Posts tagged with "castles"

Vagabond’s Irish Adventure

Hike, Horseback Ride, Pub & Fiddle Crawl Thru Castles, Celtic Ruins, Manors and More On 12-Day Vagabond Giant Irish Adventure :

COUNTY WICKLOW – Glimpsing how people lived in times gone by is part of the fun of exploring Ireland and a painless way to absorb history.

 

On an active 12 Day Vagabond Small Group Tours of Ireland “Giant Irish Adventure” that circumnavigates the island nation out of Dublin, guests poke around impregnable fortresses, ring forts, beehive huts, manor houses and everyone’s favorites – castles. The theme common to these sites is stone – indestructible and a metaphor for the Irish spirit.

 

Nature’s stone edifices also play a role in the Giant Irish Adventure that includes Ireland’s highest mountain range called the Macgillycuddy Reeks or black stacks of glacial-carved sandstone; the Cliffs of Moher of shale and limestone overlooking the Atlantic; and the Giant’s Causeway, a natural sculpture playground of basalt columns created by volcanic activities in the Atlantic Ocean a millennia ago.

 

Per person double rate of €2,769 includes the services of a highly trained professional Vagabond tour guide for 12 full days; 11 nights accommodation (4 nights B&B, 6 nights hotel, 1 night in a castle); 11 full Irish breakfasts; guided walks; entrance to most of the historical and archaeological sites and to some natural sites; demonstrations of local craftsmen at work; and all relevant fees and taxes.

 

This tour answers the needs of active travelers who want time aplenty to explore where they are by foot. Hikes of up to two hours are daily highlights. Some activities such as horseback riding, sea kayaking and surfing are optional, as is biking in Killarney National Park. The tour is flexible and guests can arrange to opt out of one activity and into another.

 

Following are a sampling of the historic stone structures that guests have the option to visit on this tour. Each tells its own story about how people have lived and worked here for the past 2,000 years and longer.

  • Dunluce Castle is a cliff-edge ruin from the 13th century, with views over the Irish Sea to Scotland.
  • Stone Ring Fort (1700 BC) comes with 360˚ views the Celts would have enjoyed.  Bronze Age farmers constructed defenses against cattle thieves, using easily accessible materials, building earthen mounds with timber that fenced in the flat, lush green pastures of the Midlands or by the coast hauling granite to strategic heights to create circular stone forts. These were stone structures of such precision that no mortar was required.
  • Uragh (Neolithic) Stone Circle
  • Dry stone walls coursing across Dingle Peninsula are a fraction of its 6,000-year-old history reverberating with Stone Age standing stones.
  • Glenveigh Castle and Gardens is a Victorian (1867) edifice in now-Glenveagh National Park. The original owner drove poor tenants from the land so he could transform it into an aristocrats’ hunting playground; today an Irish-American philanthropist has gifted it back to the Irish nation.
  • Donegal Castle was built in the 15th century on the site of a one-time Viking fortress.
  • Abbeyglen Castle Hotel where the mountains of Connemara meet the sea was constructed in 1832. Vagabond guests overnight here.
  • Aughnanure Castle is an Irish tower house from 1500 and the lore of the O’Flaherty clan whose motto “Fortune favours the strong” sets the tone for its setting on a rocky island.
  • Dunguaire Castle is 16th century fortress.
  • Listowel Castle is a 15th century fortress.
  • Beehive huts (Clochán) date to 5th century monastic settlements (think Luke Skywalker’s retreat in Star Wars).
  • Blarney Castle dates to medieval times; kissing the Blarney Stone is said to bestow the gift of eloquence.
  • Rock of Cashel or St. Patrick’s Rock from the 12th century boasts a Romanesque chapel harboring ancient frescoes.
  • The tomb on Knocknaree Mountain is thought to be that of Celtic warrior Queen Maeve who in her 60-year rule had five (known) husbands.
  • Kylemore Abbey and its Victorian walled garden date to the 20th century, thanks to the Benedictines.
  • Ancient monastery on Skellig Michael, an island.

