Delight in two great European countries, Italy and Germany
Delight in two great European countries, Italy and Germany, on this 16-day tour which blends fantastic rail excursions with relaxing river cruising. Unwind beside the Great Italian lakes of Maggiore and Orta, enjoying included wine tastings and garden tours, before an immersive Rhine cruise through some of Germany's most scenic towns and landscapes.
Meet at our St Pancras Departure Office and board the Eurostar to Paris, continuing to Colmar for the night.
Leaving Colmar, we travel in by rail to the pretty lakeside town of Stresa. We stay here for seven nights at the 4-Star Grand Hotel Bristol.
Today you have the chance to explore Stresa at your own pace. An ideal way to get your bearings is to enjoy a walk along the attractive, flower-filled promenade, lined with impressive villas and neatly terraced gardens. You may wish to take a boat to the colourful botanical gardens of Villa Taranto and the Sanctuary of Santa Caterina del Sasso, nestled in a rocky overhang on the lake. Alternatively, perhaps travel by cable car from Stresa up Mount Mottarone - the journey offers an amazing panorama, and on a clear day, your views from the snow-dusted peak include seven lakes as well as the Italian and Swiss Alps.
Today we discover two of the beautiful Borromean Islands, set in the shimmering waters of Lake Maggiore. We leave Stresa by boat and cruise to the Isola Bella for a guided visit to the sumptuous Borromeo Palace. The magnificent Baroque structure dominates the island, and after a tour of its lavish rooms we explore the alluring Italian-style gardens.
The spectacular gardens are on ten terraces and include an open-air theatre with geometrically designed hedging, water-lilies and citrus trees, the Azalea Garden and the 'Piano della Canfora', which is named for the 150-year-old laurel tree growing there. In the English garden, there are lotus flowers, whilst at the highest point of the garden there is a great unicorn, the symbol of the Borromeo family.
Our next stop is the tiny Isola dei Pescatori, a permanently-inhabited island - by fewer than a hundred people - of narrow cobbled alleyways and pretty buildings. It boasts a fine selection of restaurants in which to enjoy lunch, with many menus loyal to the island's rich fishing heritage. We enjoy an afternoon exploring the charming island before cruising back to Stresa.
You have another opportunity to explore Stresa at your leisure. Today the town is transformed for Market Day, and the bustling, colourful stalls are well worth a visit. Should you wish to venture further afield, why not visit vibrant Milan, the capital of northern Italy? Perhaps visit the incredible Duomo - the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, a 19th century glass-roofed shopping arcade, or Teatro alla Scala, the beautiful opera house.
The stunning 2,800-seat opera theatre welcomed its premier performance in August 1778, with Antonio Salieri's Europa Riconosciuta, having been built to replace another theatre on the site, which was lost to a fire. Designed by Giuseppe Piermarini, the Teatro alla Scala is known for its sumptuous gilt and crimson interiors, as well as a rich history as the home of opera and ballet in Milan. For those feeling less energetic, you can make use of the excellent facilities at the hotel for a thoroughly relaxing day.
Our full-day excursion by coach takes us into the rolling countryside of the Monferrato wine region, famous for its vineyards stretching over hills interspersed with unspoilt villages. Monferrato is particularly important in the sparkling wine industry, and our day begins with a visit to a local wine producer where we have a tour of the vineyards, followed by a tasting of grappa, a regional grape brandy. We continue to an 'agriturismo' farm and enjoy a four-course farmhouse lunch of local specialities and a chance to sample some of the delicious locally produced wine.
Today's full-day excursion takes us on one of Europe's most scenic railways, the narrow-gauge Centovalli Railway, on an excursion to Locarno in Switzerland. The line threads its way across 'a hundred valleys' that give the railway its name, all the while passing through outstanding scenery of idyllic landscapes. We pass over deep ravines and gushing waterfalls, and alongside thick forests and through sleepy villages during the journey.
On arrival in Locarno, you are free to have lunch and explore at your leisure. As well as a picturesque Old Town, Locarno has beautiful subtropical gardens filled with palm trees and exotic flowers, lakeside promenades and great shopping under the arcades of the Piazza Grande. Later we cruise back down Lake Maggiore to Stresa - a splendid way to take in your surroundings on the homeward journey.
