How to Choose?
We now offer many major tours, some similar to each other, some quite different.
These major tours range in length from 7 to 11 days, and they are different from most of those offered by others. These notes are intended to explain the unique characteristics of our tours and to help you choose between them.
This page is divided into several major sections:
Common Characteristics in Brief
- Castles and palaces are the main features of all "Castles" tours, though each includes other highlights.
- Inside tours of the castles and palaces are provided, not just "photo opportunities".
- Expert guides are provided for the castle, palace and town tours.
- No hidden extras and no "optional" activities that you pay for yourself.
- Pacing seems leisurely, though you have time on your own and a lot gets accomplished every day.
- Logistics is Astrid's not-so-secret weapon. Your travel seems effortless because every detail is planned in advance.
- Small groups (maximum 30) are friendly and keep things moving.
Tour Differences in Brief
Scheduled Major Tours
The Bavarian Castles Tour (King Ludwig II's Castles and the Bavarian Lakes) is the most popular tour, and usually the one which repeat participants took first. It features inside visits at Germany's most famous tourist attractions, lots of castles and palaces, and a wide variety of other features in beautiful Bavaria ranging from medieval towns to a cable car ride to the top of Mount Zugspitze. The castles are mostly much newer than on the other tours, are generally glitzier and in better shape, but less historically significant. Efficient accommodation arrangements allow this to be the least expensive tour. Detailed tour description page
The River Castles Tour (The German Rivers Rhine, Moselle, Neckar and Main and their Castles) is the most focused on castles, and features the oldest ones (and some very old ruins). The vineyards of the Rhine and Moselle valleys are the scenic backdrop, and cruising on the Rhine is the unique transportation experience on this tour. Most travelers on this tour developed an interest in castles and an appreciation for Astrid's approach to touring on the Bavarian tour. Detailed tour description page
Black Forest, Alsace and Switzerland (Three Corners' Castles, Magnificent Scenery and Wine) is an adventure in varieties – the cultural variety in this region where Germanic and French traditions are both preserved and exchanged, and the variety of tour destinations. Castles, towns, big cities, a tour through wine country, a stop at a huge waterfall and a trip to the top of a mountain. With the cultural diversity as a constant backdrop. Detailed tour description page
The Bavarian Christmas Markets Tour (King Ludwig II's Castles and the Bavarian Christmas Markets) is an early-December Christmas version of the Bavarian Castles itinerary. The same visits to Ludwig's castles are included, but time to explore the Christmas markets in Munich, Oberammergau, Innsbruck, Bad Tölz*, Füssen* and Kempten replace other items such as the excursions to Mount Zugspitze and Lake Starnberg. Detailed tour description page
* If your are puzzled by our spellings, please see the insiders' note on Spelling below.
The Nutcrackers and Notables Tour (Treasures, Traditions and Christmas Markets from the Romantic Road to the Toy Town of Seiffen) is a special Christmas itinerary featuring highlights stretching north from well-preserved medieval Rothenburg to Dresden's art, culture, and treasures. Other highlights include Prague, Weimar (famous for Goethe, Schiller and Bauhaus), and Erfurt and Eisenach (where Martin Luther became a monk and translated the bible). It features Germany's oldest and most famous Christmas market in Nuremberg and six other notable markets. Detailed tour description page
The Best of Germany and Austria Tour (Rhine and Danube, Castles and Mountains) is a new tour for travelers who want to see the highlights of both Germany and Austria but have limited time. It starts in the Rhine region with a cruise on the river and tours of ancient castles and medieval villages. In Bavaria it visits Munich and King Ludwig's castles. And in Austria this tour takes in the highlights of Innsbruck and Salzburg, and ends in stately Vienna. Detailed tour description page
Kids and Castles Tour (The Best of German Castles and Towns) is designed specifically for families with children. It combines the castle and regional highlights of the Bavarian and Rivers Castles Tours and adds a few features specifically for kids. The tour begins in the Rhine Gorge and includes four castle highlights from the Rivers Tour in that region. As the tour moves south it stops at a zoo and at Legoland Germany before reaching Neuschwanstein, Germany's most famous castle. The return to Frankfurt is via the medieval walled town of Rothenburg. Detailed tour description page
The French Castles Tour (Paris and the Loire Valley) is one of only two tours not based in or including Germany. French culture is the defining difference here. There are some fortified castles on this tour, but they are far outnumbered by the elegant chateaux of the Loire Valley. The tour begins in Paris and visits both palaces and other must-see Paris landmarks, but then moves to a home base in Amboise Valley for more leisurely daily excursions to the stunning array of royal residences and grand chateaux of the Loire Valley. Detailed tour description page