 

On the daily walks and hikes intrinsic to this tour, guests will access…

  • Slieve Gullion Mountain, the highest point in Ireland which harbors Neolithic passage tombs
  • Cliffside Trail including 132 steps to Giants Causeway
  • Glenveagh National Park’s low mountain trail leading to Glenveigh Castle
  • Slieve League, the highest sea cliffs in Europe
  • Croagh Patrick, the famous holy mountain where every step taken means a sin forgiven
  • Cliffs of Moher, 700-foot sea cliffs
  • Kilkee Cliff Walk overlooking the Atlantic
  • Glacial valley of Lough Annascaul

 

Throughout the journey, the Vagabond staff will arrange stops at locally owned accommodations, pubs and restaurants that help serve their goal of authenticity. In the end the company’s mission is to have their guests “love Ireland as much as we do.” Transport is in a 4×4 Land Rover or Mercedes ‘Vagatron’ that allows intimate access beyond where regular tour buses go.

 

About Vagabond Small Group Tours of Ireland 
Since 2002, Vagabond Adventure Tours has been creating opportunities for visitors to embrace Ireland by walking, biking, horseback riding and kayaking its lands and waters, imbibing history and culture along the way. In 2013 the company was honored by National Geographic Traveler with a Top 50 Tour of a Lifetime distinction. In 2015 and 2017 Vagabond Small Group Tours of Ireland was named a “Best Adventure Experience” at the Irish Tourism Awards. In 2016, Vagabond became Ireland’s first tour operator to achieve Ecotourism Gold Level Certification and was the recipient of the Irish 2017 Green Awards in the Tourism and Travel category.

For details on all of Vagabond Small-Group Tours of Ireland itineraries, availability and for 2018 reservations, please visit https://vagabondtoursofireland.com/.

 

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Freewheel Holidays

Curious about castles? A UK company specializing in self-guided bicycle vacations throughout Europe offers itineraries from Italy to Denmark that reveal secrets of courtly lives on the other side of the moat.

Freewheel Holidays’ self-guided tours include, among others, inn and/or bed and breakfast accommodations, bike rental, luggage transfers, route maps and notes, services of a tour host including welcome and information talk.

France is first up on Freewheel Holidays’ castle-driven itineraries. Cyclists can tour the Paris royal countryside – think Fontainebleau — on a six-day Paris to Versailles adventure at £909 per person double. Departures are from April through October. One lunch stop is the Castle of Vaux le Vicomte of Blandy, a rare example of medieval architecture. The 17th century Castle de Courances opens onto magnificent grounds including a water park. Étampes (Royal City) dates to the 7th century. Fontainebleau with over 1,500 rooms boasts eight centuries of continuous occupation by sovereigns. In the royal city of Dourdan is the early 13th century Château de Dourdan. The Château de Rambouillet began life as a fortified manor in the 14th century. This trip concludes with a visit to the masterpiece of Louis XIV, Versailles, one of the most beautiful achievements of 18th-century French art. More details here.

Dordogne Villages and Castles is an eight-day program from £749 per person double. Departures are mid March through mid October. Here are Château de Losse and gardens near the Lascaux pre-historic caves. In this archaeologically rich region is the château village of Beynac perched upon a cliff. Château de Caudon dates to Louis XVI. Along the Dordogne River are Château de Monfort and Château de Gourdon. More details here.

A seven-day tour, Loire Valley Castles, is from £599 per person double. Departures are from late April to late September. Steeped in history, Amboise is a market town celebrated for Château de Chenonceau that has spanned the river here since the 16th century. Château du Clos Lucé was home to Leonardo for three years and where some of his remarkable inventions are on display. Along the Loire are, among others, the 17th century Château de Cheverny and Château Royal de Blois in a community dating to the 6th century. Romantic castles surrounded by fields of wheat and poppy include Fougères-sur-Biévre and the Renaissance Château de Beauregard. Chambord is one of the most famous and majestic of the Loire castles. More details here.

