach Falls, unique glacial waterfalls that are accessible underground. You'll also see the Lauterbrunnen Valley, or “The Land of 72 Waterfalls” (the name literally translates to “many fountains”), and hear the thunder of all the waterways that crash down in this scenic valley. Take a ride on the Jungfraubahn, a train that runs to the highest rail station in Europe. Disembark at Kleine Sheidegg to witness views of the surrounding area from nearly 7,000 feet, and enjoy lunch in a local restaurant before descending the mountain to return to Interlaken.

    Tonight, dinner is on your own.

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    Today, transfer to Seefeld, Austria—stopping on the way in the tiny landlocked nation of Liechtenstein. At a mere 62 square miles, Liechtenstein is sixth-smallest microstate in the world with a population of more than 37,000. Stop in its capital, Vaduz, which was founded circa 1322 and is home to Liechtenstein's Parliament, as well as the seat of the Roman Catholic Archbishop. A compact city with much political history, Vaduz makes for a pleasant discovery walk with your Program Director. Then, enjoy an exclusive Discovery Series visit a local distillery in Triesen, just south of the capital, where you'll enjoy a guided tour and light lunch, as well as the opportunity to sample local spirits during a tasting.

    Complete your journey with an overland crossing into Austria, arriving at your hotel in Seefeld in the early evening. Tonight, enjoy an included dinner at your hotel.

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    Set off on a walking tour of Seefeld after breakfast. A Tyrolean town founded as a farming settlement in 1022, Seefeld offers Old-World Germanic charm and a landscape of snowy mountains, wooden church spires, and the Karwendel Nature Reserve. Lunch is on your own, but with many cozy taverns you won't have any difficulty finding somewhere to sit and perhaps taste the regional specialty of speck, a delicately flavored fatty ham.

    If you are looking to learn more about the landscape you've just entered, consider joining our Austrian Afternoon tour.

    On this optional tour, you'll take a ride on an open-air narrow-gauge cog train built in 1888. This nostalgic train will deliver you to the shore of Achensee Lake, the largest lake in Tyrol and one which is noted for its incredibly clean and deep blue water. You will take a ferry to Scholastica, on the lake's northern shore. After a short walk along the lake, you'll enjoy a traditional Tyrolean dinner featuring local flavors.

    Return to Seefeld this evening. Dinner is on your own for those travelers not participating in the optional tour.

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    This morning, take a train to Innsbruck, the capital of Tyrol. This city offers a truly spectacular look into European history, having been continuously inhabited since the Stone Age. The massive, white Rennaissance Ambras Castle overlooks the city from its hillside perch, and the Baroque Innsbruck Cathedral looms imposingly over the central Domplatz (Cathedral Square). Spend the morning exploring these sites and more on a walking tour with your local guide before lunch at a local restaurant.

    After lunch, learn more about the many important roles women play in times of war during an exclusive Discovery Series discussion on the Women of World War II. You'll then enjoy time for independent exploration in this fascinating city before returning to Seefeld. Dinner is on your own tonight.

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    Today is yours to enjoy as you wish. Or, join an optional tour to learn more about Bavaria, a German state in the southeast of the country.

    This fascinating region has a proud cultural identity, separate from that of the rest of Germany, and some of Germany's finest architectural wonders trace their identity to Bavarian builders. Visit the town of Oberammergau, where you'll tour the theater where the Passion Play is performed—the story of the life of Christ, performed every ten years since the people of the town were spared from the bubonic plague. This play takes seven hours to perform and involves more than 2,000 people, making it a significant artistic and spiritual undertaking for all involved. After lunch on your own and free time, head to Linderhof Palace, the former home of King Ludwig II that was inspired by the construction of France's Versailles. The rococo decorations of this impressive palace are offset by a precisely designed garden outdoors, and both the interior and exterior are rich with symbolism that your local guide will point out.

    Dinner is on your own tonight in Seefeld.

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    Enjoy a leisurely morning with breakfast at your hotel. Perhaps you'll take this time to explore one of the many scenic pathways that have made this town such a popular destination (it even hosted the Nordic events for multiple Winter Olympics).