After a leisurely morning, we set off for Lake Orta, Lake Maggiore's smaller but no less enchanting neighbour. We enjoy a private boat cruise to the stunning Isola San Giulio, a tiny island dominated by its impressive basilica, before returning to explore the delightful Orta San Giulio, the atmospheric town known as the 'Jewel of the Lake'.
Situated on a tiny promontory against the dramatic backdrop of the Alps, this lovely town is truly a gem, with cobbled streets and a piazza overlooking the lake's sparkling waters. We return in good time for our dinner this evening.
We travel to Basel today, where we are met by a representative from Great Rail Journeys who escorts us to our ship. This evening, we enjoy a welcome cocktail before a delicious Swiss themed dinner.
Our vessel sails into the charming German town of Kehl today. Sat across the Rhine from Kehl is the beautiful city of Strasbourg, whose position on the German-French border has seen it change hands between the two nations frequently throughout history. Because of this, Strasbourg represents the best of both cultures, with colourful half-timbered houses and cobbled streets.
You have two choices here. Your first option is a city tour of Strasbourg, uncovering its charm and history. Your second alternative sees you travel along the Schwarzwaldhochstraße into the famous Black Forest of Germany, passing through stunning fairytale panoramas and enjoying free time in the charming spa town of Baden Baden.
We arrive in Speyer this morning, where there's free time to explore. This town is home to one of the largest privately-owned collections of vehicles in the world, the Technik Museum Speyer. Featuring an entire jumbo jet, army vehicles, emergency vehicles, a submarine and much more, this museum is a treasure trove of vehicular delights and is well worth a visit.
Later in the afternoon, we have an excursion to the delightful university town of Heidelberg where we are treated to a guided tour. Heidelberg is famous for a magnificent ruined castle that stands guard over the riverbanks, proudly looking over the town below.
We sail into the classic German town of Rüdesheim am Rhein, known for its formidable wine production, especially of the dry Riesling variety. Perhaps walk along the river during your free time here this morning, before our ship departs for Koblenz.
This afternoon includes one of the highlights of the tour as we pass through the glorious Rhine Gorge, one of the most beautiful sections of the river and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Sheer banks rise up, towering over the river below, covered in deep forests and miles of green vineyards, lending an almost ethereal feel to the waterway.
Our lunch today sees us tuck into a wonderful themed buffet with a suckling pig as the striking centrepiece, and several smaller dishes from this part of the world. We sail this evening into the enchanting city of Koblenz; you may wish to visit one of the famous wine taverns here.
After an evening in Koblenz, we depart and discover the marvellous Lower Rhine, a stretch of river characterised by lush green meadows and postcard villages.
Our Cruise Director provides us with the history of this area, and highlights points of interest. In the afternoon, we dock in Koenigswinter, where we embark on a journey on the Drachensfelbahn railway. This rack railway rises into the mountains and high into the forests for wonderful views across the Rhine- Westphalia region of Germany.
Arriving in Cologne this morning, we venture forth into this vibrant German city on a walking tour. We see the resplendent cathedral, a centuries-old building which survived 14 aerial hits during World War Two. We also wander through the many bustling squares and labyrinthine streets, seeing Romanesque town-houses.
Tonight is an opportunity to dress up in our finest as we enjoy a gala dinner with the captain.
We arrive in Amsterdam this morning where we have a choice of two excursions, the first is a city tour of Amsterdam. One of the most popular of all the European cities, Amsterdam is as modern as it is historic, as young as it is old. From idyllic canals and large parks to contemporary art galleries and futuristic architecture, this is a city that boasts something for everyone. The second option is an excursion to Hoorn where we board the splendid Medemblik Steam Train and enjoy a nostalgic trip through enchanting Dutch scenery.
After a buffet breakfast, we disembark the ship and here your cruise concludes. Make your way back to the railway station with your Tour Manager to board your train back to London St Pancras.
Provisional departure and return times, where available, can be found together with our dates and prices by clicking on the 'Prices & Availability' button. We write to all booked customers approximately 10 weeks prior to the start of their tour to advise the exact departure and return time for their particular group.
An escorted experience and all travel arrangements
Comfortable accommodation in your destination
Exciting excursions and free time to explore
Delight in two great European countries, Italy and Germany