The Italian Highlights Tour (Rome, Florence and Venice) is less oriented towards castles than the other tours, though it does visit its share of palaces. This is a more conventional tour that takes in the major attractions in central and northern Italy from bases in Rome, Florence and Venice, and features excursions to famous locations such as Pisa, Siena, Assisi and Verona. This tour was re-designed for 2010 to respond to client requests for an Astrid Baur approach to sightseeing in Italy. Detailed tour description page
Private Major Tours
The Imperial Castles Tour (Castles of Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic) focuses more on elegant palaces than on the types of fortified castles along the Rhine. This somewhat longer tour visits more of the grand and internationally-famous sites in the capitals, and fewer of the out-of-the-way and local features of the other tours. Both Prague Castle and Schonbrunn Palace are amazingly huge complexes incorporating a wide variety of features. Detailed tour description page
The Royal Delights Private Tour (Munich, Salzburg and Vienna) is a six-day private tour (eight days including international travel) that combines the most outstanding highlights of Bavaria with those of Austria. It features the creations of two monarchs – King Ludwig II of Bavaria and Queen Maria Theresa of the Hapsburg Empire. The tour begins in Munich, visits castles and other features in Bavaria, and then moves to Salzburg and Vienna. The tour returns to Munich for its final night. Royal Delights is offered only as a private tour. Detailed tour description page
Berlin and the East of Germany Private Tour (Monarchs, Poets and Reformers) visits some of the most impressive royal residences commissioned by the rulers of Brandenburg over the centuries, including Charlottenburg, Sanssouci, and Cecilienhof. This tour also travels south to Leipzig, Weimar and Dresden, with highlight visits including Wartburg Castle, the restored Frauenkirche, the Green vault, and Castle Pillnitz. Detailed tour description page
The Themeparks Kids' Tour (Disneyland Paris, Europa Park, Alsace and Black Forest) combines modern themepark thrills and attractions with cool slices of European history. The themeparks are Europe's best – Disneyland Paris and Europa Park in Germany. Real-world European marvels from long ago include Versailles Palace, Reims Cathedral, Haut-Koenigsburg Castle in Alsace, an Alsatian village that looks much as it did in the 16th century, and the Black Forest Open-Air Museum of daily life there over the past 400 years. Detailed tour description page
Guided Vacation in Tuscany (Hilltop Villages and Vineyard Valleys, History and Hospitality) is a guided holiday. Tuscany is renowned for its art, history, and evocative landscape. Hill-towns gaze across the country-side from on high; the valleys are lined with vineyards, olive groves, and quiet hamlets. Your guide is the key to making this vacation special. Your guide is local and knows the places, stories, history, and art in detail – and loves sharing all that with you. Your guide will pick the best spots, the best food, and make the best of your time, striking a balance that's comfortable for you between exploring Tuscany, taking it easy, and enjoying its foods and wines. Detailed tour description page
The Irish Highlights Tour (The Emerald Isle's Southern Gems and Castles) combines the visits to castles and historic sites, typical of our tours, explorations of the island's breathtaking coastal scenery, and healthy doses of Irish culture and hospitality. Visit Dublin Castle, the Rock of Cashel, Blarney Castle, the Iveragh and Dingle Peninsulas in County Kerry, and go for a nature walk with a trained Ranger at the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare. Detailed tour description page
The Portuguese Castles Tour (Garden of Europe with a Glorious Past) offers a mix of castles, palaces, monasteries, and historic sites combined with landscape and scenery that ranges from almost tropical beaches to dramatic cliffs. The mix is not unlike many of our other tours, but the setting and culture are totally different. This is the land of the seafaring explorers who opened up so much of the "new" world. This is a land of seafood, produce from fertile soils and a good climate, and fine wines to complement them. And of distinctive music and warm hospitality. Detailed tour description page
|Scheduled Major Tours|
|Bavarian Castles||Munich||9 days||All nights at the Landhaus Koessel in Hopfen am See, near Fussen. No daily packing and moving.|
|River Castles||Frankfurt||9 days||First five nights at the Bellevue Rheinhotel in the Rhine town of Boppard. One night on the Castle Road, and the last night in Frankfurt for convenient return.|
|Zurich||9 days||First three nights in Alsace, France. Two nights at Lake Titisee in the Black Forest, Germany. Final two nights on Lake Lucerne, Switzerland.|
|Christmas Markets||Munich||9 days||All nights at the Landhaus Koessel in Hopfen am See, near Fussen. No daily packing and moving.|
|Nutcrackers & Notables||Frankfurt||9 days||Rothenburg, Seiffen for four nights, Augistiner Monastery in Erfurt, and then Frankfurt.|
|Best of Germany
|10 days||Two nights in Boppard on the Rhine, one each in Rothenburg, Munich, Innsbruck, Salzburg, and then two in Vienna.|
