Bucket list Europe
Justin Zackham knew he was onto something with his screenplay idea but surely he could not have anticipated the global call to arms that would follow.
When Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman’s characters proclaimed a shared desire to tick off a list of things to do before it was too late, the ‘bucket list’ quickly spread as the personal wish-list chronicle for passionate travellers everywhere.
The movie set a momentum rolling for everyone who holds a passport.
For many of us, the destinations on our list change over time as new discoveries emerge, sensibilities change or we become aware of exciting new places from friends and family members returning from jaunts across the globe.
In the digital age, finding new travel destinations and researching more about them is a wonderful hobby that keeps our passion for travel high.
So, in that spirit, here's a list of seven places in Europe the experts at Albatross Tours would like to share as definitely bucket-list worthy destinations to consider.
1. Santo Stefano di Sessanio, Italy
Ranked among Italy’s most beautiful villages, Santo Stefano di Sessanio sits nestled in the mountains of the Abruzzo region north-east of Rome. Away from the tourist hordes, this stunning relic of medieval and Renaissance life today has a permanent population of around 70.
It almost fell into complete crumbling ruin before generous philanthropy and a huge contribution from volunteers stabilised and artfully restored this spectacular stone hamlet.
After visiting Vicenza and the Palladian villas, touring Bologna, exploring Raphael’s Urbino and the highlights of the Adriatic Coast and more, travellers on the Italian Alternativo Tour will have a chance to wander the winding alleyways and carved stairways that pass limestone houses and arcades that date from the time of the Medici rulers. Keen eyes will note the Medici family crest still sits above the entrance gate to the village.
Make sure to visit the Church of Santo Stefano Protomartire and the Casa del Capitano, the 15th century Captain’s house.
On day 12 of 15 sumptuous days travelling through this region, Albatross Tours guests will also enjoy lunch in one of the centuries-old dwellings.
2. Spree Forest, Germany
Put this one down as a bucket list experience and much more than a gorgeous photo opportunity. Spreewald, or the Spree Forest, is a remarkable place in Germany you have probably never heard of.
After experiencing the cutting-edge cool of one of the world’s great cities, Berlin, guests on the Glorious Germany & the Czech Republic Tour are soon immersed into a different world altogether.
Just 100 kilometres south-east of Berlin, this UNESCO acclaimed Biosphere is a network of waterways and dense forest covering more than 1000 square kilometres.
Preserving the traditions of ancient human settlements, boarding a punt and silently ‘poling’ through the labyrinthine world, you’ll discover villagers going about centuries-old practices living in houses and hamlets that are virtual living museum.
3. Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina
Best known for two opposing events - bitter warfare and a celebration of global sport - Sarajevo has become one of the must-see destinations of the past 20 years. The city flanked by the Miljacka River is the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina and home to 280,000 people. From 1992 to 1996, it was a city under siege during the Bosnian War. A decade earlier, it was the focus of world attention as the host city of the 1984 Winter Olympics.
Its renewal and regrowth since the conflict has been stunning to the extent that by 2014, it was positioned as the European Capital of Culture.
Visiting today on our Croatia and the Adriatic tour you’ll be engulfed by a history lesson that is difficult to comprehend in its breadth.
Sarajevo has been a melting pot of religions, cultures, geopolitical turmoil and spirited defence for centuries. It is also stunningly beautiful.
Surrounded by the Dinaric Alps, the strains of Bosnian folk music fill the air dominated by the ancient city’s skyline of Orthodox domes, Mosques and Romanesque towers all setting the scene for an exotic, unforgettable city experience.
4. Lofoten Islands, Scandinavia
It makes sense that most bucket list destinations are relatively easy to get to. Famous places, landmarks, events and experiences shared and revered by millions make them the envy of millions more. But then there’s the remote locations that by virtue of not being easy to reach, make effort worth the reward of exclusivity.
