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Experience the road less travelled with Back-Roads - small group European holidays which delve deeper into the places you want to see the most. With 18-person minivans, or 20-person canal boats (and strictly no more) you’ll take the scenic route beyond the reach of any large vehicle or vessel, and see each destination through the eyes of the people who know it best: the locals.
Sound good? You bet. Get inspired with six of our favourite Back-Roads’ experiences...
1. Drink port in Porto
But of course, you can’t visit Porto without treating your taste buds to its world-famous port. A little wine therapy is exactly what any holiday requires, especially if it’s as sinfully sweet (and equally delicious) as Porto’s signature dessert wine. Found all over Porto, tastings can be enjoyed anywhere from historic grounds to garden estates and rustic farms dating back three centuries or more (depending who you ask and how much Port they've had that day). Visit various wine cellars and indulge in a tasting – or two – before succumbing to a lazy afternoon picking at platters of cheese and charcuterie. La dolce vita as the Italians would say, or "a boa vida" when you're living the good life in Portugal.
2. Discover enchanting Isola Bella on Lake Maggiore
You wouldn’t think that Lake Maggiore, with its brilliant blue water and waterside pavilions could ever be upstaged, but then there’s Isola Bella, a knockout of an islet which sits on the lake itself - like the focal jewel in an already dazzling crown. As a member of The Borromean Islands, a trio of jaw-dropping islands owned by the wealthy Borromeo family, Isola Bella flaunts a Baroque style palace and a terraced garden, which is so immaculately manicured even the rose thorns don’t sit out of place. It is here, in the palace’s dramatic Music Room where Mussolini met with British and French diplomats to sign a treaty unifying the three countries against Germany in 1936. Not an allegiance he stuck to, but profoundly significant nevertheless. From the lavishly decorated interior to the flawless garden, absorb the beautiful scents and retina-pleasing colours, but beware of the white peacocks which roam the grounds – like any born-and-bred Italian they gesticulate wildly, and if they get wound up, they’ll dramatically spread their wings and pout at you. Admire from afar!
3. Cruise Portugal’s Douro River in a traditional rabelo boat
Wine on your lips, sun on your skin, and tumbling vineyards well within reach - cruising Portugal’s Douro river is extraordinarily romantic. Steep terraces blanketed in vines cascade steeply to the water's edge, their route to your glass - as world famous port – hasn’t changed much these past two-thousand years. Enjoy the fruits of the region on-board a traditional rabelo boat, better described as a wooden cargo boat used by the Portuguese for centuries.
Enjoy a real taste of Portugal, which still basks in ancient traditions; cruise to the sun-bleached town of Peso da Régua and visit the famed Aveleda Winery for a glass of their much loved ‘green wine’. It’s a literal translation and isn’t actually green in colour, but rather refers to a young wine, which is consumed just 3-6 months after the grapes are harvested. You can wrap your lips around red, white, or rosé, but thankfully, nothing green. Then it’s on to the next town, drinking in the rich landscape with every curve in the river.
4. Taste delicious buttery cheese in Viseu, Portugal
Visit a traditional Viseu cheesemaker for delicious, gooey cheese tasting and insider secrets about Portugal’s cheese making traditions. In Viseu itself you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the distinct lack of tourists; this little-known landlocked city is perfect for an authentic Portuguese experience because you’ll be among more locals than visitors. Not that Viseu hasn’t seen its fair share of invaders over the years; the Romans left their mark, as did the Moors and a slew of Christian powerhouses, resulting in the city’s grand central cathedral, and architecture that is a mix of Manueline, Renaissance and Gothic. Duck down the quaint plazas and cobbled alleyways, stopping for a glass of red at lively cafes in small town squares, then venture into the local shops to buy some port, it’ll more than likely be cheaper than buying it in Porto.
5. Taste time-honoured French wines centuries in the making
Embark on a multisensory journey at Tour de Pouilly-Fumé – a stunning winery located in a sensational setting, half way between the source and the mouth of the River Loire. Overlooking the water, with an ideal microclimate for Sauvignon grapes, explore the extensive vineyards, see the wine cellar and enjoy a delectable wine tasting session. You’ll discover the region’s different grape varietals, gain a better understanding of the wine maker’s livelihood, and most importantly, sip on various glasses of France’s (arguably) greatest creation – le vin!
6. Travel the Loire by barge
Drift past French vineyards and historic chateaux on a canal boat, the pace is slow and the days are languid – the ideal way to absorb the Loire’s fabulous landscape. Steering you away from busy, overcrowded resorts, Back-Roads barges take in beautiful French townships rarely seen by tourists. Charming French communes such as La Chapelle-Montlinar and Marseilles-lès-Aubigny, as well as the former monastic town of La Charité-sur-Loire. This UNESCO World Heritage-listed thoroughbred is home to many historic relics such as the Romanesque church and various Medieval ramparts. After your sight-seeing, pop into elegant boulangeries for fresh pastries, or one of the many fascinating antiquarian bookstores. Wander through the weekly market which operates every Saturday morning in the main square or simply sit in an in an irresistible café with a coffee. Then return to your barge for another leisurely amble down the river.
Europe is such a mixed bag of amazing things to see and do, for more inspiration Click Here for all of our UK and Europe deals.
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