The United Kingdom offers this stunner, a six-day Stamford to Lincoln cycling tour that visits Belvoir Castle that has gone through four iterations dating to 12th century Norman ruins; William the Conqueror’s 11th century edifice, Lincoln Castle; and Burghley, one of England’s greatest 16th century houses. The per person double rate is £699. Departures are available mid-April to the end September. More details here.

Two castle tours in Denmark include the eight-day Funen Fairytale Island tour available at £979 per person double from now through end August. Often referred to as the garden of Denmark, it is the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen and home to the 16th century Castle Egeskov, hosting a fine collection of old cars, airplanes and bicycles. More details here.

On the eight-day Copenhagen and Zealand Circuit cyclists explore the castle of Gavnø, dating to the late 12th or early 13th century. Grounds here sport over half a million bulbs, a rose garden and many rare plants and trees. An immersion in Viking lore reveals 10th century Trelleborg, one of seven known ring castles and the best rebuilt castle of the Viking period in Denmark. Cathedral of Roskilde is the place where most of Denmark’s kings and dynasties have their graves. Guests may also visit the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. Per person double rates are from £829. More details here.

In Austria a seven-day Innsbruck to Salzburg tour is from £649 per person double with departures from end April to early October. High atop a hill in Salzburg, the city of Mozart, is Hohensalzburg Castle, a fortress dating to 1077. More details here.

In Italy,Freewheel Holiday’s Milan to Lake Como is a four-day tour from £259 per person double. Departures are early April to end October. The 14th century Castle of Trezzo sull’Adda is on a site occupied once by the Celts and overlooking a landscape that fascinated Leonardo da Vinci. More details here.

To check trip availability, make reservations, or to find out more about Freewheel Holidays’ leisure cycling tours call +44 (0) 161 703 5823, email info@freewheelholidays.com or visit website.

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About Freewheel Holidays

A division of Sports Tours International, Freewheel Holidays specializes in self-guided, expertly supported European cycling holidays that strike the perfect balance between leisure pedaling and immersive sightseeing. The company offers easy cycling programs designed with special appeal to European and North American travelers. Guests cycle on their own, with enroute assistance and distinctive accommodations expertly chosen and secured by the company. A portfolio of over 40 established European holidays offers riders of all levels a freedom of choice. The company features a range of 4, 5, 6, 7 and 9-night itineraries to 12 European countries including the UK, Austria, France, Holland, Czech Republic, Italy, Malta, Switzerland, Spain, Germany, Sweden and Portugal. The majority of tours are self-guided with the exception of a few fully-guided vacation packages in Croatia, France, Italy and Prague to Vienna. The company also offers family-focused, coastal, wine lover, bike and boat, and solo traveler holidays.

St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland

Ireland is the Place to Be for St. Patrick’s Day,

Vagabond Small Group Tours Connects Five Days
Of Celebration in Dublin with a Choice of
Two Multi-Day Adventure Tours

 
Departure dates of two early spring 2018 adventures in Ireland are thoughtfully scheduled immediately after St. Patricks’ Day celebrations in Dublin on March 17.
 





This means that before joining a tour, guests of Vagabond Small Group Tours of Ireland (https://vagabondtoursofireland.com/) can have the best of all worlds Irish. On their own they can partake of St. Patrick’s Day events March 15-19 in Dublin, the gateway city for both of these week-long tours. Then filled with bonhomie and by-now most certainly desperate to find a leprechaun – or at least a luck-filled four-leaf clover – their journey of Ireland’s south and south west begins.
 
Last year just over 100,000 North Americans visited Ireland over the St. Patrick’s Day period. The relatively warm waters of the Gulf Stream, and the prevailing southwesterly winds help make March’s climate moderate and usually pleasant. Here is a link to the official festival website http://www.stpatricksfestival.ie/events. This celebration honors Ireland’s patron saint who brought Christianity to Ireland in the 5th century and whose influence brought about Ireland’s Golden Era.
 