Touring the lands of mighty warriors on the Scandinavia, In the Footsteps of Vikings Tour, your spectacular bottom-to-top journey of this mystical world will take you to legendary places like Pulpit Rock, the 800-year-old Hopperstad Stave church, Geiranger Fjord cruising, Arctic Cathedral and the Flam Railway.
But it’s the short flight to remote Bodø to explore the stunning Lofoten Islands that makes travelling with Albatross Tours the best option to access a part of the globe few ever see.
And why would you want to reach so far into the remote corners? Well, some rate the Lofoten Archipelago the most beautiful place in the world.
With three days based in the gorgeous Reinefjorden, you will witness a world of idyllic fishing villages, coves, mountains and inlets cruising this amazing region with access to rigid inflatable boats to go ashore and explore as you travel.
5. Mirepoix, France
Soaking in the past is one of the intrinsic joys of a leisurely paced holiday in Europe.
The cathedrals and turrets, cobblestoned streets, tiny hamlets and grand palaces and landmarks - it's all around you. But if there is one defining marker of places you generally remember most, it’s the town or market square.
Through the centuries, the focal point of life for trade and community was its central gathering place and today, they remain the proud showpieces of thousands and thousands of historic settlements around Europe.
There are few town squares that rival Mirepoix in southern France which you can see for yourself on day 13 of the Northern Spain & the Pyrenees Tour.
The pastel-coloured houses that line Place du Maréchal-Leclerc sit above open ‘arcades’ (Place des Couverts) and frame what is considered to be the most evocative example of a medieval square to be found anywhere.
Rebuilt on the left side of the river after a catastrophic flood in 1279, make sure to look out for the La Maison des Consuls building that features the original 13th-century wooden carvings of dignitaries and animals on its facade.
6. Zermatt, Switzerland
One of the great picture-postcard locations of Europe, Switzerland has loads of bucket-list options to consider but Zermatt has to be right up there. With the mighty Matterhorn and towering peaks all around you, on the Alpine Adventure Tour, you’ll arrive into this fairytale scene aboard a cog railway train that transports you 1620 metres up into the clouds.
And when you arrive in the village, characterised by those ‘biscuit-tin’ archetypal wooden chalets with their shingled roofs, you’ll be stunned by the spectacular silence. Petrol-powered vehicles are banned from this village to protect its authentic atmosphere.
As with all Albatross Tours, you’ll have plenty of time to explore during your two-night stay. Your first stop will be Bahnhofstrasse, the main street where you’ll hear church bells herald certain times of day and the sound of hoofbeats from the horse-drawn carriages that prattle through the village.
There’s loads to see and do here - including year-round skiing - and to fully appreciate this gorgeous environment, consider the Sunnegga Paradise cable car, the funicular railway to Gornergrat station or for a real treat, ride the world’s highest cable car - the Matterhorn Glacier Ride to Klein Matterhorn - that also offers four ‘Crystal ride’ cabins coated with Swarovski crystals to instantly clear your view!
7. Aran Islands, Ireland
Family heritage trails borne of the Great Diaspora will lead many Antipodean travellers to Ireland. But of course, you don’t need family ties to fall in love with the Emerald Isle.
Its rolling hills, charming villages and delightful people have a unique and endearing quality you won’t find anywhere else.
In a land bursting with fascinating, colourful stories of a romantic and turbulent past, remnants of its feudal times can still be found all over the island and offshore are some of the most striking.
Guarding Galway from the west, three rocky islands staved off invaders though the millennia with elaborate fortifications that today, remain as some of the world’s most significant archaeological sites.
Not part of any regular tourist trail, getting to the islands and understanding their significant place in history is a highlight of The Ireland Connection Tour.
Travellers will arrive on the largest island, Inis Mór (Inishmore) where the prehistoric hill fort of Dún Aonghasa stands above a 100-metre high cliff facing the Atlantic setting the scene for a history lesson like no other. Incredibly, evidence of people living on the hill have been traced to 1500BC!