|Kids and Castles||Frankfurt||9 days||Three nights at the Bellevue Rheinhotel in Boppard, then Stuttgart, Fussen for two nights, and Frankfurt.|
|Paris||9 days||Three nights in Paris, two at the beginning, one at the end. All remaining nights at the Château de Razay at Céré la Ronde in the Loire Valley.|
|Italian Highlights||Rome /
|11 days||Three nights each in Rome, Florence, and Venice.|
|Private Major Tours|
|Imperial Castles||Munich||11 days||Two nights each in Prague and Vienna. First and last nights in Munich. One each in Cesky Krumlov, Salzburg, and Innsbruck.|
|Munich||8 days||Two nights in Munich, one in Salzburg, two in Vienna, and back to Munich for the final night.|
|Berlin||9 days||First three nights in Berlin, two in Erfurt near Weimar, one in Dresden, and last night in Berlin for convenient return.|
|9 days||Three nights adjacent to Disneyland Paris, two in an Alsatian village, and two in Germany's Black Forest|
|Florence||7 days||This vacation begins in Florence on Day 1. (There is no initial "travel" day.) Standard accommodations for his tour are in a First Class Tuscan villa hotel.|
|Dublin||9 days||Dublin, two nights in Killarney, three in Limerick, and Dublin again.|
|Portuguese Castles||Lisbon||9 days||Lisbon, two nights in Sintra, one in Óbidos, two in Nazaré, and Lisbon again.|
Distinguishing Features of these Castles Tours
Inside Tours with Expert Guides versus Photo Opportunities
In whirlwind tour itineraries, "photo opportunity" means the bus will stop long enough for you to get off, focus your camera, take two shots, and get back on the bus.
On these tours, expert guides provided by the castles and palaces take visitors on inside tours, provide comprehensive background information, and answer questions. In many cases and wherever possible, these inside tours are on a special appointment basis and are private, for the Castles Tour group only. In some cases the pre-arranged special tours visit parts of castles or palaces not open to the general pubic.
Similarly, the walking tours of towns and villages are conducted by specially trained guides, licensed by the local municipalities to ensure that visitors receive the best possible visitor experience. Where Castles Tours can choose, the guides who have been most successful and popular in the past are contracted.
No Hidden Extras
Entrance fees for every castle, palace, and site visit in the itinerary is included in the price. All guide fees are included. All transportation costs (buses, carriages, boats, vans, cable cars, etc.) are also included. There are no "optional" excursions or activities for you to pay for.
All breakfasts are provided, and all dinners except one or two, depending on the tour. Lunches are not included.
Pacing and Logistics
Each of these tours was designed to visit large numbers of itinerary destinations without travelers either being or feeling rushed. The goal is to make the experience seem effortless, and is accomplished by a combination of extensive advance planning and careful execution.
The itineraries for these tours are barely secret. The main items are all specified here, but devils lurk behind every detail. Where to find the horse-drawn carriage at Neuschwanstein? How to actually get to Linderhof since it's 15 km from Fussen as the crow flies but 50 km of driving? When's the best time to catch the K-D Rhine boat going downstream? How to make the appointment to bypass the waiting line at Schonbrunn? What part of town has the best places for lunch?
The itineraries are designed to move efficiently from place to place with seemingly minimal effort, and to allow plenty of free time for relaxation and personal exploration.
Successful execution depends on a lot of local knowledge and experience. How do you get there if the road is blocked by new construction or an accident? Best to have a tour director and driver who know their way around on your team.
Small groups make for much friendlier tours. The maximum size of 30 persons means that most Castle Tours are about half the size of major tour groups.
On a small group tour you can actually get to know the tour director and the other folks travelling with you.
Most Castles Tours use a 47-seat bus for the tour maximum of 30 guests. The extra spaces are handy for coats and parcels, they eliminate any sense of claustrophobia, and it turns out they encourage guests to re-arrange themselves to get to know new people every day. For tours with very small numbers of participants, a smaller version of a proper motor coach is used.
Small groups make things easier for everyone – the tour director, the driver, and you. Fewer people competing to ask questions of the guides. A chance to hear the guide in the first place. Shorter lines for the washroom. And fewer stragglers when it's time to move on.
Insiders' Note on Spellings
Our tours operate in English. Few of our clients are fluent in
German, and few use computers with keyboards that have accents.
Our current spelling style is to use umlauts (ä, ö, ü) on our own web pages, but not to ask clients for them in communications. We have had different approaches in the past, so you will still see alternative styles in some places. At one time we included both correct forms (e.g. Füssen and Fuessen) in some places to help search engines navigate this minefield. Modern search engines (and our staff) are capable of using either, and also understand simplifications like "Fussen".