Friday, May 16, 2014

A Local Expert's Guide to Vienna Travel in 2014

Beautiful Vienna by night.
Today, we travel to lovely and historically renowned Vienna, Austria with Elisabeth, a local expert and charming guide to this beautiful, culturally-rich city. Learn how Viennese locals will spend their summer, where Elisabeth recommends getting coffee (and tea), and the first place visitors should head upon arrival to marvelous Vienna.

Interested in Family Travel to Vienna? Exeter International specializes in family travel! Visit our website to learn more about the custom family travel, tours and activities in Vienna, Prague, and Budapest that we can arrange for your little ones.

Q&A with Vienna tour guide & expert, Elisabeth

Q: Elisabeth, what is the first thing a first-time visitor should do upon arriving in Vienna?

A: Go for a walk in the old town, starting or heading to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. It is the most central point in Vienna, and the best place to get oriented. If you are tired after your trip, and need some training, go on top of the tower – no elevator – just 343 easy, breezy steps! The view at the end makes the adventure worthwhile.

Next, enjoy a horse and carriage ride (called “Fiaker”), which you can rent just behind the cathedral. Choose a 20, 40 or 60 minute ride. Tip: Make sure the driver speaks English, and you will have a lot of fun (just don’t believe everything he tells you…)!
Enjoy a Fiaker ride in Vienna.
Q: What should a visitor to Vienna grab for a quick bite to eat or cup of coffee?

A: Choose one of the many coffee houses and try to “get the Viennese vibe.” Order something sweet (Sachertorte or Apfelstrudel with whatever you like) Rest assured - tea is served in a Viennese coffee house, too! You may also get started with a little Austrian wine, which is usually also available.

Q: What kinds of cuisine do you recommend? Where are a few of your favorite dining destinations in the city?

A: Coffee houses, coffee houses and coffee houses! Most of the coffee houses also serve lunch and dinner, depending on which one you choose. The good thing is that you usually never go over a certain budget and you will always get the most typical options for the region.

My favorite coffee houses (of those which accept reservations) are:
  • Café Mozart. Ask for a table at the window and look directly onto Albertina Museum and the State Opera.
  • Café Hawelka. The most original place in town, steps away from the Jewish Museum, which has just recently reset the exhibition. Order “Buchteln,” the sweet pastry Café Hawelka is famous for.
  • Demel’s Bakery. The secret is to go for lunch, and choose the Eiernockerl or the Schinkenfleckerl. Follow this with the most amazing cakes. Watch as talented Chef’s prepare their cakes. There is also a little shop, where you can get lovely things to take home for souveniers. And don’t forget to take pictures of the DEMEL’s shopping windows – everything you see is made of something to eat (and not plastic!!!)
Window display at Demel's Bakery, Vienna.

For elegant dining, my favorite (rather Viennese) places are:
  • Vestibül. An exclusive restaurant in the main theater, Burgtheater
  • Steirereck. Ranked amongst the leading restaurants in the world, very exclusive and original dining experience, located in the middle of Vienna’s most beautiful park, Stadtpark.
  • For more casual dining at the same venue, try Meierei.
  • Palmenhaus. A lovely restaurant in the middle of a glass house. During summer months, enjoy a large terrace with views overlooking Burggarten and Hofburg Palace
  • Plachutta bei der Oper and Plachutta Wollzeile. Here, enjoy the most typical food in Vienna, with excellent service. Each individual restaurant of this family-owned business is wonderful!

Vienna, Austria
Q: What recreational activities do locals most enjoy in the summer?
A: See below:
  • Going to the Vienna Woods (hiking, biking, walking, running, “fooding” and culture)
  • Strolling along the Danube Canal, a side stream which runs along the Old Town. It recently was turned into a little “lungo mare” with beaches, bars and restaurants. Don’t forget to bring your camera or spray paint - Graffiti is allowed along the walls there. Leave your mark in Vienna!
  • Sailing or biking on or around Neusiedlersee (1 hrs drive), a natural reserve and home to lots and lots of amazing “wine and dine” destinations along the bike roads
  • Restaurant Mole West, located directly on the lake
  • Any Heuriger winery attracting you
  • Sports at Prater (running, hiking, strolling with dogs, babies, and friends on the biggest green area within the city, starting at the “Riesenrad” ferris wheel 
  • Having a bath at the Danube or the “Old Danube,” a popular destination which can be reached by the subway. 
  • Don’t miss the biggest music festival in Vienna in summer 2014, “Donauinselfest” with free music 
  • Hanging out at “Rathauspark” in front of the Town Hall
  • Free movies and food stalls
  • Free Opera on a big screen outside Vienna State Opera - Just bring your chair! If you get cold or bored, visit the new dining lounge at Hotel Bristol nearby.
The lipizzaners of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria.
Stay tuned for our next post, where Elisabeth will share her "don't miss" shopping list for Vienna travelers, the hottest music festivals in Austria, and more. 