On all Vagabond tours a bounty of live music is a given, but fiddles become even more intense over this holiday that’s celebrated worldwide with the wearin’ o’ the green. 

Also given on these tours are excellent meals in some of Ireland’s best pubs and restaurants and accommodation in carefully vetted guest houses and small hotels that reflect their communities. The two March departures coinciding with St. Patrick’s Day journey roundtrip from Dublin to Ireland’s southwest Wild Atlantic Way, with photo-op stops aplenty and visits to breweries, whisky distilleries, shops and galleries.  

 
But first guests have to decide just how action-packed they want their exploration of Ireland to be. Fit and active travelers will probably opt for an 8 Day Vagabond Wild Irish Rover Tour departing March 18 with Vagabond Adventure Tours. This was recognized as a Top 50 National Geographic Tour of a Lifetime. Physical activities are interwoven with stories of, among many others, 5th century monks who lived in beehive-like huts, and tales of ancient castles and circles of stone (some optional):

  • Walking and hiking through some of Ireland’s best scenery including the Bullig Bay loop by the ancient ruins of Dunboy Castle
  • Horseback riding on the Dingle Peninsula
  • Mountain biking or bike touring in Killarney National Park
  • Sea kayaking with Funghi the Dolphin in Dingle Bay
  • Golfing on The Dingle Golf Links
  • Learn some skills of Gaelic football or hurling, traditional Irish sports
  • Spotting seals in Bantry Bay
  • Sampling at the Dingle Irish Whiskey Distillery, one of a new breed of exciting distillery’s in Ireland
  • Kissing the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle  

The per person double rate is €1,919 (single supplement €315). For details please see https://vagabondtoursofireland.com/tour/ireland-trips-award-winning-8-day/.
 
This company’s complementary division, Driftwood Journeys of Discovery that emphasizes unique scenery, culture and history at a more relaxed pace, has a 7 Day Driftwood Treasure Island departure March 19, 2018, that includes an overnight in Dingle, a town with a population of 2,500 people and 54 pubs, and another overnight in a haunted Irish castle hotel, all on a search for some of Ireland’s great houses and gardens:

  • Muckross House and Gardens, Kerry
  • Bantry House and Gardens, Cork
  • Garinish Island Gardens, Cork
  • Kylemore Abbey and Grounds, Connemara  

The per person double rate is €1,699 (single supplement €300). For details please see https://vagabondtoursofireland.com/tour/7-day-treasure-ireland-tour/
 
Amy Rankin, co-founder and director, says that Vagabond’s March and April tours are 10 percent cheaper than those in summer; airline fares are lower in the spring; and with flocks of sheep galore, the lambing season is a must and guides are energized having just emerged from “hibernation”. For fun watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwBVGm_01f8.
 
“From the addition of unique accommodations to totally brand-new tours, 2018 is shaping up to be our most exciting new year!” she adds.
 
About Vagabond Small Group Tours of Ireland
Since 2002 Vagabond Adventure Tours has been creating opportunities for visitors to embrace Ireland by walking, biking, horseback riding and kayaking its lands and waters, imbibing history and culture along the way. In 2013 the company was honored by National Geographic Traveler with a Top 50 Tour of a Lifetime distinction. In 2015 and 2017 Vagabond Small Group Tours of Ireland was named the “Best Adventure Experience” at the Irish Tourism Awards. And in 2016, Vagabond became Ireland’s first tour operator to achieve Ecotourism Gold Level Certification. 
 
