Our top picks for a group holiday to the Continent

Date Posted: 23/10/2013

The ruins of Pompeii, Italy

Pictured: The ruins of Pompeii by the bay of Naples, Italy is always worth a visit (photo credit: De Agostini Picture Library).

Perennial favourites, new openings, and themed tours to commemorate next year’s World War anniversaries; there’s plenty to explore on a group trip to the Continent in 2014.

In addition to the popular options such as the Dutch bulb fields and German Christmas markets, there is always something new and different to see on a visit to one of our European neighbours. Next year there will be many moving tributes to commemorate the centenary of World War One and 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

Belgium

Flanders was the scene of some of World War One’s bloodiest battles, and with the 100th anniversary in 2014 battlefield tours will be even more poignant. The Great War Centenary is a four-year remembrance initiative, with an ongoing programme of memorial events and new exhibitions.

These include the renovated In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres, which has doubled in size, with touchscreen technology focusing on the personal stories of ordinary people. Visitors will also have the opportunity to climb the bell tower to experience an extraordinary view of what was once a completely devastated region. New visitor centres are opening in the reconstructed city hall and belfry in the medieval city of Dendermonde and next to the ‘goose foot’ lock complex in Nieuwpoort.

In addition to commemorating the past, Belgium is looking to the future when Mons will be European Capital of Culture in 2015.

Italy

Colourful Italy is a fantastic destination rich in history, art and culture, to say nothing of the wonderful food. It has countless UNESCO-listed destinations including the centre of Rome, Venice and Florence and the impressive Roman city of Pompeii, buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD.

French war cemetery

Pictured: Battlefield and cemetary tours in France will be even more popular in 2014, owing to the Great War Centenary (photo credit: Atout France).

Lesser-known are the Malatestiana Library, Cesena, in the Emilia-Romagna region. The first public library in Europe, it celebrates its 560th anniversary next year. A visit to this area can be combined with tours of the regional capital Bologna, which is one of the oldest cities in Europe; and Modena, birthplace of the late legendary tenor Pavarotti.

Italy is made for scenic coach holidays and one of the most popular areas is the Amalfi coastline stretching between Sorrento and Salerno, south of Naples. From here it is easy to visit Pompeii and the island of Capri, with its blue grotto. Alternatively head north to the beautiful Italian lake district which includes Garda, the country’s largest lake, with a shoreline dotted by villages and castles.

France

Numerous centenary commemorations are also taking place in France, and group travel organisers and coach operators can easily arrange battlefield and cemetery tours that can take in parts of neighbouring Belgium. Key events will also focus around the 70th anniversary of World War Two’s D-Day landings. For further information visit www.normandie-tourisme.fr

A series of new themed trails, which can be followed by coach, have been launched in northern France. Taking in nearly 100 remembrance sites, the four tours have been themed around the topics of the Front, the first German occupation, the allies’ base on the coast and post-war reconstruction.

Other news includes the opening of the Pierre Soulages Museum in Rodez in the Midi-Pyrenees region. Born in Rodez, the painter and engraver was famous for his abstract art which can be seen in galleries around the world, but it is the first time a museum has been dedicated to his work. It is scheduled to open by summer of 2014.

Man listening to commentary on Liberation Route, Holland

Pictured: Listening to an audio post on the Liberation Route.

The Netherlands

The new Liberation Route enables visitors to explore the areas that played an important role in the final stages of World War Two, such as Operation Market Garden and the Rhineland Offensive.

The route runs through the regions around Arnhem, Nijmegen and the Veluwe where there are more than 80 audio spots, each marked by a large boulder, that relate interesting and moving stories about civilians and soldiers who lived and fought there in 1944 and 1945. Details on the route can be found at www.liberationroute.com.

A major new cultural attraction can be found in ’s-Hertogenbosch, popularly known as Den Bosch, an hour’s drive south of Amsterdam. The town’s renovated and extended Noorbrabants Museum has been linked to the new Stedelijk Museum and together they display an outstanding range of art and historical artefacts. 

If you are planning to fly and pick up your coach, Darwin Airline has started flying from Cambridge to Amsterdam and KLM has a new service from Manston, Kent.

Germany

The 18th and 19th centuries were periods when German and British royal families became closely related through a series of marriages. In 2014 the Royal Heritage Route is being launched to mark the 300th anniversary of the accession of the Hanoverian kings to the British throne. The route will take in castles, parks and gardens, such as the stunning Royal Gardens at Herrenhausen, Hanover, that were created by Electress Sophia, mother of King George I; and Celle Palace, near Braunschweig, which has paintings celebrating links with Britain.

Germany has one of the highest numbers of UNESCO-listed sites in Europe and this is another theme being promoted in 2014. These include Wartburg Castle, towering Cologne’s cathedral and entire historic town centres such as Bamberg and Regensburg.

Benidorm, on the Costa Blanca

Pictured: Benidorm Old Town.

For group travel organisers planning to meet coaches in Germany, Germania is launching a new route from Gatwick to Erfurt in central Germany and Ryanair is going to fly from Edinburgh to Bremen in 2014.

Spain

Whether you opt to stay in one of Spain’s vibrant cities, such as Madrid, Seville, Granada or Barcelona, or head for one of the resorts on the Costa Blanca, Spain offers a wealth of contrasting choices. Barcelona, the coastal capital of the Catalan region, is associated with the work of architect Antoni Gaudi, most famously seen in the unfinished Sagrada Familia church.

Lesser-known attractions for a good group holiday include walking tours in the footsteps of explorer Christopher Columbus and delicious tapas and chocolate tasting tours.

Benidorm, on the Costa Blanca, also has its fair share of surprises with attractions such as the excellent Terra Natura and the Mundo Mar animal and marine parks, and the viewing platform of the 52-floor Gran Bali Hotel, Europe’s highest hotel, which provides panoramic views.

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