I have found that one of the best ways to experience multiple destinations is through a guided coach tour and this month Flight Centre has an incredible range of tours to choose from.
Not only do you get to discover the best your destination has to offer, you get to do in is luxury and comfort. Two years ago I had the privilege of travelling Italy, Switzerland and France with Trafalgar.
It was November 2009 and of course my suitcase was packed with winter woollies, thermal vests and long johns allowing me to experience the first snows of winter in these three countries. We South Africans really don’t have any concept of how cold it can get in Europe and this trip was an eye opener.
Our journey started in the fashion capital of Italy, Milan. A spectacular tour of the Duomo gave me new appreciation for the wondrous architecture across Europe. This gothic-style cathedral is incredible. It took nearly six centuries to complete and is by all standards enormous (in fact it is the fourth largest cathedral in the world). From the generous entrance hall to the cavernous nave this cathedral measures 157 metres from beginning to end.
From the fresh and nippy streets of Milan we departed for Lake Como with me desperately trying to spot George Clooney (he has a property on the lake). The comfortable bus was an excellent buffer against the winds loaded with icy, snow-tinged air.
For those who’ve never been to Switzerland, it really is chocolate box pretty. The grass is perfectly manicured, the houses look immaculate and even the cows grazing in the meadow look lovingly groomed. It is picture perfect. The next stop was a trip up Mount Pilatus, near Lucerne.
Standing at a height of 2128 metres this mighty mountain is home to the world’s steepest cog-wheel railway or funicular. At its steepest the gradient is 48% and you can certainly feel it as the little train clicks and clatters its way to the top of Mount Pilatus. At the top the temperature is a rather bracing minus one degree Celsius. I’m happy to have multiple layers, a beanie and gloves on.
After the stop at Mount Pilatus it is onwards to Lucerne.
Lucerne has some of the best preserved bridges dating from the Middle Ages complete with original restored paintings depicting the scourge of the Black Death.
Visitors to this gorgeous little town can also view the poignant memorial to the members of the Swiss Guard who died trying to protect Marie Antoinette and her family. The Lion of Lucerne was sculpted by Danish artist, Bertel Thorvaldsen, in the early 1800’s. Carved into the sandstone cliff near the city centre the Lion of Lucerne is unforgettable. Mark Twain called it “the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world”.
One of the great things about touring with Trafalagar was the fact that they built in a good measure of free time into their itinerary. This allowed me to take a day trip to the fairytale village of Engelberg.
Using the incredibly efficient Swiss railway system was marvellous. My train arrived on time, virtually to the second, and was very clean and neat inside. The trip to Engelberg took me through some of the most gorgeous scenery in Switzerland. Snow-capped mountains gave way to sweeping valleys of fallen trees and babbling brooks (yes, brooks really do babble in Switzerland).
End of part 1.