“What’s it like to be on an escorted tour?” – Noel Cunningham takes his first package tour
What is it like to take part in an accompanied holiday? I had never done a package tour before, but I wanted to find out.
I usually organize my trips myself. But I think there is still fear out there and the less we worry about the basics of holiday organization the better.
Also, there is an added reassurance of traveling alone when you join a escorted group – so I can understand the surge in interest. I was willing to try it once.
After talking to Sunway, I decided on an eight-day “Austria Alpine Splendor Tour”. All I had to do was book the package – after that all the travel, meals and transport were taken care of.
I traveled to Dublin Airport with some nervousness about what the week would bring, but my fears soon evaporated as I received a very warm welcome from Frank, the tour guide who traveled with us and oversaw everything along the way.
Who would be with me for the next eight days? I spent the flight identifying my groupmates by their Sunway tags. I shouldn’t have been nervous. We got along great and over the course of the week I enjoyed the company of others when I wanted to and went for walks alone when I didn’t want to.
All were a similar age to me – mostly couples, mostly retired, and all looking forward to traveling again and spending their children’s inheritance!
Upon landing in Munich, we were accommodated in our luxury coach for a transfer through the stunning Bavarian countryside. The unusual addition of bar service on board provided a nice atmosphere and excitement for what lay ahead. We were introduced to another tour guide, Anna, who also traveled with us for the week. It was great to be able to rely on her organizational skills and her friendly manner. I suddenly realized I had become this package tour demographic that I swore I would never do…but it wasn’t so bad after all!
The view from the carriage was of the countryside surrounded by snow-capped mountains, lakes, rivers and pastoral scenes straight out of the lid of a chocolate box. And the beauty kept coming. On our second day, a short bus ride brought us to Kaprun, a small village overlooked by the Kitzsteinhorn Glacier. As we rode the cable car, we stepped out to a scene described as a point between heaven and earth.
The view made hours feel like minutes.
The week would go like this: a hearty breakfast, followed by guided tours and plenty of free time. For example, on the third day we went to Salzburg. The sheer drama of the mountains and lakes made me want to break out with the famous sound of music Song, The hills are alive. However, we were content to listen to the sound of cowbells coming from the verdant lower slopes. I never imagined such a beauty.
In the city, the Salzachufer was the perfect place for a stroll. I loved admiring the baroque courtyards, incredible buildings, fountains and beautiful gardens. I can see how it all inspired Salzburg’s most famous son, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Don’t miss the lovely cafes and great shops on Getreidegasse – my absolute weaknesses were the apple strudel and delicious coffee, which I enjoyed al fresco in the square. Salzburg bans plastic or neon in shop fronts and architecture and is all the nicer for it – even McDonald’s has adhered to it.
and The sound of music? Forget the Habsburg Empire and the stunning castles built on inhospitable peaks… I was excited to visit Mondsee. Here, in the delightful church, Julie Andrews married as Maria Captain von Trapp (Christopher Plummer). Inside we shared memories of where and when and how many times we saw that movie and actually sang a few songs. Austria seems to have exceptional churches in every town and village – even the smallest can dazzle with baroque drama. But in Salzburg I lit a candle in the magnificent Salzburg Cathedral.
A day trip to Europe’s highest waterfall in Krimml didn’t disappoint either. I thought it looked like it was descending from the sky – gorgeous cascades of water cascading onto platforms below as they travel down. Sound and sight are intoxicating. After trying the hiking trail with platforms at different levels, we descended through swirling, ethereal mist to enjoy the best toast and chips and traditional soup (there is also a museum nearby that tells the history of the Hohe Tauern National Park told).
Days off should be part of every escorted tour and we had a number that suited us perfectly in Austria. It gives you a little breather. There were hidden, unspoilt walks to enjoy and local cafes were welcome stops. Traveling alone can be daunting for the first time, but members of our group agreed that we were made to feel part of it all (when in doubt ask a friend you know well to join you to connect).
Our hotels were comfortable, with well-appointed rooms and inviting public areas that made for relaxing stays (some had spas and pools). My day job is as Hotel Ambassador for Harvey’s Point in Co Donegal and I couldn’t fault the service, breakfast and dinner we experienced en route. Standards never faltered and the wonderful staff catered to our every need with alpine efficiency and friendliness.
Austria has been doing the tourist part for a long time – and not only on the ski slopes. You do it so well; I left with lovely memories of a delightful holiday and was amazed at how authentic everything felt.
As for my first package holiday and escorted tour, I loved that the boring things of travel – booking, researching, driving and queuing – were taken care of for me. All in all it was a fun memorable trip with like minded people who were well looked after.
Yes, I could get used to that.
Do not miss…
Our tour also included a stop in Munich, Germany, a city full of exquisite shops, markets and lively Reichenbachstrasse – many in our group decided they deserved a longer stay sometime in the future.
Noel traveled as a guest of Sunway as part of the new companion programme. The 7-night Austria trip with accommodation in a four-star hotel with half-board is available on September 20 from €1,399 per person.
Contact Sunway on 01 231 1800 or see sunway.ie for more about this and other escorted tours. You can find more sights and activities in Austria at austria.info
https://www.independent.ie/life/travel/europe/whats-it-like-to-join-an-escorted-tour-noel-cunningham-takes-his-first-package-holiday-42278740.html “What’s it like to be on an escorted tour?” – Noel Cunningham takes his first package tour