Imagine the whirl of emotions—I was thrilled, honored, surprised, and not just a little incredulous—when I received the invitation to be the Global Brand Ambassador for Trafalgar Travel, the long-established international travel leader of guided vacations. Seamlessly run today by the 4th generation of the family who founded it close to 70 years ago, Trafalgar proudly stands by its time-honored goal—“Simply the best”—something I experienced on a first-hand basis while recently traveling with them through Central Europe by motor coach. Leading their guests—predominantly from North America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the UK, and an impressive number who return time and again— on 230 impeccably crafted and hassle-free itineraries in 66 countries on 5 continents, Trafalgar boasts an exceptional 97% customer satisfaction rate. Not surprising: They have long impressed me with their smooth professionalism, unflappable and heartfelt service, and genuine love for exploring the myriad wonders—iconic and little known—this world has to offer.
Trafalgar’s 8 styles of guided vacations include Country Explorer (feel like a connoisseur by exploring just one country), Special Interest (themed trips that help you indulge a special passion), and Family Experiences (for child-friendly fun and adventure). My perfect match was an At Leisure option, where the 10-day itinerary of Prague, Vienna & Budapest started every morning at 9AM, incorporated free time into our schedule— hours, afternoons, and the occasional free day—to roam and wander, and typically entailed spending a minimum of 2–3 nights in one city (a maximum of 6 for some trips). Our group of 32 was frequently broken into smaller groups, facilitating the chance to meet and share stories with local artisans, wine makers, farmers, and chefs. Optional Experiences, available at an extra cost, ran from nighttime river cruises to day trips and special concerts.
The magnificent capital of the Czech Republic has become one of Europe’s most visited cities, but our well-timed entry to special attractions and private rooms in historic restaurants or lively beer gardens never had us feeling the crush. Guided walks led us down quiet, handsomely preserved cobbled streets lined with colorful architecture that ranged from medieval to present day—one of the finest collections in all of Europe, having escaped most of WW II’s fury. From atop the fortress-like Castle District—a town-within-a-town—we could view the Old Town across the Vltava River, connected by the 14th century Charles Bridge, beloved symbol of the Golden City. We walked across the pedestrian span at night when it was alive with musicians, buskers, and fellow visitors, and sailed under it by day on a private boat, giving us an up-front vantage of this awe-inspiring “City of 100 Spires” as it unfolded along the river’s banks.
Vienna was sandwiched in between visits to the capitals of two former Soviet Bloc countries (Prague and Budapest), and Dean, our tireless Travel Director and veritable fountain of information, made sure the scenic 4-hour drive from Prague to Vienna (with a stop for lunch in Bratislava, Slovakia on the way, making this a bucket-list-worthy 3-country day) served as a comfortable classroom on wheels. He offered a crash course on how, when the once powerful Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed in 1918, Austria managed to stay outside of the Soviet grip. Steeped in history, and the home of imperial palaces, Vienna sets the stage for a unique heritage of world-class art and classical music. We saw as much of both as possible: We were thrilled at the private tour of the Kunsthistorisches Museum—the country’s largest—before it opened to the public, and loved the dress-up dinner followed by a concert of Strauss waltzes. After requisite stops at a few atmospheric coffee houses, a de rigueur sampling of the local treat Sacher torte, and a peak at neighborhoods known for cutting-edge fashion and food, we were off to Budapest.
Of the many cities that flourished along the banks of the legendary Danube, Budapest is the most magnificent in my book. That became clear the evening we boarded a private boat for a dinner of Hungarian specialties as we sailed along the river past the grand castle that sits high on the hilly district called Buda and the dazzling Parliament House on the flat, commercial side known as Pest. They were not permanently linked until the late 19th century, when the Chain Bridge was built—one of the many illuminated bridges we sailed under that night, filling our memory cards with photos of this “Paris of the East.” Trafalgar’s signature Be My Guest evening took place outside of Budapest at a popular 4th generation winery, where the Schieszl family regaled us with a tasting of their cellar’s best and a hearty homemade feast and recounted tales of first-hand difficulties and suffering during the country’s recent past. We were welcomed like family, and toasted (many times) to newfound friends and yet another life-lasting memory.
For a limited time only, book a 2017 Trafalgar guided Holiday to Europe and save up to 10% with Early Payment Discount.