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Switzerland, Austria, Italy: Cheese, Chocolate and Pizza!

The manager of our travel agents in Felixstowe, Kerrie Lake, travelled to three great European countries on an exciting tour. Here are the highlights from her trip...

Destination: Switzerland, Austria, Italy

Operator/Host: Insight

Accommodation

Hotel names/Ship name: Astoria Hotel, The Carlton and Grand Canal, Grand Hotel Dino

Airline: easyJet

Duration: 6 nights

On arrival at Gatwick, I was met by 5 bleary-eyed ladies and Samantha from Insight for our 6.40am, early morning flight with easyJet to Zurich, before arriving into Switzerland and joining our transfer to our hotel in Lucerne. We stayed at the Astoria Hotel; a lovely central hotel and very easy to find when exploring the city.

Having a free afternoon, we decided to explore on foot; visiting Chapel Bridge and wandering around the shops - lots and lots of chocolate shops!

Our group with Insight was a mix of nationalities, with Agents coming from as far away as New Zealand, and so, due to all of the different flight timings, people were arriving throughout the Welcome Dinner which was hosted that evening.

A Mountainous Journey

 

Cogwheel Train

The next morning, we were taken to the old town to see the famous Lion Monument. This was the first morning that we were all together as a group and so the best way of us all to get to know each other was to embark on an excursion to the summit of Mount Pilatus!

Our climb up Mount Pilatus gave us the excitement and adventure of travelling the 7,000 feet to the summit as well as the pleasure of seeing some of the most amazing views of Switzerland.

We were given the choice of ascending in a gondola and then a cable car or via the world’s steepest cogwheel train. We choose gondola/cable car which took around 30 minutes; starting from the base and travelling high above the clouds. You really do feel like you are on top of the world. When the cable car stops there is a higher section reached only by foot, or you can just enjoy a hot drink whilst taking in the amazing views.

The top of Mount Pilatus is one of the most breathtaking places I've ever been. With its steep cliffs, tunnels through the mountain, and a view of the surrounding lakes, it's hard not to put this on your bucket list. I would rate this one of the most scenic adventures I have been on and would not hesitate to recommend this excursion to anyone; it is fantastic!

Our descent was via the cog-wheeled train; the world’s steepest! This was a fantastic way to come down a mountain and I know our group had never seen anything like it before; a great experience.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in Lucerne, sampling the delights of their cheese fondue; a great meal to share but not great for those watching their waistline. In the evening we visited a little local restaurant, where we had a lovely dinner and then all went for drinks at the Astoria Hotels bar/nightclub on the top floor.

Fairytale Sparkle

The next morning, we travelled east through Switzerland with a quick stop off in Vaduz, the capital of the principality of Liechtenstein, before heading on to Austria. The scenery of the Austrian Alps en-route was truly breath-taking; we even had the soundtrack of The Sound of Music playing on the coach.
We arrived into Innsbruck, where we visited one of the largest Swarovski crystal stores in the World, which was absolutely fabulous if you are like me and like anything sparkly. We also took a walk around the old town, which was really fascinating.  The souvenir shops, the quaint looking houses/guest houses, churches, the numerous pizzerias and cafes are all surrounded by glorious mountains, whilst the townhouses are adorned with characters from well-known fairy tales looking down on all the visitors. The town has such a magical feel to it and one which would only be enhanced if you were to visit during Christmas time.

A Typically Venetian Day

 

Grand Canal

Leaving the mountains of Austria, we travelled on to Venice. Once we were all checked in at the hotel we wasted no time in jumping on boats to tour along the Grand Canal, whilst our guide talked us through the beautiful palazzos and churches; pointing out the many houses that have been bought by the likes of Elton John and Johnny Depp. Our guide was great and provided us with an amazing Venice history lesson.

We reached St. Mark’s Square in the late afternoon and had the opportunity to stroll around the side streets for some shopping and grab a cappuccino. The streets were bustling with tourists and, although we were not here at the busiest time of the year, it still had a lovely feel to it with visitors from all over the world. If the coffee in the main square is too expensive, head down to one of the side streets which are incredibly beautiful and considerably cheaper.