In 2013 the company launched Driftwood Journeys of Discovery that explores in a less strenuous manner many of the same routes of Vagabond Adventure Tours. Itineraries in both divisions focus on high yield, low impact tourism which means that local economies benefit from the company’s and guest contributions to local, rural Irish economies (including accommodations, meals, nightlife, attractions and shopping). For details on all of Vagabond Small-Group Tours of Ireland itineraries, availability and for 2018 reservations, please visit https://vagabondtoursofireland.com/. Call toll free (from the US) 833-230-0288; in Ireland 00353 (0) 1 5634358; or email info@vagabond.ie.

Follow Vagabond Tours of Ireland on Social Media:           

Facebook:     https://www.facebook.com/vagabondireland
Pinterest:       https://www.pinterest.ie/vagabondireland/
Instagram      https://www.instagram.com/vagabondireland/
Twitter:           https://twitter.com/vagabondireland
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Cycling Across Ireland’s West Coast

Journey from Ireland’s Extreme South to Far North on NEW Cycling Adventure

Wilderness Ireland launches 400-mile Wild Atlantic Way trip for 2018

Wilderness Ireland, specialists in crafting outdoor adventure experiences, has launched a new 12-day bike tour covering over 400 miles along the The Wild Atlantic Way, travelling from Ireland’s extreme south to its northernmost point, through three National Parks and eight counties.

The epitome of an adventure challenge, this is the bike tour of a lifetime. Cycling the best of western Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, travelers will traverse wild mountain passes, find secret beaches, admire steep cliffs, and visit quaint villages while taking in the dramatic coastal scenery from one extreme of Ireland’s west coast to another.

This bucket list journey begins at Mizen Head, Ireland’s southernmost point, with a scenic ride past rocky coves and fishing villages following beautiful coastline. Cross the rugged peninsulas and mountain passes of Cork and Kerry and pass through the remote and suitably-named Black Valley (the last place in Ireland to get electricity) before exploring Killarney National Park. On a short break from the bikes, island hop to the famed Aran Islands, a final outpost of the Irish language.

Cyclists continue biking along Connemara’s rocky shoreline, offering some of the most impressive Atlantic panoramas, including the world-famous Sky Road. Visit two of Ireland’s three glacial fjords before covering the quiet back lanes of Yeats Country – Sligo’s stunning, windswept landscapes that have inspired much of the famous poet’s writing. Bike through the Bluestack Mountains of Donegal, exploring its rugged landscapes before ending at Malin Head, Ireland’s northernmost point, a rocky headland that feels so alien, it has been featured in Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi.

While expert guides interpret this wild place, travelers can focus on the challenge of biking the Wild Atlantic Way, ticking off classic Irish biking routes such as the Ring of Kerry, Corkscrew Hill, and Mamore Gap.

Wilderness Ireland’s new Wild Atlantic Way bike tour includes 11-nights’ accommodation in unique guesthouses, most meals, ride support, luggage transfers, admission and entrance fees. The trip runs July 28 – August 8 and August 18 – 29, 2018, from approx. USD$3,900.

For more information about Wilderness Ireland, visit www.wildernessireland.com.

Travel Ireland 

For 2018 – Cliffs and Castles, Food and Fiddles

Permeate Newly Crafted Itineraries 
For Vagabond Small Group Tours of Ireland

 
Inquisitive adventure travelers would be wise to put Ireland on their tour map for 2018. Vagabond Adventure Tours, Ireland’s award-winning tour operator serving fit and active travelers, and its complementary division, Driftwood Journeys of Discovery that emphasizes unique scenery, culture and history at a more relaxed pace, have added new tours and itinerary embellishments for the coming year.
 
“From the addition of unique accommodations to totally brand-new tours, 2018 is shaping up to be our most exciting new year!” says Amy Rankin, co-founder and director of Vagabond Small-Group Tours of Ireland (https://vagabondtoursofireland.com/).
 