    Lunch will be on your own, before a mid-afternoon departure for Mittenwald. This Bavarian town has long been a vital transportation hub for the region, lying as it does on a low route through the Alps. But the town has also made significant contributions to the arts, as it is a major producer of fine violins, violas, and other string instruments. The Geigenbaumuseum (Violin Museum) of Mittenwald is home to a permanent exhibition of locally made classical stringed instruments, which have been produced in the town for more than 300 years. You'll learn about luthiers, or stringed instrument-makers, and have the chance to ask questions about the cultural legacy of this work in the region.

    This evening, you'll feast at a memorable Farewell Dinner with your fellow travelers, complete with traditional Tyrolean-style music.

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    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    After breakfast, depart for Munich Germany—arriving in time to enjoy an included lunch at a local restaurant, followed by a discovery walk of the city with your Program Director. This evening, reminisce about your Alpine memories with your fellow travelers during dinner at your hotel.

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    • Meals included:

    This morning, transfer to the airport for your flight home. Early departures will be given a box breakfast to take along. Or, extend your European vacation with our optional post-trip extension to Munich, Germany & Salzburg, Austria.

Extensions

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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.

Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

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What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect

Pacing

  • 4 locations in 15 days, including 1 single-night stay

Physical Requirements

  • Walk 3 miles unassisted and participate in 3-5 hours of physical activities daily, including stairs
  • Not accessible for travelers using wheelchairs or scooters
  • Travelers using walkers, crutches, or other mobility aids must travel with a companion to assist them
  • Program Directors reserve the right to modify participation or send travelers home if their limitations impact the group’s experience

Terrain & Transportation

  • Several days at altitudes between 3,000-6,000 feet
  • Uneven walking surfaces, including unpaved paths, hills, stairs, and cobblestones
  • Travel by 51-seat motorcoach, public trains, and 50- to 200-seat boats

Climate

  • Daytime temperatures range from 43-82°F during touring season
  • June-August are the warmest months, with high humidity in Lake Maggiore
  • April and October weather can be unpredictable and change quickly
  • Alpine temperatures can drop suddenly with cold wind, rain, or snow year-round

Travel Documents

Passport

Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.

Visas

U.S. citizens do not need a visa for this trip.

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your vacation, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Program Directors and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips

Accommodations

Main Trip

  • La Palma Hotel

    Stresa, Italy | Rating: First Class

    Overlooking Lake Maggiore, this First-Class hotel faces the waterfront and provides a comfortable place to relax during your time here. Enjoy amenities such as a balcony or terrace, air-conditioning, a telephone, safe, and satellite TV in your room, and on-site laundry and room service should you require it.

  • Metropole Hotel

    Interlaken, Switzerland | Rating: First Class

    Located in the heart of city center, Metropole Hotel is a short distance features two restaurants, fitness room, and sauna. Each room includes wireless Internet access, TV, telephone, safe, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Hotel Alte Schmiede

    Seefeld, Austria

    Relax in the cozy atmosphere of this Tyrolean-style hotel. With an on-site restaurant, indoor pool, Jacuzzi, and more, there are plenty of ways to unwind during your leisure time. Your room comes equipped with cable TV, a hair dryer, telephone, safe, and wireless Internet.

    Please note: This hotel does not offer air-conditioning. Select departures feature similar accommodations.

  • Holiday Inn

    Munich, Germany | Rating: First Class

    Conveniently located in the city center with direct access to a train station, Holiday Inn Munich features a restaurant, bar, indoor pool, fitness center with sauna, and complimentary wireless Internet access. Each air-conditioned room includes a satellite TV, telephone, safe, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and a private bath.

    Please note: Select departures feature similar accommodations, which may not offer air-conditioning.

Extensions

  • Regina Olga Hotel

    Italy | Rating: First Class

    Located on the southwestern shore of idyllic Lake Como, the Regina Olga Hotel provides a wonderful haven to relax. Enjoy amenities such as air-conditioning, satellite TV, an in-room refrigerator, and high-speed wireless Internet. The multilingual staff will be happy to make your stay as comfortable as possible.

    Please note: Select departures feature similar accommodations.

