Insight Vacations Country Roads of Bavaria, Austria and Switzerland (June 2014)
The trip is an Insight escorted tour of Bavaria (Germany), Austria and parts of Switzerland. The trip was 11 actual days of touring via an Insight coach. The trip was focused on the country roads of the three areas visited. There were a total of 38 people on this tour.
Our tour started in Munich. This trip we opted to arrive one day before the actual tour began. We had been in contact with our Tour Director beforehand and she recommended that we visit the beer garden in the park adjoining our Munich Hotel. Shortly after checking in and refreshing ourselves from the flight, we headed over to the beer garden. It was located about 5 minutes walking time from the hotel. The beer garden was set amongst a shaded area of the park. There was tons of regional food and beer aplenty in the park. We had a great meal and enjoyed the company of the locals.
From the beer garden we headed toward the old section of Munich. Following the map we got at the hotel, we walked for about 25 minutes or so. We found that we were both so jet lagged and fighting each other on directions that we finally gave up on our quest for old town and headed back to the hotel for a good night's sleep.
After breakfast the next morning, we again headed back to the old town on foot. This time with cleared minds, it took us about 20 minutes to reach the area. We strolled around the streets of the old section for several hours before heading back to the hotel to meet up with our tour group.
We then went on a city tour (actually the old town again). Under the supervision of the Insight tour, we were able to see more sites than what we had visited on our own. Two highlights that stood out in this tour were a visit to the famous Hofbrauhas and a visit to the Marienplatz. The busy day ended with a get acquainted dinner for the tour group.
Day 2 of our tour included a visit to Neuschwanstein Castle. This was the castle that the original Disneyland was modeled after. The views from the areas leading up and around the castle are spectacular. The visit also included a short tour of parts of the interior of the castle.
Following the castle we drove over to Oberammergau. The visit allowed time to meander around the small town.
With an early start on day 3 we headed to Salzburg. Our city tour included a visit to Mirabell Palace to view the spectacular gardens. Following the visit to the gardens we were able to see some of the old city. The afternoon was spent doing the optional tour to Hitler's Eagle's Nest (this will be discussed in the section detailing the optionals).
Wachau Valley Cruise:
Day 4 we started making our way to Vienna. This was a packed travel day with stops in a couple of small towns along the way. The afternoon we were able to cruise on the Danube through the Wachau Valley. During this several hour journey we were treated to a most interesting country side. It seemed like we were seeing either a castle or a large vineyard at every turn of the river.
We arrived in Vienna late in the afternoon. After settling into our hotel, we attended an optional dinner at a country mansion.
The following day we started off early for a visit to the Schonbrunn Palace. The grounds were decorated in acres of formal, stunning gardens. Following the palace we did a drive around tour of the city.
We opted not to take the afternoon optional tour. Due to the extreme heat on the day we toured Vienna (37C), we opted to spend a leisurely afternoon in the hotel (we will most likely be visiting Vienna again in subsequent tours). That evening we attended the optional Viennese Concert.
On our way to Innsbruck, we spent most of the day touring about the Dolomites Mountains. This was our introduction to the alpine section of the trip. With several well timed stops we were able to take full advantage of the vistas the area had to offer.
Our visit to Innsbruck included a walking tour of the old city. With the alps as a backdrop, the city views were very special. Our afternoon included an optional carriage ride through the countryside. For us, the evening was capped off with an optional Tyrolean song and dance at a local theater.
From Innsbruck we made our way through the alps to St. Moritz. Although the weather was not totally cooperative on this section of our journey, we were still treated to some great alpine views.
Our hotel in St. Moritz was located amidst the old town. After settling in to the hotel, we took the optional Bernina Express train ride. Special note - there is a viewing area on the roof of the hotel- definitely recommend that you take advantage of it.
Following dinner that evening, we were able to do a walkabout in the old town. Because we arrived on a Sunday, most of the shops and stores were closed for the day. It was still interesting to see the many unique buildings and settings in the town.
The following day we started our journey to Lucerne. We were treated to a ride on the Glacier Express which lasted for several hours. During this trip we enjoyed unbelievable views of the surrounding alps. Even though the train was named “Express” we meandered through the countryside at a very leisurely pace. The train was configured to optimize the viewing experience with full windows on the top and sides. This was a most delightful part of our journeys.
After we checked into our Lucerne hotel (centrally located in the old section) we took the optional lake cruise. Following the cruise we went directly to our optional Swiss Evening which consisted of a swiss dinner followed by entertainment.
The following day we had a short orientation to the old section of Lucerne. We decided not to take the optional in the afternoon. Instead we spent the time having a leisurely lunch at an outside cafe followed by an afternoon exploring the old city.
That evening we had our departing Celebration Dinner atop a mountain. Again, the views were spectacular and this was a fitting cap to a most memorable tour for us.
The following contains my review of the optionals offered on this trip. Your experience with the same optionals may not be the same as ours. Please use the following only as a guideline. If you do the same tour in the future and have questions, please consult your tour director for further information.
Munich Berkeller Dinner:
This was a traditional Bavarian dinner set in an outdoor garden. Entertainment was also included in the dinner. It gave us an excellent chance to mingle with our new found tour mates.