Plan your 2014 travels to Vienna, Prague, or Budapest through the leading luxury tour operator. To learn more about travel to Viennafamily travel to Vienna, Budapest, or Prague, or other excursions that Exeter International offers, please visit our website or contact us by phone at (813) 251-5355 / (800) 633-1008. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Music and Art in Eastern Europe: Q&A with a Prague expert

Part II of our "Peer Into Prague" series. Check out Part I here, where Lucia, resident Prague travel expert, discusses regional cuisine, sightseeing destinations, and where the locals go to eat, drink, and play.
Prague Castle
What is Prague's music scene like? Are there any summer festivals/events in Prague in 2014 that visitors should not miss?

Lucia: Music in Prague is incredible, from world-class classical concerts, to church and concert hall quartet concerts, to live music in pubs and jazz clubs. I should highlight the Prague Spring Festival in May and Dvorak Prague Festival in September for best classical music.

Great atmosphere can be found at the outdoor festival United Islands in June, where various bands play. It is located along the river in the central part of the city. 
"Where new meets old," Lucia says of St. Vitus Cathedral


I personally enjoy Signal Light Festival in October, when different buildings are lit by special audiovisual art techniques and mapping.

JazzDock and Reduta are clubs that shouldn´t be missed for live jazz, pop and folk music.

The best classical music outside of Prague is Smetana´s Litomysl in June.

In the intimate historical town of Ceský Krumlov, there is an outstanding International Music Festival in July/August and the Five-Petaled Rose Celebration in June. At this time, the whole medieval city goes back in time, with residents dressing in the attire of noble knights and tournaments, jugglers and period dance.

Where should art lovers go in Prague?

The current art scene has gotten more and more interesting in the last 20 years. There are uncountable art galleries around the city!

Tyn Church from the gallery at U kamenneho zvonu
I would like to suggest a visit to Dox, including the gift store, for contemporary art. Also spend some time in Veletrzní Palace of National Gallery or Kampa Museum for Contemporary Art. It is good to check and see what kind of temporary exhibition is at Rudolfinum, where I recently saw exhibits from great world artists like Raqib Shaw

Also check the gallery U Kamenneho zvonu, located in an originally preserved medieval building and housing Tim Burton’s art until July 2014. 

More hip art, you find at Trafacka in Liben quarter or at Chemistry Gallery in Holesovice quarter.

You get unforgettable views of the bridges from the point of Metronome in Letna Park. In August there is a festival, Letni Letna, with world famous circuses like La Compagnie Du Poivre Rose.

The Piazzetta behind Nová Scena of National Theatre sometimes hosts activities, art and social events.

Local artists also scatter some street installations on the major squares and alleys throughout summer season. One example: David Cerný and his Horse in Lucerna Palace or Babies on Telecommunication tower.

What would you recommend a visitor do who wants to learn more about the lifestyle and culture of the city? 

Go between locals, read the books, watch the movies. The easiest is to watch movies by some of the best Czech directors.

Jan Hřebejk made two great movies (Pupendo and Pelisky) about desperation and poverty before 1989, but with a funny view. Jan Sverak’s movie Kolya was awarded the Academy Award and Golden Globe as Best Foreign Language Film in 1996. 
A Jewish cemetery in Prague.
Great writers include Bohumil Hrabal, whose lyrical novel was made a movie, I Served the King of England, by phenomenal film director Jiri Menzl.

Today the most popular Czech writer is Michal Viewegh after director Filip Renc made one of his books into a comedy movie, Román pro ženy.