  • Holiday Inn

    Munich, Germany | Rating: First Class

    Conveniently located in the city center with direct access to a train station, Holiday Inn Munich features a restaurant, bar, indoor pool, fitness center with sauna, and complimentary wireless Internet access. Each air-conditioned room includes a satellite TV, telephone, safe, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and a private bath.

    Please note: Select departures feature similar accommodations, which may not offer air-conditioning.

  • Sheraton Salzburg Hotel

    Salzburg, Austria | Rating: Superior First Class

    Located near Salzburg's Old City, the Superior First Class Sheraton Salzburg is an elegant place to unwind after a day in town. Enjoy an on-site business center and laundry service, as well as amenities in your room such as air conditioning, mini-bar, telephone, refrigerator, satellite TV, Internet access, and coffee- and tea-making facilities.

    Please note: Select departures feature similar accommodations, which may not offer air-conditioning.

Flight Information

Flight Options to Personalize Your Trip

You can choose to stay longer before or after your trip on your own, or combine two vacations to maximize your value.

  • Extend your vacation and lower your per day cost with our optional pre- and post-trip excursions
  • Choose our standard air routing, or work with us to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline, applying frequent flyer miles if available
  • International airport transfers to and from your ship or hotel, including meet and greet service, are available for purchase
  • Stay overnight in a connecting city before or after your trip
  • Request to arrive a few days early to get a fresh start on your vacation
  • Choose to "break away" before or after your trip, spending additional days or weeks on your own
  • Combine your choice of Grand Circle vacations to maximize your value
  • Upgrade to business or premium class

The air options listed above may involve additional airfare costs based on your specific choices.

Or, when you make your reservation, you can choose our standard air routing, for which approximate travel times are shown below.

What Makes This Trip Unique

Exclusive Discovery Series Event

  • Taste of Italy discussion. Learn about the iconic flavors of Italian wine, olive oil, and more.
  • Switzerland Today discussion. Gain insights into modern life during an in-depth discussion.
  • Woodcarving museum. See how the Swiss Alps' iconic handcrafts are produced, complete with a hands-on demonstration.
  • Home-Hosted Dinner. Savor a meal of local specialties prepared in the chalet of a Swiss family.
  • Liechtenstein distillery visit. Witness the local distillery's production process and sample spirits made on-site.
  • Women of World War II discussion. Learn about the important roles women played in making theirs the "Greatest Generation."

Enjoy the opportunity to visit 3 UNESCO World Heritage Sites

  • One of Italy's nine Sacri Monti churches
  • The Swiss Alps' Jungfrau region
  • Historic Center of Salzburg

The Lowest Price & the Best Value

You can experience {{data.Title}} from only $4565 per couple—that’s only $285 per person, per day!

Free Single Supplements

Reserve a single room on your main trip and extensions and enjoy a value of up to $660 versus other travel companies.

Vacation Ambassador Referral Program

Earn increasing CASH or credit rewards for each new traveler you refer as a Vacation Ambassador. Refer just two travelers to earn $200.

Good Buy Plan

The earlier you reserve and pay in full by check or electronic funds transfer, the more you can save with our exclusive Good Buy Plan.

Frequent Traveler Credits

When you return from a trip, you receive a credit worth 5% of that total trip cost that you can apply to your next trip. On average, that’s $315 in savings. NEW: Sign into My Account to see any personalized credits you may have.

INNER CIRCLE BENEFITS

Our most loyal travelers—members of our Inner Circle—can now save even more:

  • Multiple Trip Credits
    Upon returning from your 2nd to 9th trips, save $250 on your second trip reserved in a calendar year and on any additional trips you take within the year, and upon returning from your 10th trip, your savings will increase to $350.
  • 6% Frequent Traveler Credits
    You’ll begin to earn extra credit after you return from your fifth trip—and on every subsequent vacation.

See How Much You'll Save

Watch these savings add up using the tool below. Simply click the blue box on the scale below to drag to each month to see your potential savings. Remember, the earlier you pay in full prior to your final payment due date, the more you save. NEW: With our new personalized feature, if you sign into My Account providing your user name and password, you can see any existing Frequent Traveler Credits you may have accumulated from a previous trip displayed in the chart below.