Rating : Recommend
Bavaria Eagle's Nest:
This is a trip to the location of Hitler's mountain retreat. Artifacts and furnishing from the retreat have long been removed. The thing that makes this optional outstanding is the mountain views that it offers.
Rating : Highly Recommend
Salzburg - Evening in a Austrian Chalet
This optional includes a dinner at a rural farm located in the countryside. The farm is self sufficient and has been expanded to include guest quarters. All of the food and drink offered were locally produced. The owners were quite congenial and offered a lot of information on their lifestyle.
Rating : Recommend
Vienna - Dinner in a Country Mansion
I'm not going to go through too much of an explanation for this optional. Suffice it to say that the setting for this restaurant was really terrific. The optional included a very good meal followed by entertainment in a most unique restaurant.
Rating : This is a definite
Vienna – Vienna Woods
Was not offered on our tour.
Vienna – Viennese Concert
This optional took place at one of the concert halls in Vienna. We were entertained with concert, opera and dance.
Rating : Highly Recommend
Vienna – Imperial Vienna
Having seen several crown jewel collections on previous tours, we opted out of this one. Those in attendance enjoyed the optional.
St Viet – Slovenia Excursion
This optional included a visit to the famous Lake Bled. We were treated to a short boat ride to the island church. Most of the group opted to “ring the bell” in the chapel. Since there were no weddings going on during our visit we were not able to see any grooms carrying their brides up the stairs (see the photos).
Innsbruck – Tyrolean Evening
This optional included a lively show of Tyrolean dance and singing. This optional did not include a dinner. For a similar experience, you may want to opt out of this one and do the Swiss Evening as both shows are very similar.
Rating : You Decide
Innsbruck – Tyrolean Horse Carriage Ride
This optional was a disappointment. The expectation was that we would see much more of the alpine pastures than the trip offered. The actual carriage ride turned out to be rather short and uneventful.
Rating : Not Recommended
Innsbruck - Nordkette Alps and Heritage
This optional included a gondola ride up a mountain for some pretty impressive views. The optional was climaxed by a walking tour in Innsbruck.
Rating : Neutral
St. Moritz – Bernina Express
This optional included a train ride through the adjoining alpine areas. On the day that we took the trip, the weather was quite overcast. As a result, our views were less than we expected.
In my opinion, this optional could be skipped in lieu of the included Glacier Express train ride which offered more stunning views and more comfortable accommodations on the train.
Rating : You Decide
Lucerne – Lake Cruise
This optional included a boat tour of the shoreline around Lucerne. Although pleasant, the excursion did not offer anything exceptional.
Rating : You Decide
Lucerne – Swiss Evening
This optional included a traditional swiss dinner followed by live folk entertainment. The food was excellent and the entertainment was a lot of fun (audience participation encouraged).
Rating : Recommend
Lucerne – Countryside Carriage Ride
We did not take this optional.
I had researched the seasonal weather for the area quite a bit before booking the tour. The time that we were in region (early June) was statistically supposed to be one of the drier times of the year. For about six weeks leading up to our departure I was monitoring the weather and found consistent rain and cold in most of the area.
When we arrived in Munich we were greeted with clear skies and temperatures around 25C . The weather continued warm and clear. By the time we got to Vienna, the daytime temperature had peaked at around 37C. The temperatures were extreme for the area.
As we continued our journey the high temperatures receded to comfortable 22-25C and the clear skies continued.
We encountered some overcast while traveling on the Berina Express. The following day partly cloudy skies returned and continued with mild temperatures for the remainder of the trip.
We had packed for 2 season's of weather for the trip. Based on our experiences, we could have left behind a fair amount of our colder weather clothing.
Currency and Money
Germany and Austria are on the Euro. With the possible exception of some of the smaller towns visited, ATM machines are readily available.
The currency in Switzerland is the Swiss franc. We merely visited an ATM when we arrived in St. Moritz and got our walk around currency.
Germany was probably the most affordable of the countries visited. We found Austria to be a bit more expensive. Switzerland is just plain expensive. Comparatively speaking, I found it to be more affordable than Oslo, Norway (we visited in 2013).
As usual, my standard recommendation is to not let the cost of things spoil what may be a once in a lifetime experience.
My recommendation is to research the tipping protocol for the region before traveling there. The customs differ significantly from what is the norm for the U.S.
We found English generally spoken in the tourist areas. We did not encounter any significant difficulties. Armed with a small German phrase book, we quickly became acquainted with the standard greetings. This small knowledge went a long way in communicating with the local citizens.
We found the people in the countries visited to be very friendly and accommodating. The region knows how to have a good time and it's very easy to fall into that lifestyle. For us personally, Bavaria reminded us a lot of our early childhoods growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA.
The tour was well orchestrated. We found the pace to be rather aggressive.
One thing that we personally experienced on this trip was perhaps an over commitment to the optionals. We found that by signing up for as many optionals as we did, we probably missed out on some city experiences. Additionally, there seems to be an overlap on some of the optionals.
The group that we traveled with were just plain great. Unlike our other 2 Insight tours, this tour had a rather large U.S. contingent. The tour group seemed to span a greater age than past tours also. We bonded as a group early in the tour and were the best of friends by the end of the tour.
Our Tour Director did a fantastic job. She provided us with a lot of great information without overdoing it. She worked really hard to accommodate our needs and provide us with a lot of the little things that make the tour all the more memorable.