James, a member of the Riviera Travel team, takes us on his journey of discovery during his very first escorted tour experience, comparing it to his usual self-planned holidays. We think we’ve converted him!
Back in time
The year is 2015, the month is October and the cold Autumn mornings are starting to become a familiar acquaintance. On this particular morning, I’m waking up in the back of a 15-year-old Volvo estate car, lying on a blow-up mattress (that has, of course, partly deflated during the night) wrapped tightly in a duvet to prevent the cold from creeping in. Opening the makeshift curtain – a dewy towel that’s hung up over the car door – and wiping the condensation away, my morning view is revealed to me: the breathtaking Austrian Alps mountain range. Suddenly, the bitter cold is forgotten as my eyes are drawn to the beauty of these white, snow-capped peaks, standing strong and proud against the clear blue early morning sky. My admiration of the setting lasts only a moment as I snap back to reality and realise I have more pressing matters to focus on; I need to think about the day ahead, to plan my route and where my next meal is coming from plus how much time I have to get to the next destination before sunset.
Fast forward three years to September 2018 and I find myself once again in the Austrian Alps, this time in Seefeld, an Alpine town in the Tyrol state. I am fortunate to be on Riviera Travel’s Austria, Tyrol and Innsbruck tour. My concern this morning isn’t the biting cold or if the car is going to start, if I have enough noodles to keep me going, where I can leave the car whilst I wander around, or if I’m even going to find anywhere enjoyable to spend the day. Instead, my biggest concern this morning is whether I should have my eggs scrambled or fried when I go down for breakfast in the inviting hotel restaurant.
I’m staying at a hotel situated perfectly in the heart of Seefeld with a luxurious feel and four-star rating, that’s a far cry from my nomadic accommodation of a few years ago. Nothing beats waking up in a double bed feeling refreshed, warm, cozy and shiver-free, knowing I can have a hot cup of tea when I roll out of bed – a real priority since I’m British! What a great way to start the day. Remembering the sodden towel that once shielded me from the bright mountain sunrise, I part the plush hotel room curtains and am once again greeted by the familiar backdrop of these huge, imposing, grey mountains. I’m not starting to organise the day ahead of me because I know it’s already taken care of, so this time around I’m simply enjoying the morning view.
Plan, plan plan
This is the first escorted tour I have ever been on. Having previously arranged all of my holidays independently, I know just how much time it takes to organise everything: the flights, transfers, entrance tickets for places of interest, how to get from A to B and so on, so I was truly excited over not having to worry about the logistics of this holiday, knowing that it was already arranged for me by the experts. I just had to get to Gatwick on time with my passport, travel documents and suitcase in tow.
During the tour, daily excursions are pre-organised by Riviera Travel, entrance fees into places such as Neuschwanstein Castle and Stams Monastery are arranged for when we arrive, skipping the queues that we’re so used to standing in. Not only can I admire the scenery during the coach journeys rather than keeping my eyes fixed to the road and the confusing Austrian road signs, but these journeys are made all the more enjoyable by the quick stops to take in the surroundings, such as mountain passes and places like old Curon Venosta. We even have an entertaining and knowledgeable commentary from the tour manager – did you know that the Italian alpine town of Curon was artificially flooded to join Lakes Curon and Resia together? All that remains of Old Curon for our eyes to see is the half-submerged bell tower, it’s pointed upper half standing tall in the middle of the water. I just stumbled upon places like this when driving through Europe, or drove straight past in some cases, so being taken there intentionally and having the opportunity to learn about them is wonderful.
As the week goes on I’m starting to really notice the benefits of having everything planned out on an escorted tour – it provides such a tremendous sense of freedom, one that, until now, I hadn’t realised was missing in my previous self-planned travels. I haven’t had to spend any time thinking about petrol or local transport arrangements, or getting lost looking for museums and restaurants. Our tour manager, Mary, helps us with all of these things. She points us in the direction of good eateries and explains how we should use the train services should we wish to venture to a nearby town, and if she doesn’t know the answer to one of our many queries, she can easily find it out for us. The days seem to last longer and every moment feels well spent. I can really open my eyes to the world around me, as the hours usually spent deliberating over operational decisions and pouring over maps and road signs soon dissipate into mere moments of fleeting thought. I know where I need to be tomorrow morning and at what time, thanks to Mary. It is just so freeing to have someone else think about the schedule and timings so I can focus my energy solely on having a good time.
New found friends
Before joining the tour, the thought of travelling with 42 other people was a little daunting, especially since I am used to travelling alone or with one other person. But after the first day or so of friendly introductions over a relaxed morning coffee or on the coach, we soon settled into each other’s company. I have a room to myself at the hotel, so my own space when I feel like I need it, though I get on with other members of the group so well I’ve hardly spent any time alone! The walking tours are done with the tour manager and the group, but there is usually plenty of time afterwards to explore alone and it’s lovely to see familiar faces around the towns. As the week goes on and friendships are formed, I’m happily spending much of the free time adventuring with other members of the party. A group of 42 hardly seems overcrowded after all as camaraderie and friendship prevail.
Take the plunge
Experiencing an organised tour for the first time is terrific: from the fascinating and thrilling excursions to the first-class dining and luxurious accommodation, to someone else doing the driving and the privilege of sharing memories with people I didn’t know I wanted to meet. A week after the tour to Austria ends, I’m going away again on a trip I’ve planned myself, and I can’t help but wish I was travelling on an easy escorted tour again.
If you are at a point where organising your own holidays is starting become a bit of a burden, I would highly recommend an escorted tour with Riviera Travel. Let the experts do the hard bit – just show up and have a great time.
I am currently a member of Riviera Travels Reservation Team. Over the past few years I have had the pleasure of visiting numerous countries, witnessing stunning landscapes, experiencing different cultures, making lasting memories with others. Working within Riviera Travel I get to express my passion for travel and share my experiences with others, hoping they themselves make memories for life.
To speak to James about his experience or if you have any questions about this holiday, please don’t hesitate to call him for a chat. Lines are open Monday to Friday 9am to 7pm, Saturday 9.30am to 4pm and Sunday 10am to 4pm.