Our Travel Counselors will help you find your savings.
Call toll-free at 1-800-221-2610. Or, start building the trip that’s right for you

Dates & Prices

*All figures are examples only. Vacation Ambassador and Frequent Traveler savings shown are based on the average credits earned by Grand Circle travelers. Please note that some benefits cannot be combined. For your specific savings, contact a Travel Counselor. Standard Terms & Conditions apply. Every effort has been made to produce this information accurately. We reserve the right to correct errors.

History, Culture & More

Learn more about the history, art, culture, and more you’ll discover on this trip by reading the features below. These articles were collected from past newsletters, Harriet’s Corner, and special features created for Grand Circle by our team of writers.

Splendor in the Alps

Uncover the lasting legacy of the powerful Habsburg family in Tyrol.

Read More »

Wilkommen!”

Learn about Bavaria’s 200-year beer garden heritage and its unique culture.

Read More »

Alpine cheese

Find out how these sought-after varieties gain their esteemed, distinctive taste.

Read More »

History, Culture & More

The legacy of the Habsburgs in Tyrol

by David Valdes Greenwood

Without this strategic land ... the Habsburgs would never again be so powerful.

For four hundred years, the Habsburgs were the most powerful family in Europe, ruling parts of Austria, Hungary, Spain, and beyond. From the 15th century to the dawn of the 19th, they were the Holy Roman Emperors, and they used marriage, trade, land acquisition, and religious favor to cement their status.  For much of this time, a territory that would prove key to their wealth and power was Tyrol. Flush with silver and copper mines, the land itself was rich, but it was also strategic, in that whoever controlled these mountain passes could control trade and cut off the advancing forces of opponents.

Making over a city

When they first acquired Tyrol, the mighty family was content to manage affairs from afar, dwelling in splendor in Vienna and abroad. But in 1420, the first Habsburg ruler moved to Tyrol. A duke from the family, nicknamed Freddy Empty Pockets, tried to play down the Habsburg wealth and make inroads with the common people—but his son, known as Sigismund the Rich, immediately reversed this impression. Surrounding himself with finery, Sigismund began to remake Innsbruck, the capital of Tyrol, in grand style, commissioning the Gothic Hofburg Palace, with its stunning 100-foot-long “Giant Hall.”

With trade routes all the way to Burgundy on the line, Emperor Maximilian I established even deeper roots in Innsbruck, while embellishing on the glorification that Sigismund began. Maximilian’s biggest showpiece was Goldenes Dachl, or Golden Roof, an extension of the royal family residence. A three-story balcony created for the private viewing habits of Maximilian and his wife, the roof was crowned with 2,738 gilded copper tiles.

In 1563, Archduke Ferdinand II ordered that the site of a medieval fortress be transformed into a Renaissance castle, in honor of the new wife he'd married in secret because she was a commoner. She was so beloved for her charity work with the local people that they referred to her as “Merciful Miss,” but the couple also filled Ambras Castle with treasure, including great artworks of the Renaissance. Sadly, their children had no interest in the castle and, once the parents died, it was never the royal family residence again.

For love or money?

No matter which castle or manor a Habsburg lived in, ruling Tyrol was a lucrative and powerful position. In the 17th century, Archduke Leopold V was supposed to give his life to the church, and was declared Bishop of Passau and Strasbourg (despite not ever actually studying for the priesthood). But what he really wanted was to rule the land, and to make himself a more attractive candidate for the job, he abandoned his clerical duties to marry a Medici, another of the era’s great dynastic families. This did the trick, and Leopold and new bride Claudia became the most powerful couple in Tyrol.

The Dogana, the first hall built specifically for theater in the Germanic world, was the brainchild of Claudia, and it was the epicenter of Habsburg glory for the next century. But the sudden death of the Austrian Emperor Franz Stephan after a stroke in the theatre during a royal wedding changed the tone of everything. His widow had the room in which he died turned into a chapel and home to a small religious order. The Triumphal Gate newly erected to celebrate the wedding was adorned with permanent symbols of loss as well.

When Austria was defeated by Napoleon in 1805, the Habsburgs were powerless to set terms, and Tyrol was awarded to Bavaria. Without this strategic land, or any way to recoup the riches they had poured into it, the Habsburgs would never again be so powerful.