The movie All My Loved Ones lyrically talks about destiny of the Czech Jews.

Through these stories you get to understand better Czech history, humor and life. You get into our homes.

Maybe if you go to buy a book by Hrabal or Capek at the Akademia bookstore on Vaclavske Square, you will enjoy a local feeling. Just across the road in Svetozor passage, you can taste ice cream by Hajek cukrárna (cukr=sugar). We go there often with the kids when heading home from the playground next door in a Franciscan garden.

Popular shopping locations in Prague?

Lucia's son, Jakub, in Letna park
Andel, a vibrant spot with a street market and shops, great pubs and clubs, and rising above it all is the glassy Andel office building, by Jean Nouvel. After this busy place, relax on Letna Hill, the public park where we go jogging, inlining or just to enjoy a picnic, weather permitting.

How about meeting with some our fashion designers? The best are Klara Nademlynska and Tatiana Kovarikova, who dress Czech stars. You can shop in their boutiques in the city center. Blanka Matragi is a well-known worldwide fashion designer who succesfully dresses the ladies in royal palaces in the Persian Gulf.  

What is the number one reason to visit Prague? 

I often hear people say ‘We want to see the history,‘ but at the end of the trip, the best thing for them is the great feeling of relaxing, leisure time, joy of life, learning about different cultures and tasting local foods. 
They bring home from Prague not only pictures, 
but also unforgettable memories in their hearts.

Statue of St. George at Prague Castle

Don't miss Part I of our Peer into Prague series: "How to Enjoy the City like a Local." To learn more about excursions that Exeter International offers, please visit our website or contact us by phone at (813) 251-5355 / (800) 633-1008. Plan your 2014 travels to Scandinavia, Central or Eastern Europe, or Russia today through the leading luxury tour operator.





Friday, April 18, 2014

Five of the Best European Countries To Visit In Summer 2014

The dazzling Dubrovnik coastline.
For your summer 2014 travels, look no further than this list we’ve compiled with the help of our travel experts! From the Black Sea to the Pearl of the Adriatic, we’ve selected the most scenic, savory, and satisfying destinations for you and your family to enjoy in summer 2014.

Czech Republic

The stunning skyline of Prague at night.
Prague Castle.
Plan a visit to Prague and enjoy all that this historic city has to offer. With the Charles Bridge spanning the Vltava River and the Prague Castle located in Old Town Square, the city is home to art, architecture, cuisine, and culture. 

Watch performers and puppeteers on the bridge or create your own marionettes. Explore the long tradition of glass making in Prague and design your own glass jewelry to take home as an ultimate souvenir! 

Then there is the food. Eat Czech.

Another don't-miss destination is Cesky Krumlov, a small city that is home to a large Baroque castle and located in the South Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic.

Croatia

Sunset in the walled city of Dubrovnik.
Spend a few days in Croatia soaking up the local sun and delicious cuisine. From fresh seafood to wood-fired pizza, Dubrovnik is home to a host of dining destinations. Explore the pedestrian-only walled city that stands in as “King’s Landing” in popular HBO series “Game of Thrones,” and take in the breathtaking views from above as you travel to the top of the wall to gaze down on the sparking blue waters below.

After that, head to Split, located in the middle of the coastline and home to the Diocletian Palace and a beautiful bay.

Denmark


Nyhavn by sunset - stunning.
The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen.
Where else but Copenhagen? In this city you can enjoy morning bicycle tours, tour the castle that was the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and take a stroll down Stroget, the world’s longest pedestrian street! Explore Copenhagen’s over 30 miles of waterfront by foot or by boat with your family. 

Don’t miss Tivoli, the first amusement park in Europe and home to over 30 restaurants! In the mood for a sweet treat? Discover Nimb, a boutique hotel in the Tivoli gardens, and enjoy decadent chocolate. And don’t leave before you see the Little Mermaid, one of the most photographed ladies in the world!

