For the third year in a row, we're running a tour to our favorite location in the world for the Christmas season... Since a lot of our followers love to know where we're going - and prospective clients want to see how we execute a trip, here's a simple little tour summary.
The premise was simple enough: a two-and-a-half week tour through some of the best places for Christmas, with stops in Vienna, Budapest, and Prague to finish it off.
This is our result:
Day One: December 23rd.
Arrive into Munich airport. Pick up rental car and head to the charming Baroque city of Passau. Home to the biggest cathedral organ in the world (over 17,000 pipes), we'll be nestled in a hotel right at the tip of the town where three rivers converge. It's a short walk to the cathedral and one of Bavaria's best little Christmas markets, full of hand-made crafts and ornaments, wool caps and slippers, candies, cheese, hot sausages, and of course, glühwein - the famous spiked, hot wine drink.
The market closes this day, as Bavaria grinds to a halt for three days over Christmas, and we'll soak up as much as we can, including an evening choir concert to close out the Christmas market for the season.
Day Two: December 24th.
A proper sleep-in day after a long day of travel over the previous two. With the clients tucked away in river-view suites at our castle hotel, they will be able to enjoy another request of theirs for this itinerary... lots of down-time to relax and recover from a long year of work. Local restaurants and coffee shops will be open, but in true German tradition, Christmas Eve is for families and friends to get together. The bars will remain open, and we have a few cultural options to consider: a giant "Silent Night" ceremony at the chapel where the world's favorite Christmas song was first performed and/or a midnight mass at the beautiful St. Stephen's cathedral.
All is calm, indeed.
Day Three: December 25th.
With the city still quiet and families gathered together to share traditional Christmas meals, we'll point our car south and head into the Winter Wonderland of Berchtesgaden, Germany. We chose an opulent mountain-side hotel in a town steeped in history. All rooms have giant glass windows facing out towards the ring of snow-capped peaks in the home of Germany's only Alpine National Park. The hotel has one of the best spas in the country, and they'll have a heated indoor pool, a terrace jacuzzi, and three great restaurants to choose from - including one that serves very traditional Bavarian cuisine and another that serves first class French cuisine.
This area is just magnificent... There isn't a more perfect place for a White Christmas. And we know the town down below... its restaurants, the chefs, and many a wonderful local to make our group feel right at home. One of our clients has a huge sweet tooth, and there is a cafe that serves no less than twelve of the most fabulous cakes we've ever eaten...
Days Four and Five: December 26th and 27th.
Two more days of complete relaxation. Nothing on the itinerary, but multiple options for day trips to nearby places of beauty. With a self-contained hotel with all of the amenities and comforts our clients need, this certainly will fulfill their request to slow everything to a crawl and enjoy some serenity and cozy comfort.
The Salzburg Christmas market will be open on the 25th and 26th, so that will be one nearby option available as well.
Day Six: December 28th
We'll check out and drive over to Salzburg, Austria - only 20 minutes away. Home to Mozart and full of churches, beautiful old baroque buildings and one of the most enjoyable walking/shopping areas in Europe, we've chosen the premier hotel available, right on the Getreidegasse - the pedestrian-only shopping street. There are carriage rides that tour the old part of town, one insane automobile/airplane museum in a high tech hangar-turned lounge and restaurant - courtesy of the owner of Red Bull, and our plan is to take one of the best strolls on planet earth... traversing the rock formation that dominates the old town, walking on a path between snow-covered evergreens with stunning views in all directions - and ending up at our favorite beer hall in Europe: the Augustiner.
Day Seven: December 29th.
A second day in Salzburg... It's always the best policy to stay at least two days in any location. Less packing and unpacking, more time to really soak it up, and a chance to go see whatever got missed the day before.
And we'll have one final, fitting option for our Winter Wonderland experience before we head into three major capital cities and the hustle and bustle of New Year's... This.
Days Eight, Nine, and Ten: December 30th - January 1st.
Vienna! For the third year in a row, we'll be spending New Year's in arguably the culturally richest city in all of Europe. With a palace flanked by a national theater and the national opera house, a symphony widely considered the best in the world, and holding the unique and diverse position of truly being the bridge between Eastern and Western Europe, this will be one incredible experience. It also happens to love any chance to celebrate and party, and Christmas is no exception. It's market stays open through New Year's!
From Wiener Schnitzel at the home of Vienna's most famous maker of it, to the lovely culinary treat of the Naschmarkt - the eating market, as well as palaces, churches, and Christmas markets - which remain open through New Year's - dotted around the city's many squares, our mood will go from calm to a roaring delight of color, sights, and sounds. The hotel we've chosen is a block away from the main square, for the ultimate in accessibility, convenience, and quality. We'll arrive into Vienna from our train out of Salzburg, and we'll check into our hotel before heading over for the perfect welcome meal: Wiener Schnitzel - Viennese cutlets.
For New Year's Eve, we've got reservations for our clients at one of Vienna's best restaurants, and we'll spend the final hours of 2015 celebrating in the main square of St. Stephen's Cathedral with the sounds of American big band hits and a final hour of classical treats with an ensemble from the Vienna Philharmonic and four world class opera singers.
At midnight, we'll frolick with everyone in the great Austrian tradition of dancing to the Blue Danube Waltz...
You just can't get any more authentic than that.
New Year's day, we aren't moving anywhere. No proper tour planner would ever visit such a travesty on a group of people. Sleep-in, hang-over, hang-out, have fun... It's 2016!
Days Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen: January 2nd - 4th.
We'll board up and head to what was once the shared capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire... Budapest.
Our client requested this stop, and it's going to be a first for GBC Tours as well... but we have several great options and insider experience to draw from, including a walking tour with a classmate of our CEO - who is now a journalist in Budapest. It will be right on the heels of New Year's, so it should prove to be a perfect time to become acquainted with a gem of a city without much interference and interruptions. The hotel we chose for them is stunning... as one of the many benefits of Eastern Europe is a much cheaper price tag for so many incredible experiences and comforts.
We'll take in much of Budapest's incredible architecture with a private tour of some of its gems, and we'll certainly delve into much of the rich culture of that city in a manner that is decidely less touristy and much more authentic.
Days Fourteen through Seventeen: January 5th - 8th.
The grand finale... Prague. Hopping a train from Budapest, we'll head back up through Vienna and then on to the capital city of the Czech Republic for more of the beauty, depth, and soul of another European city that stands out from the rest.
From Romanesque chapels and cellars to Gothic cathedrals, Baroque palaces and gardens to Art Nouveau buildings, our clients will have four final days to take in the diverse and stunning architecture and sublime ambiance of a masterpiece of human habitation. Spared from the bombings of WWII - and the assault of hyper-Western capitalism and modernization after the war was over, Prague retains its identity and character in a most palpable way.
We spend a LOT of time here... and we can't wait to show this place off. From puppet stores where artists hand-carve and paint works of art, to an absinthe shop, cellar bars and restaurants, and a bar that feels like a beautiful cocktail made with parts Storyville, New Orleans and Paris hipness, this will be a grand finale...
Best of all? It will be ours more than almost any other time of the year. No Christmas crowds, no New Year's buzz, and no summer throngs of camera-wielding Chinese and loud-mouthed American sorority girls... Timing is a beautiful thing.
Day Eighteen: January 9th.
We send our merry travelers to the airport for their flight home...
We can't wait to head out!