Still shining

Though the Habsburgs are gone, their handiwork remains. The Triumphal Arch still stands, but now cars and buses drive through it. Golden Roof has become a symbol of the city, and the building it adorns is home to the Innsbruck Archive, the Alpine Convention Office, and a museum. Hofburg Palace is considered a national treasure and one of the three most important buildings in Austria.

The Dogana was converted into a riding school, then became a Customs house. In the 20th century, the Dogana was damaged by bombing. In 1966, it was decided to restore the Dogana but incorporate it into a larger, extended campus known as the Congress, making it the nation’s premiere conference space and performing arts complex. As the largest of 20 spaces in the Congress, the Dogana seats 1,300 audience members and remains the oldest theatre of its kind in the entire region.

Today, Ambras Castle is one of the most-visited destinations in all of Austria. The restored fixtures speak to the elegance of the time and the decorations provide a colorful glimpse of a lost era. From 300 portraits of the family members to bespoke suits of armor tailored to fit Ferdinand II, the castle offers the most personal look at those who once ruled Tyrol and called it home.

History, Culture & More

Wilkommen!

Navigating Bavaria’s beer gardens

by Julia Hudson for Insider

There are few pleasures more straightforward than enjoying a cold beer in the company of good friends. Even better, perhaps, is sipping a locally-brewed beer while making new friends—and no one does this better than the people of Bavaria, who take their brewing culture, and Biergartens (beer gardens) seriously.

In 2012, Bavaria celebrated the 200-year anniversary of the first Biergarten, a cultural icon that has become synonymous with relaxation, hearty food, and community the world over. But it all started with a very un-romantic idea: Massive and dangerous fires.

Because beer brewing requires keeping hot (and, in those days, wood-fueled) fires lit to boil the ingredients, the Bavarian Brewing Law (Bayerische Brauordnung) of 1539 was put into effect to limit fires getting out of control. The law mandated that all beer brewing take place during the colder months, between late September and late April, so to keep beer cool during the intervening season, brewers dug large dirt cellars to store their product. As added freshness insurance, they planted chestnut trees above the cellars so that the leaves and roots would provide insulating shade, and began selling beer from the garden to passersby.

The modern beer garden is a local gathering place, unpretentious and social, where locals spend hours relaxing and striking up friendly conversation. There are no small tables, so feel free to sidle on up and introduce yourself to a stranger—it’s common practice, especially as more beers are consumed!

Watch your manners

Before you even arrive at a beer garden, feel free to stock up on snacks (called Brotzeit in German). Many beer gardens allow outside food to be brought in, a holdover from the 19th century, when innkeepers feared competition and lobbied to bar brewers from serving meals. Nowadays, this freedom makes for an enjoyable picnic atmosphere, where families and groups of friends find it easier to gather than at traditional restaurants. You can distinguish tables for food service in many beer gardens because they will have tablecloths—those without tablecloths are for the BYO crowd.

There’s no need to worry about going hungry—you will be able to snag foods like pretzels (Brezen) or sausage (Wurst) at most establishments. Other foods you’re likely to encounter include a grilled mackerel called Steckerlfisch, or a traditional Bavarian veal-and-pork sausage called Weisswurst. Weisswurst is usually made in the morning, and the old saying is that it should never “hear the bells chime.” Eating this sausage for breakfast became the norm, as it would spoil very quickly in the days before refrigeration. It’s also traditional to eat this sausage with your fingers, and only with sweet mustard.

Of course, when you sit down to drink, you will want to toast your companions—the usual saying is a straightforward “Prost!” or “Cheers!” And you’ll definitely want to be sure you clink glasses. The story goes that in medieval Europe, poison was such a worry that an enthusiastic clink was developed; by risking spilling your drinks over into one another’s cups, you ensured that those dining together would not taint each other’s beverages.

Local people in Lederhosen or Dirndls can be a surprising sight to travelers—these outfits have become so synonymous with Bavaria that they may almost appear to be a costume. But many people have continued to wear traditional clothing, especially at casual events, into the modern day. Make sure you don’t stare—going up and asking a local person about their clothing is much more likely to win you a friend.