Montenegro

The tiny resort of Sveti Stefan offers glamour and luxury to travelers.
Discover one of the best-kept secrets in Europe! Sveti Stefan is a very small, glamorous resort located in the heart of Montenegro on the lovely Adriatic Coast. It's hot because it's an exclusive escape for those in the know. Naturally, as an Aman resort, it's luxurious, but this property is oh-so-beautiful as well.
Breathtaking views from the luxurious Sveti Stefan resort.
It is comprised of two parts — the fifteenth-century fortress of Sveti Stefan Island contains 50 guest rooms, suites and cottages, while the former seaside estate of Villa Miločer across the bay on the mainland offers just eight suites and a guest list that once included Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren, and now YOU!

You can also enjoy a trip to the vineyards of the Tici, where you will experience rolling countrysides and learn about family traditions surrounding the Moric olive.

Poland


Town square in the historic city of Warsaw, Poland.
Take in Krakow, where you can explore history museums, enjoy new gourmet dining experiences. One of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe, the city has now become an open air museum, and is still very much a thriving town with great restaurants, upscale bars, and stylish hotels. You can even learn to make your own pierogi!

Krakow, Poland
In Warsaw, which resembles a smaller Prague, explore the history of the city’s once-large Jewish population and learn about the rich history. The capital and largest Polish city, Warsaw is situated on the Vistula River and known as a city of palaces.

Plan your 2014 travels to Scandinavia, Central or Eastern Europe, or Russia today. Contact Exeter International by phone at (813) 251-5355 / (800) 633-1008 or visit our website to learn more about luxury travel through the leading luxury tour operator.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Peer Into Prague: How to enjoy the city like a local

Charles River Bridge, Prague
Explore Prague, Czech Republic, like a local with our insider's guide from a native travel expert.

First-time visitors, head to Charles Bridge upon arrival to Prague.

"Look around at the hundred-spired city and feel the atmosphere of medieval buildings surrounding you. Enjoy some music of local buscers right on the bridge," says native travel guide Lucia.

Making music on the Charles Bridge in Prague



From there, make your way to Old Town square, where you can meander through the historic street mazes of Old Town, and, if you are so inclined, indulge in a beer on the square overlooking Prague’s famous Astronomical Clock. If a creative urge strikes, visit Material and craft – or buy - some glass jewelry.

"Eat czech!"

Prague is a foodie’s delight, with more local Czech cuisines than a visitor could fit into one weekend.

Lucia recommends “a good roast pork or duck with cabbage and some bramborak (a potato pancake); potato dumpling, sausage or venition pate; naturally, well splashed down by beer."

To enjoy the taste of these and other local delicacies, visit KolkovnaSavarin or Mlsný kocour in the Vinohrady quarter, which features tank Pilsner beer and is more frequented by locals.

After you’ve gotten a taste for local cuisine, step to some fine places like Cafe Imperial or Hergetova Cihelna – still Czech cusine, but not as heavy, according to Lucia.

Restaurant Misnej Kocour
For Italian cusine, try La Finestra, she says, or the less formal Grosseto Marina, where there are amazing views along the the Vlatva river, Charles Bridge and Prague Castle.

For excellent homemade strudel, stop by Susta Strudl in the Zizkov quarter.

Lucia and her son at Můj šálek kavy, a coffee shop in Prague.
“If you tell me ‘book your favourite restaurant for a nice dinner‘ I am choosing V Zatisi. With friends, we like to go to Lehka hlava – a hip, vegetarian place. Lately I discovered Oblaka, a newly redesigned restaurant in the Zizkovska telecommunication tower, and Mujsalek kavy - a coffee shop in the sparkling, growing Karlin quarter where I‘ve enjoyed cake bábovka and freshly brewed tea and coffee.“

If Lucia makes one thing is clear, it’s this: “Eat czech!"

Summertime City

In the summer, local residents of Prague spend time in nature, visiting castles like Karlstejn, which can be reached by bike for many via "a pretty road along the Berounka river." They also frequent Ceskýráj, a nature reserve rich with sandstone rocks, castles and ruins, and enjoy canoeing on the first part of Vltava river – a pastime connected with "the guitar playing of old tramping/bluegrass songs, and beer drinking, and camping."

Kampa Island and mill in the Vlatva River
Other summer destinations include "the southern Bohemian lakes by Trebon town, where there are also great spas, and the southern Moravian region around Mikulov town‘s vine cellars," Lucia shares.