New from Driftwood Journeys of Discovery
 
With multiple departures scheduled for May into September 2018, Vagabond’s Driftwood Journeys of Discovery is launching a new leisurely paced 7 Day Kerry UnCorked Tour through Ireland’s southwest including two nights in Ireland’s foodie capital, Kinsale, where guests savor sea food, visit craft breweries and enjoy whiskey tasting in a local pub. Another stop with plenty of time allotted for exploring is Dingle where galleries and pubs (54 at last count) abound. The itinerary embraces visits to ancient ruins and lunar landscapes, planting a kiss on the Blarney Stone, watching the centuries-bred instincts of working sheep dogs, strolling through stately homes and gardens, being spell-bound by the green fields and stone walls of Dingle and Ireland’s wild and rugged Atlantic coastline where near the Cliffs of Moher in the Burren original Irish music still emanates. The gateway city is Dublin. The per person double rate is €1,699 (€300 single supplement). For more details see: https://vagabondtoursofireland.com/tour/cultural-ireland-tour-7-day/.
 
Driftwood Journeys of Discovery’s 6 Day Northern Island Tour lavishes guests inclined to leisurely paced culture with castles and manor house estates on whose walls is written much of Northern Island’s resiliency. Appetites for grandeur are whetted on Day 1 at two Palladian-style estates, Castletown House on 550 acres maintained by the Guinness fortune, and Strokestown Park and The Irish National Famine Museum. Sweet dreams this night are within the confines of Markee Castle Hotel. After extensive renovation to become an accommodation, as of 2017 this family-owned castle-hotel is the fourth member of Romantic Castles of Ireland and a new addition to this itinerary. Guests also get tweedy in Donegal, home of the famous weave and Donegal Castle and they’re imbued in clan lore at Dunluce Castle, the McDonald stronghold. One night they sleep with ghosts in 17th century Ballygally Castle. Another recent addition to this tour is a night at a Victorian red brick masterpiece right on the beach, Slieve Donard Resort and Spa. Over six days guests enjoy jaw-dropping vistas atop Atlantic Ocean cliffs; the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Giant’s Causeway; Celtic myths and monasteries; walks on the beach along the Wild Atlantic Way; fiddle-filled pubs, tours of cultural hubs and more. The gateway city is Dublin. Scheduled departures run from April through October. The rate per person double is €1,509 (single supplement €210). For details see https://vagabondtoursofireland.com/tour/6-day-northern-ireland-tour/.
 
New from Vagabond Adventure Tours
 
Vagabond Adventure Tours offers a new-for-2018 itinerary, 7 Day Magnetic North Adventure Tour, that embraces the complex history of Northern Ireland and the north-west counties of Donegal, Leitrim, Sligo and Mayo. The journey follows inland and sea-kissed routes where guests hike, horseback ride, bike and kayak. This seven-day tour’s magic includes:

  • castles watching over world-class gardens
  • the flora and fauna of national parks, moorlands and glens
  • villages where weavers still ply their trade
  • morning walks on Ireland’s holiest mountain
  • bike rides along the famous Western Greenway
  • museum visits
  • kayak outings on sea and river
  • playing a prehistoric sport, hurling
  • wondering at ancient Neolithic stone circles and Celtic ring forts

 
The gateway is Dublin. The rate per person double is €1,619 (€220 single supplement). Weekly departures are scheduled from late April through September, 2018. For details see https://vagabondtoursofireland.com/tour/7-day-magnetic-north-northern-ireland-adventure-tour/.
 
Also beginning in 2018, all tours that include Galway will linger a bit longer here giving guests at least two hours for exploring and shopping in this bustling city. From Eyre Square, a walk down Shop Street is a must. Onlookers are treated to entertainment from buskers as well as countless small cafes and shops, including the shop famous for Claddagh rings that promise love, loyalty and friendship. Not far from Spanish Arch is the impressive Galway Cathedral, which is home to interesting art and design. The Vagabond Adventure Tours inclusive of Galway include 7, 8, 11 and 12-day programs.
 