We then got to experience a gondola ride! I’m sure anyone who goes to Venice will experience this; we loved it. The waterways are slightly smelly but that didn’t take anything away from the experience and we were given a bottle of champagne to drink whilst we were transported around the back canals. Although our gondolier didn’t sing, there was music coming from one of the gondolas behind us and this added to our enjoyment. I can see how this would make a great trip for couples, but being in a group of 6 girls was still just as fun. The gondola ride is so typical of Venice and so I would recommend it to everybody, even for the relatively high price; a must do.

A typical rate for a gondola is (8am to 7pm) €80 for 40 minutes and you can add €40 for an extra 20 minutes. The price rises between 8pm and 7am to an average of €100 for 40 minutes, to which you can add an additional 20 minutes for €50 more.

Our evening was spent at a local restaurant; enjoying lots of Italian dishes before returning to our hotel, which was within walking distance of lots of lovely restaurants and cafes.

The hotel was The Carlton and Grand Canal. It looked out onto the Grand Canal and, although some of the rooms were quite small, the location was fantastic. The breakfast and staff were lovely and this is definitely somewhere I would recommend people stay. St. Mark’s square was about a 45-minute walk and it was within walking distance of the famous Rialto Bridge.

An Intriguing Island

Burano Coloured Houses

The next day began with a cruise through the lagoon and a visit to the Island of Burano. Burano is a small, car-free island, situated 7 kilometres north of Venice. This pretty fishing village has its streets and canals lined by fantastic coloured houses; it has a very different feel from Venice and is a real worthwhile excursion for tourists.

On the main street, you will find restaurants, ice cream shops and souvenir stalls. Myself and some of the other agents even recommended it to people we met staying in Venice.

It is not somewhere I would have known to recommend before this trip but for people who may want a bit of quiet time, or to shop and eat somewhere different, it is a great place to visit and can easily be reached by water taxi.

After a stroll through the village, marvelling at the houses and the leaning church, we settled in for a big Italian lunch. From what I have experienced, you never leave an Italian restaurant hungry! We were really well looked after and left feeling very full and happy.

The afternoon was spent at our leisure; taking in more of St. Mark’s square, and the evening we spent dining in an authentic pizzeria, complete with serenade from one of the locals. At the end of the evening, whilst strolling back to our hotel, Venice had a mellow atmosphere with groups of friends and couples walking hand in hand along the canal. I could have stayed for another week; I really loved Venice.

The Breast Day Of The Trip

Heading out of Venice the next day, we headed for Verona to visit the famous Juliet’s balcony and for a rub of Juliet’s right breast! There is a legend that states those who touch her right breast shall receive luck in love and so, as you can imagine, there were a few people in line to get their share of the luck. Hence the one breast being extremely shiny compared to the rest of Juliet.

Next, we travelled on to Milan, the second-largest city in Italy. We wandered through the 19th Century shopping arcade into the main Square and around the Duomo cathedral, which is the most gorgeous building. It is one of the largest cathedrals in the world, designed to accommodate 40,000 worshippers and has lots of beautiful coloured glass windows; it really is a sight to see.  If shopping is more your thing, there are so many designer shops dotted around including Gucci, Armani, Dolce & Gabbana and Roberto Cavalli.

We then made the last leg of our journey to Lake Maggiore. Unfortunately, we arrived quite late so did not get to see much of the surrounding area, but the view from our hotel window over the lake was absolutely amazing. I would really love to go back and explore more of this area. Lake Maggiore is the most westerly of the three large pre-alpine lakes of Italy and the second largest after Lake Garda. We stayed at the Grand Hotel Dino which was fantastic and I would recommend this hotel for anyone wanting to overlook the lake.

Overall, I had the most amazing trip. Insight were fantastic; all arrangements went so smoothly and I cannot speak highly enough of our Tour Director. She was so knowledgeable in all of the areas that we visited; you could tell that she really enjoyed her job and could not do enough for us.
We had Agents from South Africa, Canada, Ireland, Wales and England; there were 38 of us in total and a great group of people. Insight clientele are mainly mixed nationalities and this enhanced my experience; being able to chat with people from all over the world and share these experiences with them was fantastic.

I would like to thank all at Insight Vacations for this opportunity.

Must see? The views of Switzerland from the top of Mount Pilatus

Must do? Take a traditional gondola ride

Must try? Some Italian gelato

To plan a similar adventure to Kerrie, drop by one of our travel stores next time you're in the area. We have travel agents across East Anglia and can help you plan anything from family holidays to honeymoons and cruises.