Prague Castle
Visitors who want to branch out on adventurous excursions should consider a trip to Kutna Hora town. Don’t miss Bauer Villa or Chateau Kotera, Lucia‘s favorite.

"We‘ve gone to this medieval city already for many years to admire St. Barbora, Our Lady churches, and the ossuary. But now you can see also unique Bauer Villa, built in the Cubist architecture style - a real jewel for learning about Cubism."

Chateau Kotera, meanwhile, is a superb building made by the founder of Czech modernistic architecture, Jan Kotera.

What is the number one reason to visit Prague? 

“I often hear people say ‘We want to see the history,'" Lucia shares. "But at the end of the trip, the best thing for them is the great feeling of relaxing, leisure time, joy of life, learning about different cultures and tasting local foods. 


They bring home from Prague not only pictures, 
but also unforgettable memories in their hearts."


Street art in Prague
Visit the Exeter Travel Journal again next week - Lucia will share more about Prague’s lifestyle, culture, music, and arts.

Plan your 2014 travels to Scandinavia, Central or Eastern Europe, or Russia today. Contact Exeter International by phone at (813) 251-5355 / (800) 633-1008 or visit our website to learn more about luxury travel through the leading luxury tour operator.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

2014 Summer in Sweden – Stockholm Stopover

Spend your 2014 summer travels in Sweden! 

Stockholm, Sweden
Whether your passion is art, music, design or food, Stockholm has plenty to offer even to the most discerning globetrotter. The city is built on 14 islands where Lake Malaren flows into the Baltic Sea - a unique maritime landscape known as the Stockholm Archipelago.

At Exeter International, we recommend 3 days in Stockholm, Sweden.

In the center of the city are Gamla Stan and Riddarholmen, two islands that make up Northern Europe's largest and best-preserved medieval city dating back to the 13th century. Not to be missed!

Secret Stockholm: Tips for Your Travels
  • Spend an evening enjoying a cocktail at the Absolut Ice Bar, where the fixtures and glasses are made of ice.
  • Take a boat from the heart of the city to Drottningholm Castle, the Versailles of the North and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • Find the food trucks that frequent the city’s cultural scene.
  • For an authentic travel experience, enjoy Stockholm City Bikes.

Drottningholm Palace in Stockholm, Sweden.
Stockholm Culture Festival is taking place for the ninth year in a row August 12-17, 2014. 
Filled with “a smorgasbord of vibrant culture,” and welcoming travelers and visitors of all ages, this six-day event is completely free. Take part in the music, dance and art that the inner city has to offer, with many different stages and performance areas in the city centre, where the festival will take place.

Highlights of Stockholm:
  • Vasa Museumfeaturing the warship, Vasa, which sank on her maiden voyage in 1628 and lay in the Baltic Sea for 300 years, before it was salvaged.
  • Nordiska Museum, located in a magnificent turn of the century palace in Royal Djurgarden.
  • The Royal Palace, including the Royal Apartments, the Royal Armory and the Changing of the Guard.
  • City Hallthe site of the annual Nobel Prize banquet.

The Vasa Museum in Stockholm, Sweden.
Sweden’s unique charm and character delightfully contrast the small Scandinavian realm’s modernity and natural beauty.

Immerse yourself into the culture of Sweden by visiting the nearby towns of Uppsala and Sigtuna and idyllic communities such as Trosa, Vaxholm and Mariefred, the location of Gripsholm Castle, one of Sweden's most impressive monuments.

Often described as one of the world’s most modern countries, Sweden also beckons travelers to linger in its past. Discover priceless natural luxuries like wide-open vistas and untouched wilderness, all within easy reach of the capital city of Stockholm.

Stockholm, Sweden.
Spring in Stockholm means a renewed vigor when flowers bloom and the city and its people take on a revived energy. Summer is, of course, the most glorious season when the sun dances on the glittering harbor waters and ferries carry locals and visitors out to the magical archipelago.

In Stockholm, autumn brings vibrant colors and the air is invigorating. Winter transforms the shining city into a shimmering landscape of snow and ice where warm lights glowing invitingly from within the windows. 

Stockholm celebrates these changing seasons with a variety of holidays and festivals, making the entire year a perfect time to visit!

For further reading about 2014 Sweden travel, please explore these hand-selected guidebooks. Click here to connect with our in-house Scandinavian specialist, Leigh.