And don’t even think of trying to save a seat—the welcoming atmosphere of a beer garden makes this possessive gesture a major no!

Drink up

Although the casual atmosphere may remind travelers of a pub, in a Bavarian tavern you’ll enjoy table service, so once you’ve scouted out a seat, you can relax and wait. In a beer garden or brewery (Brauhaus) in the south of Germany, you’ll usually be served lager by the liter (mass), whereas you’ll more often find it by the half-liter in the north.

If that’s too large a quantity for you, be forewarned that Bavarians generally don’t order smaller portions—instead, they’ll mix their beer with a soft drink. For example, a beer with lemonade would make what we know as a shandy; however, to order one in German, you’ll want to ask for a Radler. (Translating to “biker,” a Radler was invented for cyclists who needed a lighter refreshment during their workout—why shouldn’t exercise be made a little more fun?)

The region of Franconia in Bavaria is partial to Czech-influenced pilsners, while wheat beers reign in the south. Whatever you’re served, you’ll usually find that it’s a bit on the lighter side; this is because beer was often intended to be drunk like water when the water supply was questionable. Moreover, it often replaced meals—monks in the region declared in the 14th century that up to five liters of beer was to be considered acceptable during fasting times, to allow people to continue the hard labor of medieval life. To this day, Bavarians drink more beer than almost anyone else worldwide—roughly 150 liters (40 gallons) per person, per year!

A tipsy utopia

Bavarians love their taverns, breweries, and beer gardens because of the relaxed atmosphere they engender. It’s clear that travelers love this culture, too, if the crowds at Munich’s famous Oktoberfest are any indication! A people often characterized by their perceived aloofness and restraint, Germans find release and relaxation in the social merriment of their Brauhauser—and you’re sure to, as well!

History, Culture & More

Alpine Cheese: A Taste of Tradition

by Philip McCluskey from Insider

Alpine cheeses are appreciated by connoisseurs for many reasons, from their unique production process to the high standards of quality they meet. Most of all, though, it is the distinctive taste of these delectable cheeses that makes them among the most sought after in the world.

There are a wealth of popular varieties under the esteemed “Alpine cheese” umbrella, including Emmentaler, Gruyère, and Comté. Though they all are made in the rarefied air of the Alps, differences naturally developed over the years because conditions (and the vegetation they cows fed on) varied from region to region. The result? Each of these cheeses has its own distinctive, complex flavor profile, which may be described as everything from spicy and nutty to floral and buttery. The cheeses evolved over time, and it was Mother Nature who helped create the recipes.

The Alps are justly famous for their idyllic landscapes: The snow-capped peaks, crystalline lakes, and meadows dotted with wildflowers make it a virtual pastoral paradise. Yet one issue perpetually vexed the farmers of these mountains—the bitter cold winter months. The temperatures and conditions made farming and hunting difficult, which meant there wasn’t much fresh food available. So farmers decided to pool their bovine resources (each farmer only had a few cows) and use the herd to create particularly hearty cheeses.

They adapted as conditions evolved throughout the year. As the seasons changed, so did the diet of their cows—they grazed on the lush mountain grasses at higher altitudes in the summer and hay at lower altitudes in the winter (a practice called transhumance). Farmers would even build cheese-making huts at higher elevations so that they didn’t have to transport the milk all the way down the mountain in order to start the process of making cheese.

The end result was a lot of product, and these industrious cheesemakers had to find the best way to transport it down to the markets. They generally produced massive wheels of the cheese, which made them more stable and sturdy as they were brought down from the mountains. And this is still the case today: Wheels of Comté and Gruyère weigh up to 85 pounds, while wheels of Emmentaler can be more than 200 pounds.

Speaking of Emmentaler, people in the United States may know it by another name: Swiss. While it is a Swiss cheese, it is certainly not the only one (Gruyère is another well-known cheese from this central European country). The famous holes in Emmentaler—and, in fact, in many Alpine cheeses—are the result of bacteria called Propionibacterium shermannii. In addition to adding flavor to the cheese, the organisms release carbon dioxide, so as the cheese hardens, the gas bubbles become the holes cheese-lovers are used to seeing.