On all its tours, the Vagabond staff will curate locally owned accommodations, pubs and restaurants that help serve their goal of authenticity. In the end the mission is to have guests “love Ireland as much as we do.” Transport is in a custom 4×4 Land Rover or Mercedes ‘Vagatron’ that allows access beyond where regular tour buses go.
 
About Vagabond Small Group Tours of Ireland
Since 2002 Vagabond Adventure Tours has been creating opportunities for visitors to embrace Ireland by walking, biking, horseback riding and kayaking its lands and waters, imbibing history and culture along the way. In 2013 the company was honored by National Geographic Traveler with a Top 50 Tour of a Lifetime distinction. In 2015 and 2017 Vagabond Small Group Tours of Ireland was named a “Best Adventure Experience” at the Irish Tourism Awards. And in 2016, Vagabond became Ireland’s first tour operator to achieve Ecotourism Gold Level Certification. 
 
In 2013 the company launched Driftwood Journeys of Discovery that explores in a less strenuous manner many of the same routes of Vagabond Adventure Tours. Itineraries in both divisions focus on high yield, low impact tourism which means that local economies benefit from the company’s and guest’s contributions to local, rural Irish economies (including accommodations, meals, nightlife, attractions and shopping). For details on all of Vagabond Small-Group Tours of Ireland itineraries, availability and for 2018 reservations, please visit www.vagabondtours.com. Call toll free (from the US) 833-230-0288; in Ireland 00353 (0) 1 5634358; or email info@vagabond and info@driftwood.

Via Romantika

 

Saxony Presents its Via Romantika

Threading Places of Beauty and Intrigue

The symbol of the Via Romantika is the four-leaf clover, which is not only a symbol of luck but also represents a piece of paradise according to legend. Saxony Tourism has strung together 34 paradisical, romantic, intriguing and historical places of interest and beauty that entertain and inform and provide a perfect itinerary for Americans seeking to spend a week in a bit of paradise.

Saxony’s Via Romantika leads to historic towns, beautiful landscapes, numerous castles and palaces, the manufacturers of famous high-quality products and the most beautiful photo motifs. The route connects Saxony, the State of the Arts, with the Czech Republic and Poland crossing the “Autobahn” motorway route from Prague to Berlin twice, thus offering immediate access. From the Czech capital, for example, one can reach Pirna in 90 minutes, and 15 minutes later one arrives in Dresden. The overall length of the Via Romantika, which can be travelled in both directions, is 685 km or 425 miles. This translates into a travel time of about 16 hours for the whole distance.

The Via Romantika can be a perfect way to structure an itinerary in Saxony starting from either end or in the middle and taking in parts of the route. Overall there are 34 stops, the so-called “anchor points,” — some might take one or two hours while others can demand one’s attention for the entire day. The first stop is appropriately only a 30 minute drive from Dresden and is one of the famous castle homes of the Wettin Dynasty that ruled Saxony for 829 years. Weesenstein Castle has extraordinary architecture from the Middle Ages matched by a beautiful garden in the adjacent valley with a river running through it.

The next stop is the Ore Mountains which are beautiful all year long but have a special meaning at Christmas time not least due to the folk art that was invented in the region. Probably the most well-known today are the nutcracker and the incense smoker but there are also the precious watches made in the town of Glashütte which are meticulously hand-crafted, and rank among the finest in the world. No less intricate are the charming Christmas creations on sale at the over 100 years old Wendt & Kuhn, a company that practically embodies the picture of Christmas charm with their wooden ornaments and figurines. The Ore Mountains also include the mining town of Freiberg with its extraordinary mineral museum and Annaberg-Buchholz with its beautiful St. Anne’s cathedral.

The former royal family also built the Augustusburg, a large hunting castle in the Ore Mountains, and the Albrechtsburg in Meissen, Germany’s oldest palace. Meissen became the first production site of the oldest European porcelain, known as Meissen porcelain, or Dresden China. Today, visitors can watch the modern day production at the nearby Meissen State Porcelain Manufatory, dine on Meissen porcelain, visit the museum and shop at the store and the outlet. The town of Meissen can easily absorb three quarters of a day with the porcelain tour, the palace and the gothic cathedral, the charming streets and shops and excellent restaurants overseeing the valley.

