Book a vacation package and let the experts help plan your next European holiday

Book a vacation package and let the experts help plan your next European holiday

Vacation time is precious. When travelling, you want to make the most out of every minute, so smart planning is crucial, especially in Europe, where there’s so much to see. Savvy globetrotters seeking a multicity holiday should consider packages that offer all the essential elements of their trip – including tours – in one convenient bundle.

Tours can be a traveller’s best friend. The best ones are hosted by professional local guides who provide authentic insights into a destination and present the highlights of cities like Barcelona or Athens that can be challenging to navigate.

Turn to a trusted company offering this type of experience designed by experts, like Air Canada Vacations, which is currently featuring more than 100 tour packages in 12 European countries. Vice-president Nino Montagnese says travel allows us to be transformed and charmed by the places we visit.

“Our hope is to help travellers create extraordinary memories,” he explains. “Whether it’s to dip their toes in warm beaches, embrace local cuisine, experience an unforgettable adventure – or all three – Canadians can begin to dream about their next getaway with our carefully curated European tours, flight and hotel, or flight and cruise packages.”

Paradise in Portugal

Portugal is one European destination currently topping many must-visit lists for travellers. Canadian travel journalist Jennifer Weatherhead is among them. “I find Portugal an easy destination,” she says. “The cities are big enough to be able to spend a solid amount of time in, but small enough that you never feel overwhelmed.”

She also notes there’s a relaxed vibe about Portugal, with its surprising mix of coastal sunshine, dramatic valleys in the north, tucked-away villages and cities with quaint neighbourhoods. And for those trying to stretch their travel dollars, the country is one of Europe’s most affordable destinations.

One of Weatherhead’s favourite activities is sampling the country’s celebrated cuisine. “Exploring local food and drinks in any destination will get you to the real heart of the culture, but that’s especially true in Portugal. It has some famous dishes, drinks and pastries the locals are incredibly proud of.”

She takes a different food tour each time she visits: “They’re great not only to get a bit of a culinary and history lesson, but they usually involve walking around the city, too. This can help you get your bearings and see more of a destination.” Another great foodie option is to take a cooking class with a local chef.

Weatherhead says adding a tour to a trip can make vacations less stressful because it reduces the amount of planning time and takes care of tiny, but important, details for you. She prefers small group tours or ones that are self-guided and include time to wander on your own. She also picks ones that don’t just show you the most popular spots but also places not always on the “top things to see and do” lists. “That’s where you’ll get a more authentic experience,” she adds.

She suggests doing a road trip from Lisbon to Porto, which can be done in a day, or go inland to great wine regions like Alentejo or Evora. Also consider a cruise down the Douro River to see stunning landscapes. She also recommends eating plenty of pastel de natas, Portugal’s famous custard tarts.

When in Lisbon, visit the Rooftop Bar at Hotel Mundial, considered one of the coveted terraces in the city, and sip on an expertly crafted cocktail or local wine. As Weatherhead points out, “Any chance you have to get a view of Lisbon from a rooftop, take it. It is the best way to see the surrounding hills and layout of the city.”

Roman holiday

If your travel plans this year include Italy, explore it like a local. Freelance writer and editor Elizabeth Heath moved to the Umbrian hilltop town of Allerona from Florida in 2009 after spending several summers in the country working on archeological digs.

“I’ve always been enchanted by the deep layers of history present everywhere in Italy. It’s also just a beautiful place and I appreciate the pace of life here.”

The term dolce far niente (translation: the sweetness of doing nothing) sums it up, she says, whether that means lingering over a long lunch or stopping to photograph a field of sunflowers.

To get acquainted with all Italy offers, Heath recommends local tours. “I’ve done city, food and museum ones in several Italian cities and I’ve always gotten a lot from them,” she says.

Italian tour guides are required to be extremely knowledgeable in their fields, so a guide taking you around the Roman Forum or the Vatican Museums, for example, is going to be able to impart a lot more information than you’d gain on your own.

“Local guides know the secret stories of these historic places and they also know the best places to eat,” she adds.

In Rome, she suggests a visit to Testaccio market – “a real slice of Roman daily life in a working-class neighbourhood” – for an authentic look at local life, and Trastevere for an evening passeggiata (leisurely stroll). If you have the energy, climb up to the Fontana dell’Acqua Paola for epic nighttime views over the city.

While in Florence, explore the Oltrarno (“beyond the Arno”) district: Piazza Santo Spirito for people-watching in the evenings and Piazzale Michelangelo for stunning views and onward to San Miniato al Monte, a beautiful 11th-century Romanesque church. When it comes to museums, Heath’s favourite is the Museum of San Marco, a former convent with priceless frescoes by early Renaissance artist Fra Angelico.

Greek classics

Along with Italy and Portugal, Greece is always a popular European destination. To explore the best of it, Air Canada Vacations has a 10-day voyage covering top spots, like Mykonos, Santorini and Athens, which includes flights, accommodations, land and ferry transfers, plus a private tour of the Acropolis and its new museum.

Meanwhile, in Spain’s coastal city of Barcelona, a comprehensive package from Air Canada Vacations bundles together flights, seven nights hotel, breakfast and activities such as a skip-the-line, guided visit to Sagrada Familia, the unfinished church designed by Catalan starchitect Antoni Gaudí, and a half-day tour of Montserrat.

This year, Europe is going to be a busy vacation spot for Canadians, so now is the time to book to ensure you don’t miss out on your dream destinations and dates.

Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with Air Canada Vacations. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.