Plan your 2014 travels to Scandinavia, Central or Eastern Europe, or Russia today. Contact Exeter International by phone at (813) 251-5355 / (800) 633-1008 or visit our website to learn more about luxury travel through the leading luxury tour operator.

Exeter International Named 2013 Awards of Excellence "Best Local Destination Management Company" at ULTRA Summit

Exeter International is proud to announce that we have been honored by Luxury Travel Advisor as a 2013 Awards of Excellence winner!
Chicago, Il.; host city of the 2014 ULTRA Summit. Photo Credit: Luxury Travel Advisor
Best Local Destination Management Company: 
Exeter International

At the second annual ULTRA Summit hosted by Luxury Travel Advisor, part of Questex Travel Group, 2013 Awards of Excellence winners were honored during a commemoration ceremony held at the Langham, Chicago. This lavish cocktail party brought leading travel agency owners and managers together to celebrate the Awards of Excellence nominees and winners. 

Luxury Travel Advisor will feature 2013 Awards of Excellence winners in an upcoming 2014 issue.

The leading luxury tour operator.
"Every year, Luxury Travel Advisor’s Awards of Excellence spotlights suppliers that deliver outstanding experiences and provide top-notch service around the world.

'As traveler preferences demand a higher level of service with every new hotel opening, tour, flight and cruise itinerary, luxury travel suppliers are increasingly called upon to evolve the ultra-luxury landscape,' remarked Ruthanne Terrero, vice president of content and editorial director for Questex Travel Group. 
'This year’s Awards of Excellence winners signify that ultra-luxury suppliers continue to exceed traveler expectations through service paramount to the best the industry has to offer.'"

For a complete list of the 2013 Awards of Excellence Winners, visit Luxury Travel Advisor.

Plan your visit to Russia, Central or Eastern Europe, or Scandinavia today. Contact Exeter International by phone at (813) 251-5355 / (800) 633-1008 or visit our website to learn more about luxury travel through the leading luxury tour operator.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

With Love From Russia

Exeter International is the leader in luxury travel to Eastern & Central Europe, Scandinavia and Russia. Since 1992, we have been surpassing expectations and delivering unique and extraordinary experiences to the most discerning of travelers.


A magnificent view of the Red Square, a city square in Moscow, Russia.
One of our Exeter International Travel Specialists, Dasha, received quite high praise recently for the thoughtful, unique travel experience she planned for a couple visiting Russia. See what they had to say below:

"My Dear Dasha,


How can my husband and I thank you enough for all the attention to detail and painstaking arrangements you made in order for us to have such an phenomenal experience? We enjoyed every single day of our trip, so much! Our tour guides were each wonderful, and the dinner we enjoyed at Nicolai and Svetlana Piskaryov's home was really the main highlight for us.
What a beautiful, exceptional couple! OH, we loved every single minute in their company. We were so inspired by them, their garden, their love. 

"It was an experience we will carry 

with us for the rest of our lives."
The nighttime city skyline of Moscow, Russia.
 Of all the guides we have ever had throughout our travels, Katya was the very best ever. She was simply wonderful; beautifully dressed every day, incredibly bright and informative, gracious - everything she did was in such good taste.

"I especially loved our tour guide because she understood 
that each day was an occasion for us." 

Regardless of how many thousands of times she had been in each of the locations we visited, she had the enthusiasm and freshness in her approach, as though she was seeing it for the first time!

The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia
Thank you so very much for arranging a beautiful cake and champagne, and for so graciously gifting this to Ron along with our lunch. How very, very generous and stylish of you to do this for him. Who else shall I thank for treating him to this? It was simply perfectly done, as was the trip. If anyone we know is interested in planning a trip to Russia, we will whole-heartedly recommend you, Dasha. 

What can I possibly say to express our joy and gratitude for all you did to ensure that this trip of a lifetime was everything it could possibly be for us? SUPERB!!!

Fond regards,
Shauna"


Plan your visit to Russia, Central or Eastern Europe, or Scandinavia today. Contact Exeter International by phone at (813) 251-5355 / (800) 633-1008 or visit our website to learn more about luxury travel through the leading luxury tour operator.