From the town of Meissen, the River Elbe curves its way through the picturesque riverbanks and meadows on its way to Dresden. Along the river also runs the Saxon Wine Route. Stretching just over 34 miles by car and about 50 miles by foot, the Saxon Wine Route is a charming way to experience the Saxon countryside. Many of the stops, including the beautiful and cultural Saxon towns of Pirna, Meissen and Dresden, renowned for their art, architecture, history and castles, are also part of the Via Romantika. One can visit vineyards, sample wines in traditional taverns and enjoy cycling along the Elbe Cycle Route that parallels sections of the wine road. The Saxon State Winery at the Castle Wackerbarth is a wonderful stop that has outdoor dining, excellent tours and tastings and trails to explore the wine hills on foot.

Bigger, more modern, and more beautiful. Sound familiar? That’s how it was supposed to be in Saxony too. Close to the one-time modest Wackerbarth winery, the hunting lodge of elector Maurice, in German “Moritz”, became a magnificent castle and hunting lodge under the “Saxon Sun King” Augustus the Strong. The castle is famous for its beautiful setting on an artificial island and as home to the Moritzburg Music Festival. The stallion parades in September are especially wonderful, and the historic steam-operated narrow-gauge railway runs from Radebeul to Radeburg every day with a stop in Moritzburg.

In Dresden, every cobble-stoned street is romantic and beautiful. The inner city has been recreated building by building in its original style before the firebombing of 1945. The Royal Palace, with its four extraordinary museums, and the Zwinger Palace, which holds another four museums, comprise the vital organs of the extensive Dresden State Art Collection. Steps away, visitors can take a paddle steamer down the river past a row of villas on the river bank to the Pillnitz Palace, the summer home of Augustus the Strong. Today, it also is home to Dresden State Arts Collection’s arts and crafts museum. Right on the river, the Pillnitz Palace has a four star hotel adjacent to the castle, a perfect place from which to explore the wine route and the Elbe River Valley.

One of the least talked about places in Saxony and that eludes many tourists is Rammenau Castle. It is well worth the trip however as visitors can admire the exotic tapestries in the Chinese Room from the baroque period as well as the so-called “Devil’s Room” with its references to Greek mythology. The perfectly preserved castle hosts concerts in its elegant dining room, meals in the historic dining salons and visitors can even stay overnight in the stylishly furnished castle suites

In the far eastern border of Saxony, the town of Bautzen is the capital of the Sorbs, the descendants of the Slavic peoples that used to live all over Saxony. Only in Bautzen were they able to preserve their culture and language which is why the city and its surroundings are bilingual. The town is also very popular for its mustard that can be tasted in different shops, at the “Mustard Restaurant,” or at the Hammermühle mill in the lower part of town. On the border with Poland, Görlitz’s charms have also been discovered by Hollywood: During the past years, Oscar-winning masterpieces were filmed in “Görliwood”, including “Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Reader,” as well as “Inglourious Bastards” and the Jackie Chan version of “Around the World in 80 Days.” You can discover all the film locations during bookable tours and feel close to your favorite movie star.  Very recently, Görlitz was voted “European Film Location of the Decade.”

Rounding out the Via Romantika are the Saxon Switzerland National Park; the Königstein Fortress on one of its table mountains; the town of Grossschönau where some of Europe’s finest damask is still made to this day; the St. Marienthal Convent where you can enjoy the sisters’ delicious beer and an overnight; Herrnhut where Count von Zinzendorf founded the Moravian Church and spread this message to the world; the town of Zittau and the glorious ruins of the Oybin Castle and monastery which are a delight for photographers!

More detailed information on the Via Romantika is available at www.viaromantika.com and for general information on Saxony please visit

Saxony, State of the Arts