Comté is another Alpine staple that has been produced in the Jura Massif region of France since Charlemagne ruled the land. The pale-yellow color, small holes, and nutty flavor are distinctive characteristics of this variety. It is still produced as it has been for centuries: using milk from Montbeliarde cattle and maturing in caves for up to two years.

Reblochon cheese has an interesting backstory (and a fruity taste). The name means “to milk a second time,” and refers to the tradition of medieval farmers giving the output of the first milking to the owners (which was often an abbey), and using the second round for their own purposes. This milk was creamier with higher fat content, thus creating a different and—most would say—better type of cheese.

Of course, that is just the beginning. There are many types of Alpine cheeses made in Europe—and no matter which one you sample, you’re sure to be tasting tradition.

NEW Best Price Guarantee

When you and your friends travel on a Grand Circle Land Tour, we guarantee you will always receive the best combination of value and experience, at the best price.

1.Find your departure date

Select your dream Grand Circle vacation—and the departure date that best suits your travel preferences.

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Our NEW Best Price Guarantee means that, if you and your friends can find a lower price on a comparable trip from another tour company, we’ll match it. It’s that simple.

We encourage you and your friends to compare our prices and value to the following companies:

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10 reasons to experience Romantic Villages of Alpine Europe—in the words of our travelers

We often find that the best endorsements of our discovery-rich vacations come directly from our travelers. From storybook landscapes to the friendly welcome of locals, here are some of the memorable experiences travelers have shared from our Alpine Europe tour.

Scenic landscapes
"This trip was a feast for the eyes. Every day we were seeing lovely snowcapped mountains or a beautiful lake with quaint islands or both."
An 11-time traveler from Baton Rouge, LA

Program Director
"Paolo was outstanding! He spoke all the languages, knew the itinerary well, and also the local guides and restaurant owners. He was extremely well organized and sensitive to special needs. We appreciated his friendly, energetic, and humorous demeanor ... Paolo really made the trip. He was so enthusiastic."
A 4-time traveler from North Redington Beach, FL

Lake Como & Milan, Italy pre-trip extension
"We enjoyed the pre-trip in Cernobbio. The quaint village nestled on the shore of Lake Como was the perfect location to recover from our transoceanic flight ... our time in that region was filled with the memories of villas, gardens, and palaces."
A 6-time traveler from Roseville, CA

Home-Hosted Dinner
"The home hosted family was really good as she cooked a full meal for us and we sat on their patio with a couple beers and a beautiful view of Switzerland."
A 9-time traveler from Jacksonville, FL

Mittenwald, Germany
"My most memorable moment was visiting the fairy-tale city of Mittenwald, Germany, nestled in the Bavarian Alps, with its famous Violin Museum. Most of the buildings on the main street were painted with scenes depicting activities and interests of the townspeople."
A 13-time traveler from Loveland, CO

Seefeld, Austria
"The most memorable moment definitely was the day in Seefeld that we took the cable car to the top of the mountain. The views were spectacular! We were very lucky that it was sunny that day and we were able to get some beautiful pictures of the snowcapped mountains!"
A first-time traveler from Sarasota, FL

Woodcarving museum
"We enjoyed our visit to Lake Brienz, which included the opportunity to create our own souvenir at a woodcarving workshop."
An 8-time traveler from South Orleans, MA

Bernese Oberland optional tour
"My most memorable moment was seeing all 10 of the Trummelbach Falls, especially #3, which swirls around inside the mountain."
A 34-time traveler from Waukesha, WI

Stresa, Italy
"I loved Stresa best of all ... the Borromean Islands were magnificent ... I liked Stresa better for its small town charm, restaurants, shops, views, and boat transportation. Just wonderful!"
A 3-time traveler from Charlottesville, VA

Munich, Germany & Salzburg, Austria post-trip extension
"The highlight of Munich (for me) was a concert by the Munich Philharmonic that Dario arranged for us that was excellent! Absolutely loved Salzburg ... Old town was certainly charming; enjoyed touring Hohensalzburg Castle above the city. A great way to end the trip."
A 5-time traveler from Fletcher, NC

For reservations and information about our Alpine Europe tour, call us toll-free at 1-800-221-2610.